Tuesday Tidbits: Women’s Health

February 2015 117There are 70 hours left in the Sweetening the Pill Kickstarter campaign. I’ve been interested in the book since it was published in 2013, so I contributed to the fundraiser and now I’ll finally get to read it! There have been a variety of opposing articles published recently in various online venues, offering critiques of the idea of challenging the pill and its liberating benefits, claiming that such an effort is “anti-woman.” I feel like I can understand both perspectives (few issues genuinely have to be all or nothing, people!). I have conflicted feelings about birth control pills—they have been a tremendously important part of women’s reproductive rights AND there are variety of things about them that are scary too. We can’t assume that hormonal birth control is benign nor is it cool to diminish women’s powerful reproductive experiences as being “enslaved” to biology. At the same time, it is critical that women retain the ability to make their own decisions about their own bodies and family size. One scornful article I read mentioned that critiquing the pill is part of the trajectory of the “natural life” that includes homebirth and extended breastfeeding. For me, that is true and I’m not ashamed to admit it. As I noted in this older post:

…I’ve struggled with the question of birth control for some time. I took the pill for about six years and then after having my first baby in 2003 and going on the minipill, I had the sudden “epiphany” that if I was so committed to natural birth and breastfeeding and natural living and trusting my body, why the heck was I okay with filling said body full of hormones?! (The same epiphany, but including cloth diapers, led me to start using cloth moon pads rather than disposable as well. Never looked back!) We started using natural family planning instead (really, the Billings method) and it has been excellent for nine years—no “accidents” and more babies exactly when we decided we wanted them. And, no side effects, no money, and no hormones. Now that our family size feels complete, I find myself struggling with whether or not NFP will continue be “enough” until natural infertility takes over. NFP was fine when an accidental pregnancy was an acceptable option. At this point, an unexpected pregnancy would still be an acceptable option, however fast-forwarding the clock, I really, really, really, do not want to be someone who ends up having her first unexpected pregnancy at age 45 or something! I also do not want to engage in any permanent body-modification efforts (for either myself or my husband) when my own fertility will be up in the next 15 years or so (but body modification is forever!). So, I feel very optionless at this point…

via Talk Books: Sweetening the Pill | Talk Birth.

After writing this, we did hit our unexpected pregnancy quota (1), and while Tanner is a beautiful treasure that I’m June 2015 087grateful to have, I’m done having babies. Sooooo…what to do now?! I still feel the same sensation of optionlessness that I described two years ago and have been tossing back and forth the ideas of the minipill, a copper IUD, a vasectomy, and around and around.

Speaking of women’s health and our biological experiences, I was interested to read this observation from Veronika Robinson that what we think of as normal physical “suffering” with regard to menstruation may be side effects of modern culture rather than a natural experience:

Those of us on the edge of culture try to bring light to the lives of women who suffer with menstrual ‘conditions’. It’s important to ask ourselves: did Mother Nature really want us to suffer with migraines, cramps, bloating, bad tempers and heavy bleeding? I don’t believe so. In fact, the more we look at the lives of our ancestresses we see that the ‘menstrual’ curse is a recent phenomenon in female history. It is in direct proportion to the degree with which we concur with the modern lifestyle: lack of exercise, poor nutrition (caffeine, sugar, dairy, gluten, alcohol), inadequate sleep, stress, EMRs, pollution, lack of immersion in nature, too much screen time, etc.

via Women and the Moon: reclaiming our menstrual power | Veronika Sophia Robinson.

At the same time, what is “natural” with regard to menstruation can become a logic trap, because technically speaking, it isn’t natural to have a period every month at all. Women of the not-too-recent-past were almost constantly pregnant or nursing, rather than menstruating. Enter…the Pill…and around we go again. ;) While I embrace natural family living as much as next crunchy mama, I have to laugh at us, when we make arguments like, “humans are the only mammal who…” or, “it isn’t natural to…” because, here we are sitting in houses, most of us with air conditioning, wearing clothes, cooking our food, driving our cars, and typing on our computers. Apparently, we’re mainly only interested in what is natural when it comes to scrutinizing what other women do with their bodies?! I give up!

Recognizing my own logical fallacies, however, doesn’t mean I’m not interested in what it means to be a conscious May 2015 085woman and for me that includes an intimate engagement with the realities of embodiment, rather than an effort to distance myself or pretend that powerful, normal physical experiences to not exist or can be medicated away:

We were at a loss. Would we ever feel like women? Would we want to? What did it mean to be a woman? Looking back, I wish I’d known a wise elder to invite me to a women’s circle but I’m not aware they even existed then – not in our society anyway. I’m so glad that’s changing with the red tent movement and women’s circles.

Women need other women to teach them what it means to be a woman, and to recognise that being a woman is something to welcome rather than resist!

via On Becoming A Woman | Flower Spirit.

In my class last week, we explored the idea that children with ADHD or autism spectrum disorders might simply be people who see the world in “more color” than those without diagnoses. So, I was interested to read several articles this week about Western culture’s narrow idea of mental health and the possibilities that, as a culture, we’re drugging our mystics and shamans:

Our mental health care system is breaking people. We have no room for the sacred, only normal.

The narrow range of accepted behavior expected from us is more oppressive than you might realize. That is, until we experience beyond it, until we get judged, until we don’t fit in, until we need fixing.

In Dr. Somé’s village, the symptoms we commit people for, Dr. Somé’s community recognize as marks of a healer. They respect and nourish the very same patterns that we condemn and drug…

We’re taking people with a completely different perceptual experience and calling it “wrong”.

We’re weeding out our geniuses. We’re killing off our prophets. We’re drugging our messiahs.

