Sheila Kitzinger, social anthropologist and author of many books, including Birth & Sex, was such a treasure in more ways than I can express. (Read Orgasmic Birth blog, Why I Write About Birth and Sex by Sheila Kitzinger from October 2012). She spoke for MotherBaby and family rights and long before we called them birth rights she was advocating for “Freedom and Choice” – developing the first birth plans, allowing women to have a voice about their care and sharing their desires. I loved her book Rediscovering Birth, about the anthropology of birth, learning from the Her-story of women around the world. Sheila’s work educated and laid a foundation for me.
“She took to her bed three months ago, but she was drinking Kir Royale and champagne and eating chocolates three days ago, knowing she didn’t have long.” Sheila’s husband Uwe Kitzinger as quoted by BBC News
When I was beginning as a new childbirth educator and doula trainer I (of course!) read many of Sheila’s books (she wrote 25 + books). I remember hearing she would be speaking at Yale University and knew I could not miss the opportunity to hear her speak in person. In a packed, large auditorium her presence filled the room and touched each of us. Before long she was squatting on a table to show us how birth should be and her stories, filled with wisdom wit and humor, captivated me. She was not only a brilliant writer, but a wonderful speaker. That night, hearing her speak, inspired me in so many ways. Years later, when I was speaking in the UK, and she invited me to meet her for dinner in her home town of Standlake, Oxfordshire, I was so honored. I was nervous, as I still felt in my adolescence in the birth world, but she put me right at ease and, not only encouraged me, but supported me along the way.
Sheila was a human rights advocate for woman and families- not just to do with childbirth but in all aspects of their lives. In her advocacy work, she honored we birth the way we live, a favorite quote of mine, and she worked to make a difference in all our lives. She wrote: “New mothers are often unhappy. This major life transition is made incredibly difficult by poverty, poor housing, overcrowding, and social isolation.” Quote borrowed from BBC. We shared a passion for how doulas could ease and support childbirth as well as the transition to parenthood for women and families living in challenging situations. Sheila began a prison doula program and changed the laws in the UK so pregnant prisoners were no longer shackled in labor.
Sheila’s oldest daugher, Professor Celia Kitzinger, a social psychologist at the University of York says in the Pinter and Martin press release,
‘Sheila taught me, from an early age, that the personal was political – not just by what she said but by what she did. As I was growing up I learnt from her campaigns for freedom and choice in childbirth the passionate and committed individuals can create social change. She never hesitated to speak truth to power.”
In her 1962 book The Experience of Childbirth she also argued that birth had the potential to be a “psychosexual experience.” “(Birth) can be one of the most profound psychosexual experiences in a woman’s life. Each contraction may bring a rush of joy so overwhelming that the pain recedes into the background.” Her work is part of the foundation I stand on today as I have gone deeper into the sexuality of birth. Sheila loved our documentary Orgasmic Birth.
Sheila was a prolific writer, actively penning books her entire life, and recently wrote Birth and Sex. She shared with Orgasmic Birth blog about her experience, “I have been criticised for describing birth-giving in terms of sex, imposing on women a compulsory sexual performance – birth with orgasm. But for me personally it was an intense psycho-sexual experience. This is not surprising, since both childbirth and lactation involve the same hormones as in sexual arousal.” (Read the full Why I Write About Birth & Sex Orgasmic Birth blog). I was honored to have personal conversation with her at dinners we shared and thru email about sexuality and birth, a topic that we both were passionate about, and felt that the de-sexualization of medicalized birth was an aspect that was taking away women’s pleasure and many possibilities to celebrate the magic and miracle of birth.
Sheila had an amazing presence- her dresses, scarfs, and jewelry from around the world, her British accent, and articulate and direct comments and observations made her regal to me and to all whom she touched! I am going to miss Sheila Kitzinger but happy to know her message and work will live on with her writing and her soon to be released new autobiography A Passion for Birth from Pinter & Martin Publishers will be coming out soon, I hope you will read her books and be inspired by her wit and wisdom too.
Birth IS sexual.
This week, as part of our Spring Pain to Power launch, we release our first video in the 3-part series.
Sign-up for our mailist today to learn more about Pain to Power and to receive the 3 videos.