Musical Midwifery


With Jasper Rowan Greco Zendzian, 2016

My introduction to musical midwifery came early: Back in the 1980s, I went to boarding school in the sacred North Indian town of Vrindaban, where I was privileged to play music for pilgrims who’d come to die. My schoolmates and I chanted mantras as Krishna devotees breathed their last, and then we accompanied the bodies to the Yamuna River, where we watched them burn. These intense experiences had a profound effect on my ideas about ritual, the power of sound, and reincarnation.

Many years later, I realized a lifelong dream by helping my friends Kristen and Alex welcome their baby boy Jasper into the world with music. Below, she tells the story more beautifully than I ever could, so suffice to say that the entire adventure – including playing a borrowed Pantheon Steel Halo for 22 hours – has inspired me to begin working with doulas and midwives to bring music to birth.

When I channel music for labor and delivery, my intentions are to:
  • Use music to establish a sense of ritual for this everyday miracle
  • Provide a sonic buffer from the world outside of the room
  • Create an umbrella of sound that invites hospital staff to reconsider the “assembly-line/just another birth” mindset
  • Provide a continuous stream of soothing, non-invasive sound for the parents and baby
  • Use silence, volume, tempo, variation, and complexity to flow with energetic changes in the room
  • Invite the mom to tune into rhythm as she feels contractions, and to sing along/use tones/move around to ease the pain
  • Tune into the mom’s energy, helping her gather strength when it’s time to push and slow down when it’s time to relax
  • Be an ultra-supportive male presence in the room, sometimes directly in league with the father
  • Work with the doula(s) and midwives to energetically support the mom
  • Support the other birthworkers in the room by relaxing or rousing them as needed
  • Joyfully celebrate the arrival of the baby
  • In cases where there are complications, use music to help keep the energy positive
  • Soothe the room after the delivery and provide loving tones for the baby and mother
  • Celebrate the father’s first time holding the baby and the cutting of the umbilical cord
  • Welcome relatives and guests into the room with music
  • Use sound as a bookend for the entire birth process

A MOM’S PERSPECTIVE: Kristen Greco, mother of Jasper

kristin-jasper-alex“A TEMPLE OF SOUND”
Having live music at our birth created a temple of sound. The music tuned into the rhythm of my body, supported the contractions, gave me strength, followed and attuned to the intensity of the birth so I could meet it with fierceness, vigor, grace, and surrender.
I met Shyam in 2010
at an artist’s residency in Massachusetts. He was playing music, and I asked him out of an immediate instinct, without really knowing him, “If I ever have a child, will you play music for the birth?” “YES! I would love to!” was his response. Fast forward to 2015. I run into him by chance at an arts venue in California and tell him that me and my husband are intending to have a child. Would he still be interested in playing at the birth? “Yes, absolutely,” he says.
A month later, Jasper was conceived.
I wasn’t sure
what I meant by my invitation to Shyam. My initial feeling when I met him was that he would play for THE BIRTH. I felt shy and vulnerable once I was actually pregnant. Perhaps I meant that I wanted him to play just for the early labor?
We met to talk more
about what this would look like and for him to meet my husband. In spending more time together with Shyam, we had time to envision. We spoke about Shyam’s life history of playing music at ceremonial rituals, we felt into what environment we wished to cultivate for our birth, and in being in Shyam’s presence I realized what felt right was to invite him to be there for the threading of the eye of the needle—the birth itself. He was committed, all in. There is an integrity to Shyam, the resonance of a holy man, a connection to divinity: this access point is what I hoped for in the room. It became so clear that he could support this in all of us.
Our initial meeting with Shyam
not only opened the invitation to having him present at the birth, but also served as a time for us to start cultivating the energetic template for Jasper’s arrival. This is different then the physical logistics of the birth (who, what, where, etc.), but acted as a spiritual anchoring for my husband and I in how we wanted to welcome in our child.
We planned
to have the birth at a birth center, but we ended up at a hospital. We asked about having Shyam join us, and the nurses told us we could have four guests; should one of them have an instrument and play it, it would be fine so long as it didn’t disturb the patients in neighboring rooms.
It was remarkable
to experience the nurses’ and doctors’ response to Shyam and the playing of live music. They paused. They walked in the room, and actually paused. It took them out of their “business as usual” (i.e., “take a number in the birth factory line”) mindset, which, I have to say, was how we were approached by some hospital staff before Shyam arrived. Now the doctors and nurses were taking a breath and noticing that something SPECIAL was happening. Someone was about to be born!
The music transformed the space
into a temple for our birth. We honestly did not feel like we were in a hospital. We were in our own sovereign space, the sacred entryway for our son Jasper to enter. And it couldn’t have been more beautiful.

—Kristen Greco
Nov. 23, 2016