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Tuesday Tidbits: Breastfeeding and Menstruation

I actually meant to make this post last week following my LLL meeting, but the day (and the week) spiraled away from me and before I knew it, it was already Tuesday again! As I mentioned in my last post, at our meeting we started out talking about breastfeeding and intimacy, which led into a discussion of breastfeeding and fertility as well as many other interlocking topics. It reminded me of some saved items-to-blog-about, especially this post from Lucy Pearce:

I don’t know about you, but I rarely see anything written about breastfeeding and your moontime, I mean how mamas cope with the ups and downs of their cycle while giving to their little ones 24 hours a day? Is it just presumed that if you are breastfeeding then you don’t have a cycle? I know this is true for many women (I’ve known women not bleed for 2 years!) but for me, my bleeding time has always returned after a few months, despite exclusively breastfeeding.

Most days breastfeeding is such a joy, I love the oxytocin high I get when I snuggle with my little one and feed all night long- BUT the days and nights just before my moontime, I feel touched out, wound up by the constant demands and I JUST WANT MY OWN SPACE!

…I have some ‘rules’ that I adhere to on my Sacred 1st Bleeding Day- I DON’T cook, clean, wash or do any ‘housework’, I DON’T work (although occasionally you might find me peeping in on Facebook!), I DO eat simple nourishing foods, I DO some gentle exercise- sometimes a bit of yoga, more often a walk in nature, I have a period of SILENCE to listen in to my inner wisdom- sometimes that has to be a few mins with my eyes closed while feeding.

I know- I’m lucky to have a supportive husband who accepts this- I think because I would take ‘Sacred Days’ when he first met me, he knew the score! So he is happy to take on household duties and extra childcare on these days to support me- and in the bigger picture, by supporting me on these few days I am able to be there for him and my family the rest of the month! (This is possible as we both work part time, so we can support each other, share childcare and housework)

via Blood and Milk – Self-Care for Breastfeeding Mamas who are Menstruating | The Happy Womb.

My presentation about “moontime” was very well-received at the LLL of Missouri conference in 2013 and I’ll be doing an encore presentation in 2014. However, I did not include anything in it specifically about how to handle being a menstruating, breastfeeding woman—time to make some additions! And, speaking of Lucy Pearce, I’m right in the middle of her amazing new book The Rainbow Way, which is about mothering and creativity. I’m getting my blog post finalized for her Carnival of Creative Mothers and I’m just loving this book, this topic, and this creative life I am weaving with my family.

Speaking of creativity and mothering, a lot of my energy has been going into creating some new sculptures to be cast in pewter for my collaborative project with my free-range husband. I feel like I’m frequently patting myself on the back about them, but I just can’t help myself—I feel so pleased and really kind of impressed that we’re doing this. I didn’t know we could and yet…look!

1459073_10202506420051769_817650504_nNovember 2013 100 November 2013 101 The first and last photos are of new designs that I created after our fall women’s retreat this past Saturday. The last one (which I’m currently wearing!) reminds me of this quote that I read today for one of my classes:

“I can be a strong woman and laugh loudly and sing joyfully and dance wildly occasionally. I can imagine incredible things and weep if I need to.”

(woman speaking in the book To Make and Make Again: Feminist Ritual Thealogy, on why rituals matter)

And that reminded me of a lovely recent post by a friend about her sacred work:

She speaks the words and I hear the rumble
Rumbling, within me
It IS a calling
For it calls to me
Deep in my soul, my heart, my sleep
It is in every fiber of my being

via Sacred Work | Midwives, Doulas, Home Birth, OH MY!

Okay, so now I’ve moved totally away from my post theme and I don’t really have time to pull it back. Nor can I re-title it and start over, because it does segue..so, for now, I’ll bring it around the circle by mentioning that last week on my way to class, I listened to my favorite podcast, Voices of the Sacred Feminine. The first topic of the night was Women’s Spiritual Power by Hilary Hart (whose awesome sounding book Body of Wisdom went immediately on the top of my Amazon wishlist). She speaks about both menstruation and breastfeeding as powerful spiritual openings for women. Menstruation as a time of “cleaning out,” both emotionally and physically, not just for the mother, but for the whole family. She said mothers “process” the whole family’s emotions each month and clean the house, semi-metaphorically, for the family to renew and begin again. She spoke of breastfeeding as this relational, spiritual act that holds deep power. She also talked about birth and the power of birth as a creative, spiritual act. I enjoyed her thoughts because she doesn’t have children herself and nor does the host of the show and it was interesting to hear them touching on topics that I care about so much, but that they are viewing from somewhat of the “outside.”

