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Symbolic Patterns of Childbirth

Anja Hänsch

This study investigates long-lasting cultural constructions of childbirth. Four symbolic patterns of childbirth emerge from the analysis of a variety of texts ranging from myths, philosophy, literature and religion to ethics of modern medicine. On a symbolic level «The Supremacy of the Male» attributes the coming into existence of a child primarily to male «pro-creation.» «The Supremacy of the Female», contrarily, relates childbirth to conception, pregnancy and giving birth on part of the woman. «Theoretical, Spiritual and Political Natality versus Childbirth» pictures childbirth as lower in value as the realms of ideas, religion, the political or the arts. In contrast to this, «Harmony between Spiritual/Theoretical Natality and Childbirth» shows that spiritual birth and childbirth can also be intertwined. It is argued that different symbolic patterns of childbirth may imply different gender relations and different views on «life» in general. The theoretical part of the book is based on Hannah Arendt’s philosophy of natality and on Martin Heidegger whose ideas on death are used for a philosophical conception of the woman giving birth.

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IV. Final Remarks: A Baby Has Been Bor­n – So What?

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IV. Final Remarks: A Baby Has Been Bor n – So What? “And what shall we do now?”, this was my daughter’s question at the age of three after she had seen a dead kitten on a carpet. In the preface to this work I wrote about Yasmin’s question to make the cultural constructions of birth and death tangible. In the course of this book I have examined four ways of giving meaning to the birth of children, that is four ways of answering the question, “What shall we do now?” in relation to birth. One way of giving meaning to childbirth is to see the mother as the supreme life-giving force. This symbolic pattern was called “The Suprem- acy of the Female” and most probably derives from the deep physical involvement of the woman with childbirth. Man’s contribution to the coming into existence of a child is less tangible than woman’s. Thus, on a symbolic level, the child is more related to her than to him. To describe the symbolic construction of the supremacy of the female over the male with regard to childbirth, I used myths of goddesses from antiquity who were depicted as mothers of the gods and the origin of the world; the gnostic myth of the creation of the world by Sophia; texts and representations related to the cults of the goddess Isis, who creates life out of death; and the birth of Jesus by Mary whose cult reaches up to our time. I closed this...

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