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Lento Tempo

“Invite the inner woman to speak in her language of poetry, bones, clouds, dreams, red shoes, fairy dust, ravens, and fissures of the heartland. She who dwells in the wild within will help to navigate the cliffs and valleys. She will show you the passage through – give you eyes to see in the dark. And then, when you are able, she will give you wings to fly out from that both nurturing and devastating abyss into divine light.”

–Shiloh Sophia McCloud

July 2014 037I’m taking an elective class called Women Engaged in Sacred Writing and one of our class texts is Women, Writing, and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine by Peggy Tabor Millin. While the book itself is not about birth, I was struck by the author’s use of the descriptor “lento tempo” to describe the “slow time” associated with creative projects. My thoughts turned to our family as we await the birth of my sister-in-law and brother’s baby boy. He is arriving firmly on his own timetable and the waiting for him is a process of discovery in and of itself. I’ve never been overdue myself and so it is interesting to notice the parallels between waiting for labor to begin and the very process of labor itself!

Millin writes about the various creative works that require “slow time” and also writes that women crave this time and need it to survive:

Like the gestation in the womb, change happens in lento tempo, slow time. Women crave lento tempo and need it to survive. Slow is the timing of fertilization and incubation, of creative process. Creative writing often resists being manipulated to meet deadlines. We may need to wait on dreams or synchronicity to inspire and guide our work. In lento tempo, we learn the wisdom of letting things rest—bread dough, marinara sauce, roasted turkey, babies, tulip bulbs, fresh paint, grief, anger, ourselves. Almost every book of advice on writing suggests putting a manuscript away for a while once it feels complete. Then the final edit can be undertaken with a fresh ear and eye. Centered Writing Practice teaches us patience, to do by not doing

…Through focused attention, we engage watchful listening—to our inner voice and to our experience. What we achieve is not a perfect product, but a spinning spiral of synthesis. The movement of this spiral cannot be driven, hurried, or organized. Lento tempo is the natural rhythm of creation—of body, earth, and universe. As such, lento tempo is the rhythm of creativity we hear by practicing awareness…

Women, Writing, and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine

(emphases mine)

While waiting with my mom, sister-in-law, and brother in Kansas, during one day of our visit we suddenly decided to look up any local labyrinths. We found one at a Lutheran church located only five miles from where we were driving at the time and so we swung by and walked the labyrinth together, pausing first to take symbolic pictures crossing the little bridge over to it—just like my sister-in-law prepares to cross the bridge into motherhood and take her own labyrinth journey of birth. We sang “I Am Opening,” one of our mother blessing songs, together when we reached the center. During the course of our visit, we kept discovering new “signs” every day that “today is the day!” and we eventually made a joke of it, since so far none of the signs have borne fruit! However, on this day we decided that our time in the labyrinth was a story and a precious moment in and of itself, independent of whether it eventually ended up having any part of the baby’s birth story.

I also recently re-read a quote from a book I read two years ago that describes the inward and outward swing of women’s lives. Since it is the time of the new moon now, it seemed particularly relevant:

“When we become practiced in the art of moving between the ‘upper’ and ‘under’ worlds of our lives (outwardly focused and engaged with the world; inwardly focused and listening to our soul) not only does the pattern of light moving into dark, into light again become clear, but also the gradations. We often experience this movement in dramatic (and unpleasant) swings from one to the other, but bringing practice and awareness to this journeying allows us to settle more gently into these transitions; just as the moon takes two weeks to darken, or lighten in small gradations. After all, we do not spend half the month in a dark moon, and half with a full moon. Rather, there are just a few days each of full darkness and full moon, and all the rest of the time is in gradual transition.”

Journey to the Dark GoddessJane Meredith

May we honor the call of lento tempo in our own lives, in our pregnancies, in the lives of our children, and in the unique unfolding of our births and creative projects.

Celebrating Motherhood: Creation

“To me the only answer a woman can make to the destructive forces of the world is creation. And the most ecstatic form of creation is the creation of new life.”

–Jessie Barnard (letter to an unborn child in the book Celebrating Motherhood)

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“You are entirely engrossed in your own body and the life it holds. It is as if you were in the grip of a powerful force; as if a wave had lifted you above and beyond everyone else. In this way there is always a part of a pregnant woman that is unreachable and is reserved for the future.”

–Sophia Loren (quoted in Celebrating Motherhood, p. 20)

“Throughout pregnancy and childbirth, a woman is driven to dig deep into herself for an inner strength she had not known existed. After birth, the smell of her baby opens a mother’s soul to a new intimacy. She has crossed the threshold into motherhood…I have had the privilege of living with indigenous mothers around the worlds and of seeing first hand their age-old ways of loving and teaching their children. I learned from these mothers that the natural world has eternity in it, and a mother’s instincts during pregnancy, birth, and child rearing links her to this eternal chain of life.” 

