Asheville Women Take Birth into their own Hands
In the early summer of 2011, Rowan Bailey and Tara Dean met for tea to water the seeds of a big idea that would take root, blossom and grow throughout Western North Carolina and beyond. Based in Asheville, NC, Rowan Bailey, of Sacred Birth Traditions is a matrona-educated, apprentice-trained community midwife, placenta medicine woman, reiki practitioner and teacher. Tara had just arrived in Asheville a month prior to meeting Rowan and was hoping to find a community of passionate birth advocates. Tara, of Soluna Birth Services, is a full spectrum doula, parental rights activist and integrative bodyworker. She is passionate about self-directed, community inspired education. Both women agree birth is a sacred celebration of life and its infinite possibilities for both personal and global transformation. They believe that attitudes of peace and nonviolence are cultivated through conscious birth choices. The way a baby is born and nurtured matters. Their passion for co-creating with families the space for powerful, transformative experiences in the childbearing year has been contagious. Together, they’re inducing a powerful natural birthing wave of interest. Several hours and many cups of tea later, the seed of a shared dream began to germinate and has taken on a creative life of its own.
The seed idea was an education group for mamas, papas and advocates for natural birth to share their stories, knowledge and experiences for the purpose of growing together toward holistic motherbaby-friendly birth care (motherbaby is intentionally merged to highlight the importance of keeping mother and baby as close as possible as often as possible during birth and the childbearing year). Asheville Holistic Birth Collective was the chosen name for their new sprout. Meetings take place weekly and donations of both money and food are happily accepted. Collectively, the group chooses topics for the following month to ponder, research and question. Through the experience of sharing individual research findings, questions and perspectives, practical information about pregnancy, birth and conscious parenting gets exchanged and, perhaps more importantly, social support is provided and emotional strength is cultivated.
Rowan and Tara established the grass roots group to be self-directed and self-taught. They’re the visionaries but do not serve as leaders. The group is a collective of many diverse individuals, including men, women, doctors, doulas, midwives, students and, of course, babies. “We’re all teachers for one another. We want this group to function with or without us; in fact, we’re now in the weaning phase in which we sense a willingness for the collective to find its feet, become mobile and vocal, just as a child does,” says Rowan. Tara points out, “Because we are midwives and birth happens regardless of schedules, we’re not always able to be there for our weekly meeting and the wonderful reality is, in the year since we’ve established ourselves, there has never been a week in which a meeting hasn’t taken place because someone will enthusiastically step up to hold the space for meaningful dialogue.” For many, the experience of pregnancy, birth and parenthood is approached with trepidation and sometimes fear, shaped by external forces. This kind of group offers powerful word medicine to each other that offers a reminder of the sacred, intimate miracle that exists within. Partners can share this awe; thereby reducing stress and increasing the capacity to be conscious of the pleasure in the process.
What began as a humble group in Tara’s living room quickly expanded to fill 4th Trimester Family Center, a postpartum support center, founded by Sarah Gralnick. At about the same time, monthly outreach events began to take shape to further the group’s mission to educate, empower and celebrate women and babies. The first event was foretelling. A film screening of “The Business of Being Born” and a panel discussion afterward was offered at Fire Storm Café and attended by interested individuals, doctors, certified practicing midwives, doulas, chiropractors and community birth professionals of all kinds.
Rather than a group of experts conveying information, the unique feature of the collective is its autonomy. Differing viewpoints are encouraged, providing a rich source of knowledge based on sacred feminine wisdom and personal experience rather than measurements and published medical research. Encouraging women and their birth supporters to tell their story, gather their own information and question current practices validates their experiences and seems to be a vital part of changing the viewpoint of birth from technology-centered to motherbaby-centered.
Just like any pregnancy, birth and parenting journey, there are mundane, trying times and miraculous, joyful times. The biggest challenge so far has been that, in its first year, AHBC has twice outgrown its meeting space and has graduated to its own house, now with lots of room to broaden from its birth specific roots to issues of fertility and a papa’s group for Dads or partners.