Were she alive today, Sylvia Plath would be on anti-depressants. Salvador Dali would be on anti-psychotics. Beethoven would be on Lithium. Newton would likely be committed as well as heavily drugged for his multiple, pervasive mental illness symptoms.

Don’t even get me started on Jesus Christ.

via Rethinking Mental Illness: Are We Drugging Our Prophets and Healers? | High Existence.

After I read the article above, I sought out the article she references by Dr. Somé:

Those who develop so-called mental disorders are those who are sensitive, which is viewed in Western culture as oversensitivity. Indigenous cultures don’t see it that way and, as a result, sensitive people don’t experience themselves as overly sensitive. In the West, “it is the overload of the culture they’re in that is just wrecking them,” observes Dr. Somé. The frenetic pace, the bombardment of the senses, and the violent energy that characterize Western culture can overwhelm sensitive people….

“I was so shocked. That was the first time I was brought face to face with what is done here to people exhibiting the same symptoms I’ve seen in my village.” What struck Dr. Somé was that the attention given to such symptoms was based on pathology, on the idea that the condition is something that needs to stop. This was in complete opposition to the way his culture views such a situation. As he looked around the stark ward at the patients, some in straitjackets, some zoned out on medications, others screaming, he observed to himself, “So this is how the healers who are attempting to be born are treated in this culture. What a loss! What a loss that a person who is finally being aligned with a power from the other world is just being wasted.”

via What a Shaman Sees in A Mental Hospital – Waking Times : Waking Times.

Less related to physical or mental health, but definitely related to emotional health, I enjoyed this article about personal journaling by one of my top favorite authors:

I want to jump up and down, run round the room, yell, “No no no! There are no shoulds! You can use personal writing to serve you however you want!!” But I have learned, imperfectly, that this is not the best way to make a skillful point to another person. So instead, I talk about how my relationship to personal writing has changed and how beautifully it serves me now.

Because writing to and for myself is one of my most essential practices. I could not do what I do or understand my life without personal writing…

via How Journaling Can Change Your Life or Strait-Jacket Your Creativity | Jennifer Louden.

For me, it is art journaling: colored pencils, free form thoughts mostly in the form of single words in non-linear sprinkles around the page, collages, and pictures from my own life cut out and put back together.

May 2015 010I feel I do a lot of my personal writing “out loud” though, in the form of blog posts. Personal writing, writing that some people might say should stay personal and not be splashed all over the internet, can deeply touch others when they need in and in ways that more sanitized and “polished” writing cannot travel. As an example, and bringing it back around to women’s health again, I enjoyed reading this power-FULL, intense, and strong birth story by a friend that I don’t see very often, but that I always feel a special connection to:

…Suddenly baby was in the birth canal and I was undone. All good feelings gone. This wasn’t a baby. At least not a human, possibly an elephant calf. Or, you know, a bag of knives. The stabbing, the shooting, the absolute ripping. My flesh cried; surely I was tearing in two. It just felt wrong, all wrong. I’ve struggled with wondering how to describe my pushing and actual delivery — should I romanticize it? No one is going to want to have a natural birth after reading about my experience. It was traumatizing…do I say that?

Obviously I decided yes; I’m going to say it like it was. Others have had births like this, and others still will, and although my honesty may scare some, I feel it will be a gift to other mamas who have traveled a similar path…”

The Birth of Phoebe Clementine | Peace, Love, & Spit Up.

Simply by sharing this link on my Talk Birth Facebook page, I’ve witnessed how Halley’s “confession” about her own sensation of trauma has given voice to other women who felt denied the permission to express their own feelings. That is the power of telling about it.

And, finally, this health related post of mine has been getting a lot of shares lately, so I might as well re-share it too!

…Next, the clerk starts an IV in your hand because, as she explains, you might get dehydrated while you wait for your fiancé.

“I have my favorite juice here, I’ll drink that instead,” you reply.

“No, no dear. No juice. You could aspirate it and die if you end up needing surgery.”

“SURGERY!” you exclaim, “Why would I need surgery? I’m just getting married!”

The clerk gives you a knowing glance, “Honey, about forty percent of women who get married here need surgery before their marriages are finalized. This is an excellent courthouse! We do everything possible to make sure you have a healthy husband when you leave here. Isn’t that what you want?”

All That Matters is a Healthy Husband (or: why giving birth matters) | Talk Birth.

February 2015 091

From Mother Blessings to Red Tent Circles: What comes after a Sacred Pregnancy?

IMG_5745In 2008, a small postcard at the local Unitarian Universalist church caught my eye. It was for a Cakes for the Queen of Heaven facilitator training at Eliot Chapel in St. Louis. I registered for the training and went, driving alone into an unknown neighborhood. There, I circled in ceremony and sisterhood with women I’d never met, exploring an area that was new for me, and yet that felt so right and so familiar. I’d left my two young sons home for the day with my husband and it was the first time in what felt like a long time that I’d been on my own, as a woman and not someone’s mother. At the end of the day, each of us draped in beautiful fabric and sitting in a circle around a lovely altar covered with goddess art and symbols of personal empowerment, I looked around at the circle of women and I knew: THIS is what else there is for me.