–Jan Reynolds (quoted in Celebrating Motherhood, p. 20)

“No force of mind or body can drive a woman in labor, by patience only can the smooth force of nature be followed.”

–Grantly Dick-Read (quoted in Celebrating Motherhood, p. 22)

I recently finished reading a book that has been on my shelf for a long time. Celebrating Motherhood: A Comforting Companion for Every Expecting Mother by Andrea Gosline and Lisa Bossi, is a treasure-trove of delightful birth quotes that will satisfy my birth-quote-archivist soul for a long time. I’m planning to do a series of short posts of quotes and readings from this book, similar to the series I did with the book Birthrites!

July 2014 005

24 weeks! (last week)

Tuesday Tidbits: Story Power (again!)

“One of the most important things I have learned about birthing babies is that the process is more of an unfolding marvel than a routine progression of events.” –Tori Kropp

May 2014 031Lots and lots of tidbits on my mind this week! It has been a while since I’ve done a proper Tuesday Tidbits post and it has caught up with me. To avoid making this too loooong, I’ve split it up into a series of loosely connected thematic posts to release over the next couple of days/weeks.

First, a beautifully touching story about a family’s decision to have another child after parenting a child with very serious special needs (for which they have no diagnosis).

“…I, alone, would have to make the decision whether or not to have another baby. If we did, I would be like any pregnant woman–following doctor’s orders, cutting out questionable foods and praying for a healthy baby; everything I had done with Joy. This this time, though, I would have an intimate knowledge of what most moms-to-be only fear in the ‘what-if’ scenarios they play out in their heads. Eric had made his decision. Was I willing to jump into the darkness with him? Would my marriage survive if I didn’t? Would it survive if I did?…”

The Family Bed | Brain, Child Magazine.

Then, some thoughts about birth and pain and sensation:

“You may be able to feel baby pressing on your cervix. You have never felt anything like this. You may be able to feel your pelvis flexing and be acutely aware of where your thighs join your hips. You may be able to feel your uterus flex in a way that feels exactly like a really tough workout. But the bottom line:

You have never felt anything like this…”

Meditation for Birth | Mothering.

While there is a simplistic understanding reflected in this post that doesn’t seem to accurately embrace or even grasp the wide, staggering array of women’s experiences during the childbearing year, I do totally agree with this premise: labor is like nothing you’ve ever felt before (or will since). That is why people use the frustrating term, “birth mystery” to describe it, because it is full, total, complex, complete, and all-encompassing, and you may never, ever be so fully present in your body during the rest of your life. And, it is different every time (though more “familiar” the more babies you have, there are always surprises in birth).

Some past posts from me about birth and pain:

Tuesday Tidbits: Pain, Birth, and Fear

Tuesday Tidbits: Pain, Power, and Lasting Memory

Pain with a Purpose?

Perceptions of Pain

And a gritty, real (and painful) postpartum story from a real-life friend:

My vagina winced. She had been through so much. Held together by medical stitches, she felt so fragile, vulnerable, broken. Like Humpty Dumpty post-fall. (How embarrassing. Could she go lower? She had been so glorious). The king’s horses and men failed to reconstruct Humpty, and I wondered, despite my OB’s expertise, if I too would never be put back together again. Humpty Dumpty was just an egg. Who gives a rip about an egg? My lady parts were much more important…

via Milk, Pain, & Fear | Peace, Love, & Spit Up.

A short, funny story from the news about a student getting trapped in giant vagina, “Gateway to the World” sculpture.

“…Police confirmed that the firefighters turned midwives delivered the student ‘by hand and without the application of tools’…”

US student is rescued from giant vagina sculpture in Germany | World news | The Guardian.

There is a neat article about Mother Blessing ceremonies in Breastfeeding Today magazine (LLLI’s publication).

And, speaking of honoring mothers, my sweet sister-in-law has a blog post up about her belly cast experience following the mother blessing we had for her in June: The Mossy Stone: My Belly Cast.

Returning to difficult stories though, here is one with a  **trigger warning for child loss**. This is a beautiful, touching story about the death of a son and the decision to have a second child.

I know lots of women avoid loss stories while pregnant. I can’t avoid them, even though I think about it and maybe it is mentally better for me not to read them. I have to hold/honor/hear these stories too—they don’t need to be hidden away.

