Introducing Ken Wilber's quadrant analysis to birth

Ken Wilber’s model is called AQAL, or All Quadrants, All Lines, and is a way of observing the various aspects of life. I will apply my understanding of the quadrants to birth (any mistakes in interpretation are mine alone!), as a useful way of mapping the various influences on birth’s unfolding, so that we can consciously work with birth and not against it, and for women and not against them.

The right hand EXTERNAL quadrants are objective, measurable, tangible; they are quantitative. The left hand INTERNAL quadrants are subjective, or qualitative. 

The INDIVIDUAL quadrants are the woman herself, and the COLLECTIVE are the culture she and her birth sit within. 

Let’s bring the woman into it.

Very briefly – see following posts for more detail:
the INTERNAL//INDIVIDUAL is the woman’s subjective inner world;
the EXTERNAL//INDIVIDUAL is her physical objective body;
the INTERNAL//COLLECTIVE is the subjective culture she is situated within;
the EXTERNAL//COLLECTIVE is the objective place of birth.

Birth is inherently a physical process, but that physical process is interwoven with the other elements of the experience of being alive, both seen and unseen, objective and subjective, external and internal. Each element is affected by the next, and affects the next in turn.

The physical process of birth is in such an intricate dance with these other elements that we cannot untangle where one begins and the other ends. 

That is because moment to moment, our beautiful, complex brains, wired by evolution for survival through community, are assessing our safety. They are alert to every relational nuance and environmental cue, never more so than at such a vulnerable and evolutionarily crucial time as giving birth. Evolution is heavily invested in the continuation of life. The birth process, orchestrated by the endocrine (hormonal) system, is in intricate interplay with the nervous system’s primal perceptions of safety. It does not only matter that the woman is safe; it matters that she feels safe. Her ancestors in the delta, the jungle, the mountain forests, the world over, through the brutal selection of fitness, have handed down an inherently responsive and adaptive process for birth that is hypersensitive to danger; that expects to unfold within the safety and support of community and has inherent feedback mechanisms for danger. 

Birth is a process that flourishes beautifully not only with a perception of safety but even more so when held with love. 

Another beautiful grace note of evolution – that oxytocin, the hormone of love, is the lead conductress of the orchestration of nervous and endocrine systems in birth. That we birth our babies into our communities, awash with love. That lead by love presupposes that the woman is being held in love as she births. That her community has gathered around her in love. That the gathering of her community around her is holding her safe. 

And so we see that all these quadrants bear on the woman’s body, the EXTERNAL INDIVIDUAL. Everything in the INTERNAL COLLECTIVE/Culture quadrant influences the woman’s INTERNAL INDIVIDUAL/Self. How she feels and what she believes in this quadrant leads to her choice of EXTERNAL COLLECTIVE/Place of birth. How women and birthing are valued in the INTERNAL COLLECTIVE/Culture quadrant gives rise to what options or systems are available for her to birth within, and what places are available. The INTERNAL COLLECTIVE valuing of women – or otherwise – determines their safety, their cost, their thoroughness, the character of their care. 

The woman’s body, the EXTERNAL INDIVIDUAL, travels the journey of birthing this baby interwoven within the matrix of these influences. Like the acorn, the process of birth presupposes the influences of these interweaving elements through its inherent responsiveness and adaptability. Birth expects to occur within community, held in love, in a place that is familiar and where the woman can move and go deeply inward, held in the safety of those around her. When birth is held in love, the baby is held in that knit of love as it is born; its brain knit with those oxytocin pathways, laying down a track for a life filled with ease of connection, loving, warm connection. The rippling outward of that profound love at our primal imprinting during our being birthed is obvious. It is sacred enough and vital enough to us all – individually, communally and globally – to fiercely value and fiercely protect.