If you are a childbirth educator whether you realize it or not you probably make at least one reference to something you learned in Pam England’s book "Birthing from Within." For me, it’s the Birth Tigers-I always bring up this section of her book when discussing the effects of fear in labor.
In Pam’s latest book "Labyrinth of Birth" she explores the power of creating a labyrinth or “laborinth” as part of the birth preparation process. I was honored to review the book for the ICEA blog and was introduced to many new ideas that I am sure to share with my students. I enjoyed the book so much that I wanted to know more-so I contacted Pam hoping I could ask her a few questions.
As an anthropologist I am always fascinated by myth and story. I had to know where she learned about the meaning and history of the labyrinth.
“It began gradually about six or seven years ago…not as research, just curiosity…I am interested in symbols, myth, and old cultures, so I read. I drew a few labyrinths and traced them. Once I experienced the labyrinth, I
understood it-I understood it was the perfect symbol and map for labor and the childbearing year. I kept reading.”
Having sat in on a few Birthing From Within classes I wondered how the “laborinth” would weave its way into the curriculum and wondered if those of us who have not gone through the BFW training would be equipped to use the exercises with our own clients.
“When I developed and wrote BFW I did not even know what a labyrinth was. Now it’s a cornerstone of our classes and consciousness. As a symbol the labyrinth is thousands of years old and I am certain it has been used as we are using it, as a metaphor, as a symbol, as a “map” to alter consciousness, to aid relaxation and healing. I wanted to share the ancient and universal symbol with everyone so it could become part of our birth consciousness. I hope many childbirth teachers, midwives, doulas, and parents will take it up…The labyrinth is an ambiguous, ancient symbol; not a tool to demonize the medical model. At times the message is sent that normal labor is straightforward, and it may be on a graph but not in the mind of a laboring woman.”
I mentioned to Pam that before attending the class some of the couples have not had experience with meditation or even with breathing exercises. I wondered if that would be an issue.
“Tracing the labyrinth repeatedly is the process. It is suggested that tracing the labyrinth seven times will change brain wave activity. Tracing or walking a labyrinth is meditation. When preparing expectant parents I often join the pain-coping practices with the tracing of the labyrinth to further deepen their focus.”
I was so grateful to be given the opportunity to hear from Pam England about what the process was like for her as the author and in a sense mediator between this ancient practice and us. She did mention there was one “unfulfilled part” of her dream and that is to see Labyrinths in every birth room. She has a vision of laboring women walking the labyrinth on labor wards instead of walking up and down the public halls. I mentioned in the review that I have had that same thought come up when walking the hospital corridors with laboring couples and it’s not just me who fantasizes about such things. Many, many families have voiced the same dream. A peaceful, meditative spot to walk while in labor. If anyone deserves a little serenity its us mothers and mothers-to-be. Let’s make it happen. Thank you Pam!
“The first path a human being ever travels is the path that leads out of the maternal womb. Every human being’s first labyrinth is that of a woman.”
-Jacues Attali, "The Labyrinth in Culture and Society."