“The pregnancy progressed smoothly, as my first pregnancy had. When I began to show and people began asking me if I was pregnant with my first child, I was determined to remember Ronan in my response, no matter how uncomfortable it made the asker. “No,” I replied. “I had a son and he died.” The conversation often stopped here, the narrative halted. When the questions first began I scrambled to make the awkward exchange a bit easier for the other person. “Sorry to throw that on you,” I’d say, smiling. But now I don’t. My new policy is: asked and answered. Or, as a relative of mine used to say, if you don’t want the answer, don’t ask the question. I don’t elaborate on how or why my first child died when some people go on to ask those questions (and they occasionally do); at that point I tell them that I prefer not to say any more. I don’t want to offer up the details of Ronan’s illness like the pieces of a tragic tale. But I want it to be known—to strangers, to everyone—that he was in the world, that he was fully loved, and that he was my first baby…”

What The Living Do | Brain, Child Magazine.

Why is this? Because stories hold power! I saw this quote this week on The Mother-Daughter Nest:

Telling our stories- while being witnessed with loving attention by others who care- may be the most powerful medicine on earth.

Some of the stories that want to be told are joyful.
Some are sad.
Some are painful and make us feel vulnerable and afraid.
Some are full of hope and inspiration.
Some of our “story doors” take courage to open.
Some we may not be ready to open and that is okay.

But the telling? The telling brings healing, understanding, and connection.

(This is also why Red Tents are powerful)

May 2014 085

Squatter’s Rights and a Womb with a View

April 2014 056

“When a woman births without drugs…she learns that she is strong and powerful…She learns to trust herself, even in the face of powerful authority figures. Once she realizes her own strength and power, she will have a different attitude for the rest of her life, about pain, illness, disease, fatigue, and difficult situations.” –Polly Perez

via Tuesday Tidbits: Birth Power | Talk Birth.

In addition to our new cesarean birth goddess pendant, this month I sculpted two more new pendants that my husband then transformed into pewter casts. The first is a “Squatter’s Rights” sculpture of a mama catching her own baby. I have found this image tremendously empowering for a very long time.

Would the new child coming from me be slippery like soap? I rubbed my fat belly. I loved each pound I gained, each craving I April 2014 065had, and every trip to the bathroom. Okay, maybe not every trip to the bathroom. But, I loved this growing baby. Tucked away like a pearl in the sea just waiting to be discovered. I was in a constant state of marvel.

Would I be able to physically do this? No, I don’t mean the labor, nor do I mean the birth. I knew I could do that. I got lost in thought as I planned in my head every moment that would come after my body did the work of labor. The moment would come once my body was ready and the crown of a child’s head pushed itself from me, the moment the child would emerge. That’s what I was planning for; I planned to catch my own baby.

via Guest Post: Squatter’s Rights | Talk Birth.

It is hard to express how much I love knowing how these figures “speak” to the women who receive them. I started making them to express something within me and to speak to myself or remind me of my own power. I absolutely love knowing that they carry these messages to other women as well, not just me! Earlier this year a made a polymer clay birthing mama sculpture for a woman and she gave me permission to share her feedback on it:

I LOVE THIS!!! <3  I JUST got my lovely statue, she’s gorgeous, I am in awe of your work, and I caught myself choking up a bit at how I look at her and it pulls me back to that most empowering of moments, Me-birthing my little rainbow.. Completely uninhibited.. THANK YOU!…They will be in a sacred space, helping watch over me as I go through Midwifery school… <3 Thank you, thank you!! <3

What a tremendous honor to be a small part of another woman’s journey in this way. It feels like a sacred trust.

Our second new pendant is a “womb with a view” themed pendant. I’m particularly in love with this one, but I’ve noticed that reactions from other people seems quite mixed! (From “that is SO cool” to, “oh, okaaaaay.”) One friend said, “this is the kind of thing that people who are really into birth will like, but everyone else would think is gross.” ;) And, maybe that does sum it up! I love it because it has a placenta and an umbilical cord and the baby is quite purposefully LOA to send the right “head down, good position for birth” message to mothers who see or wear it.

April 2014 052

Thesis Tidbits: Feminism, Midwifery, and Motherhood

“Feminism catches fire when it draws upon its inherent spirituality. When it does not, it is just one more form of politics, and politics never fed our deepest hungers.” –Carol Lee Flinders (in The Millionth Circle)

Yesterday, I spent several hours finishing a blog post for Feminism and Religion regarding empowered self-care (it won’t run until next  week). It is a primarily a personal narrative, rather than a political commentary, but as I was writing it, I learned about new legislation introduced in Missouri in an effort to effectively destroy the practice of independent midwifery here. I also have a friend whose family March 2014 082 member just experienced terribly abusive treatment during the immediate postpartum period. I typed feverishly away with an absolutely excruciating headache and a million things on my mind, primarily the very many injustices experienced by women during the childbearing year. I was also left wondering HOW we can truly take care of ourselves when legislators and health care workers actively take dramatic and even cruel steps to prevent us from doing so?

