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Spiritual midwifery is an approach to midwifery that focuses on labor and delivery holistically, integrating care of the laboring mother's spirit in addition to her physical body. There are many angles from which spiritual midwifery can be approached, with some midwives referring to themselves as “spiritual midwives,” while others integrate this approach into their practices.
The development of the concept is usually credited to Ina May Gaskin, a pioneer in the field of midwifery in the United States. In 1971, Gaskin established The Farm, a cooperative in Tennessee, and started attending home births at The Farm, training midwives, and developing a holistic approach to the care of women during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Her 1975 book became a classic, and it has been revised and updated on numerous occasions to integrate new information and ideas, along with new birth stories from women who have given birth at The Farm or worked with a Farm-trained midwife. The Farm continues to offer prenatal care and midwifery services.
The focus of spiritual midwifery is on keeping birth as natural as possible, limiting interventions while protecting the safety of mother and child. Many spiritual midwives offer home birth services to their clients, although it is also possible to receive care in a birthing center or hospital. Spiritual midwives work with their patients during pregnancy to monitor the development of the pregnancy and to prepare the mother for delivery, attend the mother during labor, and usually make several follow up visits to check on the health of the newborn and the emotional and physical health of the mother.
Practitioners of spiritual midwifery view birth as a sacrament, and work with their clients to develop a positive birth experience which integrates all of the elements desired. The focus on natural birth encourages women to allow labor to develop naturally and encourages women to do what feels natural during labor and delivery. Support from family, friends, and community is also an important aspect of spiritual midwifery. Rather than “managing” pain, there is a focus on working through the pain associated with labor, and on meditating on the spiritual nature of pain and the process of bringing out new life.
With the assistance of a practitioner of spiritual midwifery, a pregnant mother can develop a birth plan which works for her. Women who are interested in spirituality tend to benefit most from this form of midwifery, as do women who are interested in natural birth. A competent spiritual midwife will never, however, risk the life of mother and child to achieve a natural birth; if mother or baby goes into distress, the midwife will recommend transfer to hospital care.