The Sacred Space of Birth.

By Amy Towle
May 2015

Over the course of my career as a midwife I have come to recognise that the space in which a woman births in is an absolute key to the ‘success’ or outcome of her birth.  By space I am referring to many aspects, not just the physical environment in which a woman labours and births.  The birth space is all encompassing; the physical space, energy, lighting, people, sounds, visual stimulation, smells, temperature, and list goes on.  Having birthed women in many corners of the globe and in all kinds of birthing spaces, I have witnessed first-hand the impact of knocks on the door, mother-in-laws forcing their way in, fearful partners, loud unrelated conversations as well as the positive impact of trust, privacy, music, darkness, and movement.

Rachel labouring at home. Photo taken by Emily Searle

Giving birth is one of the most primal acts a woman will do, when in such a primal state a woman is the most vulnerable, she will ever be.  It’s not a time for decision making, for interruption or for display.  When in such a primal state, the slightest distraction can tip the balance of birth.  It’s for this reason each and every woman needs a midwife, who recognises a large part of her role is to simply ‘Hold the space’.  Protect the space and be a co-creator of the space.

The birthing space is sacred, it is where a woman comes into her power, and where a new life comes earth side.  This sacred space can be anywhere.  At home, in a family member’s home, in a birth centre or in a hospital.  Sometimes pregnancies deviate from the original plan, and the birth space needs to be changed.  This is where the skills of a midwife really shine through.  To hold and protect that space where ever it may be, and where ever it may move to.  A beautiful sacred birth space can be held in a hospital too.

Nadia birthing at home with her family and midwives

How does a midwife hold the birth space?  For me, it means creating a space where the couple/family feels comfortable to do and be.  Primal animals birth best in private dark spaces, for this I ensure the lighting is dimmed, or curtains drawn.  Women are hypersensitive during birth, to smells and sounds.  Encouraging music that flows with the woman’s birthing mood and energy, and possibly some essential oils for burning or massage.  Keeping doors closed, chatter to a minimum or whispered.  And most importantly, rigidly police who comes and goes from the birthing space.

With every person who enters the birthing space, they bring their energy.  They bring their fears, their love, their thoughts and feelings and their ego.  Each energy alters the space.  A hypersensitive labour woman can smell these a mile away.  Instantly they impact her space, in a positive or negative way.  If a woman has been waiting for her partner or support person to arrive, you will see instant ease, gratification, love, and pleasure in her.  If an unwanted person enters the space, you can feel the energy in the room literally break.  Disturbed.  Halted.  The woman will change her body language, her noises and turn outward instead of the deep inward space in which she was birthing.  You will see her turn her back, face and head down, stop voicing her needs and become obliging.  Often at this point it can be very difficult for a woman or support person to speak up and request this energy and/or person to leave.  A midwife who holds the space, will instantly recognise this, and undertake the task of restoring the space.  It may not be possible to remove the person or thing completely, so adjustments can be made, and open conversations can be had to allow the space to return or change to a flowing state once again.

As pregnancy progresses, the birth space is something which needs to be given much, time, thought, discussion and consideration.  Between both you and your partner, and your midwife.  Consider exactly what you do and don’t want in your birth space.  And how you want these things held or protected.  As a midwife I ask the woman if there is anything I can do to hold the space for her, any particular needs.  I once had a woman develop a code word, to tell me she no longer wanted particular people in the room, and it was time for me remove them from the space.

A midwife and care provider also needs to be able to recognise their own ego, and to have the ability to leave this at the door.  The ego can greatly impact the care provided and the birthing space.

Over time midwives develop what I call midwives intuition.  A large part of the midwife’s role in the birth space, is to be in tune with the woman, this enables me to hold her birth space.  To feel when she needs a sip of water, if she doesn’t like the music track that is playing, if she wants to try a particular position, if her support partner is becoming anxious or fearful.  This allows me to nurture the birth space without interrupting it.  A wonderful midwife I know and admire once told me, a good midwife is one who sits in the corner knitting.  I realised this is a midwife in tune with her birthing woman.  A midwife who gives the silent message ‘you’ve got this’.

A woman who has a sacred birth space, held by a midwife will feel supported, loved, empowered and like she birthed her baby, not had it delivered by somebody else.  A held birth space, is where families are made.

Nadia with her parents and husband Matt shortly after the birth of their first child, Axel


For as long as I can remember, I always knew I would be a midwife.  When the time was right, I packed my bags, left my home, and headed to Dunedin to start my journey into Midwifery.  There my path was crossed by many amazing women and midwives who taught me that birth is not only a normal physiological process, but a beautiful life changing event.  Early in my days as a midwife I heard the phrase “Wahine Toa” (Te reo Māori for Strong, Warrior Woman). This phrase resonated within me and has become a part of me, becoming my pillar in birthing and also on my own personal journey. The last 8 years of working and travelling around the world has shaped me as a midwife, refined my skills and allowed me to see birth in many cultures.