Another friend wrote a comprehensive blog post about this malpractice insurance legislation and the issues involved with it. Midwifery advocacy organizations have already introduced a perfectly appropriate piece of legislation this session and do not need the proposed bogus piece of legislation that offers nothing in the way of protection for Missouri midwifery consumers and instead simply serves to drive midwives out of practice:

…Fortunately, midwives in Missouri do offer a grievance process and adhere to the practice standards set by the certifying agency NARM (North American Registry of Midwives). While there is already a high degree of professional accountability practiced in Missouri, this is because the state professional organization (Missouri Midwives Association) believes it is important and necessary for the professional practice of midwifery and not because the state has directed midwives to do so.

The state of Missouri has continued to be uninterested in working with midwives and home birth families to improve and safeguard the practice of midwifery.

Is there a better option? YES! HB 1363

Instead of HB 2189, we would like to suggest directing legislators to support HB 1363. This is a comprehensive midwifery licensing bill which does provide a mechanism for oversight and responsible, regulated practice. It also addresses the issue of malpractice insurance by requiring midwives to have coverage under the same conditions as physicians. It would also require Medicaid reimbursement for families desiring the care of Certified Professional Midwives and home birth.

via Missouri Legislature Works Against Women, Families and Midwives….AGAIN. | Midwives, Doulas, Home Birth, OH MY!.

I also recently finished a class on ritual theory for my doctoral degree program. The text for the class was To Make and Make Again: Feminist Ritual Thealogy by Charlotte Caron. In it, I was repeatedly reminded that gathering with other women in a circle for ritual and ceremony is deeply important even though it might just look like people having fun or even being frivolous, it is actually a microcosm of the macrocosm—a miniature version of the world we’d like to see and that we want to make possible. Returning to Caron, she explains something similar: “Ritual change is symbolic change, but it can lead to direct action or to ideological change, so it can be an important element in strategizing for change. One way of causing change is to re-form or alter the system. This involves recognizing that we are part of the system and that the system is dependent on feedback from its parts to keep it in balance, which means that we have the capacity to change” (p. 209).

Ritual experience can lead to practical action: spiritual praxis. But, this action does not need to look the same for all women, nor does it always have to involve large structures of society or even sweeping societal change.

“It is important to recognize that not all women will choose to act in the large structures of society. While it is hoped that all women will act toward justice, still electoral politics, lobbying, and revising the economic system may not be the spheres in which some women exert their energy. Ritual actions, raising children to be just and caring people, living in just ways in intimate and community relationships, and modeling different patterns and values are political actions to change patriarchal ideology. The choices of what spheres to devote energy to are important to honor. The constraints of women’s lives—when they are disabled, when they are dealing with past traumas, when they are raising young children, and when they are doing the many other things expected of women in our society—mean that women need to make choices that will allow them to live with integrity and well-being.” (p. 211)

A number of options of action are possible. “What is important are women’s choices to act in concrete ways in every circumstance, to know our neighbors, to raise children to be caring people, to live as if justice exists, to be just in personal relationships, and to live in the community in ways that model the values of justice and well-being for women and all of creation.” (p. 211)

As a mother who works extensively with other mothers, I appreciated Caron’s acknowledgement that raising children is a feminist act with potential to create change as well. “Another strategy for change is through raising children to be just and caring people. A media image portrays feminists as being against motherhood—but in fact, feminists make the best mothers. They raise children aware of themselves and the world, of options and values, of what justice means and how to work toward it, and how to be self-critical and self-respecting” (p. 203-204). Caron also explains that “in a just society, women would be free to make whatever decisions they needed to, for however long they needed to, in relation to political action in the public and the private sphere. All people would participate in the decision-making, and women would be supported in their decisions rather than, as sometimes happens, made to feel guilty for not doing enough or not valued for what they do.”

In connection with women being valued for what they actually do, Caron makes an interesting note about the visions women in her research hold for the future, for the possible:

“Interestingly, none of the visions described by women was based in self-fulfillment, in gaining personal power, or in one’s group having power and the expense of others. Instead, the interviewees talked about the elimination of social, economic, military, and other patriarchal problems, and about living in a world of valued individuals, healthy and diverse relationships, economic and environmental sustainability, equality for all, and shared decision-making and power” (p. 220).

Connected to these themes, one of my classic favorite quotes about women’s spirituality groups is this one:

“…Women’s spirituality groups can become birth centers for social change”

–Anne Rush in The Politics of Women’s Spirituality (p. 384)

March 2014 127

Tuesday Tidbits: Cesarean Courage

“Her courage is written on her body.” –Molly (Talk Birth)

March 2014 009Last year I made several cesarean birth art sculptures by request. It felt like a “risk” of sorts to make them, like I was trying to interpret another woman’s experience artistically, but I did it and they were well-received. I chose to imprint words in the figure’s cesarean scar because I kept thinking about how that mother’s love and hope and courage are all permanently written on her body. Recently, I had a request to make another and so I re-visited my Cesarean Courage idea and made some new figures. She is wearing her baby and her scar with pride and strength. These sculptures are not supposed to send an “at least you have a healthy baby” message, they are communicating that her birth journey with her baby is seen and acknowledged and validated.

