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Rhea Dempsey: Guidance in My Hands

Experiences of the latihan in childbirth

Rhea lives in Melbourne. For many years she has been a childbirth educator. She runs pre-natal workshops for women and couples and attends births. She is often aware of the guidance of the latihan coming to her in a very direct and physical way during the intimate and sacred process of childbirth.

My experience of the latihan at births is that it is extremely practical. Well, it is far more than that, but at the time it is very practical. Move here, move there, do this. It unlocks something and allows some flow to happen. Sometimes I feel I'm not even there for the mother and the father, but for the baby. As if baby has manipulated it so that I, or someone who carries some element of spirituality, will be at the birth. There are some births where I've felt this very strongly.

Often it's a birth where, on one level, I feel superfluous. Perhaps something is happening that deeply saddens me. A difficult birth, a caesarean, the situation is being dealt with in a way that's alien to me. I hold the woman's hand and feel the latihan. Though I seem to be having no effect, I know this baby needs to feel whatever is here because I'm here. Perhaps it will be something that will be valuable for them later in life.

I feel like I'm coming to the end of a stage with my work. So far I've been very much involved in the emotional side of things. Now I feel a need to learn more specific medical skills. I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to go about acquiring them yet. There is the possibility of a direct entry midwifery course where you don't have to do all the prior years of nursing training. I am also involved in the political side of things because there is very powerful opposition to the natural childbirth and home birth movements from some sections of the medical establishment and we really have to fight politically to defend women's right to these things.

I remember one particular experience in which the latihan had an objective reality that I recognised and other people did too. I'd been at a birth and it was going on for a long time. The birth wasn't developing. The doctor had gone to sleep and the midwife was half asleep. I felt I still had a little energy left and I explained to the woman that soon she'd have to go to hospital. She asked me if I could see what was stopping the birth, or if I could suggest what she might do. When she was coming to classes we had already discussed the fact that she was physically constipated and that this corresponded to an emotional condition of always holding her feelings in. Now she was holding back the birth. We talked about this and she began to cry and that changed everything. The birth developed and the doctor and the midwife woke up. But then it got stuck again for a long time and the doctor found out that the baby's heartbeat was getting weaker. He said, "We'll have to help it", and he went to get the forceps. He and the midwife were setting up, pulling on surgical gloves. The baby had about a minute to come out or they would use the forceps.

I was kneeling in front of the woman who was squatting, being supported by her husband. I saw the stepped computer image and at the end of it was the woman holding her baby. I was praying and talking to the woman. Something I never do is touch women around the genitals. I've seen women touched there wrongly and insensitively and so I never do it, but without thinking about it, my hand moved and touched the women's perineum. It was just a very light touch, but the baby came just like that. The woman didn't even tear and everyone was amazed. Including me.

But since then I've had this experience with touch many times at births. It feels that if my hands are really "alive" with the feeling of the latihan then the babies often respond.



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