Visualizing Birth – my son’s birth story

Ten years ago today, my son Kieran was born. It is now 1:20pm in San Francisco and he was born at 6:17pm that day. As I’ve described in another post  mentioning his birth, the birthing phase for Kieran lasted about 4.5 hours. So 10 years ago at this very time, I was about to enter into that long phase, one during which visualization played a crucial part in how he emerged into the world.

I don’t see Kieran’s birth story as a moment in time, however. Rather, it was a long series of events, understandings, and experiences that date back probably to the time of conception.

Kieran’s birth was arduous for many reasons. One week before I was due to give birth, medical staff advised me that I would be induced on my due date. There was no problem with the baby, but the common practice at that particular location was to induce women by the due date. Resisting induction, I went through all required tests to ensure the baby’s safety during those last weeks of pregnancy. Such resistance was not easy because there was great pressure to induce, and the days crept on until I finally went into labor almost two weeks past my due date.

During a crucial moment of my labor, I closed out the external world and entered what I can only describe now as a special, meditative, internal space devoted to the birth. It was within this space that a Daoist print from my dissertation came to mind. Appropriating the imagery of the Neijing tu, I imagined a large river flowing down a mountain through my own body. I visualized a baby riding its waters and emerging from the river’s mouth. Shortly after this process of internal visualization and meditation, Kieran emerged from my actual body and was born very healthy, a giant baby at almost ten pounds and twenty-three inches long. I was also in good health.

The gravity of birth and the way it is treated in the hospital has since become an important issue to me. The event had a huge impact on all aspects of my life, even redirecting my intellectual work towards birth, which I have been studying over the past decades and has led to the recent publication of my first academic book, Imagery, Ritual, and Birth: Ontology Between the Sacred and the Secular The focus in the book is on the ontology of imagery in the rituals of birth. In my own case, the Chinese print used to visualize my son’s birth has become sacred to me. Its sacredness relates to the process of birth, however, and not specifically to the practice of Daoism. My study of images, the visualization of birth, and the sacralization of images used in birth as a rite of passage began as an offshoot of my own maternal subjectivity.