What do paintings, sculptures, warriors, belly casts, rites of passage and paper tigers all have in common?
Childbirth. And if you can’t quite see the connection, you may not be familiar with the Birthing From Within method.
In 1998, Pam England, a midwife, childbirth educator and prenatal birth therapist, and psychologist Rob Horowitz introduced the book Birthing From Within (Partera, 1998) to the world.
The book reflects England’s own beliefs and experiences, calling on women to explore themselves and teaching them how to embrace the natural pain of the birthing process. The book paved the way for Birthing From Within doula and educator certification programs taught in workshops by England herself at various sites worldwide.
According to England, there are seven beliefs of women who “birth from within”:
- Pregnancy and birth are rites of passage, not a medical event (even when birthing in a hospital).
- Connecting with other mothers and women for support and guidance is an essential part of preparing for birth and mothering.
- The power to birth comes from within them, from their strong bodies and commitment to do whatever it takes to birth their child.
- Primitive self-expression, including making noise and losing control, is a natural part of birth (and “looking good” isn’t).
- Protecting their birth space to be conducive to birth (quiet, dimly lit, warm and private) is critically important to how their birth will unfold.
- For Western women, birthing from within requires preparation and practice during pregnancy.
Teresa Howard, a doula and childbirth educator in Atlanta, Ga., says that Birthing From Within classes are like nothing she has ever seen. “It is a time of laughter and tears, self-exploration and creative self-expression,” she says. “The pain-coping techniques are wonderful. The examination of fears to prepare for your birthplace is phenomenal! It is great to see secrets unlocked and assumptions dismissed and exploration to take place.”
Birthing From Within classes utilize many unique strategies to help women give birth using their own emotional, spiritual and physical power. One of the most notable strategies is the construction and interpretation of birth art.
Birth art can be in the form of paintings, sculptures, drawings and writings. It serves as an exploration of the woman’s inner thoughts, worries and dreams. “The birth art is part of it, but there is so much more,” Howard says. She tells her students that Birthing From Within classes are about birthing in awareness, making conscious decisions, challenging your assumptions, allowing yourself to use your imagination in considering a range of possibilities about your labor and birth, envisioning giving birth in many ways and places, being present and strong in birth, exploring what is necessary to participate fully in your birth, preparing your birthplace, welcoming your baby and bonding as a family.
Heather Baeck, a certified childbirth educator in Passaic, N.J., turned to the Birthing From Within method to supplement her current class instruction. Her reason is one of the most often cited positives of Birthing From Within: “[There is a] thorough grounding in the spiritual and emotional aspects of pregnancy and labor. I have never seen these areas covered as clearly and as well as in Birthing From Within. It gives me the exercises to help my clients discover their own power.”
This method of instruction draws on the birthing wisdom of many different cultures. As a result, this open-minded thinking spills out into the overall philosophy. One prevailing belief system or method is not forced on the students. Rather, they are encouraged to explore themselves to make conscious decisions about how they hope to experience childbirth.
In the words of Deirdre, a Birthing From Within student in New York City, “It’s so not about following procedures or proven techniques. It’s about finding what works for you as an individual.”
For some people, the high level of disclosure involved with Birthing From Within is uncomfortable. “They find the classes frightening because there is so much feeling of emotion,” says Karen Frank, a childbirth educator in Atlanta. “It teaches people to embrace feelings and embrace pain.”
The person who wants instruction on pregnancy’s mechanical and physical aspects may not appreciate the Birthing From Within method. And while the philosophy allows for the compassionate use of drugs in labor and delivery, some people might find the classes too far off the mainstream path.
But if, as Howard explains, you are interested in learning to have faith in your ability to birth, self-discovery, creative self-expression, pain-coping techniques, free-flowing discussions, bonding with the baby and strengthening your marriage, Birthing From Within might be for you.