Do Witches Know Something About Childbirth We Don't?
I sit before her, a woman who self identifies as a magikal mama and witch, and she tells me that while there are spells out there to “sway the sex” of the baby, “I am not so sure I myself would do so.” I hang on her words. There is an innate wisdom and confidence about her as she sits at the kitchen table, grounded and present. The witch is Renee DiDomenico, a postpartum doula, childbirth educator, and breastfeeding counselor, as well as, of late, the group administrator for the “Magikal Mamas” Facebook group. She has agreed to meet with me to explain how a ~practitioner of the occult~ might be able to help an earthbound mom like myself.
There is an argument to be made for non-obstetric pregnancy and birth support.
A 46-year-old mother of six, DiDomenico hopes to have one last baby before her time is up. She has spent the past 20 years working to educate and support pregnant and postpartum women in a medical capacity, but the work she cares most about is working with pregnant women and women who are trying to conceive to “connect with their spirit guides and their spirit babies, and relay the information I am given.” Women come to her to enquire about the sex of their babies, and to help influence their fertility and birth experience.
“I do spells and ritual work for women who are trying to get pregnant,” she explains. “I use many tools, such as herbs, candles, crystals and oils. I call in their guides and a deity that I feel would be helpful for them. If I am doing a private spell, I will set up the ritual and altar right before they ovulate and it is lit every night for seven nights in a row. I like to time it perfectly with their cycles so they need to track their menstrual cycles.”
For a skeptic, the idea of turning to a witch or psychic to help in matters of conception and birth is a little woo-woo. Then again, amid a crisis of support for pregnant and postpartum women, up to 20 percent of whom suffer mood disorders, per the World Health Organization, these spiritual guides play an important role according to the women who seek them out. Their practices predate medicated, hospitalized birth, which is not to say that giving birth in a hospital or with the help of pain medication is wrong, but that in removing support like traditional midwives from the birth, women have lost something important. Rising rates of midwifery correlate with lower rates of maternal mortality. Through the 20th century, the trend was away from having midwives; the U.S. has seen the maternal mortality rate rise in recent years to the point that it is well above the rest of the developed world at 26.4 deaths per 100,000 live births. There is an argument to be made for non-obstetric pregnancy and birth support.
There are few experiences in life as transformational as birth. Becoming a parent is an experience that changes everything. It can be both terrifying and magical. So it makes perfect sense to consult with folks that can give some comfort and guidance around the experience of fertility, pregnancy, birth and parenthood.
For some that guide might be a doula, midwife, parenting coach or therapist. For others it may be an intuitive healer, astrologer, witch, or someone with psychic abilities.
With my first child, I sat down early in my pregnancy with a dear friend, the author of Modern Tarot Michelle Tea, to see what the cards said I might expect in my life as a mother. My OB-GYN that over saw my prenatal care was attentive, open minded and compassionate — but in no way did I believe that she was able to provide me with complete care or the insight that I desired that wasn’t found in medical text but rooted in deep, intuitive practices. Becoming a parent was a huge step for me and I needed some guidance, some assurance that everything was going to be OK. Our tarot reading assured me that there would indeed be some major changes but that my life would be full of happiness and that I and my career would continue to flourish into parenthood.
Iele Paloumpis comes from a long line of witches and mystics and mostly reads tarot for people who are either hoping to get pregnant or begin the healing process after a miscarriage. Paloumpis believes that learning to listen to intuition is about finding a connection to our ancestors, our dead.
Paloumpis, who goes by the pronouns they/them, gives me a brief breakdown of their family’s ancestral lineage that brought them to their work.
“My mother has epilepsy, as do many of the women on that side of my family who, like my mom, started having seizures due to hormonal imbalances after a difficult childbirth or miscarriage,” they tell me. “As recently as the 1960s these women were being institutionalized, placed in psych wards, for having epilepsy and many women in my family were thought to be ‘inhabited by demons’ due to their seizures. They were ostracized and persecuted, called witches by others, but also some of them, like my mom, came to claim that identity for themselves.”
They say that many of these women had psychic abilities and because they weren't receiving proper medical care, looked to intuitive practices to cope with their disability.
The mistreatment of women is well documented, most pointedly in the witch trials of the 17th century, and there is some overlap between the marginalization of supposed “witches” and women simply looking for care in a system driven by insurance calculations and, in some cases, outdated medical protocols. The surging popularity of the occult among millennial women has to be read, in part, as a backlash to a society that does not meet the needs of young women. If magic is no more powerful than the intention and mindfulness that is behind our actions, our connection to our own body, our spirit, ourselves and those around us, what does that say about our everyday connection, our buried intuition and the stifled potential of our own psychic abilities?
Herbalist and intuitive healer, Dori Midnight, also utilizes the power of herbs and magic to assist people wanting to get pregnant, “I have a special fertility honey that I make with flower and stone essences,” she says, and creates “remedies that warm the vessel and invite the spirit in, that helps us both ground in the body, and also open to mystery!”
Midnight favors ruby, rose quartz, carnelian and moonstone as well as plant elements from rose, cinnamon, and magnolia tree. It might seem fringe, until you remember that the clothing retailer Free People is now selling raw crystal elixir drink bottles for $84.
Midnight has some additional suggestions for encouraging fertility. “ I recommend making an altar — you can place stones, baby photos, beautiful things that lift your heart, and perhaps placing an empty bowl or basket on it and just letting the universe know you are open to receive,” she says.
Rae Diamond, a western astrologer who uses they/them pronouns, uses their clients’ birth times to find out where their “fifth house” is, which they say has a big influence over fertility phases. Diamond has performed as an “energy doula” for clients, and says the spirit of a passed relative helped one woman through childbirth.
