Womb Ecology: Decolonial Birth
We have all been birthed. We all come from the portal of the womb.
I’d like to offer a decolonial vision on birth: that birth is the fundamental technology. How do we birth each other, our communities and the world we want to be a part of? Birth is the art of creation par excellence. The universe itself was birthed, and we keep birthing it with each of our thoughts, words and actions. Yet our global cultures have neglected the art of birthing.
The way we come into the world may somehow affect who we become – we rarely think about the implications of this on the scale of a generation.
We have become a civilisation that does not know how to birth. Neither do we know how to die. Both extremities of life are overlooked and feared, yet these thresholds of existence are powerful potentials. We have much to learn about life itself, exploring the complex and divine process of birth. Here are some glimpses into the social, cultural, political, environmental and spiritual dimensions of birth and why it matters, not just for women, mothers, but for all of us. We have all been birthed. We all birth each other.
We have more bacteria within us that we have human cells. We could say we are more bacteria than human. Yet we don’t know much about the microbiological world – maybe we have never had the humility to make ourselves small enough to see the significance of life at that scale. We have mainly developed a fearful relationship towards microorganisms: bacteria, viruses, fungi, algae, and labelled them as a threat.
Some definitely are, yet the war on microbes – encouraging billion-dollar antibiotics and household products industries that are harmful to our lungs, lands and water systems, depriving our environments of bacterial life – could well contribute to our ill health too. As the current enthusiasm for microbiome research seems to show, these life forms could well be the guardians of our health. Today, there is much discussion about the importance of the gut microbiota, the bacterial ecosystem inhabiting our intestinal tract.
The composition of this microbiome has been shown to affect our digestion, immune responses, predisposition to stress and other diseases, as well certain cerebral functions. Their influence is profound. The types of microbial communities inhabiting our inner lands benefit or otherwise affect our health, so it’s crucial that we nurture this ecology.
That the gut is the second brain, has been on the tongue of many cultures throughout time. Many indigenous cultures and countless spiritual paths have always insisted on food being medicine, which in other words may also mean the practice of feeding your communities of microorganisms properly so that the interspecies cohabitation of our beingness is harmonious and conductive to our well-being. If you serve them, they serve you.
We first acquire our microbiome from our mother, in the birth canal during delivery and through breast milk. The mother has a key role to play in the development of the child’s microbiome. This is crucial to understand that parental transmission goes beyond genetic memory. The mother shares an extra layer of bacteriological memory.
How beautiful it is that we potentially carry within ourselves a long lineage of microbes from our distant maternal ancestors. Although the microbiome is a dynamic environment and changes with our diet, exposure to environments and medication intake. So even if we are born by c-section or not breastfed, it is still possible to gather a beneficial colony in our microbiome at a later stage.
Beyond the mother’s direct bacteriological terrain, the other bacterial gift one can give a child at birth is the privilege to be born into a familiar, microbe-rich environment, namely the mother’s home. This is not to promote the ‘natural birth’ ideology but simply to mention that, from a bacteriological perspective, home is a place where the mother has developed anti-bodies for the microbes inhabiting the milieu. When born at home, a child is blessed with a friendly bacterial diversity which will develop their immune functions and support other systems.
Unfortunately (bacteriologically speaking), the hospital is a sterile environment, so many children do not have access to familiar bacteria at birth. You could say that we are birthing a bacteria deprived generation.
The prejudice against microbes is really a consequence of our ignorance. Actually, some have led to radical transformations in our evolution as species. The placenta came into existence, marking the shift from laying eggs, following the contamination of a protomammal with an ancient virus, whose DNA merged with the host’s to give new genetic potentials.
It is time we treat our ecosystems, both the ones within ourselves and the ones we inhabit, with respect, honouring the diversity of existence. This is in no way incompatible with our survival. The colonial matrix and its legacies have distorted our worldview, placing human life (well the white human life) above all other life forms, legitimising the extermination and domination of many lives – microorganisms included. Yet, we are but one life expressing itself in different forms. Our survival depends on our collaboration and cohabitation.
1 Everything in these lines comes from the teachings of my spiritual teachers and doula trainers: Credo Mutwa, Sadhguru, Ravi, Keitu, Gurujagat, Michel Odent, Liliana Lammers and my paternal grandmother and great grandmother who were both midwives. Infinite gratitude to the wisdom of the womb and the guardians of this treasure.
