Midwifery Today ~ The Medicine of the Ukhu Pacha: Andean Sacred Teachings around Pregnancy, Birth and Postpartum

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Editor’s Corner

[Editor’s note: This issue’s guest editorial is by Sister MorningStar.]

I am very aware at present of the need for a paradigm shift toward our community involvement with birthing mothers. People are afraid of birth. Even ER docs and paramedics are afraid of birth. They would rather handle a gunshot wound. Grandmothers have become silent. Friends and family feel ignorant and helpless. We have lost the joy and wonder and celebration of birth that allows a mother to move through pregnancy and labor surrounded by calm loved ones and familiar environments. Indigenous people’s rites, rituals and prayers often don’t work when exposed to unbelievers. The natural mystery of life and birth is often undermined to breed fear rather than curiosity and trust. What to do? Learning more has not helped. Science proves and disproves on a daily basis and keeps everyone reading and confused. Meanwhile, mothers are growing another baby. Maybe the Cherokee can help. Maybe simplicity and sacredness can help. Maybe returning birth to community by way of village prenatals can help. [See MorningStar’s article on village prenatals.] Together, we can circle the earth and start a new wave of hope and joy.

~ Sister MorningStar

Sister MorningStar has dedicated a lifetime to the preservation of instinctual birth. She birthed her own daughters at home and has helped thousands of other women find empowerment through instinctual birth. She is the founder of a spiritual retreat center and author of books related to instinctual and spiritual living. She lives as a Cherokee hermitess and Catholic mystic in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. Visit her at her website.

 

The Medicine of the Ukhu Pacha: Andean Sacred Teachings around Pregnancy, Birth and Postpartum

Andean culture and wisdom offer a deep and honoring approach to women’s bodies and their reproductive health, including the time/space around birth and becoming mothers. Birth is considered a rite of passage in itself, where one will no longer be the same. The time of pregnancy and birth is considered to be a chakana (bridge) into maternity and an entrance to another reality: the Ukhu Pacha, where one enters her darkness, her inner world, and finds her strength and her medicine. The Ukhu Pacha is associated with the world of the ancestors, with the dark (from which everything is born), with the feminine generative force, with the periphery and with the unknown. The wisdom present in this can help women understand the different emotions we experience throughout pregnancy, birth and postpartum, which are not only emotional or mental states on the “bright side” but can include also sadness, grief, doubt, deep fears and confusion as we dwell in the waters of the Ukhu Pacha. As we will see, Andean cosmovision doesn’t understand these emotions as negative but as opportunities to better know ourselves, heal in deeper levels and strengthen our personal medicine.

It is starting with conception that the pregnant woman slowly enters this Ukhu Pacha as her pregnancy progresses, reaching its greatest depth at birth. She then slowly emerges from the Ukhu Pacha together with her baby. When we cross the threshold at the time of birth, diving in the deepest waters of the Ukhu Pacha, we experience a paramount transformation and are reborn at different levels of experience. When we cross the threshold of birth, we not only give life to a new being but we give birth to ourselves. We birth ourselves as new women, as we will not be the same again. Thus, according to Andean practices, to incorporate within the world of culture or the Kay Pacha (the here and now reality), the woman and her baby, as beings in transition, make a trance from one state to another, from one world to another, and must enter in the cultural world of norms (Lingán 1995). Thus, special care is given to the new mother by female community members in this rite of passage, as this is understood to be a very vulnerable state, not only physical, but emotional, mental and spiritual, where so much of her experience in the world as a woman is transforming. In a way, a woman in her state as a new mother after birth is weaving again, little by little, her new identity/identities and her place in the world. This personal transformation into becoming a mother must not be taken lightly (by herself and by her community).