The second topic of the night was the Sexual Politics of Meat. It may not sound that connected, but it did, in fact, tie right into my Birth Lessons from a Chicken article (in the podcast connections are made between the exploitation and domination of women and the sexual exploitation of female animals. In my article, I make the connection between the mothering and “birthing” behavior of the chicken and the birthing needs of women):

Then, one morning when my husband went to feed the chickens, he heard a funny noise. He looked at the broody hen and from beneath her, a fuzzy head appeared. Then two. Eventually, four. In this cold, cold weather at the wrong time of year with the wrong kind of feet and the wrong kind of eggs, she did it! We didn’t trust her, or believe in her. Our book and the experts didn’t either. However, her inherent mothering wisdom won out—it trumped us. At the risk of excessive personification, it truly seemed that she had believed in herself and trusted her instincts (or perhaps, that Nature believed in itself).

via Birth Lessons from a Chicken | Talk Birth.

Chain of Mothers

20131105-164320.jpg“I know myself linked by chains of fires,
to every woman who has kept a hearth.
In the resinous smoke
I smell hut, castle, cave,
mansion and hovel,
See in the shifting flame
my mother and grandmothers
out over the world.”
–Elsa Gidlo

“If we don’t take care of mothers, they can’t take care of their babies.” –Jeanne Driscoll

At our La Leche League meeting this month we started out talking about breastfeeding and intimacy. This led into a discussion about breastfeeding and fertility and moved on to decisions about family size as well as feelings about motherhood in general. We talked about postpartum adjustment, about the frustrations of parenting, and about the seemingly endless struggle between being with our babies and “getting things done.”

At the beginning of the week a mysterious box arrived in the mail and I opened it to discover a gigantic pile of vintage LLL publications that I had told another Leader several months ago that I would take off of her hands. When I opened it, my first 20131105-164327.jpgreaction was to feel slightly horrified—I’m in a declutter mode lately and have been thinking about getting rid of some of my own old papers and magazines, so taking on someone else’s stash seems like an ill-considered idea. However, then I started looking through the box and while I’m still shaking my head over my own tendency to hoard information, it is really a treasure. There are issues of the old LLL News (with headlines like: “Can La Leche League really be 20 years old?” [it is now pushing 60]) and New Beginnings and Missouri’s En Face newsletter, as well as old editions of the Leader journal, Leaven. While the formatting and style were very different and clearly read “vintage,” most of the content is remarkably timeless. The questions raised in the few issues I paged through could have come from my meetings today. The articles about mothers’ struggle to balance baby-raising and their own creative pursuits could have been written by the mothers who were at my local meeting just this month. This chain of mothers is timeless. I was amused by this “quiz” and read it aloud during the meeting:

20131105-164336.jpgAnd, the realistic answers…

20131105-164618.jpgAnd, my heart twinged at the cover images and the knowledge that my own nursing days will all too soon be a faded memory:

20131105-164629.jpg20131105-164729.jpg

I felt a little bit like crying, looking at this stack and the voices of women represented. The moments now passed. The babies now grown. The stories now boxed up and forgotten. The chain of mothers with their chain of timeless stories and timeless voices have reached off many pages to me many times in my ten years as a parent though. They reached out at my LLL meeting this week and they reach out from blogs and online articles every day. When I shared the link to Noah’s miscarriage-birth story on Facebook on his birthday, I was touched to receive many comments about how our story had helped others and thanking me for my openness in writing and sharing it. I was in turn helped by reading the reflections of a mother’s reflections on the stillbirth journey she experienced:

Because something helped me hear the muffled words that sometimes bounced off the sheer rock cliffs of my pain. I began to hear the voices in the cemeteries I visited—voices of mothers who murmured that if I could just keep breathing long enough the tunneled darkness might begin to lift. I began to see the anguish of my cancer patients in terms of cells defying death. I began to connect myself to a humanity bound up with suffering—plague victims, war dead, road kill, religious martyrs, and most of all a long line of women who had keened over children in caskets.

via Hope Floating | Full Grown People.

I returned to a saved article from Birthing Beautiful Ideas:

Sometimes, boys, my motherhood is all too human.

All too imperfect. All too messy. All too flawed, terribly flawed.

All too unlike that specter of motherhood, that perfect, inhuman motherhood, that haunts the very concept of what it means to be a mother.

I, my children, am all too human.

Mother, all too mother.

Sometimes I try to look back on our journeys together, and my mind yearns to create a revisionary history of us, mother and children.

Erase the loud, the frenzied, the desperate. Amplify the sweet, the tender, the beautifully organized and attentive and calm.