My work following the birth of my first son came to center heavily around pregnancy, birthing, and breastfeeding, Mollyblessingway 156the stage of life in which I was currently immersed. I’d wondered several times what I would do when those issues no longer formed the core of my interest and personal experience. How could I ever stop working with pregnant and birthing women? How could I stop experiencing the vibrance and power of pregnancy and birth? Would I become irrelevant in this field as my own childbearing years passed me by? Looking around the room at Eliot at this circle of women, only two of whom were also of childbearing age, I knew: my future purpose would be to hold circles like this one. I found something in Cakes that I needed, the recognition that I wanted to celebrate and honor the totality of the female life cycle, not just pregnancy. As a girl, I loved the mother blessing ceremonies my mom and her friends held to honor each other during pregnancy. They hosted a coming of age blessingway for all of their early-teen daughters as well and I helped to plan a subsequent maiden ceremony for my younger sister several years later. Locally, we carried that tradition forward into the current generation of young mothers, holding mother blessings for each other and enjoying the time to celebrate and share authentically and deeply. After my training, I facilitated a series of Cakes classes locally, attended a women’s retreat at Eliot Chapel, and began to facilitate quarterly women’s retreats for my friends. One of my stated purposes was to honor and celebrate one another without anyone needing to be pregnant. Somehow, even though our own local mother blessing traditions were beautiful, we had accepted that the only time we had ceremonies with one another was when someone was pregnant. I wanted to change that!

This year, my offerings has expanded from the women’s spirituality retreats and classes I held in my own home, to a Red Tent Circle held at WomanSpace in my nearby town. Our local Red Tent Circle definitely doesn’t focus exclusively on menstruation or on currently menstruating women (all phases of a woman’s life cycle and her many diverse experiences and feelings are “held” in that circle)–in fact menstruation sometimes barely comes up as a Mollyblessingway 215topic—however, one of the core purposes of our circling together is in celebration. We gather together each month to celebrate being women in this time and in this place, together. As I noted, I started out my work with women focused on birth, breastfeeding, and postpartum. While those are formative and central and important life experiences for many women, it became very important to me to broaden my scope to include the totality of women’s lives, not just pregnant women. I want to honor and celebrate our whole lives, not just pregnancy and birth. Having a mother blessing ceremony during pregnancy is beautiful and important and special, but I feel like that care, attention, value, and ceremony can be brought into the rest of our non-pregnant lives through gathering together in a Red Tent Circle. This is one reason why I developed an online Red Tent Initiation Program. This program is designed to be both a powerful, personal experience AND a training in facilitating transformative women’s circles. These circles bring the sense of celebration and power we may have experienced during our pregnancies and from our Mother Blessing ceremonies more fully into our lives as the honor the fullness and completeness of women-in-themselves, not just of value while pregnant.

I long to speak out the intense inspiration that comes to me from the lives of strong women.” –Ruth Benedict

I believe that these circles of women around us weave invisible nets of love that carry us when we’re weak and sing with us when we’re strong.” –SARK, Succulent Wild Woman

I am inspired by the everyday women surrounding me in this world. Brave, strong, vibrant, wild, intelligent, complicated women. Women who are also sometimes frightened, depressed, discouraged, hurt, angry, petty, or jealous. Real, multifaceted, dynamic women. Women who keep putting one foot in the front of the other and continue picking themselves back up again when the need arises.

I feel like my interest in social justice, women’s rights, and human services are intimately entwined with my spiritual life. Indeed, I almost cannot separate the two. I believe it is possible for us to have a truly loving world—a world in which the inherent dignity and worth of girls and women is not in question–and there is much good work that needs to be done in order for this world to be a reality.

This work I am now doing, both in person and online, represents an integration of something I feel with my mind, heart, and spirit. My whole being. At that Cakes training years ago, I glimpsed the multifaceted totality of women’s lives and I longed to reach out and serve the whole woman. My range of passion has extended from pregnancy and birth to include the full woman’s life cycle, rather than focusing exclusively on the maternal aspect of the wheel of life as I did for ten years. I create rituals that nourish, plan ceremonies that honor, facilitate workshops that uncover, write articles that inform, and teach classes that inspire the women in my personal life, my community, and the world. This is what else there was for me.

So, after you’ve experienced a sacred pregnancy filled with ceremony and ritual and celebration, what else is there for you? After you’ve worked for years with pregnant and birthing women to honor and celebrate them in their tenderness and strength, how might you branch out to hold space for all of women’s experiences and the many transitions of their life cycle? Like me, you might find your answer in holding a monthly women’s circle.

Learn more about our Red Tent Initiation Program, this in-depth online class is designed to be both a powerful, personal experience AND a training in facilitating transformative women’s circles.

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Tuesday Tidbits: Self-Care

I spent the past weekend out-of-town at a faculty conference. The whole family went and they brought Tanner to me to nurse on Friday, which was a whole day event (7:45-7:30). He fell asleep in the Ergo after walking around campus and so I took him back into the conference room with me and he snoozed there for about two hours while we talked about assessment measures and course content. It is hard for me to feel grounded and rooted while traveling, particularly in a city. It feels hard on my nerves and even my own sense of self.

After the conference, we spent an extra night at the hotel and then met up with my parents, my sister, and my brother, SIL, and nephew for some Cousin Power and family fun. Each of us only had a roughly two-hour trip to meet in Columbia, instead of traveling all the way to someone’s house. We rented a basement apartment from Airbnb and had a delightful time. It was so much better to visit that way than in a hotel! Very nice! Before our visit we also went to Red Lobster for lunch, Target for dolls, Barnes and Noble, Toys R Us (coincidentally arriving right before they started a free Jurassic World Lego build kit), Shelter Gardens (like a mini botanical garden place), and Hy-Vee (for lunch after the conference ended Saturday morning).