“I became a mama goddess, too. I became a wonder of fertility, of softness, of late nights and warm beds; a body capable of unimaginable things. I labored and tore open, too.”

–Amanda King (in Being a C-Section Mama In the Birth Goddess Club)

When I shared the cesarean courage mama picture on Facebook, someone responded: Usually I look at the scar as a forever reminder of my failure. The idea my courage and love is forever written on my body in the marks of a surgeon’s knife is so transforming. I am humbled and amazed and inspired and encouraged by the ways in which birth art “speaks” to other women. It is a powerful experience and I feel so honored to communicate and share in this way. When I stopped teaching birth classes, I worried about no longer being “of service” to birthing women, but through my sculptures, jewelry, and writing, I still am doing this work and I am grateful.

Thinking about it reminded me of this wonderfully powerful photo of a mother-assisted cesarean birth in which the mother (a midwife, IIRC) caught her own baby…

You can read more in the accompanying article.

WHEN a baby is born by caesarean, the hands that lift it from the womb to the world usually belong to an obstetrician. But now, there’s someone else who can help deliver the baby: the mother.

via Delivered safely by caesarean with his mother’s hands – National – theage.com.au.

This picture and article were published several years ago and also covered in a Radical Doula post.

There are lovely photos from an online doula friend at Plenitud of a family-centered cesarean birth as well. And, two more recent posts with family-centered cesarean births here and here.

This week I was also touched to read a mother’s story of homebirth plans turned hospital birth plans turned cesarean birth after the baby developed an atrial flutter and was risked out of homebirth:

This has been a big week, with deep shifts that I’m sure will keep happening as we go through the coming days. March 2014 036Sometime in the next three weeks, I will subdivide into two women — one a mother, and one a fresh newborn infant, each with our own developing story and life path. I will find that I care more deeply about some things than I ever thought possible, and other things that were important markers of my life and identity are no longer significant. I’ll celebrate and I’ll mourn…

via Pregnancy Not-So-Blahs: My Story of Fetal Atrial Flutter | Amanda Aguilar Shank.

I knew I was going to be a mother very soon. I focused on not freaking out, and on enjoying my last moments of being so intertwined with my baby. I sent her telepathic messages of love and reassurance. I knew I wouldn’t be seeing her right after the surgery and that likely she would have to go through some trials before I could be with her again.

The operation itself was not as bad as I expected. One critical piece of my experience was having the accompaniment of a labor and delivery nurse friend, who served as a kind of impromptu doula, helping me to hold my ground when treatments being offered were inappropriate or unnecessary, and to fully embrace with less fear and more trust the life-saving help that hospital staff had to offer…

via From Home Birth to Hospital: My Story of Fetal Atrial Flutter | Amanda Aguilar Shank.

smallMarch 2014 059These mamas have taken powerful birth journeys. They have laid down their bodies for their babies. They hold their experiences, they wear them, their courage, love, and hope, upon their skin. The birth experience is there, loud and clear, and yet new experiences and joys are too. She is whole.

 

Birth Spiral Chakra Blessing

Birth spiralFebruary 2014 015.
Energy
feel it spin throughout your body.
Beginning in your core,
unfolding, unfolding, spiraling upward into a peak
and release
Every part of you opening
making space
making room
for this new little one.
Calling the child forth into your waiting arms
your waiting family
your waiting heart.
Enlivened
alive
fully engaged and embodied
in the current of labor.
It builds
it pulses
it rolls
it rocks
it peaks
it crests.
These waves of power.
They are you.
You are doing it.
You ARE it.
This is energy, this power, this unfolding might of creation.
It’s you.
Your body
your power
your birth
your baby.

February 2014 003

Let the sparkles of these chakra colors remind you to bring your whole self to your labor. To walk the spiral path, to dive in, to embrace, to unfold, and to become: Mother.

Root (red):

Where baby came into being and now will be welcomed. Source of creation. Gateway for baby and life.

Sacrum (orange):

Where baby has sheltered within a cradle of bone. Pelvic bowl that rocks the child. Make way. February 2014 007

Solar Plexus (yellow):

Where you take deep breaths, carried on the waves, following your rhythm.

Heart (green):

Where your love bursts forth and you discover what it is like to be endless.

Throat (blue):

Where you roar your birth song. Welcome your baby with your voice, your cry of greeting. Your cry of triumph. Your cry of fulfillment.