But I know this is not me. I know this is not us. I know this is not what we have always been, or what we will always be.

I know that my motherhood has been indicative of a human, all too human person.

I know our intertwined histories betray any such revisionism.

Sometimes I’ve tuned you out when I could have, perhaps should have, been paying more attention to you. Sometimes I’ve played dumb games on my phone when I could have been playing engaging games with you. Sometimes I’ve encouraged an hour of glazed-eyed television watching just so that I could do something wholly unproductive and time-wasteful and selfish. Sometimes I’ve taken you to the playground so that you could play away from me: not with me.

Sometimes I’ve even begged, “Please, please, no one say ‘Mommy’ for ten whole minutes. Please.”

But do you know that there are times where I think that my whole body and soul are attuned to each of you?

I’ve raced out the front door to save you from running into the street, outpacing everyone who was fifty steps closer to you. I’ve jumped into a pool, clothes on, and pulled you out of the deep water, even though two people were already in the pool, moving to rescue you. I’ve plumbed the depths of my empathy, seen straight into what moves and shakes you, and quieted your inner beast just by understanding you…

via Mother, All Too Mother.

I also returned to one of my own past articles after having shared a story about it during my meeting:

At one point when my first son was a baby, I was trying to explain my “trapped” or bound feelings to my mother and she said something like, “well what would you rather be doing instead?” And, that was exactly it. I DIDN’T want to be doing something instead, I wanted to be doing something AND. I wanted to grind my corn with my baby. Before he was born I had work that I loved very much and that, to me, felt deeply important to the world. Motherhood required a radically re-defining of my sense of my self, my purpose on earth, and my reason for being. While I had been told I could bring my baby with me while continuing to teach volunteer trainings, I quickly found that it was incompatible for me—I felt like I was doing neither job well while bringing my baby with me and I had to “vote” for my baby and quit my work. While I felt like this was the right choice for my family, it felt like a tremendous personal sacrifice and I felt very restricted and “denied” in having to make it. With my first baby, I had to give up just about everything of my “old life” and it was a difficult and painful transition. When my second baby was born, it was much easier because I was already in “kid mode.” I’d already re-defined my identity to include motherhood and while I still chafed sometimes at the bounds of being bonded, they were now familiar to me…

via I just want to grind my corn! | Talk Birth.

One of my new pewter pendant sculptures is of a yoga tree pose. I describe her like this: My sculptures were created as a 3-D “journal” of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood and were created to communicate the deep experience of the childbearing year. I view Tree Pose as a fitting metaphor for motherhood—you must find your center to stay in balance (and balance can look lopsided, but still be rooted and strong). The Tree Pose metaphor is explained in more depth in this past post:

I also thought it might be of interest to the other mothers out there who continually teeter on the edge of finding that elusive and possibly-not-actually necessary “balance” in their work tasks and mothering tasks. I have a friend who describes balance not as making things “equal,” but as being like tree pose in yoga—you want one leg to be firm underneath you so you can stay standing up, but your two sides do not have to actually be “equal” in order to be balanced. Today, my balance is weighted towards the work-at-home tasks, but it will shift again and I’ll still be standing. Find your center. That is the mental reminder that instantly pulls my own literal tree pose into balance for me during my (formerly daily, now erratic) morning yoga. Find your center…

via The tensions and triumphs of work at home mothering | Talk Birth.

I took Alaina down to the woods with me for my daily spiritual practice and while there, I took this picture:

November 2013 023“I feel deeply connected with mothers everywhere. A million stand behind me, having birthed and raised their babies before I had my own. That current of Motherhood feels palpable. It’s a kind of ancestor work that makes sense: I want to honor them and ask for their wisdom. I want their energy to be a part of my life, not something that I access only when the veils are thin.” -Kira at Earth Mama Prime (via Pagan Families)

Birth Mystery

“Whether a woman knows it or not, she is a vessel of great magnitude born capable of reshaping humanities destiny if she only knew the true depths of her innate gifts. Be prepared now to see the fierce face of the feminine rock as her inner geographies of volcanic strength erupt from a love she has held in her belly for life all of her days. This is not a gasp of her last breath. It is her birthing cry into her wise leadership on our planet.” –ALisa Starkweather

“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

“Birth is not a cerebral event; it is a visceral-holistic process which requires all of your self–body, heart, emotion, mind, spirit.” –Baraka Bethany Elihu (Birthing Ourselves into Being)