2Microorganisms: there is debate in the scientific community as to whether viruses are alive or not, as they cannot survive without a host. Hence for some they do not fall under the term microorganism.
3 Microbes: in biology the term is equivalent to microorganisms. Some are harmful, others beneficial or commensal (meaning the host is unaffected).
4 Microbiome: the microbial communities and their genes
5 Microbiota: the different microbe populations present in one environment (mouth, gut, skin … or soil, ocean, plant..)
The field of epigenetics can tell us a lot about the power of birth.
Epigenetics is the science that studies the effects of the environment on the expression of our genes. It has been shown that mothers transmit their own epigenetic information to their children. The mother’s environments – social, ecological, emotional and psychological – especially during pregnancy and birth can affect the child’s genome with potential long term effects, both positive and negative. Our intra-uterine life, the way we are born and our early days are crucial in our development as human beings.
This is something that was traditionally understood, that whatever the mother experiences during pregnancy will imprint the child in the womb and somehow reflect later on. That’s why the community would seek to protect the well-being of an expectant mother, trying to uplift her spirit and preserve her from worries. Not just for her sake, but to make sure she grew a life that would in turn serve the community.
The mother was encouraged to maintain a vibrant energy to ignite her life force and that of her child. We harness our vital energies from the elements: earth as the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe and fire, as our exposure to sunlight. The more in tune we are with the elements, the more in tune we are with ourselves, because the elements make us, they are the building blocks of our whole cosmos. A mother is in a way a vessel for the cosmos to expand and keep creation in motion. As such her responsibility is enormous.
In yoga it is said that the mother is the first teacher. Maybe the womb is the first university – it is definitely where we first learn about life. We gather information and memory from the world through our mothers. As embryos we bathe in the amniotic fluid which depends on the inner chemistry of the mother, regulated by her state of being, potentially also conditioned by her ancestors’ experience of life. Epigenetics are transgenerational.
We carry within us the environments and experiences of our ancestors. We are the consequences of our ancestors’ lives. We are because they were. They live in us. They breathe through and dance with us. They gave us life. Or rather they passed the gift of life forward from the unknowable source of life. With it, they also passed on their pains, sufferings, challenges, gifts, talents, and visions. We are often tangled up with our ancestors, trapped in sticky patterns or pulled back into their unresolved dramas.
The desire to belong to our family, our lineage or our community will make us hold onto their suffering as a part of ourselves. We are loyal to our ancestral pains, almost as if letting go of their suffering would be a betrayal. Sometimes the pain we’ve experienced gives us a sense of identity, it becomes who we are and it’s frightening to imagine ourselves beyond this. We must work on disentangling our relationships with our ancestors, so they can become the resources that they are instead of the trap they can be. We can say, “I see your pain. I honour it and leave it with you.”
This happens with birth. Sometimes several generations will repeat a way of coming into the world. If we have access, it’s great to ask how we were born, and even how our parents were born. If these were pleasant experiences, we can call upon these resources or cut the loyalty otherwise. We can love and honour a parent, grandparent, ancestor, without needing to reproduce their lives. It is possible to liberate ourselves from the weight of history.
Our ancestry reaches as far back as the horizon of spacetime. It is certain that there have been blissful experiences of birthing, harmonious families, loving mother-child relationships. They have been people who have stood up for themselves and their communities, who have realised their dreams, who have courageously survived the worst and who have known the power of love. Call upon them for support and guidance. We have access to our transgenerational wisdom.
The woman’s body is designed to give birth. So why is it that for many birthing a child is terrifying, painful, traumatic or even life-threatening? There are numerous reasons for this, but one answer could be that we don’t understand the physiology of birth. Birth can be easy and fairly quick, even orgasmic. It is always intense but it need not be excruciating.
The play of hormones is crucial in the birthing process: oxytocin, endorphins, adrenaline, melatonin – yet they need the right atmosphere to take over.
Oxytocin is the hormone of love; it is also responsible for the opening of the cervix and the ejection of the child. Yes, birth is an ejection reflex, like the release of sperm and breastmilk, which are also controlled by oxytocin. Today, it is common practice in hospital settings to give women synthetic oxytocin because their bodies do not secrete enough of it. Why is that?
Oxytocin is secreted when the activity of the neocortex decreases. The neocortex is the part of the brain that differentiate us from other mammals, so when we birth, it must shut down so we can tune into our animal nature. It’s no time for logic or reasoning, women must leave earth and travel to another planet to birth! Oxytocin is that hormone that transports you to the birthing planet.
