How do I share this magnificent story about the emergence of this medicine mama? I must for a moment put aside the fact that she is my life partner and lover or that I am a proud new father of a beautiful daughter for that is a whole other ode and tribute. I simply want to acknowledge and celebrate Savanna Oakes as I would any sister or brother in our community who has accomplished a significant and powerful shamanic initiation on their path of becoming. I had the unique and life-changing opportunity to walk this path with her and witness every detailed step of her process. As a man who has never experienced an actual birth before, much less a natural home birth, my eyes were opened to a whole new world of battles and miracles.
For any woman, the process of giving birth in itself is a profound and difficult initiation into motherhood but to do it as an essentially unassisted and natural birth takes it to a whole other level. So this story is not just about the initiation of a mother into her new life path but the initiation of a powerful medicine woman and doula taking a stand. I will share why.
Initiations are so vitally important on our journey of becoming, they are the access to our greatness and the key to our evolution. In our modern society, these practices and awarenesses have mostly been watered down or lost. In their truest form, they represent the consummation of what we call the hero’s journey where we must answer a greater calling and take on a task or mission that is way bigger than who we are. It is a mission that activates our dormant superpowers and catapults us into our destiny of purpose. It is also a test that requires us to confront our greatest fear which in most cases is the possibility of death itself. In this ‘do or die’ scenario we are required to go through the proverbial eye of the needle where we are left with no choice but to shed our old personality so that we can fully become who we are truly meant to be.
In shamanic cultures, these significant initiations of becoming would typically require the initiate to leave the safety and guidance of their village to embark on a dangerous journey alone to survive the wilderness and then bring back proof of their transformation. This might involve finding an elixir, a hidden trophy or healing a life-threatening illness. The critical ingredient of this process was that they would need to face their perilous challenge unguided. This was typically how shamans, leaders, warriors and hunters alike would earn their titles and standing within their community.
There is no question for me that free-birthing represents such an initiation, where a mother births her child without medical assistance or the experienced guidance of a doula or midwife. This is of course how we would see it happen in the wild where animal mothers would give birth to their young trusting their bodies and their innate instincts to carry them through. It requires that these mothers go into a deep altered state or trance working through their pain, navigating uncertainty in the darkness and trusting their deep primal wisdom. Nature does not give these wild mamas any other choice but as humans however, we do have a choice and for this reason, there is something really important at stake that we need to become conscious about.
I have admired and respected Savanna in our community long before we became involved. She has always held a gentle maternal grace and wisdom but at the same time a fierce determination to reclaim the sovereign power of the sacred feminine. Her ‘medicine’ is birth and holding space for the empowerment of young women and mamas. When I first met her I learned that she was a practising birth doula and a really good one at that. She shared with me however that although she was fully trained and could hold a very powerful space she did not feel she could truly own that title until she had birthed her own child. She recalled an incident during a birth she was assisting where a doctor sarcastically challenged her right to be in the space as a doula because she was not yet a mother.
I have since learned through this journey with her that there is in fact a silent war being waged between the predominantly male-dominated medical establishment and the natural birth movements against birth exclusively being made a medical procedure. In many respects, this is the war of western civilisation versus nature and the feminine in its most embodied example. We live in a world where we have been conditioned into believing that giving birth in a hospital is completely normal when ironically a hospital is a place we would otherwise go when we are sick or dying. The message being broadcasted to all women is that their bodies are no longer fit or capable to birth naturally and safely. The accepted cultural image we now have of birth is a woman prostrated on her back with her legs up under blinding white lights while the heroic doctor pulls the baby out of her. Doctors and surgeons now exclusively get to claim credit for facilitating the ultimate miracle of life and not mother nature exemplified in the woman’s body. With the crazy increase of births in South Africa being surgical c-sections, the colonisation of the female body is much more pervasive than we can actually imagine. It has become more about money-making for hospitals and big pharma alike and manipulating the birth process to conform to the schedule of the doctor not the schedule of the mother and child. Women are being exploited and robbed of their most fundamental initiation to motherhood which is their natural birthright. We have overridden mother natures perfect design all in the name of reducing risk and mitigating a very natural passage of pain as if it were somehow a mistake.
For most of us, our first introduction to the world is in a hospital surrounded by beeping machines, and bright lights, it is truly bizarre that we think of this as normal when it should be the exception. When a woman goes through these hospital doors she gives away her right to determine how she will give birth to her own child. Her experience and intuition is all made irrelevant. Each newborn baby is birthed and processed through a factory conveyor belt of measurements and artificial procedures. Without realising it this very traumatic and unnatural entrance into life easily becomes the first step of our enslaved dependence on the medical system. So many of our modern psychological and medical conditions can now be traced back to this abrupt and systematic way that we are being birthed where the critical steps of the body’s natural process are overwritten, hacked and ignored. The reality is that there are very few doctors or obstetricians that have ever attended or witnessed an actual natural home birth. That should be an alarming notion in itself. There is however a whole movement of brave, resolute birthers, mothers, and activists intent on reclaiming the miracle of birth back into the natural feminine domain.
Needless to say this is a subject fraught with highly charged narratives where emotions easily run high. I am present that this share may well be triggering for some people.