I’ve been working really hard for the last month preparing my Womanrunes Immersion course and I feel a little unbalanced and skewed off-center. I keep telling myself that it is okay to keep working hard, because I’m “almost done,” and sometimes pushing is exactly what is needed. But, I’ve realized as I participate in my own course, that since there is always something else immediately around the corner, that “break” I keep holding out for never comes. I have to create it for myself. The course is going so well and has been really inspiring and magical so far, while also needing a lot of energy from me. I’ve committed to working through the course myself, not just guiding others through it, and I’ve already had to take a deep look at several issues…feeling on the verge of some kind of breakthrough now. From yesterday’s lesson this reminder:

When we lack proper time for the simple pleasures of life, for the enjoyment of eating, drinking, playing, creating, visiting friends, and watching children at play, then we have missed the purpose of life. Not on bread alone do we live, but on all these human and heart-hungry luxuries.
–Ed Hayes (Simple Pleasures)

And, then from another article:

“The more fully we experience life’s beauty, the less regret we have that we didn’t live and love in the ways we most longed to.”

Barefeet, watermelons, and sunburns – it’s summer!

Part of what I’m noticing is that I spend so much time keeping up with tasks online, whether teaching, or maintaining social media, or working on etsy listings, that I feel like I do not have enough time for physical, grounded, embodied, real-life practices that nurture me. I also recognize that part of this is having a baby and that by necessity, some things get pared away. However, I worry I’m letting things of real value get pared away though, while striving to “keep up” with all the rest.

This article makes the point that no matter how much the wellness industry burgeons, it cannot overcome overwork:

No amount of multivitamins, yoga, meditation, sweaty exercise, superfoods or extreme time management, as brilliant as all these things can be, is going to save us from the effects of too much work. This is not something we can adapt to. Not something we need to adjust the rest of our lives around. It is not possible and it’s unethical to pretend otherwise…

via No, it’s not you: why ‘wellness’ isn’t the answer to overwork.

What I’m working on, primarily, is self-created and self-directed, which feels very rewarding in a different way than working for someone else, it is still definitely possible to self-direct into overwork:

“These 24/7 work cultures lock gender inequality in place, because the work-family balance problem is recognized as primarily a woman’s problem,” said Robin Ely, a professor at Harvard Business School who was a co-author of a recent study on the topic. “The very well-intentioned answer is to give women benefits, but it actually derails women’s careers. The culture of overwork affects everybody…”

…Underlying this disparity are deep-seated cultural expectations about how men and women should act. Men are expected to be devoted to their work, and women to their family, as Mary Blair-Loy, a sociologist at University of California, San Diego, has described in her research.

“It’s not really about business; it’s about fundamental identity and masculinity,” Ms. Blair-Loy said. “Men are required by the culture to be these superheroes, to fulfill this devotion and single-minded commitment to work.”

“Women have an out,” she said, “because they have an external definition of morality or leading the good life, which is being devoted to their children.”

via The 24/7 Work Culture’s Toll on Families and Gender

While I initially committed this year to focusing intensely on baby-mama’ing and letting our business grow with its existing products and services, I’ve found myself feeling creatively consumed by new and exciting and yes, fun, projects, that have actually created a lot of new work for myself! (My motto for the year is to follow the inspiration and the inspiration can be so all-encompassing!) While parenting often feels like it directly conflicts with all the creation that is bursting to emerge, I also know that my children unlocked this in me. I would not be the way I am today and offering what I’m offering today, without having been cracked open by my babies!

“Art is mirroring and life became more complicated and richer in my opinion after Scout was born,” explained Harvey. “But the world was also much more terrifying to me.”

Riots and wars in the news— hundreds or thousands of miles away— feel more acute. In the fleeting moments of daily life— a baby’s first tooth or day of school— parents often become hyper-aware of the Sanskrit term kalpa, or the cosmic passage of time. Sarah Sze, mother of two daughters and celebrated sculptor whose work Triple Point was featured at the 2013 Venice Biennale, echoed the sentiment in an interview with The Guardian. Now that she had children, she explained, time was “more significant” and had “more weight.” And ultimately, Harvey believes, this intensity that motherhood brings isn’t a hindrance — it’s “an extraordinary gift for art.”

via Why can’t great artists be mothers? – Women in the World in Association with The New York Times – WITW.

Returning to the feeling of spending too much time online though, I enjoyed both of these articles, with their different messages. The first, on why it is okay to be on an iphone and at the park at the same time:

But you know what else? If you go around insinuating that women are somehow “bad mothers” for devoting some of their precious attention to their phones instead of their precious children, then frankly, I don’t have time for your big bag o’ guilt candy.

via On Parents and Phones at the Playground – Every Other Moment.

And, the second about the dangers of so much distraction:

Social media has created a cornucopia of opportunity for us to curate our experiences and serve them up in an endless buffet of images, phrases, ideas, pithy quotes, filters, and rants…

Without down time to unwind, restore and fill our senses, our bodies and brains sense something alarming and signal the amygdala, the brain’s 911 center, to contact other areas in the brain like the hypothalamus and pituitary gland to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. The chemistry of stress tells the heart to pump faster, push more blood and oxygen into muscles so we can get ready to run if we have to, and raises blood pressure and inflammation. After all, that’s what the body does when we have a wound of any kind. Stress is the wound we can’t see.

Another reason we’re distracted is that we practice monkey mind. Our thoughts are racing and mocking for position. We can’t “think straight”…

via Redirect your focus before it’s too late.

When I was on the Board at Citizens for Midwifery, I was discouraged by the amount of time we spent on the Outrage Du Jour—what I called “putting out fires” work—rather than on the truer, deeper work and mission. It seems like every day on Facebook there is something new to get worked up over and to write outraged blog posts over and then that “crisis” passes and “everyone” is talking about something else. I try to avoid participating–whether it is birth-related, personal, or celebrity-related–because it just doesn’t have lasting value. So, I appreciated this post on Outrage and Letting Go:

“…Perhaps what we need is a reduced dose of Outrage and a higher dosage of Letting Go. You see, letting go of Outrage is not the same as embracing Apathy—Outrage and Apathy are obverse sides of the same coin. By refusing to be offended by life’s minutia, we refuse to step into Outrage’s blast radius, and thus we refuse to cast judgment arbitrarily. Ultimately, avoiding the Outrage is how we can approach controversial and interesting topics with honest, worthwhile discussions…”

Fake Outrage: Dealing with Criticism – The Minimalists.