The mother and baby during the pacha, or time-space after birth, are still dwelling in the Ukhu Pacha and going out little by little (and incorporating themselves) back to the Kay Pacha, or time-space as we know it, and they sense it normally. Thus, in the Andes, the common cultural practice is to have a one-moon or one-month retreat after the wawa (baby’s birth) to support this transitioning. The new mother stays in her house during the first days after birth just in her room, and she is cared for by close family and female community members. Her husband is a key part of this support circle, and he helps with household chores, as the new mother has to be in absolute repose and isn’t supposed to cook, wash laundry or dishes or clean the house. Although she is “on retreat” and has to follow some cultural norms during her time of seclusion (e.g., a special diet, minimum contact with water), she is not alone and she feels supported in this process. Certain cultural practices are followed by mother and baby to support the containment needed in this vulnerable pacha, such as the Andean practice of walta or walteado (swaddling). It is also advised that the household’s physical environment remains dark, and this is easy to attain as typical Andean houses aren’t illuminated; they resemble dark little wombs.

Reference:

  • Lingán, M. 1995. “El ritual del parto en los Andes.” Dissertation. University of Nijmegen.

Cynthia Ingar
Excerpted from “The Medicine of the Ukhu Pacha: Andean Sacred Teachings around Pregnancy, Birth and Postpartum,” Midwifery Today, Issue 118
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Allowing the Laboring Mother to Be Primal

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The Art of Midwifery

Lavender is popular amongst many midwives and doulas because of its varied uses in labor. It calms the entire birth team, lowers tensions and blood pressure and facilitates labor’s energy flow. Lavender oil contains a small amount of the ketone camphor, which can be emmenagogic, so some authorities recommend it be used with caution in early pregnancy. However, because it is a weak emmenagogue, it is unlikely to initiate uterine contractions in a healthy pregnancy.

~ Ashley Musil
Excerpted from “Labor Encouragement with Essential Oils,” Midwifery Today, Issue 107
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Divine Feminine

 

Allowing the Laboring Mother to Be Primal

I arrived at SG’s house at 6 am on Thursday. She was in labor. The day went on with her pains coming consistently but tolerable, allowing her to smile, eat and laugh and allowing me enough breaks to check in at home, have my weekly midwife student lesson and make plans for the evening.

At about midnight, SG’s pains changed, becoming far more intense. I called two midwife students—they stayed at SG’s bedside from then on, massaging her back, comforting and encouraging her as she started to yell and pull her hair. She even began to scratch at her face.

I wondered: Would the doctors and nurses have allowed this kind of behavior in the hospital? Would they have yelled at SG to stop? Why can we not look at someone doing this in labor, and does it need to be stopped?

I found myself wanting to stop SG immediately. What she was doing could not be helpful. She is freaking out, I thought. She needs to be more calm and collected. This needs to be a gentle, physiological birth. She is going to use up all her energy. I need to remind her how to breathe and tell her everything is okay so that she can relax (and so her behavior would be easier to witness and support).

What would happen if I allowed SG to let out her frustration at the pain, her lack of control, the unknowingness of time, the persistency of the contractions, her aloneness and her involuntary, spontaneous reactions to labor pains? What would happen if I stood by her, with complete faith in her body and the process, and I just supported her, reassured her and was there to allow her to be what and who she needed to be in that moment?

And then I remembered my labor. Involuntarily, I screamed and I shouted so loudly with each contraction. It was all completely contrary to my quiet nature. When a contraction came, I needed to scream to let that pain enter, move through my body and leave. Thank goodness no one told me to stop. As I look back, I understand now the many emotional reasons why I needed to express myself and my pain in that way. It was not only about the labor pains—it was about a lot of things that I had been dealing with throughout my pregnancy. When my baby was born, I felt peaceful and whole.

When we understand the physiology of labor, we know that this primal behavior is meant to happen in a physiological birth. It is, indeed, the primal part of our brain that controls and acts during labor.

~ Gauri Lowe
Excerpted from “Allowing the Laboring Mother to Be Primal,” Midwifery Today, Issue 113
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Childbirth: Due Dates and Induction

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As a childbirth educator, doula and student midwife, one of my pet hates is due dates! Whenever I meet with clients, my first task is to shift their thinking from pinning all their hopes on one day to looking at a broader period of time. It’s great to have a well-defined day to work around—we all like to be organized and having a deadline helps us to prepare, at least in the world of things humans create and control. This is not the case when we’re talking about a natural, physiological event.

