Saturday 16 March 2013

High Wire Artistry, Birth and the Why

Some time ago I watched the fascinating documentary, ‘Man on Wire’ – about the high wire artist, Philippe Petit. Back in the ‘70’s, he straddled the heights between the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers – walking back and forth on a wire cable strung between the infinitely high buildings. To perform this ‘artistic crime of the century’, as he called it, took 6yrs of preparation, alongside wild courage, mindfulness and expert skill.

After Petit appeared to dance on the wire between the Twin Towers, 415m above the captivated crowd, he was mobbed by police and media. Out of the many strikingly memorable moments of the film, I remember Petit saying to the camera how staggered he was by the Americans’ response to his illegal high wire performance…. “All they demanded was ‘WHY?’ - a very American finger-snapping question…..I had done something magnificent, and mysterious and I got a practical : ‘WHY?!!!’ ….“the beauty of it was I didn’t have any Why!”

This spoke to me deeply, particularly in regards to Birth. The question “Why” seems valid, as it potentially takes us on the journey toward understanding, reflection, and growth. In our western culture, we have become so developed in critical thinking – which is admirable. However, we have elevated it to such heights, that we seem to have left far behind our valuing of Subjective Knowledge; that which we know by feeling, experiencing sensations, intuiting,….. that which can’t be measured and defined and boxed into categories and put into radomised controlled trials.

We have vast amounts of scientific knowledge about Women’s bodies and birth which offer a valuable and worthy contribution. However, there is a Body of Knowledge that also is beyond the grasp of the measurable, the quantifiable, the rational. Within this is the woman’s know-how to give birth - without reading books or studying or going to classes, or being directed by experts, she knows what to do to give birth to her baby – if she trusts the process. This is her subjective knowing. It is the mysterious and the bodily wisdom women can tap into in their pregnancy, in their labours and birthing, and in their mothering. She may not know ‘why’ she needs to do what she is doing to give birth…..she just knows this is what is right for her.

Midwives, doulas, birth workers who acknowledge this Aesthetic Body of Knowledge have insight and understanding literally and metaphorically at their fingertips! The midwife can know by using her hands as valuable tools; by using her instincts; by practising presence and connecting with the labouring woman; by listening to the woman’s birth song to assess where she is at; by watching the way she moves and behaves, her mood; by watching the purple line (or silver line in women with dark skin) rising up in creases of the buttocks; by noticing the changes of the woman’s body; by years of experience : where she “just knows” something is necessary or needed or flowing or ‘not right’ – without being able to quantifiably say how or why. 

Sometimes there are no answers to ‘Why?’

Sometimes we need to put aside the questions and critique, and enjoy, relish, and celebrate the beauty, awe, power and mystery – the poetics of Women’s knowing and Birth

Bruce Cockburn singing his pertinent song 'Mystery' sums this up better than I could...."You can't tell me there is no Mystery..."

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