Yesterday, a new book arrived for me to review and I’m really looking forward to it! (It does join a large stack on my desk.)

1978706_10155723230680442_8659481311478884417_nThis morning, I read a memorial article about Sheila Kitzinger too:

In writing her own fantasy obituary for a newspaper many years earlier, she imagined dying at the height of her powers: “She died as she would have wished, flat on her back on a table with her legs in the air, in front of a large audience, demonstrating with vigour the dangers of making women lie down, hold their breath till their eyes bulge and strain as if forcing through a coconut to push a baby out. She claimed that treating the second stage of labour as a race to the finishing post … could result in cardiac arrhythmia and even a stroke. She made her point.”

Rather than the melodramatic early death she conjured up here, Sheila died quietly at home surrounded by her family, at the age of 86…

via How to plan for a good death | Life and style | The Guardian.

Yesterday in response to my own Womanrunes prompts, I literally went outside to smell the roses.

11227964_10207110812918713_5387391899479469362_nIt was just what I needed and I need to move these experiences up in priority in my day, instead of being the last things I attend to. I’m also participating in this free offering:

Enchant Your Everyday: 108 Day Pilgrimage to Your Beautiful Life – Vanessa Sage.

This is a beautiful world. Don’t miss it!

Tuesday Tidbits: Birth Privacy

IMG_5598 I’ve been trying to post about this article for a couple of weeks now! It is an interesting look at the biological need for privacy at the end of pregnancy and during birth.

…This ‘time’ at the end of pregnancy was described in a lovely article (The Last Days of Pregnancy: A Place of In-Between- The Mothering website) as Zwischen, a German word for between. At the end of pregnancy the mothering hormones start to cause emotions to run high as the cervix starts to soften, efface and women generally crave the quiet and private places they need to emotionally and mentally travel inwards.

In many traditional cultures around the world, women are known to actively leave their tribes for birthing huts (Inuit Tribe a group of indigenous people residing in the Arctic regions, Kwaio a tribe who live in an Island off the Pacific and many more). The Eipos people in Papa New Guinea are documented (Schnietenhovel) to go into the Wilderness of the Bush shortly before the onset of labour. The tribes above are also protected by various women they already have a relationship with throughout their pregnancy and birth journeys. Midwives and female relatives provide the support to enable confidence in the birthing process and some of the women will go off and give birth alone.

via The biological need for privacy at the end of pregnancy | Calm Yorkshire Birth.

She also writes about how the pervasiveness of social media might impact this need for privacy:

…Don’t be fooled by the facelessness of facebook and other social media. Just because you cannot be physically seen, it doesn’t mean you have privacy. I often hear so much unnecessary stress from women who feel observed on groups within the social media communities. Smart phones leave us open to be contacted by anyone day or night at a time when we just don’t want to be in touch with anyone at all. I wonder what effect social media has on the orchestration of birthing hormones that play such a vital part in undisturbed childbirth.

via The biological need for privacy at the end of pregnancy | Calm Yorkshire Birth.

I felt a strong call to retreat and pull in during all of my pregnancies, maybe because of my introverted personality and craving for solitude, but maybe because of biology too…

Pregnancy—towards the end of pregnancy I feel an inward call. I start wanting to quit things, to be alone, to “nest,” to create art, to journal, and to sink into myself. Nothing sounds better to me in late pregnancy than sitting in the sunlight with my hands on my belly, breathing, and being alone with my baby and my thoughts.

via Introverted Mama | Talk Birth.

For me, this preference for solitude is reflected in my preferred birth environment which involves no talking/noise and as few other people present as possible.

This is not how all women feel, my own mother has expressed that she enjoyed and wanted quite a few people around her while she was giving birth—the help, support, companionship, and affirmation from other women was important to her births. The women giving birth on The Farm, of Ina May Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery fame, also seemed to be very social birthers. I remember looking at the pictures in the book and feel a little horrified by the huge gatherings of people present for births! Speaking of The Farm, I enjoyed reading this interview about the birth culture created by the midwives there:

“This is how I had my own babies,” she said. “I knew that if I could do it, pretty much anyone who was healthy and well could do it. So I wanted to help women. Of course, I never thought I’d be in the type of job where I was working mostly with delivering babies, but in the process of helping women, I fell in love with women. Women are brave. We’re absolutely beautiful creatures.”

via “The Farm” in Tennessee is the country’s oldest intentional community. But the real story is how they deliver babies.

I was also reminded of this past post about Birth Witnesses. This remains one of my very favorite guest posts that I’ve hosted here and it gives me food for thought every time I re-read it:

The only way to understand birth is to experience it yourself. The ONLY way? That comment stayed with me, haunted me. I became a doula after my daughter’s birth because I wanted to be able to provide women with support and knowledge that could give them a different experience, a better memory than what I had. I just couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a way to understand birth at all except to experience it firsthand. Certainly there wasn’t always this fear and unknown around birth that we each face today. Not always. I began studying that idea. What about other cultures? What about our culture, historically? What about The Farm? There wasn’t always this myth and mystery about birth! I realized there was a time (and in places, there still is) when women banded together for births. Mothers, sisters, cousins, daughters, aunts, friends. They came together and comforted, guided, soothed, coached, and held the space for one another during birth. These women didn’t go in it alone – they were surrounded by women who had birthed before them. Women who knew what looked and felt right, and what didn’t. Women who could empathize with them and empower them. In addition to that, girls and women were raised in a culture of attending births. Daughters watched mothers, sisters and aunts labor their babies into this world. They saw, heard, and supported these women for the long hours of labor, so when they became mothers themselves, the experience was a new, but very familiar one for them. Birth wasn’t a secretive ritual practiced behind the cold, business-like doors of a hospital. It was a time for bonding, learning, sharing and sisterhood. Girls learned how women become mothers, and mothers helped their sisters bring forth life.

via Birth Witnesses | Talk Birth.