~ Rachel Bee
Excerpted from “Due for Change?” Midwifery Today, Issue 98
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The Times and Tools of Induction

My people are Cherokee. My first exposure and my earliest memory of when a baby was to be born came from seeing fat-bellied animals and the adults commenting, “Oh, that foal (or cub or pup or kid or young one) will be coming in the spring.” Sometimes they said the baby or babies would be coming in the fall, but usually it was the spring. There was always much concern if babies were coming in the winter, whether they were kittens, pups, chicks or larger domestic animals. The woodland animals seemed to be smarter and their babies just always came in the spring or fall. I wondered about it all. Humans are animals, too, and the elders seemed to talk about us in much the same way. The elders would comment about how a woman was walking and that her time was nearing. As her habits of wanting to stay home or make baby clothes or rearrange the house became more obvious, I would hear comments like, “It won’t be long now.”

Labor is induced by right timing. I observed this as I watched the animals and later as I had my own divine daughters. I walked the hills and waded in the creeks of Missouri as my time grew near with my first daughter. Under the care of a family doctor, I was told a due date. When I told the date to my family elders, they all said, “Ah, but the baby will come when it is ready!” I was the generation that stood at the door of science and nature; they seemed to be at odds with one another. One stated things as if they were facts, but the real facts turned out to be different. My baby was due on October 5 and came October 10. Going over the date was a concern to my doctor and seemed to say something was wrong with my body or my baby. The elders were calm saying over and over, “Oh, she will come! When she is ready, she will come and you can’t keep her in!” They were right. My water broke one night at 11 pm while I was asleep. Contractions started at 1 am. Tabitha was born an hour and 53 minutes later at 2:53 am on October 10, 1975; a fourth generation first-born daughter who grew to give birth to a fifth generation first-born daughter, Ariel, born at 43 weeks in her own home and in her own time.

I’ve heard doctors tell mothers they must induce because there is little to no fluid left around the baby. They use big words that sound scary to mothers, who then experience a flood when their bag of water breaks a week later. Mothers are told they must induce because the baby is too big, but then the baby born is normal size. Mothers are told they must induce because the baby is too old, but the baby born is early and covered with vernix. Mothers are told they must induce because their blood pressure is too high and labor would be too stressful, but they aren’t told not to make love. Mother and babies are always too little or too big or too early or too late or too something until there is now seldom a mother that is just right for going into labor according to her own right timing.

~ Sister MorningStar
Excerpted from “The Times and Tools of Induction,” Midwifery Today, Issue 107
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Toward Better Birth by Midwifery Today

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From the inception of Midwifery Today, we have been interested in covering international issues. Babies are born all over the world, and we at Midwifery Today are interested in helping all of them to be born into loving hands—of midwives, doctors, moms and dads. The keywords here are loving hands!

I like that Jeannine Parvati Baker coined the phrase “Peace on Earth begins with birth.” It isn’t just peace on earth but peace within each one of us. And as we are now learning, it begins at conception or before. There is great new information out on the microbiome, epigenetics and communication with your unborn baby.

As imperialism spread throughout the world, bad birth practices were disseminated. Lithotomy position for delivery, episiotomies and disrespect for motherbaby became the norm in cultures where these practices had been unheard of. I started the magazine International Midwife, which is now incorporated into Midwifery Today, to try to give back some of what Western medicine had stolen from indigenous birth practices. With conferences and information exchanges happening on so many levels now, we are actively trying to understand what is best for motherbaby the world over. We can do this hand in hand across the globe as we work together to help make gentle birth available to every mother, baby and family.

Once a quarter we ask our country contacts about a birth-related topic. Read below!

~ Jan Tritten, mother of Midwifery Today

Jan Tritten is the founder, editor-in-chief and mother of Midwifery Today magazine. She became a midwife in 1977 after the amazing homebirth of her second daughter. Her mission is to make loving midwifery care the norm for birthing women and their babies throughout the world. Meet Jan at our conferences around the world, or join her online, as she works to transform birth practices around the world.

