Two acorns: how each birth weaves a unique journey within the overarching pattern of birth


Let us take two acorns, dense with the same potential to become oak trees. 

The first acorn sprouts into life on the shaded forest floor. It shoots up, spindly and pale, to the light at the canopy, where it leafs out, catching what sunlight it can. If a neighbouring tree should crack and fall, our slender tree will bend to the sudden opening of light, sprouting out new twigs and leaves until the canopy is closed again, and the forest floor, down below, grows dim again. The tree thickens with its greater catchment of sunlight; using green chlorophyll to turn light into wood; making sugars from air to trade with fungi in the soil for minerals. With every gust of wind through the woods tiny particles of forest debris waft up into the air; high above, vapour drawn into clouds grows heavy and water forms around the tiny gravity of each forest spore and falls as raindrops.  

Our second acorn sprouts in a wide, open field. With sunlight all around it grows wide, low, round, huge. It is clattered up and nibbled by goats; the soil life is dominated by pasture microbes rather than forest fungi, but still it thrives; birds fill its branches, chattering, and its dark leaves flicker shade and light in the breeze. 

The two acorns, dense with such similar potential as to be almost identical, to become oak trees, for roots to shoot down and leaves upward, grow in their own unique unfolding within that larger pattern of oak tree potential, according to their interactions with soil, seasons, rain, sunlight. Their potential is uniquely shaped by their interactions; Inherent in the seed is the expectationof those interactions; the seed requiresthose interactions to grow; and the shape of its growing depends on those interactions. The acorn is nothing without soil, sunlight, and rain. With evolution’s long eye, we can see that the sunlight is the tree, the soil is the tree, the rainwater and the air are the tree.


When we come to birth, we can appreciate its correlations for soil, water, sunlight, and seasons. Even as the mother is made entirely of the stuff of our Mother Earth – every mouthful of food ultimately grown in soil, her bones knit together with sunlight, every breath drawn in from the outbreath of trees, every drink originating in a raincloud – so does her child grow from the rich soil of her body.

Birth is a beautifully bodily process: this baby has grown under its Mother’s heart out of the stuff of her, her bones have held and rocked it, her blood has nourished it, and now her body in marvellous orchestration beats the drum of labour and draws up her cervix for baby to be born out of its salty ocean and into her exultant, waiting hands, come up to the breast, and continue to drink life from her. 

But in coming to birth, we can appreciate a million million things, seen and unseen, in its unfolding. 

Because a woman is not only her life-giving body; she also has self-conscious awareness. She is not only soil and sunlight; she also has memory, language, emotion, relationships, intellect, the ability to move from place to place. She has instinct and autonomous bodily systems, and she has creative, emotional intelligences as well. And the language to explore and communicate it. And the relationships to embody and express these things against and within. She very likely swims between several cultures and languages. She dreams; she can delight and go deep in the symbolic; she has spiritual beliefs and experiences. 

All of these things have always been variable across cultures and throughout time, and the very process of birth itself has many, many built-in feedback loops to adapt to a million million variations. The process of birth, like every process laid down by evolution – like the process of evolution itself – is inherently responsive, and inherently adaptive. Just as the acorn expects and requirescertain interactions to grow, so does birth expect and require certain interactions to unfold smoothly and birth this baby in a peak of love and ecstasy into its new family and welcoming community.

I call this understanding of interaction the Ecology of Birth, and as midwives we are the ones who tend to birth’s blooming. We pay attention to its seasons, what nurtures it and hinders it; we act intuitively and intelligently for each birth to thrive as it unfolds in its unique actuality within the wide parameters of the normal patterns of birth. Midwives hold the knowledge of those wide-ranging patterns in trust for all women: the heart of our craft. Meanwhile, the knowing of these patterns and how to dance in alignment with them is every woman’s birthright knowledge. And so this writing is for midwives, and also for you too, women, in service to our fullness of being human, during pregnancy, birth and early parenting. This valuing of being fully human ultimately honours our greater Mother Earth also; our full healthfulness expands in influence all the way up to the health of our beautiful, precious planet.