October 27, 2016

Finished: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant


I fell in love with The Red Tent twelve years ago when I was pregnant for the first time and was already planning a home birth with a midwife. The red tent was a place in biblical, patriarchal times designed to segregate bleeding women from men, but also offered women a place of sanctity to descend upon each other with care, nurturing, and love in their most sacred and vulnerable times—pregnancy and birth.

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There was also unfathomable pain and loss; this was, after all, a time when the greatest tools a midwife had were bricks on which a birthing woman would stand, bark to place between her teeth as she bore down, and maybe a few herbs like nettle and mint and cumin if they could find them. High infant and mother mortality were harsh realities.

It’s not that I wanted to eschew the advances of western medicine and modern technology during my pregnancy and birth. It’s that I wanted to harness the best of both worlds: to be surrounded and empowered by strong, loving women who believed in my body’s ability to grow and birth a baby, while monitoring with lab work and blood pressure cuffs and Dopplers, and having access to medical intervention if needed.

Down to my core, this is what I wanted, for myself, and for my baby.

That dream got turned ferociously on its head as I miscarried, was abandoned by my midwife, and very quickly got shoved down the excruciating rabbit hole of IVF and medicalized pregnancy and birth.

I have two children now, and lost three others. I have suffered, I have done a lot of healing, and I—rightfully—will never be the same person I was before. So, I wondered, how would it feel reading The Red Tent again now?

I didn’t think about that when someone in my book club suggested we pick a book that had great personal meaning. My hand just shot up in the air without thinking at all, just knowing which book I had to pick. The thinking came later, and I was scared. I didn’t want to lose what The Red Tent had meant to me, and that possibility seemed very real with everything I’d been through since my first reading.

The magic was not lost. I fell in love with this book all over again, and for all the same reasons, amplified. The women. The sisterhood. The tribe. The family. The earth. The love. And even the pain, so much pain, because those women walked through it all together.

Oh yes, there is a whole actual story in The Red Tent. Dinah’s story, of her childhood among the tribe, the violent horror that befell her as a young wife, and her calling to midwifery in a new land afterward. It is everything you could want in a story, yet through Anita Diamant’s brilliant, gorgeous writing, it somehow became secondary to me. This is a book of my soul, and the soul of womanhood. It is a gift.