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Kangaroo Care

Prematurity and Kangaroo Care during a Disaster

After Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda slammed into our central islands here in the Philippines last November, I saw a picture in the local paper of several newborn premature babies all wrapped in plastic bags and set on a counter in a broken-down chapel of a hospital. I knew in that instant that if only we could get down there to provide, and teach others to provide, good midwifery care, including the very simple and totally free concept of “kangaroo care” for the preemies, we could save many lives.

For many years, I have been teaching Disaster Preparedness and Response, which is no surprise since I live in a country with the most natural disasters of almost any…country. (The Philippines regularly is in the top three countries each year with the most natural disasters and the most deaths from natural disasters.) We have earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, mudslides, typhoons and super typhoons, and we have very little ability as a country to cope with, or mitigate, large-scale disasters, which was the case when the largest storm to ever make landfall occurred on November 8, 2013.

There are two things we know about disasters:

  1. Disasters tend to cause premature labors, due to the stress they put on pregnant women in the vicinity when the disaster strikes. This unfortunately creates a situation where premature births are happening under the worst of circumstances—during a typhoon, flood, blizzard, earthquake or an act of terrorism.
  2. Access to hospitals, NICUs and advanced medical care is often severely blocked, limited or totally destroyed in a natural or man-made disaster zone.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that there are a few simple, easy solutions to this problem. It will require midwives all over the world, including in the US, to be prepared to address the problem of premature deliveries following any disaster.

Current best practice for prematurity, to prevent mortality and morbidity, dictates two things:

  1. We should try to prevent a baby being born with immature, under-developed lungs.
  2. We should care for any babies that are born premature with kangaroo care.

With regard to the first practice, at the recent Women Deliver Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, we learned about new protocols for the use of antenatal corticosteroids for threatened preterm birth. USAID is advocating that all midwives and doctors use these corticosteroids if premature delivery seems inevitable, as they cause a premature infant’s lungs to produce surfactant, thereby helping to prevent death from respiratory distress caused by immature lungs.

~ Vicki Penwell
Excerpted from “Prematurity and Kangaroo Care during a Disaster,” Midwifery Today, Issue 111
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Finding Empowerment through Homebirth

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The homebirth of my first baby was the most profound thing that has ever happened to me. I not only gained immense power from the act of birthing my baby, but that act was the foundation of how I mothered. I realized that I did not have to swallow the things I thought wrong in this society and I did not have to surrender my child to it either.

Although no one around me (except my husband) agreed, I was able to break free of other people’s expectations and choose a different path. I realized that my whole life, along with the nurturing of my family, could be an act of creation rather than a struggle to just survive (as I had done in the past).

What is more, I felt within me an overwhelming urge to share about my experience of birth—glorious, addictive and empowering! I could not shut up. I can’t not share what I know about birth; it is a profound rite of passage, something sacred and profound. This event not only makes humans, but it makes mothers and fathers. It makes humanity.

I am an activist because I can’t not be. If I stop sharing this truth, I get sick. I have come to realize that this is the expression of the Divine Feminine, which is in each one of us females.

As every woman re-members this, we heal Mother Earth and her children from the disconnection that is destroying the earth through a dis-eased humanity.

Our mother is our first relationship, then our family, then the local community and then the world. By healing birth, we heal our Mother Earth.

~ Barbara Rivera is an activist who founded the organization Empowered Birth.

Jan Tritten is the founder, editor-in-chief and mother of Midwifery Today magazine. She became a midwife in 1977 after the amazing homebirth of her second daughter. Her mission is to make loving midwifery care the norm for birthing women and their babies throughout the world. Meet Jan at our conferences around the world, or join her online, as she works to transform birth practices around the world.

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Straight from the Heart Mothering by Midwifery Today Magazine

I cried when I read this. This is so powerful and true! The journey a woman goes through during childbirth is magical. It is indeed a dangerous and blessed event. My husband’s mother died 12 hours after giving birth to him. She had internal bleeding that wasn’t caught in time. I remember my father in law being so nervous during my two deliveries. He had happy tears and much praise to God that I survived the journey.

Whether you have had a child birth or not, you dear woman…have that space, that Sacred Womb that is connected to all of Creation, on every realm and every vibration.

Enjoy this lovely article!

