Pagan Pregnancy and Childbirth

Pagan Pregnancy and Childbirth

A collection of links and information, including:

Meditation on Pregnancy:

Mama Fortuna - of the Temple of Fortuna - invited me to contribute a ritual for her weekly online Pagan worship service, as they were celebrating childbirth and new mothers. I sent her a walking meditation to share with her listeners. You can listen to the service here, scrolling down to "Day of Fortuna Primigenia". Thanks to Mama Fortuna for this opportunity!


Deirdre Arthen of EarthSpirit:
Toward a Magickal Birth
Ways to Prepare for a Magical Birth
These articles are probably the most worthwhile writing on the topic of Pagan pregnancy/ childbirth that I've found.

Pagan Families, a new blog about Pagan pregnancy and birth

MoonDragon Birthing Services - Pregnancy Information
Extensive pregnancy and birth info from a Pagan midwife; the info is mostly not specifically Pagan.

Songs and Chants

Some songs and chants that I listened to during pregnancy and birth:

Songs and chants for welcoming:

Book/Chapter Suggestions

Pagan Books/Chapters

Anne Hill, "Children of Metis: Beyond Zeus the Creator: Paganism and the Possibilities for Embodied Cyborg Childraising" (in Cyborg Babies: From Techno-Sex to Techno-Tots)
    Don't get freaked out by the academic jargon. The paper itself is interesting, very readable, and worth your time, if you can get hold of a copy. The author discusses the dichotomy of "technology vs. nature" in terms of childbirth, and explores ways to transcend this conflict. She also uses the paradigm of the four elements to consider technology, community, and child-raising. (Don't you like how I used the terms "dichotomy" and "paradigm" in this review?)

Kristen Madden, Pagan Parenting: Spiritual, Magical, and Emotional Development of the Child.
    The first chapter, "Incarnation", explores when and how the baby's soul/ spirit/ energy is "incarnated" and offers ways to attune with your child energetically while it is in the womb. I don't know that I agree with her understanding of this process, and the exercises didn't really resonate with me that much (e.g. "Meet with your unborn child's spirit guides"), but it was definitely interesting to consider the spiritual ramifications of having a living person coming into being within your body.

Starhawk, Diane Baker, & Anne Hill, Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions.
    This book includes a chapter ("Beginnings") about pregnancy and childbirth (including an adoption story, and also a piece about miscarriage). It has personal stories, songs, and rituals. I would think that if you're having children you'll probably want this book anyway! It's the best book on raising Pagan children that I've encountered, and I've found the rituals, songs, and projects useful even as an adult Pagan with no children. But in case you were unsure, I think this chapter is great, although it's not that long - I love the stories and rituals in it.

Trish Telesco, "Having a Magical Child" (in Modern Rites of Passage: Witchcraft Today, Book Two, ed. Chas Clifton)
    I found this chapter on pregnancy and childbirth to be a little generic. It does cover all the bases in terms of topics, and the discussions are inclusive for different methods of conception, adoption, different types of families, etc. - which I really appreciated. But somehow I was left with the feeling of wanting more specifics - stories, rituals, etc. This chapter is probably a good first source/ place to start looking at information.

Non-Pagan-Specific Books

Pam England, Birthing From Within.
I liked this book a lot and think most Pagans would resonate with her natural, holistic, and sacred view of childbirth. I especially appreciated the first few chapters, about how she uses artwork with people to explore their hopes, fears, and feelings about birth.

Ronald Grimes, Deeply Into the Bone: Re-Inventing Rites of Passage.
This book is academic in nature (not practice-oriented) but includes a lot of great stories and examples. I felt there were too many generalizations in the book as a whole, but it does offer a lot of anthropological details which can stretch our imagination about what ritual is and how it works. The chapter on birth ("Celebrating New Life, Ritually Nurturing the Young") spends a lot of time discussing why medicalized birth is a problematic ritual, then gives some examples of birth rituals in other cultures (and considers them critically as well). The chapter seemed somewhat disjointed to me. Interesting but not essential reading. As a side note, a later chapter in the book includes a beautiful story of a healing ritual done after an abortion.

Sandra Steingraber, Having Fath: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood
This was probably my favorite pregnancy/postpartum reading. The author, an ecologist, fuses her memoir of pregnancy, childbirth, and being a nursing mother with scientific exploration of these processes. Her writing is beautiful, embodying a sense of awe and wonder at the magic of how pregnancy and birth happen. She also looks at some larger social issues, e.g. different perspectives on medical intervention in childbirth; how environmental toxins affect fetal development.

Hypnobirthing: A Pagan Review

I took a Hypnobirthing (Mongan Method) class to prepare for childbirth. Here are some of my thoughts on Hypnobirthing from a Pagan perspective.

Where Hypnobirthing fits well with a Pagan perspective: It provides information about how the birth process works (e.g. hormones and muscles that are at work during birth) and how relaxation can help the proecss to occur on its own. For me, this resonated well with the Pagan sense of wonder at the natural world and alignment with the rhythms of nature.

Hypnobirthing also uses visualization and trance to create a sacred experience of birth and tune in to the natural rhythms of the birthing process. The affirmations were really nice and helped to soothe my anxiety about childbirth ahead of time. I especially appreciated the parts that focused on tuning in to your body and visualizing the process, e.g. focusing on the image of a flower opening, in order to encourage the natural process to unfold. The Rainbow Relaxation is very similar to many trance inductions I've experienced in Pagan ritual. These visualizations were very helpful for me in the early stages of labor. While I could have designed visualizations like this myself, it was much easier to have them already recorded on a CD and printed out to use.

There was a focus on how to create an environment that will be a sacred space in which the birth can occur. There is a lot of support for your partner's involvement (whether a romantic partner or your birth support person); the classes and exercises really encourage the partner to take an active role and feel like an important part of the process.

Where Hypnobirthing doesn't fit so well: Other parts of the self-hypnosis techniques were focused on alleviating pain, for example, trying to numb parts of the body through visualization. I really wasn't able to try these during labor - at the point where they would have been useful, I did not even remember they existed, and don't think I could have reached the state of relaxation necessary to use them. I'm not opposed to pain management through epidurals, hypnosis, or whatever works. But just because some people can have a drug-free childbirth looking like the women in the Hypnobirthing videos (serene, relaxed, calm), doesn't mean that anyone can have this kind of birth. I would have liked some more techniques for the active part of labor that took into account the intense physical sensations you are experiencing. Perhaps the use of mantra or chanting, which can also create a trance state.

My other major criticism of Hynobirthing is the New Age philosophical underpinning that suggests that we cause our own sickness and pain because we focus on negativity. (Think "The Secret," the video that went around a couple of years back, which claimed that people in Third World countries are responsible for their own suffering!) I've met Pagans who buy into this kind of thing as well. Hypnobirthing doesn't push this too hard, but there is a suggestion that if you feel pain during labor, or if you have a difficult labor, it's because you weren't sufficiently relaxed. While relaxation and emotional states certainly affect your labor, you don't have complete control over the process. You just don't. To pretend that you do, runs the risk of blaming women for their own suffering.

All in all: Hypnobirthing was a useful and meaningful program for me, but with some flaws. Take it with a grain of salt.

Pagan Parenting Links

Pagan Parenting by Morningstar and Moonshadow
Mamawitch's Pagan Parenting site
Pagan and Wiccan Parenting Page
Reclaiming Quarterly: Theme Section on Parenting

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