From Womb to Underworld and Back Again: Healing Cesarean Section

Jeannine Parvati Baker

Ever since I've been watching, childbirth has changed from being primarily an active expression of women to a medical event through which she is delivered. When I had my first baby, the rate of surgically assisted [abdominal] birth was under 10%. In the late nineties, cesarean section is performed in 20 - 40% of births, depending on whether the hospital is involved in teaching or not. If it's a teaching hospital, the rate is higher. What are we teaching?

My early responses to watching childbirth be taken out of the lap of the family and given into the hands of the experts, were rage, righteous indignation, and an anger which motivated me to do something about the cesarean epidemic. Tempered with these potent feelings was the realization that everything on this Earth serves soul-making - everything, including cesarean surgery. In my desire to change the way things were going, I was actually holding the problem in place. No one, especially a culture, likes to be changed from the outside. I don't like it when people try to change me - and doctors don't like it when I try to change their obstetrics. Indeed, I think the only person who likes to be changed is a baby with wet nappies. No, before I attempt to change anyone, an important question must be explored. This question is - how does it serve that there is an epidemic of cesarean deliveries?

Cesarean section serves the needs of anima mundi, the soul of the work in this way: Mothers who are sectioned are initiates in a mythic journey. To understand the mythic, or transpersonal dimension of cesarean surgery, I will tell an old story. In fact, it is an ancient tale reportedly from the Babylonians. When I heard this myth, I saw immediate connections to the psychological experience of women who have been delivered by cesarean. By listening to the themes of the descent of Inanna into the Underworld, we can hear echoes of the emotional dynamics of sectioned women. We can see from an enlarged perspective how the world is changing through mothers' journeys in birth, be the hard or easy road taken, plus view a road map for the ascent again. The wonderful thing about the myth is how it expands ones understanding and encourages the big picture to keep on getting bigger. Through the widening lens of the Inanna myth, we can reframe the cesarean epidemic from being elementary misogyny to one of the many ways women deepen soul and are called to be healers.

Inanna is called to descend from the dayworld into the Underworld. She must make offerings at each gate in her descent below the surface. At the first gates she removes her outer vestments - robes, jewelry, crown, veils, breastplate. As she descends - her dress, her undergarments, all her clothes are taken and next she must be stripped even further, in order to go deeper. Off comes her skin, her muscle, her organs so that her bones are all that is left to be hung on a hook in the lowest regions of hell. Here Inanna, Queen of Heaven, is reduced to hanging bones in the bottom of hell. This story holds a central mystery - for it is when the Queen of Death is giving birth herself in the Underworld, that Inanna is allowed to begin the ascent. She puts back on her organs, her muscles and her skin. Next she clothes her new body in undergarments and dress, then her breastplate, veils, crown, jewelry and robes. When she emerges from the Underworld, it is with a spiritually renewed body and she is numinous for having journeyed below. Now she is fully the Queen of Heaven for having known, and transcended, hell.

A mother who is persuaded or even coerced into a cesarean section becomes a sacrificial offering like Inanna and must go down below the egoic level of consciousness, where the agenda of the dayword gives way to soul. She is a victim in the original sense of the word - sacrificing herself for the benefit of her baby. At least, that's the story many cesarean mothers tell whether it is true or not - that a c/section saved their babies' lives. A mother will offer her body, her mind, her soul to the priest/doctor on the altar of obstetrics if it might help her baby. Through anesthesia, she is inducted into an altered state of consciousness - her soul voyaging below the surface of awareness. She is dismembered, stripped away of her outer vestment; even her skin, muscle and organs are manipulated in the act of cesarean delivery. When she emerges again, she can claim a new spiritual body like Inanna - once, that is, she has integrated the birth, and understood how it served from the soul's point of view that her baby was cesarean born.

When mothers who ask the question, "How does cesarean section serve?" run out of answers, then we have a real chance at healing the epidemic. Otherwise, we are trying to change a system from the outside. My observance is that once mothers have revisioned themselves from being victims into be shaman, healers, there are less cesareans in the community. If she continues to feel harmed, guilty and shamed for her birth experience, she is less effective in changing our culture's way of birth. When a mother who has been sectioned feels that her surgery was in initiation and can explore the deeper context of healing more fully for having that experience, a tremendous amount of psychic energy is released. It does take an immense amount of energy to repress or deny trauma - once the experience in integrated (felt, expressed and released), all that energy used for defensive posturing is freed up for creative action. A mother who feels blessed, though she wouldn't consciously sign up for the "blessing" of cesarean nor repeat the "blessing", is more effective at educating others, than a mother who feels guilty and hurt. When Inanna arises, she is radiant for her journey into darkness.

I share this myth of Inanna's descent as she is a rare archetype for mothers - one who confronted Death in Birth and arose unscathed again. Mothers who give spontaneous birth know that feeling of wrestling Death for the soul of our unborn - mothers who are delivered cesarean know something of the soul's shadow which once made conscious, will help to midwife the light for all mothers giving birth. When a woman gives conscious birth, she often declares, "Now I know I can do anything!" In her moment of glory, a woman claims her own birthright member of the new species evolving - Homo Divinitus- the human who is source of ones own experience. When the female half of humanity remembers this, I can only imagine what the world would look like. If mothers weren't victimized in our essential expression of creativity, and even when a cesarean was indicated the mother experienced the surgery as soul-making, the face of this would come into balance. No victims, no oppressors. No oppressors, no victims. In Inanna's story it is clear that she chose to go into the Underworld, the way a mother surrenders to her destiny in birth - no victimizing the Goddess in this millennium.

That is how I see all mothers - many different faces of the Goddess. Inanna's face has increasingly greeted me at birthings this last generation. The face is determined, strong and the tracks of suffering and jubilation show as the etching of life around her eyes, around her mouth. She speaks with a pulsing passion, like lava or a molten message beneath the meaning and the sound of her voice warms me. Her hair is like a web which is spinning; and she catches ideas here and there to nurture the future. Having been in the dark, she attuned to tones, and shades, the hues of hints beyond. The face on Inanna invites me to look further, reach deeper. She reflects the grandest gateways and how to pass through each of them in order. Facing Inanna, I envision mothers everywhere, almost all of the time, able to give natural birth, as cesarean section no longer serves the Earth. That's what going to hell and back can do for us- clear the road for future generations so birth can illuminate many, many more ancient and new faces of the Goddess.

Dedicated to Janice - Healer Extraordinaire

January 10, 1997

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