What, you ask, does childbirth have to do with Montessori? I'll tell you ...
I come from a relatively large and more or less fertile family, so I grew up around babies being born. It wasn't a particularly scary thing, or a foreign thing, but I never gave it much thought. I did know that you showed up at the hospital and they gave you something called an epidural. Assorted family members hung around the waiting room and wandered in and out of the birthing room until that baby was finally out. Someone usually had a video camera and interviewed various family members, who gushed about their excitement as they waited. Eventually, the baby came out and everyone piled into the room where he or she was passed around from person to person for ooohs, aaahs, and photo ops. And that's how it was done.
When I began my Montessori journey, however, my idea of everything having to do with children changed. I was barely 18 when I began reading The Secret of Childhood and it was then that my whole picture of birth was completely turned upside down. Dr. Montessori writes,
But what care have men taken to assist the child as it makes the most difficult adjustment of all, that of passing from one mode of existence to another? At no other period in his life does man experience such a violent conflict and struggle, and consequent suffering, as at the time of birth...it has grown in a place where it was protected from all assaults, from every change of temperature, in a fluid created for its rest. And in an instant it has changed this dark and silent home for the hostile air... The doctor handles it without any particular regard, and when it starts to cry in desperation no one takes it seriously...
... a newborn child should not simply be shielded from harm, but measures should also be taken to provide for psychic adjustment to the world about it... The needs of a newborn child are not those of one who is sick but of one who is striving to adjust oneself physically and psychologically to new and strange surroundings.How a woman chooses to birth is a very personal decision and what feels right for one woman may not for another. What this helped me realize, however, was the importance of birthing peacefully, gently, and consciously.
Our attitude towards the newborn child should not be one of compassion but rather of reverence before the mystery of creation, that a spiritual being has been confined within limits perceptible to us. The manner in which we touch and move a child, and the delicacy of feeling which should inspire us at the time, makes us think of the gestures that a priest uses at the altar. His hands are purified, his motions are studied and thoughtful, and his actions take place in silence and in darkness that is penetrated only by a light that has been softened in its passage through stained glass windows. A feeling of hope and elevation pervades the sacred place. It is in surroundings such as these that the newborn child should live.
The first period of human life has not been sufficiently explored, and yet we are constantly becoming more aware of its importance. Hardships and privations in the first months of a child's existence can, as we now know, influence the whole course of his future development. But if in the child are to be found the makings of the man, it is in the child also that the future welfare of the race is to be found.
Too little attention is paid to the newborn child that has just experienced the most difficult of human crises. When he appears in our midst, we hardly know how to receive him, even though he bears within himself a power to create a better world than that in which we live ourselves.
The words which we read in the prologue to St. John's Gospel are in a sense applicable to the newborn child: "He was in the world ... and the world knew him not. He came unto his own and his own received him not."