What pervades the collective landscape of this subject are the scary narratives of medical complications of childbirth and how these can only be averted by medical expertise and technology. People easily share their stories of how, if it were not for doctors and hospitals, their children might never have been born alive or mothers might have died in childbirth. Medical births have saved countless lives but these cases, which are in the minority, dominate the entire collective experience for all other births. Most healthy births are relegated to being high-risk at the drop of a hat. The psychological impact of this on the mother and baby is high. What we rarely hear about are the countless stories of ‘successful’ hospital births where mothers are left feeling profoundly violated, traumatised, depressed, confused, disempowered and helpless. Our mothers have no choice but to justify their sterilised and drugged-up experience as a normal and acceptable process when this is actually very far from the truth.
I only learned about free-birthing when Savanna shared with me that this was her intention and calling. I did not even know there was such a thing and I never saw a moment of indecision or doubt at any point in her journey that this was what she was meant to do. I did not however realise how rare and unique free-birthing actually was until I saw the many reactions of disbelief, fear, judgement and awe from people around us even from doulas, midwives and family. Savanna had to actually be cautious about who she shared our birth plan with out of a genuine concern for being shunned or reproached for being irresponsible and reckless. There were a number of conversations, especially with family members where I watched Savanna have to fiercely stand her ground to defend her choice as if she was putting herself and our child in grave danger. These interactions often left her in tears, feeling alone and unsupported. I understood that the resistance from other people came from a genuine concern and fear for her well-being but it illustrated so clearly how brainwashed we have all become into believing how incapable woman’s bodies are for such an undertaking.
For Savanna, the stakes were high not just for her own power, sovereignty and birthright as a woman but also for our child who we had both been calling in from our dreams. We wanted to give our baby the truest most natural entrance into the world, in the space of absolute love and reverence for this soul who had specifically chosen us as parents. It meant that we had to trust in something higher than ourselves, in the guidance of the spirit, in nature’s intelligence and in the soul of our child.
As I said there are so many fear-based narratives and unresolved traumas around the collective experience of birth that it makes new aspiring parents very susceptible to the medical promise of the so-called risk-free solution. We, therefore, had to be willing to have some important conversations about the ‘what ifs’ of our plan: What if our child died in the birthing process? What if Savanna bled out and died herself? She was clear however that her cause and her truth ws something she was willing to die for if it came to that and it was something I had to be willing to make peace with. I was so moved by how this gentle and sensitive woman could be so radical and unshakable in her vision. To be honest I would have been terrified if I was in her place but her calmness and certainty had me feel so assured; I knew I simply needed to trust and support her in every way that I could.
A birth practitioner recently shared with us that if birthing was an Olympic sport then free-birthing is the gold medal standard and this was so true of Savanna’s process. She prepared for this birth the same way top athletes would prepare themselves for a big event. Since she was a teenager she had a painful battle with an auto-immune disease so when she found out she was pregnant she knew she had to support her body in the best way possible. She embarked on a highly nutritious organic diet, vitamin regime, and yoga practice and focused on creating a conducive emotional and vibrational environment for our child to grow in. She also left her job two months into the pregnancy so that she could give her fullest attention to her process. This is a privilege that many women do not get in this fast-paced and demanding world which is actually quite critical to a healthy pregnancy. What was so powerful was that in the course of her pregnancy, her auto-immune disease symptoms completely receded and have since shown no sign of return.
It is important to be clear that Savanna was not out to prove that the medical industry did not have a critical value or place in the birthing process only that she wanted her own journey as a mother to be on her terms and for the medical route to be a support and back-up only. She was determined that the power of choice however would remain entirely in her hands and not in that of a doctor or even a midwife. We, therefore, made full use of scans to track the growth, health and position of our baby. If anything we used the scans to simply regain the confidence that everything was on track, especially in the face of our own fears. We encountered so many prescriptions around tracking the well-being of our baby in the womb that I could understand the utter paranoia that many would-be mothers might suffer from. Google for example is a nightmare of fear-mongering presented as medical assistance such that we had to agree not to consult this online oracle anymore. The reality is that no woman’s pregnancy is the same and so there is no universal measure of progress certainly not from an intelligence made up of algorithms. It seems almost impossible in this media-driven environment for a pregnant mother to simply trust her own body and the various stages of her journey especially if it is her first time.
As it is the physical experience of pregnancy is already volatile with high levels of hormones being released in the body affecting emotions and energy levels. I watched and held space for Savanna going through many different challenging and wonderful spaces. The mainstay of her preparation was predominantly psychological, involving meditations, visualisations, journaling, walks in nature, creating a birth playlist and writing out mantra cards for her birth space. She also listened religiously to natural birthing podcasts, followed the stories of other free birthers and watched videos of their process. It was quite magnificent to see how different, natural and even peaceful birth could be without all the panting, red-faced pushing and crazy screaming that we have become accustomed to in movies. I was quite blown away. When the body is not being forced, rushed, prodded, measured or interfered with it actually knows what it is doing. I am not going to go into any further details around this or her preparation for this is not ultimately what this share is about. She will share her process in due time for this is her mission and cause.
