The Labyrinth of Birth

birth-laborinthWhen my midwives Josie and Mary started talking about The Labyrinth of Birth I was immediately intrigued.  I’d never heard of one before and hadn’t done anything like it when I was pregnant with my first child.  With my second child, I really wanted a home birth so was working towards that when I did my Labyrinth (pictured).  I’d done so much art when I was younger but very few pieces since I’d had my children… actually none since then at all.

The concept of the birth labyrinth that I’m talking about comes from the book ‘Birthing From Within’ by Pam England and Rob Horowitz.  “The labyrinth is an ancient symbol representing our journey through life, ordeals, and transitions. Its single, convoluted pathway begins at the opening, leads directly to the center, and then returns along the same path to the outside again. Walking or finger-tracing a labyrinth invokes a sensation of turning inward, then outward– perhaps reminding us of our first journey from our mother’s body into the world.”

The Labyrinth of Birth is something women create when pregnant.  It can be a painting or pottery, it can be made using rope or shells or a collage or quite literally it can be a life-sized labyrinth in sand or mud or rocks or grass that you walk or trace in person.  You create it, then you trace it.

What’s the purpose?

The Labyrinth mirrors labour.  Once labour starts and you step inside the labyrinth, you take step after step, progressing towards the centre which is representative of the birth of the baby, birth of the mother and birth of the family.   Unlike a maze that has dead-ends, multiple entry and exit points and requires strategic thinking or luck to get out, the labyrinth has one entry, many twists and turns leading to the centre and a return path to exit.  You can’t get lost in there.  So this can be representative of our labours, there is a path to the birth, there is no time-line, there are no wrong turns, just movement, one foot in front of the other that leads us to the centre of the experience, the birth.  The Labyrinth of Birth can be used to learn about the history and meaning of labyrinths but also to teach us that the journey of birth is about a lot more than just an outcome.  It’s about the experience and moving through this step by step to have your baby and become a family.

With my labyrinth, I created a picture using charcoal, coffee, cardboard and paint.  I added affirmations and animals that signified strength for me because I wanted to look at this in labour and be reminded of the Labyrinth and draw on the energy and strength displayed there.

Actually, I started one, then stopped because I didn’t like how it looked, so I started another one.  This did freak me out a little because I wondered whether that was ‘ok’ or not.  Did this mean I would have two ways my labour could go?  Did it mean I would have labour start then stop then start again?  Did it mean I was being too much of a perfectionist and needed to let go of my vision of my perfect birth?

As it turned out, the labyrinth of birth that I created did mirror my birth quite significantly.  Some correlations were:

  • My labour did start and stop over a period of 3 days.  Surges were consistent each night from 7pm to 10pm then they would fizzle when I went to bed and resume again the following evening.  They turned into real labour on the 4th night and my daughter was born at 1.15am.
  • In the labyrinth I had positioned my feet with my husband’s feet just behind me (not beside me) to signify his support. As it turns out I spent all 3 hours of active labour on all fours, with my husband directly behind me (as depicted on the labyrinth).  Bub was born in that position and received by my sister and husband before my midwife could arrive.  So, his support was vital to the birth, he wasn’t allowed to move from that position as he was applying hip counter pressure – which I didn’t want to stop because it felt so good.
  • I did see several eagles in the days leading up to my birth, which I took as a good sign, I was where I was supposed to be and was protected, everything was in place.
  • My faithful labrador was by my side the entire labour and birth and he played a pivotal role in keeping my sister calm as the baby was born (he was calm as he sniffed the baby then went back to sleep so she took this as a sign that all was well).

I’m sure there are other things that will come to me with time.  More recently, I had my labyrinth framed and put on the wall.  I didn’t know if at the time but now I see this corresponded with the end of my postpartum period.  I see my way out of the labyrinth as being my postpartum journey.  For me, this lasted pretty much as long as breastfeeding did so I just made it to the exit a few months ago when my daughter weaned herself at 18 months.

If you are pregnant and this idea appeals to you, I’d strongly encourage you to do a birth labyrinth.  It’s a great way to connect with the baby and connect with yourself, your feelings, wishes and hopes for the birth you are about to experience.  On a practical level it can be a visual tool to use in the weeks and months leading up to your birth by serving to remind you of the birth you want to have and to work towards this vision of your birth.  Then during labour it can be used as a tool for you and your support team, they can use affirmations if you write them or remind you of your path through labour and encourage you to keep moving forward.

I remember saying to my sister at one point (close to transition in retrospect), “I’m finding it difficult to breathe fully when I have a surge”.   She replied “You are in it now, you are doing it now, all you need to do is find your rhythm and go with it”.  This helped me keep moving forward, keep pressing on towards the centre, just like the Labyrinth of Birth.

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