“One thing that came up during our work was she developed a strong feeling of her grandmother's presence, so we worked with strengthening that connection, and receiving the guidance and support of that ancestor,” they explain. “When this grandmother showed up, profound synchronicities started happening in this woman's life.”
Needless to say, being able to read your fertility is more difficult if, like many millennial women, you have been on birth control since your teens.
Check in with your belly. See how it's feeling.
Once a woman is pregnant, there is plenty of magic to be had. Diamond and Midnight emphasized the importance of connecting to your belly during this time, whether that is by rubbing your belly with belly oils or placing a necklace or stone upon your belly — your emotional center and where your little person is growing. I recall during both my pregnancies long connected experiences of anointing my round belly with oils that I left under the full moon, taking deep breaths as my hands explored my body, the oil warming to my skin, a fleshy wall between my hands and my growing child. I would sing to my little one and tell her stories of the world and family that she would soon enter into, enveloping her with a deep sense of love.
Diamond says the important thing is that you apply the oil or balm consciously and lovingly. “Check in with your belly. See how it's feeling,” they say. “Let whatever images, phrases, colors, memories, or other feelings or experiences be what they are without judging or trying to control them. Trust what's coming up for you, and if you have a hard time understanding a message or feeling, journal about it, or talk with a friend about it, or go see a trusted healer or teacher.”
Midnight often makes a flower essence formula with roses, which are both nurturing and protective for her pregnant clients. She goes on to say, “ A lot can come up about becoming a parent, including old trauma and mountains of fear, so I work with remedies like walnut for support during huge transitions, emerald, for connecting to a greater mothering energy, and madrone, which is a tree that can hold us while we're holding another life.”
Diamond looks to the stars for answers, explaining that there are certain factors in astrology — in the mother's natal chart — that can indicate a likelihood of twins, or issues to watch out for in the birthing process.
Midnight relies on her intuition, “ Often I see or hear little baby spirits hanging around people and then am not surprised when they ask about if they should have a baby. I often can sense if a baby is going to come easily or not and get a sense of their journey, and yes, I often can feel if there are twins in there.”
Listening to these women talk about their experiences, I think about our cultural skepticism regarding alternate practices. Why are we so afraid of it?
My second child’s umbilical cord was buried in a garden beside a tree in their Grandmothers’ backyard, along with her placenta after a simple ritual amongst our close friends and family. In many hospitals, mothers do not even see the umbilical cord.
Births are shrouded in superstition, even for the skeptics among us who choose not to share their baby name so as not to jinx it.
Paloumpis shares one superstition regarding the “evil eye” that their family believes to be true of pregnancy. “In Greece, someone can catch the evil eye when they are looked upon by others with envy, jealousy or when they are given too many compliments,” they say. “Since pregnancy often results in a lot of attention from other people, loved ones and strangers alike, It's quite common for someone to catch the evil eye while pregnant. A really simple way to ward off the evil eye is to wear or carry around a mati or khamsa, a glass blue eye that's said to reflect the onlookers' gaze and send whatever energy that's not meant for you, back to them.”
Paloumpis shares that another belief from their Turkish ancestry that is the umbilical cord is believed to have significant influence on the child's life trajectory, so discarding the cord after birth must be done with care and intention.
If the umbilical cord is buried in a school yard, it's said the child will be highly educated. If it is buried in a stable, the child will love animals and if it's given to a body of water the child will travel the world. My second child’s umbilical cord was buried in a garden beside a tree in their Grandmothers’ backyard, along with her placenta after a simple ritual amongst our close friends and family.
In many hospitals, mothers do not even see the umbilical cord.
It is so tender and vulnerable, so I think we long for magic as a way to protect ourselves from the pain, of not being in control, of not knowing what will happen.
Pregnancy dreams are especially vivid, even for the steadfast and reality-bound. Midnight believes that these offer important insights, omens, and symbols.
“For me,” she says, “I rely less on omens and more on my own intuition — so staying open to the signs helps! It can definitely be hard to get that kind of insight or visions about our own children though — in order to be clear in intuition, one often has to have some distance to see clearly.”
Birth can be beautiful and also present challenges. Midnight makes a certain sense of the draw of magic for pregnant women. “It is so tender and vulnerable, so I think we long for magic as a way to protect ourselves from the pain, of not being in control, of not knowing what will happen. I think because it has always been such a vulnerable journey, people have always longed for extra protection and support,” she says.
During her own labor, Midnight held the stones bloodstone, garnet, lapis and malachite in her labor- for their properties of strengthening, easing pain, helping with transitions, easing the grip of past trauma (which can come up in labor) and protecting the baby. These are all stones traditionally used for labor.
For post-partum recovery, Paloumpis uses rose quartz as their go-to when trying to soothe anxiety and for those who experience post-partum depression.
Midnight says rose quartz "just bathes everyone in love! I like to place a piece in the room of the baby and just carry one around.”
Diamond utilizes astrology to provide insight into who an infant might one day become, “I've done a lot of astrological readings of infants' charts for parents. For example, one child's chart showed a strong inclination to living in her mind — highly imaginative and innovative thinking, but somewhat disconnected from her body. I suggested the parents both encourage this strength, but also balance it with fun ways she could explore and enjoy being in a body. Every time I talk with them, they tell me this guidance has helped them to be accepting and appreciative of their daughter's natural inclinations, and also compassionate in their approach to giving her opportunities for a balanced life.”
Despite magic and intuition there are certain things that we simply can’t control and we must learn to surrender.
Midnight shares some final words of wisdom, “It's so scary — I mean parenting is terrifying sometimes! And there is this way that when you are really present, including being present for the mystery of it, that you get to experience the aliveness. I can give them company, unconditional kindness, and help them connect to their own wisdom and power to be with whatever comes. And then from there we can work magic.”
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