As a man, a shamanic facilitator and as a spectator being privy to her process what I got to witness was a courageous triumph of spirit, this is what this story is really about for me. With the odds stacked against her, with a world paradigm telling her she was going in the wrong direction, despite all the fear-mongering she still remained unwavering on her course to birth our little soul unassisted. What I witnessed was a level of focus and determination that is rare. It is the ultimate testament to walking your talk and standing in your convictions even in the face of possible death. This is the kind of courage that we read about in the mythical passages of a hero’s journey.
I saw a warrior and a wild woman emerge on the day of the birth. Only her sister and I were in her birthing space with her. I knew that ideally, she would have wanted to be like a Zen monk gracefully flowing through her process but this was not to be. She had to work through excruciating contractions that brought forth sensations of pain she had never faced before. For hours she paced like a wild animal moving into different positions to work through the spasms in her body. I have held space in countless medicine ceremonies in my time for very difficult journey’s but nothing could have prepared me for this. There were times when I felt overwhelmed and out of my depth but I stayed with her for each moment following her lead whenever she needed to change position or get in or out of the birth pool. It was her that I trusted, I had no choice. At all times she guided where she needed to be for she was the doula, the midwife and mother all in one. There came a point eventually where she was so exhausted she just could not go on anymore. In the lexicon of the hero’s journey, this is the stage called ‘all is lost’ where the old self fails and death is imminent. I watched her die in that moment, she gave up, she was even ready to be taken to the hospital and to sell her soul. It might have seemed to her in the moment that the shadowy villain of the medical establishment had beaten her. But it was too late for any of that, her choice had already been made and the only way out was through. This turning point is a magical moment in birth called ‘the transition’. All her preparation, her mantras, and her songs were now called in to activate a new force within her. The phoenix had to rise from the ashes in a newly found power that emerged for one last grand charge. A different energy and presence suddenly appeared in her and took charge of her body. She gave us instructions and we obeyed. A little head breached, Savanna roared and then a little body was ejected into the water into my hands and out came a healthy robust sound of crying and flailing arms and legs directly then into her mother’s arms. Gaia our little girl was born into the world.
This world was not the hands of a stranger’s surgical gloves that would turn her upside down and spank her. This world was not a room of glaring bright lights, unknown voices and the cold hard surface of a measuring scale. She was born through deliciously warm water into a dimly lit room with the smell of essential oils and soft gentle music on to her mother’s chest. Gaia got to experience all the critical elements of bonding, stimulation and natural oxytocin that a natural birth could offer. Much more significant than that was a mother newly born in her full sovereign and instinctual power, heaving in relief as she held her little baby triumphantly in her arms. She had done it on her own with all the natural capacity and intelligence that nature had endowed her with. In that moment she had gained her soul, her purpose and her role in the world. This was her birthright claimed.
As I gaze upon Savanna while she breastfeeds our little baby girl what I see is an extraordinary woman radiating in her newly found power and grace; she is nothing short of a hero who I am in absolute awe of. Her recovery from the birth has been gentle but swift and we have settled into the routine with our baba with ease. There is a serenity, clarity and strength about her I have never seen before; this is a very different human being. There is no doubt she has earned her place as a powerful space holder and birthing facilitator, she has certainly earned her voice as a champion of the divine feminine. Acknowledgements have come in from various birth workers who have heard her story for this was an important reclamation not just for herself but for the collective power of the feminine. Each natural home birth and especially free-birth story generates a collective tapestry of the feminine confidence regained. For a woman to be able to fully trust the natural capacity of their own body, especially for something so important as birth is deeply significant. If we lose this, we lose our most critical connection to nature.
As Savanna now integrates into her newly found body as a mother I have no doubt that she will soon be sharing her story in greater detail and will start holding powerful circles to empower young women in sovereign birthing and conscious parenting. Her journey is just beginning but if this is how it starts I am glad I have front-row seats for this magical unfolding. I share this story because I was there to witness it all, to be touched, moved and inspired by this radical feminine wonder. I am but the herald of this story so I raise my hands ceremoniously to welcome our daughter Gaia, earth angel, into the world but most importantly I raise my hands to welcome the sacred medicine mother Savanna Wildflower. Aho!
Just to note that this share is specifically to acknowledge the coming into being of a medicine woman and mother, the intention is certainly not to advocate free-birthing for anyone else nor is it to discourage hospital birthing in any way, each has their own place depending on the individual’s circumstances, needs and calling. What I do stand strongly for is the right of every woman to determine her own process of birth whatever the cost or outcome. There is an emerging generation of young women, mothers, doulas and midwives who are taking back their power and birthright from the established system. I finally want to acknowledge Ruth Ehrhardt whose legacy and book ‘The Basic Needs of a Woman in Labour’ assisted me so much in understanding the value and process of natural birth and how to support Savanna in her journey.
These stories need to be seen, they need to be told, and they need to become the norm again not the exception. Women need to know that their bodies are capable and that they have choices. We all need to be reminded that we are sovereign capable and conscious beings and it all begins at birth. It is in this spirit that we shall raise our little baby Gaia into the world.