To support the physiological release of oxytocin, a person giving birth must be protected from all stimulation of the neocortex. What stimulates the neocortex? Language, light, and feeling observed and unsafe. Basically, everything that brings you back down to earth when you are supposed to be on your own planet. It is not surprising that most women are unable to produce enough oxytocin when surrounded by unknown doctors and bright hospital lights.
The other key hormones are endorphins – the natural pain killers. Endorphins should flood the body during birth, dissipating pain. Here again, that is not the reality most women experience as their bodies do not secrete enough endorphins, and often rely on synthetic endorphins: the epidural. What prevents the release of endorphins?
Adrenaline, the stress hormone. When experiencing stress or fear we release adrenaline, which blocks the release of endorphins and oxytocin. Yes, it is hard to relax and stay calm when birthing a human being but the less external stimuli the better: so you can go inwards and guide your baby out one contraction at a time.
Also, both oxytocin and adrenaline are contagious, meaning that if someone is stressing around a woman giving birth, she will start producing adrenaline too which will block her endorphin secretion. Likewise, if someone is in a blissed-out state, they will release oxytocin, which will assist the mother to produce more oxytocin. We should really take this into consideration as most health workers are exhausted, overstressed and can contribute to further stressing the mother. The medicalisation of birth has provided much support and saved many lives when confronted to a critical or pathological pregnancy. Yet most women do not need medical intervention to birth.
Unfortunately, it is very easy to make a birth difficult, and the conditions we are in while we birth can drastically slow or jeopardise the process, if the conditions do not support the physiological magic of the body to operate. Where we birth affects how we birth.
More generally, today’s world is ruled by adrenaline. We are all stressed and stressing each other. What kind of world can we birth like this?
6Wanting to acknowledge trans women here. Not all women have a womb. Likewise trans men can also birth.
The body’s wisdoms are deep. All mammals on earth have the power to birth their offspring, and humans are no different. Yet it’s as if our world has stripped away this power from mothers, making us all believe they cannot birth their children on their own. Today, you need doctors, midwives, doulas, partners and preparation classes to give birth to a child. Yet the physiology of birth shows us that we don’t need nobody, the body knows. It is the fear surrounding birth that has created and fed this helplessness.
It seems that in the Neolithic, women would leave the clan and isolate to give birth. It was with the domestication of nature and animals, the beginning of agriculture, that the process of birth was socialised. It became a cultural event. Spirituality, religion, politics, science and other systems all had something to say about how to birth. That’s how different cultures around the world developed various traditions and practices to support the birth of a child according to their worldviews.
The movement away from physiological birth is not merely an issue of patriarchy or modernity alone. It’s wider than the medical industrial complex: it’s a cultural issue. As a culture we believe women cannot give birth on their own, that they do not have that power, that wisdom. This is not to deny the comfort of community or loved ones at this time, but when you study the physiology of birth, hormonally speaking, a birthing person needs to feel safe with as little disturbance as possible. This is far from what we offer our mothers currently. Even the ‘natural birth’ movement does not always honour the innate capacity of the body to birth.
Birth is a spiritual event, a meditation on creation, a miracle of existence. If you’ve seen a child coming out of a woman, you know life is an incredible phenomenon. That a tremendous intelligence is at play, expressing itself through us.
We are both matter and spirit. Creating a life happens on both planes. The mother is responsible for growing the material shell that will be the spirit’s vessel while on earth. In yogic philosophy, it is said that the spirit or soul enters the womb on the 120th day after conception. The state of awareness of the mother will attract a certain life to embody her womb, one that will benefit (on a spiritual level) from this specific family, geography, time and context. After the soul enters the body, the mother has the power to impact the life within her, as whatever she thinks, feels, and does, imprint the child’s subconscious. This is why yogic sciences recommend women to meditate, sing, and dance a lot while pregnant. Who can meditate for nine months these days?
Even if people could, rare are those who would, as we have lost reverence for, and devotion to, the process of life making. As a culture we reward productivity, so devoting nine months to cultivate a state of inner bliss so as to give the world a conscious child is no one’s priority. It may even sound like a step back from what women have achieved in terms of freedom and emancipation, yet we must understand the responsibility that it is to bring a life to earth. We are creating the next generation. People always talk about what kind of planet will we leave to our children: we should also think about what kind of children we are leaving to our planet.
