Anthropology can be a pretty heady subject, but fortunately I was introduced to the British social anthropologist, Sheila Kitzinger, and her work as a childbirth activist and author at the beginning of the natural childbirth movement. She had a way of bringing this subject to life and was fabulously witty, progressive and fiercely independent. We met in 1979 when Sheila was promoting her new book, Women as Mothers: How They See Themselves in Different Cultures. My son was a nursing baby on my lap when I first heard her speak. Of the more than 20 books she wrote about childbirth, pregnancy and parenting until she passed in 2015, this one stood out to me as the most culturally significant. Women birth the world and how we see ouselves and are supported in the process directly affects how empowered we feel as mothers to nurture human potential, thus insuring our collective future.
Fast forward 30 years. A little less head shy of the heady subject of anthropology I discover the book, The Woman in the Shaman’s Body: Reclaiming the Feminine in Religion and Medicine. This book reveals the long-hidden roots of shamanism, the world’s oldest tradition. It was not only humankind’s first spiritual and healing practice, it was originally the domain of women.
Now, fast forward to the present. A friend shares this link with me: How the female Viking warrior was written out of history. Archeology is a pretty heady subject too, and I am no scientist. But what I do know is that women have always fought to protect their communities and their young. You have only to watch any animal mother to know this. This was true for me when I was threatened with losing my own children to an unjust justice system that valued money over mothering. I found a fight in me that I never knew existed. Try backing a mother bear into a corner and then standing between her and her cubs. This response was never written out of our bodies innate wisdom, we only learned or were forced to override it as an act of survival.
Sheila, from her extensive travels and in her lilting British accent, told many Indigenous women’s stories of birthing their babies into this world: Stories she heard first hand, some enlightening and some heart wrenching. The hardest of the later for me to hear was of the mother who birthed in a concentration camp. Knowing that all of the women in the camp would be killed including her newborn if it were to be discovered – she chose to silence her newborn’s mews with her own suffocating breath in order to protect the potential for yet another future. That future is now. Women are warriors. We are survivors. And we are rising up.