We can’t overemphasize the importance of who is present in the birth space and their influence on how a birth unfolds. Other people’s presence can have a powerful impact, whether positive or negative. One important area is with regard to freedom of choice and self-direction:

…Women can find themselves feeling bullied or coerced into agreeing to procedures they wish to avoid, such as induction or continuous fetal monitoring. They may be told if they don’t follow their doctor’s suggestion their baby’s life will be in danger. Consent is most often given, but it is not informed consent. Many parents in this vulnerable position either don’t know how to advocate for themselves or are under prepared to – practically, emotionally and psychologically.

via When Doctors Don’t Listen: Informed Consent and Birth | BellyBelly.

Choice-based narratives figure heavily into both “alternative” and “mainstream” dialogues about birth. I am emphatic that the companion to informed consent must be informed refusal. Very often, there is no option to refuse, and in this situation, there is no real choice involved at all…

…Women’s lives and their choices are deeply embedded in a complex, multifaceted, practically infinite web of social, political, cultural, socioeconomic, religious, historical, and environmental relationships.

And, I maintain that a choice is not a choice if it is made in a context of fear.

via The Illusion of Choice | Talk Birth.

On a related note, what about pain and birth? Do we accurately remember what birth feels like? I feel as if I do remember, though it is often said that you “forget” as soon as the baby is born. I find instead that it is more of the “halo effect” described here:

The ‘halo effect’ is the term given to describe the positive emotions experienced by the new mother when the baby is placed in her arms for the first time. In that moment, amidst a rush of oxytocin and happiness, the mother is likely to have a more positive view of the birth experience than she did ten minutes earlier. Simply put, the happiness of holding her baby for the first time overpowers any pain or negativity from the birth.

It makes sense that this effect could influence how the pain of birth was remembered. The pain of birth may be remembered as less severe simply because the benefits of having a healthy baby are felt to outweigh the discomfort caused by childbirth.

Women who experience traumatic births and who are unable to hold their babies immediately after the birth may miss out on this ‘halo effect’. Though they will still experience the rush of love and hormones upon holding their baby for the first time, the delay can reduce the impact this has on their overall feelings about and memory of labour and birth.

via Do Women Forget The Pain Of Giving Birth? | BellyBelly.

When you feel amazing about yourself and deeply in love with your baby, the memory of exact sensation fades to the background and the exhilaration and triumph and love moves to the forefront. However, there is also simply the physical component (kind of like when you have the flu, it dominates your mental landscape and you forget ever feeling healthy. Then, you get better and the flu-self becomes distant). I marvel at how women shift through these physical stages. When I am Pregnant Woman, it is totally real and becomes normal. After I give birth and become Nursing Mother again, that is what is vibrant and real and Pregnant Woman, and the thoroughly embodied experience of pregnancy, becomes fainter and more dreamlike. Interesting that I use the word dreamlike, because I also find that it is in dreams that the physical experience returns with crystal clarity. I sometimes dream about being pregnant or giving birth and in those dreams I am 100% confident that I have not forgotten at all what it feels like, my body holds a deeply invested physical memory and “imprint” of my babies and births, it is just hard to call it back as vividly while going about every day life tasks at the same time.

Anyway, once we’ve experience the power of birth, we may become evangelists for birth, at least for a time. I really enjoyed my memories of the enthusiasm and energy I felt as a new birthworker reflected in this post from ProDoula:

It’s magical. It’s moving. It’s more than you ever imagined it would be. And you love it!

You never want it to end. You want to feel the power of these women and you want to talk about birth, ALL DAY LONG! In fact, you never want to talk about anything else again!

At the end of the last day, you “friend” each of these women and you expect to stay in contact with them forever. You are sad that it’s over, but you are a new woman because it happened.

You are replenished. You are fulfilled. You are wiser and you are stronger.

And then, you go home…

via Don’t Puke Birth on the Ones You Love | ProDoula.

What I discovered with time though is that I feel the power of women and this replenishment and strength in other forms besides the birth world. I find it in my priestess work, in my women’s circle, and at the Red Tent too.

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We had a run on twin mama goddess sculptures this week after a happy customer shared a picture of hers with her friends! :)

 

 

 

Tuesday Tidbits: Happy Father’s Day!

“Fatherhood challenges us, but it also enlarges us and reshapes our perception of what is important in the world around us. As we take stock of this new world, we find that doing our job as a dad is inherently honorable and respectful, and brings to us the dignity that goes with the territory. Far from being emasculating, being a dad makes us men in the finest sense of the term.”

