Labyrinth As Birth Symbol

| Sacred Pregnancy
Mom shrieks and clutches her basketball belly, announcing, “My water just broke!” Dad panics and bumblingly hurries to find the hospital bag and the car keys, leaving mom to labor on her own through hard frequent contractions. The baby’s coming NOW and they have to dash to the hospital for doctors and medicine to manage the situation right away. How many times have you watched this scene on the silver screen?Birth can indeed go down this way, but the tv trope isn’t a very good reflection of reality. Labor doesn’t usually start with a sudden gush of the waters. A trip to the hospital early in labor isn’t usually very helpful. And who wants such a freaked out, unhelpful dad?

This miserable scene doesn’t have to be our model for childbirth.  Feminist theologian Carol Christ famously wrote, “Symbol systems cannot simply be rejected, they must be replaced.  Where there is no replacement, the mind will revert to familiar structures at times of crisis, bafflement, or defeat.”   So we need to turn off the tv and nurture different models that better help us to tell our stories and prepare for the births we want to experience.

Instead of watching dramatic tv narratives, one symbol many people turn to for inspiration is the labyrinth. Labyrinths come in many forms, but generally they are curving single pathways, with no tricky wrong turns like mazes have.

I like to think about the labyrinth as a map for the entire childbearing year. The pathway from gate to center is the pregnancy; the space of the center is the birth; and the pathway back out from the center is the postpartum period. Because in a meditative labyrinth walk we turn at the center of a labyrinth to walk the same ground out that we travelled in, the labyrinth allows us to encounter ourselves the same, yet changed by birth.

This model I use offers many lessons, but it’s not the only way of using a labyrinth in pregnancy. In San Francisco for several years, midwives have been hosting monthly labyrinth walks at the stunning Grace Cathedral labyrinths. Pregnant women assemble and walk silently together, weaving in and out of the labyrinth’s twists and turns.

When I walked with them during my second pregnancy I gained several personal insights. With my feet firmly on the labyrinth’s sacred ground I gained a new appreciation for the particular place in the world where my baby would be born. Walking in community also enabled me to share wisdom and loving support with others on the path.

Pam England, who developed the popular Birthing from Within system of childbirth preparation, also likes to use labyrinths with pregnant women. She sees the labyrinth as a map for labor and birth, and a better symbol than the ones provided by hospital medicine.  In her book Labyrinth of Birth, she writes, “the meandering labyrinth offers a superior alternative to explaining labor in terms of ‘stages of labor.’ The convoluted pathway more accurately portrays a mother’s inner experience of labor and postpartum than does the straight line of a labor graph.”  Her book offers easy-to-follow instructions for anyone wanting to make and use a variety of labyrinths during pregnancy.

These are a few examples of people meditating on the labyrinth symbol to prepare for birth, but they are far from the only ones. If you open to its wisdom, the labyrinth may whisper new and different stories to you. Which way does your path lead?


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