The Labyrinth


“Mexican Labyrinth of Birth” Painting by Pam England (author and founder of “Birthing From Within” a childbirth preparation book and class series)

"This painting was inspired by a story my friend Alberto told me. Two of his tias (aunties) are parteras (midwives) in Oaxaca, Mexico. There, women who give birth are called warriors. 'The midwives tell a pregnant woman that when she is in labor she will have to go to the underworld where spirits hold all the unborn babies … She will have to find her baby, do battle in labor with the spirit to free her baby and bring him or her home—bring her baby back and into to the world, to the family who is waiting. Only she can do this.'

As a midwife, I have the distinct pleasure and honor of supporting women to safely traverse their ‘labyrinths’, reminding them they are safe, their babies are safe and to keep going while watching them go deeper inside themselves, battle, struggle, surrender, transform and come back as mothers with her new babies.

Giving birth is probably the hardest thing a woman will do in her life. I have even heard women say that at some point in labor they thought they were going to die. But the difficulty and the battle to cope with the intensity that is natural childbirth rests not in the body trying to figure out how to birth a child but in the mind.

I believe the feeling of dying while giving birth has less to do with the actual pain experienced (as many women later report that the pain was manageable) and more to do with the fact that what those women thought they understood or could wrap their head around about birth went beyond its limit and that part of their identity, and sense of control was dying.

This moment is essentially the surrender to the fight of the mind. When this happens, the last layers of the old identity are shed and the mother self (in addition to the baby) is beginning to be born. A laboring mother also moves out of her analytical brain and more into the primal, instinctual part of her brain where there are no thoughts, words, only sounds, colors, feelings – a dream like state – the part of her brain that traverses the labyrinth and progress is made and she is that much closer to birthing her baby.

Where there is light in bringing new life into the world, there is also darkness. It is this rite of passage of traveling to the ‘underworld’ and through the labyrinth – the death before birth – that is necessary and not to be feared. Each woman has their own labyrinth that is meant for her to travel through, as it will show her in the deepest depths of her soul the strength, courage and love she has to safely birth her baby and be born as a new family.