 Brow (indigo):

Where you let your mind go, where you release, and give, and surrender to the creative, nameless, raw pulsing energy of birth.

Crown (violet):

Where you draw in the wisdom of the ancestors. The power of the Divine Feminine. The ocean of mother love that has gone before you and that surrounds you even now as you work.

Draw it in, draw it up, draw it down. And know, without a doubt, that you can do it. You can walk this path. You can rise to the occasion. You can respond with strength to whatever is asked of you. All the surprises, all the mystery, all the twists and turns and unexpected places. You carry the wisdom within you to let it flow.

February 2014 012

Birth Labyrinth

 IMG_0571 The labyrinth is a powerful metaphor for each woman’s unique journey of pregnancy and birth. I first discovered the “LabOrinth” via Birthing from Within and Pam England and I quickly incorporated into my birth education classes, making two homemade posters to discuss in class—one illustrating “clock watching” birth and one illustrating birth as a labyrinth. When I send gifts to long distance pregnant friends, I usually include a drawing of a womb labyrinth and this quick explanation:

The journey through birth is like a labyrinth—it has unexpected twists and turns, but it takes you where you need to go. You can find your way blindfolded if you need to, you can walk, run or crawl, and you’ll get to the center—to your baby—in your own time and in your own way. The postpartum return is also a labyrinth, one that can take some time to integrate into your life, being, and “new normal.”

Based on a drawing from my second pregnancy of a womb labyrinth, my husband carefully worked carving a small womb labyrinth design into clay and then making a mold from it and casting the design in pewter. The result is a little uneven and asymmetrical, much like life itself, but I love it! I took the new pendant to the woods with me and this is what I said about it’s meaning…

Womb Labyrinth January 2014 007

Birth journey. Each of us walks our own path. In the center, a baby waits. And, so too, wait deep truths about ourselves. Our own courage, our own  fears, our own strength, our own power. One foot in front of the other. That’s how the journey is made. You set out for the threshhold, unknowing. Maybe a little fearful. Maybe intrigued. Maybe anticipatory. Maybe excited. And you start to walk. One foot in front of the other. Sometimes our journeys drop us to our knees. Sometimes we feel around in the dark, searching for something to hold onto. Sometimes we skip and twirl along the path. Sometimes we run. Sometimes we pause and sit down and wait. Sometimes someone walks with us, holding our hand. Maybe even giving us a little push from behind. But, ultimately, it is our own private journey. When we get to the center, we will discover what it is that we know that no one else does.

As I mention to pregnant women, the return journey of postpartum is a labyrinth as well…

Postpartum Labyrinth

The journey of postpartum is a labyrinth too. Carrying our babies in our arms, past sleepless nights, through endless days. Through worry and tears, through sharp, sweet, timeless moments of a joy so bone deep it knows no words and in a love so endless that it defies description. And, we walk. Sometimes we bounce. Sometimes we sway. Sometimes we sing a little tune. Sometimes we beg. Sometimes we scream. Sometimes we sit down and say we can’t keep going. Sometimes we skip through the sunshine and dance in the moonlight. Sometimes we can’t believe how much fun we are having and how wonderful this is. Sometimes we feel so alone, we think we might break. And, yet, we keep going, and we emerge, blinking at the newness of it all.

This new pendant is one of the designs released for the launch of Brigid’s Grove, my collaborative project with my husband. We’re hosting giveaways on our website throughout the month of February to correspond with our launch and one of these pendants will be offered as a giveaway! We’ve also got an etsy discount code, a free digital Ritual Recipe Kit, and more to check out on the Brigid’s Grove website and Facebook page.

book

Thesis Tidbits: Birth as an Initiation

“We owe it both to our children and to the world, to conceive, birth and welcome our children with as much love and prayerfulness as possible.” –Jackie Singer (Birthrites)

“Childbirth is a rite of passage so intense physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, that most other events in a woman’s life pale next to it. In our modern lives, there are few remaining rituals of initiation, few events that challenge a person’s mettle down to the very core. Childbirth remains a primary initiatory rite for a woman.” –from the book MotherMysteries

via Thesis Tidbits: Birth as a Shamanic Experience | Talk Birth.

I recently finished reading a short book called Return to the Great Mother, which is very specifically focused on giving birth as an initiatory event. It includes a variety of birthing women’s voices and experiences with accessing the energy and wisdom of the “great mother,” be it archetype, an inner resource, or one face of the Sacred. The author, Isa Gucciardi, writes:

Giving birth is one of a series of important initiations a woman may experience in her lifetime. Initiations are intimately tied https://www.sacredstream.org/components/com_virtuemart/shop_image/product/b0e92ae33095ca07867acb0a841a9f05.jpgwith change. They bring the initiate from one state of being into a new state of being. Initiations accomplish this task by putting the initiate through a series of experiences that challenge them in a particular way and bring them into new ways of being and of understanding. The initiate must meet these challenges and overcome any obstacles in order for the initiation to succeed in bringing about these changes.

