Friday, May 28, 2010

Spirituality in Childbearing Women

New qualitative research by Lynn Clark Callister and Inaam Khalaf, published in the Journal of Perinatal Education, examines spirituality in childbearing women. For their article "Spirituality in Childbearing Women," Callister and Khalaf examined narratives from 250 culturally diverse women and found that spirituality played a significant role in women's approach to and understanding of childbirth. The women came from a variety of religious traditions and countries. From the article:
For the present study, we performed a secondary analysis of published and unpublished descriptive narrative data from cross-cultural phenomenological studies that we conducted over the past 20 years with childbearing women espousing Christian, Jewish, and Islamic religious traditions and with childbearing women from countries in a variety of global regions (Australia; Europe; Middle East; North, Central, and South America; Southwest Pacific; Western, Northern, and Eastern Asia; and Western and Southern Africa).
You can download the full text of the article from the abstract page. Lamaze International has also issued a press release about the article, in which Callister explains more about her research. An excerpt:
The study, published in the spring issue of the Journal of Perinatal Education, found that understanding the spiritual dimensions of childbirth is essential in clinical settings. As such, authors of the study recommend clinicians include the question, “Do you have any spiritual beliefs that will help us better care for you?” during their clinical assessment.

“Childbirth and motherhood provide many women with an ideal context in which to recognize the spiritual aspect of their lives,” said Lynn Clark Callister, R.N., Ph.D., FAAN, a professor of nursing at the Brigham Young University College of Nursing and study co-author. “Our research illustrates that for most women, childbirth is a deeply spiritual experience. As healthcare providers, we need to recognize and support this evidence, and listen to women’s voices to guide their care.”
I'd love to hear about your experiences of spirituality in pregnancy and childbirth. Please share!


  1. With my first two I didn't really experience, or feel anything extra in regards to my spirituality or religion.

    But this third, that was so overwhelming with the blood clots, and the stress of it all, I felt so much power and protection.

    In particular, there was a point that I was meditating. Sitting and talking with my baby. I "dove" backwards into my body and worked my way down to my uterus. When I saw my uterus it had this beautiful gold glowing aura dancing around it, licking at it like sun bursts. I saw the amniotic sac within that, and the baby inside the sac.
    In recounting my "vision", I learned that seeing a "gold" aura means divinity, or divine protection. That meant so much to me, and gave me such peace to know my baby was protected by something more powerful than myself. That God was looking out for us.

    Later, during all the hospital stays, a friend told me she had a dream about us. I was sitting in a hospital bed holding the baby smiling. All around us was this golden glow (there it was again!) We were surrounded by people who were standing in this gold glow smiling at us, visiting us. She felt all the love in the glow, so she stepped into it and loved us with everyone else. She's not a christian, but even she said she felt that this signified all the people who were praying for safety in the birth, and a beautiful empowering experience.

    I believe there is such power in prayer. Not from those who pray, but from God who listens. I had an empowering hospital birth, after two home births. Not to mention A HEALTHY 35 weeker who came home with me.

  2. I am a Christian and throughout my most recent pregnancy especially, I felt deeply connected to my baby and trusted God's design for both my body and our baby. And when i was aware that she was breech very early on (very similar to your story, Rixa), I spent time daily meditating and praying. I would envision her flipping head-down in her comfortable sack of water and would often recite positive affirmations such as, "My baby knows how to turn head-down."

    And as much as I frequently was worried and fearful, I also knew that God was in control and that His plan was good. After trying all sorts of low-tech methods to turn her, I had an external version done at 37 weeks. My OB, who is essentially a nominal Jew, asked, "Does anyone want to say a prayer?" right before he started the version. I don't think it had ever come up in conversation that I was a Christian, but regardless, perhaps he somehow knew. That spoke volumes to me when he said that.

    I marveled daily at the amazing way God had created women's bodies to work and I praised him for the way he was forming our baby in my womb. I was heart-broken and grieved when the external version was not successful and was so frustrated, but yet I continued to cling to the Lord. I could not find a practitioner near us who attempted vaginal breech births (I later found out about 1 OB who does), and felt like I had no other option but to have a c-section--one of my worst fears. And yet when I went into labor, I was calm, rejoicing and at peace.