Dads Adventure

June 2015 050Maybe it seems too early to offer Father’s Day wishes, but we’ve been working hard on our new Papatoto daddy sculptures and also finishing up our new birth affirmation cards for fathers which are coming up as the freebie in the June newsletter (subscribe at http://brigidsgrove.com), so I’m in the mood! I’ve been mining my blog for past father-relevant posts and have been re-sharing them from the depths of my blog archives. So far, I’ve found a breastfeeding facts book review:

“Since partner support of a breastfeeding mother is one of the most important factors in breastfeeding success, the short book Breastfeeding Facts for Fathers is a valuable book indeed…”

via Book Review: Breastfeeding Facts for Fathers

And three more reviews, one for homebirth dads:

The target audience for the handbook is easily summed up in the prologue: “…I’ve met far more men who have responded to their partners’ home birth wishes with a mixture of shock, cynicism, and fear…Far from being domineering ogres who just want to see wifey tucked ‘safely’ away a hospital, these loving fathers have simply had very little access to accurate, impartial information about the safety and logistics of home births versus hospital births.”

via Book Review: The Father’s Home Birth Handbook | Talk Birth.

One a handy little guide for any father-to-be:

“Humanity cannot invent a drug that can work better than a mother’s body can manufacture or a knife that is sharper than her instinctual nature.”

–Patrick Houser

Book Review: Fathers-To-Be Handbook: A Road Map for the Transition to Fatherhood

And a long-time favorite resource, Fathers at Birth:

I greatly enjoyed reading a book that explores and expands the role of men at birth. In addition to serving as a helpful resource for men who wish to be active partners in the birth process, doulas will find helpful tips and tricks in the book, and childbirth educators will find language and ideas for reaching out to and better connecting with the men in their classes. It is a nice addition to any birth professional’s lending library.

via Book Review: Fathers at Birth | Talk Birth.

Father’s Day represents an important milestone for us, since it was this time two years ago that Mark gave his notice at his job and took the leap into a full-time home-based life with the rest of us. This was prompted in many ways by his desire to spend more time with his family, which I wrote about several years ago in my Fatherbaby post:

We have discussed how each of our babies has been a catalyst for big changes in our home situation. Our first baby was the catalyst we needed to move away from our by-the-highway-no-yard townhouse in a city and onto our own land in the country near my parents. Our second baby was the catalyst we needed to finish building our real house and to move out of our temporary house and into our permanent home. So, we are now wondering what kind of catalyst our baby girl will be?

via Fatherbaby | Talk Birth.

She was the catalyst to finally make the leap and now that we have Tanner, Mark finally gets to spend that precious year of babyhood with the baby and the rest of us. Here’s that catalyst baby girl and her daddy now:

Molly 151The wild raspberries are ripe a little earlier than usual this year and though we often make one on Father’s Day, we’ve already enjoyed a treasure of a cobbler from those we picked over the weekend. Here’s last year’s post with the recipe:

…I consider any berry picking expedition to be the very definition of success as long as there are enough berries to make a cobbler! It was so delicious I felt like sharing my version here, in case any of you would also like to enjoy one with your family during berry season.

via Recipe: Wild Raspberry Cobbler | Talk Birth.

Happy Father’s Day!

June 2015 034“The absolute miracle of a birth and the emergence of a new human being into the world catapults both mother and father into the realm of awe and wonder. They are flooded with non-ordinary feelings and energies that support a deep connection not only with the newborn and each other, but also with the mystery and power of life itself.”

–John & Cher Franklin in FatherBirth

Wisdom from Moon Time for Red Tents

IMG_3728“At her first bleeding a woman meets her power.
During her bleeding years she practices it.
At menopause she becomes it.”

(Traditional Native American saying)

One of my favorite books to have available on the resource table of our local Red Tent Circle is Moon Time, by Lucy moontime2Pearce. I reviewed it in this post, but didn’t have room for all the juicy quotes I wanted to share! One of the ideas I include in my own Red Tent Resource Kit book is to use womanspirit wisdom quotes to stimulate a discussion in the circle. Here are some quotes from Moon Time that would make great launching points for a sharing circle at the Red Tent:

“It is my guess that no one ever initiated you into the path of womanhood. Instead, just like me, you were left to find out by yourself. Little by little you pieced a working understanding of your body and soul together. But still you have gaps.”

Questions for circle: Were you initiated into the “path of womanhood”? What gaps do you feel?

“You yearn for a greater knowledge of your woman’s body, a comprehensive understanding of who you are, why you are that way. Perhaps you have searched long and hard, seeking advice from your mother, sister, aunts and friends, tired of suffering and struggling alone. You may have visited doctors, healers or therapists, but still you feel at sea and your woman’s body is a mystery to you. Or maybe you have never given your cycles a second thought … until now.”

Questions for circle: What do you feel like you need to know about your body? What mysteries are you uncovering?

“Through knowledge we gain power over our lives. With options we have possibility. With acceptance we find a new freedom.

Menstruation matters.”

Question for circle: How does menstruation matter?

Additional information about why menstruation matters on a physical, emotional, and relational level:

We start bleeding earlier today than ever before, with girls’ first periods occurring at 12.8 years old now, compared with 14.5 years at the beginning of the last century. Coupled with lower breastfeeding rates, better nutrition and fewer pregnancies, women now menstruate more in their adult lives than at any time in our history.

From the age of 12 to 51, unless you are pregnant or on the pill, every single day of your life as a woman is situated somewhere on the menstrual cycle. Whether ovulating or bleeding, struggling with PMS or conception, our bodies, our energy levels, our sense of self, even our abilities are constantly shifting each and every day. And yet nobody talks about it…

via Moon Time: Harness the ever-changing energy of your menstrual cycle

As I noted in my review, one of the things this book was helpful for to me personally, was in acknowledging myself as a cyclical being and that these influences are physical and real: IMG_5194-0

Each month our bodies go through a series of changes, many of which we may be unconscious of. These include: shifts in levels of hormones, vitamins and minerals, vaginal temperature and secretions, the structure of the womb lining and cervix, body weight, water retention, heart rate, breast size and texture, attention span, pain
threshold . . .