Today, many people going through initiations and many people managing initiations do not have a clear understanding of the nature of the power and vulnerability that is at the heart of initiation. Initiates must render themselves vulnerable to initiatory processes in order for initiations to become complete, and the power in that vulnerability must be managed carefully and thoughtfully. Most importantly, for an initiation to be successful, that power and vulnerability must be safeguarded and dedicated to the initiate.

The process of meeting an obstacle and overcoming it in order to ultimately gain greater insight and power is described by Joseph Campbell as the “hero’s journey.” The “hero’s journey” is an initiatory experience. Every woman takes this journey when she gives birth and it can be the primary initiation a woman undergoes in the course of her life.

Often a woman encounters herself in an entirely new way during the process of giving birth. She may encounter the effect of traumas long buried, or she may encounter fear long denied. She may also discover power deep within herself that she had never imagined.

When the processes of birth are allowed to take their course, a woman with the proper care has the opportunity to come to terms with whatever may arise. In doing so, she may experience a shift into a new way of being or understanding. Yet, when the birth process is interrupted, or not properly held, the power of the initiation is often lost or distorted… (p. 10)

We know that women do not always have full and free choice when it comes to decisions about their birthing bodies and childbearing years…so, how does this impact the initiatory process? Isa writes:

In modern births, the power of the initiation of birth is often co-opted by doctors, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and hospitals. It is also co-opted by the fear of pain and the influence of friends and family. It is difficult for women to hold onto the power of the initiation of birth under these circumstances. The unfortunate implication here is that the subsequent initiations of women interrupted in this way will be affected by their inability to hold onto the power of their birthing process.

Based on the level of interruption of the birth initiation caused by unnecessary interventions in the birthing process today, it seems reasonable to suggest that many women experience incomplete initiations when giving birth…

(Personally, I would clarify that it is not that women are unable to hold onto the power of the birthing process, but rather that it is often systematically stripped from them.)

Each of my children’s birth experience was an initiatory event for me, but in varying ways. With my first, it was the initiation to motherhood, the mystery and anticipation of giving birth. The crucible moment for me with him was actually my journey through the harrowing landscape of postpartum. With my second son, giving birth rapidly and with great intensity and power, the initiation felt like it was in letting go and hanging on for the ride—letting my mind stop and my body go. With my third birth, which was my first miscarriage, the initiation was in the physically grueling and bloody aftermath of his birth and then the broad, deep, unknown, transformative path of grief and change. I still feel as if this was one of the most powerfully initiatory experiences of my life. (And, I did have an encounter with one face of the great mother.) After Alaina’s birthday this week, I was talking to my husband about my memories of this last birth and telling him that I do not review the details of her birth with the same sense of power or initiation as the births of my other children. It doesn’t hold that same “touchstone” energy for me as the births of my boys—experiences that I continued to draw strength from as I went on into other events in my life. I don’t return to her birth for strength or courage the way I remember returning to the births of each of my sons. And, then I said it was because with her, the pregnancy was the initiation. The long, long, path of pregnancy after loss and all the fear and all the hope and all the strain of feeling the feelings and doing it anyway. Her birth itself was the moment of relief. The end of a trial, rather than the triumph or peak experience of the births of my first two babies. So, while of course I still carry powerful and potent memories of her birth as well, it was the journey of pregnancy that holds the talismans of initiation for me.

In her classic book Shakti Woman, Vicki Noble describes giving birth as a central shamanic experience and perhaps the root of all shamanism:

“I believe I underwent an initiation of the most ancient variety, birth as a shamanic experience, the central act of female shamanism—the quintessential act that offers a woman a completed experience of facing and moving through her fears to the other side. It isn’t that birth is the only way for a woman to experience this initiation—many women climb mountains or face other kinds of physical endurance tests and also come through it reborn into their power. But biologically birth is a doorway, a given for most women on the planet. It is fundamental opportunity to become empowered. Most of us giving birth today do not have the full experience, which is co-opted and distorted beyond recognition, changed from an active process into something that is done to us, as if we don’t know how to do it ourselves. Reclaiming the right to birth in our own instinctual way is a shamanic act of courage that has unfortunately become as remote to us as our ability to fly through the night in the form of an owl or heal the sick with the power of the drum. It wouldn’t hurt if we began to think of our birthing and child rearing as central parts of our shamanic work…” (p. 223).

via Thesis Tidbits: Birth as a Shamanic Experience | Talk Birth.