    I participated in this study and am so thankful for studies such as this. Spirituality is an aspect that is often void in the traditional relationship between OB's and their patients.

  3. During each pregnancy, I chose to pray for laboring women in a 3rd world country. I figured that during labor, I could think about these women, many laboring in difficult circumstances, and it would put my pain into perspective. During my first labor, I chose the women of Niger, my 2nd, the women of Afghanistan, and my 3rd, the women of Haiti (bc they have the highest maternal mortality in our hemisphere).

    My last labor/delivery was very fast, natural, and relatively easy. I remember thinking about and praying for the women in Haiti between contractions. When my new baby girl was placed on my chest, I was beyond thrilled. (I was hoping for a girl.) But soon after, I lost a lot of blood and my blood sugar bottomed out. I felt awful and was not able to enjoy the afterglow of birth.

    After the hubbub of birth was over, the nurses left, my husband left to park the car, and I was left in a dark, quiet room, finally able to reflect. My baby was in her bassinet—I felt too sick to even hold her. I laid there and all of the sudden, I felt a profound sense of God’s grace and felt that my heart would burst with gratitude. I starting crying and crying, feeling so thankful for a healthy, beautiful new daughter. And even though I felt so sick, I knew that I would be okay because I was in a hospital and was being well cared for.

    My thoughts turned toward the women of Haiti. Surely, right now, there was a woman who had also given birth who felt awful. But maybe she was alone, maybe she had no access to medical care, perhaps her child was not healthy. Maybe she was scared. I felt so sad for her and felt so undeserving…why did I have good care and a healthy baby when so many others do not? I kept crying, filled with these contradictory emotions—gratitude, happy, sad, overwhelmed. In those moments, I felt God’s grace in such a moving and powerful way. It is something I’ll never forget.

  4. I've been practicing Yoga for over 11 years, and I can't even begin to list the many ways it truly carried me through pregnancy and childbirth. I didn't grow up with a particular religion, but through my Yoga practice, I have been able to connect with the Sacred, and this powerful connection was the best preparation (for me) for the experience of becoming a mother. I can't imagine going through the experience without it.

    Now, when I teach Yoga to pregnant women, I begin with the practical application of postures to help prepare and support their bodies (many women think that Yoga ends with the postures). As we work together, I help them develop and utilize their individual spiritual traditions as a means of keeping them connected to the Sacred. Good stuff.

  5. @Suzanne--your story of praying for laboring women in third world countries was such a blessing to read! Your heart for these women is encouraging to me.

  6. I am a Christian, and spirituality in general is something I strive for always. My first two births are stories in and of themselves, but while pregnant with my 3rd, I began to really educate myself on childbirth. I borrowed a book from a friend and it became very influential in my life. A Superior Alternative: Childbirth at Home by - Polly Block. It spoke of the spiritual power of birth.
    I decided I wanted to have a homebirth, and I reconnected with the idea of Birth being a spiritual experience. I'm not saying I had visions, or this grand Spiritual experience at my birth, but the quiet spirituality, that I was able to hold in my heart. I trusted in birth, I trusted my body. I knew that everything would go well.
    I had my husband give me a blessing, and we asked that we would know the right choices to make. That if things proved difficult we would make the choice to go to the hospital.
    We were blessed to have a beautiful birth at home.
    I have since become a birth advocate. I have had 3 more children, at home or at a Birth Center.
    I have been a Doula for over 8 years now, and am training to be a Midwife. Every time I see a newborn baby come forth from it's mother, I marvel at the beauty that is Birth.
    I wonder how anyone can see a newborn baby in all it's complexity; how many parts make up just the human eye, how two little cells come together and grow to make a whole nother human being! How can anyone see that and think that it is all just some accident of fate and not see God in that moment!?!

  7. i wrote about my feelings on spirituality on my birth blog. here is the link:

    i thought i'd just post the link instead of writing it directly on here, since it is longer than normal comment length.

    to summarize, i feel birth is very spiritual. for me, however, my birth became more spiritual when i took charge of it and did it unmedicated. without the medication, i was able to come so much closer to God because of the pain i felt and the sacrifice i made. it was life changing to say the least.

  8. I also wrote about this on my blog:

    I feel we can always find the Divine when we really look for it.


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