The changes are biological. Measurable. They are most definitely not ‘all in your head’ as many would have us believe. This is why it is so crucial to honour these changes by adapting our lives to them as much as possible.

We cannot just will these changes not to happen as they are an integral part of our fertility.

From there, another relevant quote:

“There is little understanding and allowance for the realities of being a cycling woman—let alone celebration.”

Questions for circle: What allowances do you make for yourself as a cycling woman? Are you able to celebrate the experience?

In my own life, I’ve had to reframe my understanding of the impact of the monthly moontime experience by looking IMG_4269at it through the lens of healthy postpartum care following birth—it is crucial that we care for our bodies with love, attention, respect, and time. Our local Red Tent Circle definitely doesn’t focus exclusively on menstruation or on currently menstruating women (all phases of a woman’s lifecycle and her many diverse experiences and feelings are “held” in that circle)–in fact menstruation sometimes barely comes up as a topic—however, one of the core purposes of our circling is in celebration. We gather together each month to celebrate being women in this time and in this place, together. I started out my work with women focused on birth, breastfeeding, and postpartum. While those are formative and central and important life experiences, it became very important to me to broaden my scope to include the totality of women’s lives, not just pregnant women. I want to honor and celebrate our whole lives, not just pregnancy and birth. Having a mother blessing ceremony during pregnancy is beautiful and important and special, but I feel like that care, attention, value, and ceremony can be brought into the rest of our non-pregnant lives The_Red_Tent_Resourc_Cover_for_Kindlethrough gathering together in a Red Tent Circle. This is one reason why I’m so excited to offer an online Red Tent Initiation Program this summer. This program is designed to be both a powerful, personal experience AND a training in facilitating transformative women’s circles.

Back to Moon Time quotes!

“There is no shame in tears. There is a need for anger. Blood will flow. Speak your truth. Follow your intuition. Nurture your body. But above all … Let yourself rest.”

Questions for circle: Do you allow yourself anger and tears? Do you feel shame? How do you speak your truth? How do you give yourself time to rest?

To be clear, I wouldn’t use all these quotes at one Red Tent Circle! I would use them individually at different gatherings. This one blog post has enough potential circle discussion prompts to last for more than six months of Circles! :) This month I also bought a bundle of copies of Moon Time to have available for women at our local Red Tent.

More good discussion quotes here: Talk Books: Cycle to the Moon | Talk Birth.

And, there are others in my Red Tent Resource Kit.

Please consider joining us this summer for the Red Tent Initiation Program!

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Sevenmonthababy!

Molly 033I saved my seven month update post until we got our pictures back from our spring family photo shoot. I decided I really wanted new family pictures for Mother’s Day this year. It took a lot of date-wrangling, but we finally got them to work out at the end of May with our favorite family photographer (Karen has been chronicling important moments for us for more than five years!). We got some family pictures:

Molly 105Some grandparent pictures:

Some kid pictures:

Some couple pictures:

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Lots of just baby pictures:

Some mama-baby pictures:

cropMolly 115 and some new profile pictures for me:

Molly 180Okay, seven month Tanner tidbits! He dances! That’s one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen since the last time I had a dancing baby. He loves the guitar. Mark plays daily and it is a sure way to attract baby-attention. He also still loves to go outside—writhes and twists to try to direct adult-transport-unit out of doorway. He claps hands and sort of waves. Also still seems to say with accuracy, “hi,” “love you,” and now “ma” (while crawling after me or looking for where I’ve gone). Since he is on the move so much, I’ve found we’ve fallen off the EC bandwagon almost completely, except for mornings and after naps. I remember going through a similar stag with other kids. His army crawl is ancient history and I’m afraid the only video I have is one the kids took of him! He speeds around the house in a normal crawl now and pulls up, including on flat surfaces with no handholds (like the front of the dishwasher). He cruises with impunity and even occasionally lets go for a second or just holds on with an elbow or part of one arm. He continues to push a little beyond what he is actually physically ready for and as such misjudges and bonks head more often than I’d like!

He is a little leaner and smaller than my past babies and he has become a pretty terrible sleeper. AND, he suddenly seems to think he only needs one nap during the day! I’m feeling pretty exhausted and worn down, similar to keeping up with the mobility and destructiveness of someone closer to one. He is like a rabid squirrel monkey on steroids. Wears me out! I can’t describe how constantly on the go he is with roving/waving/scanning-to-grab hands while riding along and twisting/leaning to jump out of arms and speed away (but, often when put down then frustratingly pulling immediately back up on my legs and crying and looking desperate even though he was clearly leaping down!). It feels like Alaina is constantly yelling “choking hazard.” He has an obsession with obtaining my chapstick, my laptop and mouse, and my iphone/ipad and pursues each with dogged determination. Luckily, he gives precious hugs and kisses to make up for wild-baby-on-wheels-style.

Molly 121 The age range span of all my kids feels really hard to manage lately. Just any one of them on their own (or the two older ones together) seems easy. All together, it feels like someone always getting overlooked, having to wait, or not getting needs met and that’s hard. We’ve definitely reached maximum household capacity!

Even though I’m worn out and feel “old” to be doing this (in the context of the age range of my kids and the fact that I’ve been toting a small person around nonstop for almost 12 years. If I was the same age and only had him, I might feel differently!), there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t marvel at what a treasure he is and how lucky we are to have him. He’s really amazing! And, I’m surprised by how surprising and exciting all of his developments are—you’d think I’d feel like, “been there, done that,” but instead he seems quite a bit different than other babies I have known. He’s so baby. We say it all the time, check out the babyness of this totally baby baby…

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