Spirituality means union, it is the art and science of becoming one with life. It is total inclusivity. The spiritual path is the journey towards experiencing oneself beyond the limit of the body and the mind, so as to experience our limitlessness. To break free from the illusion of separation. When you grow a child within yourself, that is a moment when two people merge and one can experience the union between two lives. That is a gift! If we can experience union with all lives – human, animal, vegetal, mineral, ancestral, alien – then we are liberated. But the privilege of nurturing this union within oneself during pregnancy is a tremendous opportunity for spiritual growth.
Also, if it was not for their children, only a few people would experience that level of devotion within themselves, that level of patience and the power to sacrifice. Those disciplines that spiritual seekers self-impose through their practice, are available to mothers and parents. Those are the hard-learnt gifts of motherhood.
To mother is a spiritual practice.
Today’s capitalist and patriarchal agenda barely allows us to honour the wisdom of birthing. The industrialisation of birth, the masculinisation of birth, the medicalisation of birth, the control of birth, all alter the physiological and spiritual process of birth giving.
Although a lot of reproductive justice advocacy has helped to draw attention to obstetrical violence, we are very far from a place where a person can safely expect to be supported, listened to and cared for during the transformational journey into motherhood.
Black women are even more prone to abuse by the medical system, and the number of deaths in birth are much higher for black women. Already at birth we are not all treated equal when coming into the world. The racial disparities are frightening.
The doula movement is partly trying to answer the cries of mothers seeking support. Yet it is also very much a matter of class and privilege. Who can afford to have a home birth? an intervention free birth? Who can afford the cost of a doula? Who can afford long-term breastfeeding? Who can afford to stop or reduce work to decrease stress levels during pregnancy? Who can afford prenatal or postnatal yoga? Who can afford to stay at home to care for their newborn? Who has access to a support network to mother the mother after birth? A few.
We have built a world where no thought is given to the primal period of intrauterine and postpartum life.
If we really want to serve the world we exist in, to participate in the struggle for decolonisation and the birth of a decolonial reality, we must radically transform the way we support expectant mothers and caretakers. I plant the seed for a next generation to come out of our wombs in tune with the earth, with all species, with themselves, and with spirit. A generation we will have the privilege to grow within us in love and devotion, supported by a system that protects all women, children and all lives.
As a culture we must respect the creation of humanity, and ensure that we are birthing a generation better than our own. Only if we devote attention and intention to the act of birthing will we raise human beings more capable than we are. That is a decolonial project, that is the decolonial project – to raise our consciousness, to evolve beyond the trap of greed, domination and violence.
The spread of patriarchy enforced a global contempt of the feminine, yet we all come from a womb. That our cultures so blatantly disregard their source is shown by the ravages of rape culture, femicide, forced sterilisation, birth control, and other gynaecological violence. It is not surprising that we so easily disrespect the earth. The womb of the earth is where we all come from. The earth gave us our body. The earth nourishes us, feeds us, cares for us, as does a mother.
We must urgently ask ourselves: what have we done to our world? What have we done to ourselves? To our mothers? And prepare – as we may be entering a whole new horizon with artificial wombs. What kind of humanity will we then give birth to?
Thinking about birth is crucial for our civilisation, for our survival, for our thriving, for our growth, for our hearts and spirits.
May we honour the lineages of the wombs we come from. The cosmic womb, the womb of the earth, the womb of our mother.
Tabita Rezaire is infinity incarnated into an agent of healing, who uses art as a means to unfold the soul. Her cross-dimensional practices envision network sciences - organic, electronic and spiritual - as healing technologies to serve the shift towards heart consciousness. Navigating digital, corporeal and ancestral memory as sites of resilience, she digs into scientific imaginaries to tackle the pervasive matrix of coloniality and the protocols of energetic misalignments that affect the songs of our body-mind-spirits. Inspired by quantum and cosmic mechanics, Tabita’s work is rooted in time-spaces where technology and spirituality intersect as fertile ground to nourish visions of connection and emancipation. Through screen interfaces and collective offerings, she reminds us to nurture each other, the earth, spirits and to download directly from source.
Tabita is based in Cayenne, French Guiana. She has a Bachelor in Economics (Fr) and a Master of Research in Artist Moving Image from Central Saint Martins (Uk). Tabita is a founding member of the artist group NTU and half of the duo Malaxa. She is currently birthing AMAKABA, her vision for a healing center in the Amazon forest of French Guiana.