I just finished a new sculpt for a medium sized version of our classic birth goddess pendant and Mark cast and finished some of them last night. I woke up this morning with a phrase from a past piece of poetry floating through my mind over and over:

Soft belly January 2014 088
no longer bearing children
I am pregnant with myself
ripe with potential,
possibility, power
I incubate my dreams
and give birth to my vision…

I also thought about what I hope to communicate to others through my sculptures and when I took the new pendant down to the woods with me, a little song emerged to go with her:

Birth mama
birth goddess

reaching out
to join the circle of mothers

feeling her way
finding her place
in the web of women

Birth mama January 2014 050
birth goddess

hold strong
hold steady

make way for baby
make way for baby

Body opens
heart opens
hands open to receive

Birth mama
birth goddess

she’s finding her way
she’s finding her way…

Disclosure: I received a complimentary digital copy of the book for review purposes.

Thesis Tidbits: Birth Mystery

“Women’s mysteries, the blood mysteries of the body, are not the same as the physical realities of menstruation, lactation, pregnancy, and menopause; for physiology to become mystery, a mystical affiliation must be made between a woman and the archetypal feminine. A woman must sense, know or imagine herself as Woman, as Goddess, as an embodiment of the feminine principle…Under patriarchy this connection has been suppressed; there are no words or rituals that celebrate the connection between a woman’s physiological initiations and spiritual meaning.”

–Jean Shinoda Bolen

“Birth, like love, is an energy and a process, happening within a relationship. Both unfold with their own timing, with a uniqueness that can never be anticipated, with a power that can never be controlled, but with an exquisite mystery to be appreciated.” –Elizabeth Noble

While the phrase “birth is a mystery” may sound illogical on the surface, since birth is a normal, physiological process experienced every day by thousands of women around the world, at an emotional and experiential level it rings very true. No matter how many children we birth or how much we ​know​ logically about birth, each birth unfolds in its own unique way with its own unique timing and its own unique lessons. Most births require the crossing of a threshold of some kind—possibly emotional, usually physical, often spiritual, perhaps all at once. In my reading of Nané Jordan’s thesis Birthdance, Earthdance as I collect my research and thoughts for my own dissertation, I particularly enjoyed this quote about the mystery of birth:

Birth really invites ​mystery​ into our lives if we can, or want to, receive that. Wound up into that ​mystery​ is personal and societal fear of death, which birth, as female shaman Vicki Noble has stand, stands at the doorway of. So much of medical birth practice is about diverting this ​mystery​ into knowable forms with time-tables, charts, clocks and interventions. Yet birth is older and wiser than our clocks and technological tricks. Every birth unfolds in its own way in its own time. Birth inherently asks a ​mystery​ of us, women in particular. This is a true gift of listening to it’s calling, allowing the ​mystery ​to be present and unfold in our lives as the new being emerges into our arms.

Jordan also lyrically describes her own journey deep into the heart of birth and the spiritual connection she found there:

…I was alone in myself with my baby. It was like the water guided me into a deepening trance of ‘open and give over mumma,’ by holding and relaxing me in her substance. I was a babe held in the womb of some Great Goddess, even as I held a babe in the waters of my own womb. And open I did. Instinctively mt hands were working with each sensation, palms up and open, hands out of the water and raised, like a salutation to the Goddess herself, ‘yes I feel your presence Mother as I am Mother now.” These actions were what came to me in the tub as I did what is known as ‘active labour.’ I would more describe it as a multidimensional dance of the universe, a meditation beyond meditations. I found myself hissssss-ing as each sensation built low down and then up along the sides of my womb. There was no mistaking this ssssssnake-like ssssssound that guided my body into birth, my palms stretching into an ancient salutation of forces greater than myself yet no bigger than myself…

I loved this depiction of ​forces greater than yet no bigger than myself​. I experienced this moment in birth as well. It reminds of a quote from an unknown writer: The power and intensity of your contractions cannot be stronger than you, because it is you. As others have written, ​I met myself in childbirth​ . And, I liked her. I’ve continued to learn from, draw upon, and reflect upon these birth experiences throughout my life to date (my oldest child is now ten).

“Birth is one of the most profound teaching experiences life offers. It touches us in the depths of our souls, the most private recesses of who we are. It requires that we respond with more creative energy, more conviction, more trust, than almost anything else we do. Birth requires an intensity that is rarely demanded by other experiences…And through it, we can learn more about ourselves, our strengths, our weaknesses, our relationship patterns, and our needs than through almost any other experience we will face in our life.” ~Nancy Wainer Cohen (Via: Peaceful Birth Project)

Have you met yourself in childbirth? What did you learn? How have you carried this forward into your own life?

 

Related past post: Birth Mystery | Talk Birth

Crossposted at Pagan Familes.