Birth is rarely depicted in popular media as anything other than a painful and traumatic experience. Midwife Marianne Littlejohn, who runs a website and practice in Cape Town, South Africa, called Spiritual Birth, wants to show expecting parents a different option.
Littlejohn has over three decades of experience helping women and their partners through the birth process. She has attended home and hospital deliveries, as wells as water births. Littlejohn spoke with The Huffington Post about how to make giving birth a more spiritual experience.
Could you describe your background as a birth worker and what drew you to this work?
It would be disrespectful to begin the story without referring to my ancestry of Scottish and Hungarian women, who were farmers, teachers and midwives in their communities -- caring for their earth, their children and animals alike. My mother handed on her love of animals and nature and we were fortunate to grow up on farms with animals in the countryside. It also made us hardy. To be connected to our earth is to be connected to the energy of the universe and the reasons we human beings are here at all. Being a midwife is part of this journey and I feel immensely privileged.
Was there a moment when you realized that birth was (or could be) a spiritual experience? What changed after that?
I studied nursing, midwifery and subsequently, when I was later pregnant, I breathed deeply through the 12-hour experience of birthing my firstborn son. I knew I had tapped into a secret and powerful source of love and energy within myself. I felt more connected to that and from that moment on, I knew I was going to be a midwife.
Later, when my children were growing up, I studied a degree in psychology and philosophy at university, which fueled my interest in neurobiology and how the brain functions and develops from conception onwards. We know now, from scientific research, that hormones of love and transcendence are released in peak doses during labor, birth and breastfeeding. It became really important for me to learn to facilitate a natural and undisturbed birth -- as far as possible -- so that this release of hormones could occur.
“How a baby is born and how well a woman is treated when she gives birth sets the tone and is the matrix from which a child will grow into a future we have not yet imagined.”
What is your daily life as a midwife like?
I run an antenatal clinic twice a week where I meet and take care of pregnant women. I see four to eight clients on these days. These visits are where a woman builds trust with me if she chooses me as her midwife and we get to know each other intimately.
When a mother goes into labor, she calls me and we ascertain when I should arrive to be with her, in her home. Often I am with a mother for up to 36 hours, although sometimes I may arrive just in time for the birth. Then there are postpartum visits; I also mentor midwifery students, work with doulas, offer workshops and classes to midwives and mothers and communicate via messages, email and phone calls. I run a small birthing center in my home where women can give birth.
How do you stay connected to your own spirituality in the midst of all of this?
Riding horses has taught me how to be patient. I have learned to be calm -- the most effective quality of a midwife -- under pressure and pass this on to the mother. I also benefit from repetitive tasks. In the morning, I walk my three dogs, come rain or shine. Communing and meditating in nature is vital to my health. Rest is important and comes before all else in-between births, so I sleep in order to refresh my being. I am a vegetarian and try to eat well to sustain my body; I exercise daily through walking, yoga and horse-riding -- when I have the extra time. I also spend time with family and a few close friends. This helps to nourish me.
“An enlightened witness, someone who really listens and acknowledges our hurt and pain, is essential in this process of healing.”
What needs to change for society to embrace the spirituality of birth?
Historically, women have been and still are vulnerable and oppressed in so many places in the world. This needs to change. The hidden memories from traumatic events in our own childhoods influence how we relate to others and the earth. Healing ourselves first is an essential step on the road to relating with others, whether it is through humanitarian effort or technological inventiveness. An enlightened witness, someone who really listens and acknowledges our hurt and pain, is essential in this process of healing.
How a baby is born and how well a woman is treated when she gives birth sets the tone and is the matrix from which a child will grow into a future we have not yet imagined.
What effect would it have if that change occurred?
If each pregnant woman were well nourished and supported in her community, each birth was attended by a skilled and loving attendant and each child had an enriched loving environment, we could change our world into a world of peace, not war.
Love is the key to our survival. When babies are conceived and nourished in love and peace, this is what they will carry forth. Children who are free to learn and are self-motivated are the discoverers and inventors of the future.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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