~ Rev. Tiffany White Sage Woman

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Straight from the Heart Mothering

I wish I was sitting with you now, at your kitchen table. I would listen to your birth story. I would rub your strong shoulders and ask to hold your baby. I wish this because I admire your courage. Thank you for bringing a new baby Earth-side. You are a heroine. Some Native American tribes believe that the mother must journey to the land of the souls to bring back a child for her people. This is labor. Your own re-birth and the birth of this baby is the most significant journey, both spiritual and physical, that a human being can make. You return a mother, having completed the world’s most dangerous and blessed life event. If you do not believe that childbirth, in all its manifestations, is a heroic undertaking, consider the statistics: every day on planet Earth approximately 1370 women die due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Today as you read this, let me celebrate your bravery. Whatever the details of your birth story, you faced your individual childbirth challenges and worked to give this world a newborn person.

Perhaps your birth did not go as planned. Many do not, and so you will cry and with the help of friends, family and the Good Lord (God, Universe, Creator) you must heal. Please do not diminish the wonder of the job you have done only because it was not perfect in our limited human opinion.

While we are of flesh and bone we cannot hope to fully know what “perfect” is. Our best made plans will be broken a million times in the years of parenting ahead. As mothers we must learn to be flexible, for the rigid tree breaks in the windstorms of life. In birth we are utterly taken apart. In this way God guarantees that we emerge anew. This is how Mother Nature builds a new mother, by first burning down our preexisting lives. The survival of this precious being you hold close today depends upon your undoing.

~ Robin Lim
Excerpted from “Straight from the Heart Mothering,” Midwifery Today, Issue 49
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The Voice of Reason by Midwifery Today

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“Good luck with that cesarean section problem,” said my webmaster as he posted the beautiful home water birth photos of mother Kalista and baby Loki with father Trace and sister Sophie immersed in love, joy and newborn water. “It seems we were talking about that problem 30 years ago.” Yep, he’s right. We were.

By 2013, ACOG had released their new definitions for gestation, making 40 weeks term and paving the way for inductions at 39 weeks. California-licensed midwives received news of tighter restrictions for homebirth. National and world statistics worsened for infant and maternal mortality making it seem reasonable to move toward higher requirements for birth worker education and tighter control for standards in childbirth. ACOG seems to be the voice of reason.

I, however, am the voice of another reason. In all these rulings, standards, guidelines and laws, the voice of the mother is rarely seen as the expert. Her final knowing and final word ought to stand firm above the knowing of others about her; this is a human rights issue. As we midwives started to create a tiny space to serve mothers, serve our callings and serve ourselves without being thrown into prison, we thought the mother’s voice was heard through our midwifery voice; this was our initial mistake. The Cherokee made the same mistake in calling all men brothers as the foreign foot stepped onto this land. Another’s voice can never replace the one to whom actions are being taken or suggested, especially when the action is insisted upon with threats of death. This is why one must go deep and quietly into the presence of birth to see what miracles are possible.

In his latest book, Childbirth and the Future of Homo Sapiens, Michel Odent concludes, “Let us work as if it is not too late.” Some may work for legislation, others for research, some with colleagues and some with mothers, but may all work with heart and soul with little thought of self and much thought of the seventh generation. I have many passions, but intellectualizing and standardizing birth is not one of them. So I am the voice of undisturbed birth and I am saying, “Stop frightening birthing mothers.” May we learn how to speak our truths without frightening others and without frightening ourselves.

Meanwhile, I wonder, why can’t we see that the way we are handling birth and the very real correlating outcomes are making things increasingly worse? Who cares how much more qualified, educated, scientific, evidence-based, equal or superior we have all become if we as a collective motherhood and as a collective midwifehood are more afraid of birth and, therefore, act accordingly. I’m not sure anyone with any education or training is best suited to be with a birthing mother. If a mother can somehow escape the claws of a professional, she ranks in the numbers of those women who are birthing the last free human beings on our planet—the last human life free from needles, machines, drugs, plastic, spotlights and the coercion of fear.

~ Sister MorningStar
Excerpted from “Voice of Reason,” Midwifery Today, Issue 110
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