Last weekend, I taught our final Birth Skills Workshop of the year. While I know I have been writing about my sense of separation from birth work or the phase of “moving on,” in which I find myself, this workshop was an excellent experience. The women were so beautiful and interested and anticipatory. The couple working together was so loving. My doula co-presenter was so present and grounding. I came home feeling really positive and enthused and I also found myself considering new birthwork-related ideas and new possibilities, including something that I’m really excited about, but don’t feel like I can share publicly just yet. This work is in my blood, my roots, my heart and my soul, regardless of how direct the services are that I offer or the primacy/priority of face-to-face birthwork in my life. I will never not care about birthing women. They’re too amazing. They’re too important. And, my own sense of being, my spirituality, my thealogy, is too intimately entwined with my own embodied experience of gestating, birthing, lactating, and mothering, to ever make a full separation from it. After I got home and looked at my few pictures from the evening, I realized that in eight years of teaching birth classes, I have exactly zero pictures of me doing so! But, here is one of some of the mamas were enjoying a much deserved relaxation session after a lot of active birth practice. :)

October 2013 036This photo reminds me of the amazing benefits of co-teaching a workshop with another birth professional. SO much better than teaching alone ever was! Doula Summer of Peaceful Beginnings Doula Services and I have been friends for a long time (we also co-founded Rolla Birth Network). She has helped me when I’ve needed help and I’ve helped her when she’s needed help, but our helping skills/abilities rest in different areas, which is why we work extremely well together with a workshop like this one. I provide the information and structure, Summer provides the gentle presence and soothing hand. A good workshop needs both!

I also re-discovered how I do enjoy putting together a nice information packet! :)

October 2013 023

In addition to my workshop-related epiphany, I had a lightbulb moment with regard to my M.Div thesis. It suddenly seemed clear to me that rather than create a scholarly, academic discourse proving a theory about birth as a spiritual experience, I need to integrate my theories with my birth art sculptures. I need to frame my work within this sculptural context, this personal experience, this lived reality of the might of creation. I have 234 pages of possible content for said thesis, all saved in an intimidating word document waiting to be sorted through and added to. It is overwhelming to even open. With my new idea of framing my thesis through my own art, I feel a pathway emerging through the information, a pathway that integrates the academic and the personal and that results in something uniquely my own…

October 2013 011

Some of my sculptures-turned-pewter-jewelry.

“Be soft. Think of [labor] as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall. Follow the stream, have faith in its course. It will go its own way, meandering here, trickling there. It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices. Just follow it. Never let it out of your sight. It will take you.” -Sheng-yen

“We vibrate to that primordial rhythm even before we have ears to hear…We vibrate to the rhythms of our mother’s blood before she herself is born. And this pulse is the thread of blood that runs all the way back through the grandmothers to the first mother.” – Layne Redmond (August 19, 1952 – October 28, 2013): Drummer/Composer, Author and much more (via The Girl God)

“Within the womb of every woman glows the consciousness of Mother Earth.” –Roslyne Sophia Breillat (via The Girl God)

Guest Post: Squatter’s Rights

October 2013 024

Squatter’s Rights

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned I’d made a new sculpture that I titled after a friend of mine and an article she wrote several years ago. She originally sent me the article to review, because she was thinking of sending it to a magazine. Several years passed, several more babies were born, her computer got fried, and the article was lost. However, it stayed with me anyway. It stayed with me when I prepared for the birth of my rainbow baby girl, it stayed with me as I created birth art to prepare for her birth, and it stayed with me as I reached down to catch my baby’s whole pink wonderful self in my hands as she was born in one smooth reflex almost three years ago. So, I created my figure and I emailed Shauna about it and then I went digging. Deep in the ancient, archived messages in my Outlook Express folder on my old laptop that now belongs to Zander (age 7), I found it. I found Shauna’s squatter’s rights article that had so touched my birth consciousness in such a way that I never forgot—even though babies, computers, friendships, and time have all marched on. I was already a childbirth educator when I read it, had already given birth myself, and was deeply immersed in birth work and childbearing. However, that doesn’t mean that certain descriptions cannot reach us and grab our attention in new ways. I’m delighted that Shauna gave me permission to publish her article here and to share her insights and experiences in this way!

Squatter’s Rights

by Shauna Marie

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 had, 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.

I imagined opening my legs and squatting, I even practiced. I wondered where I’d put my hands, how I would have my legs, and if this little wet creature would be so slippery that I’d drop him or her. In December of 1999 this would be my second birth, but my first time catching a baby.

Like many people from a young age I was led to believe that women didn’t and couldn’t birth outside hospitals. The ones who did were radical or even dangerous. I was led to believe that the birth doesn’t matter, the baby matters. For my own personal sanity, due to cultural birth fear, I had to just come to the conclusion that as long as my baby was okay I could endure anything and that it would all be over soon.

Now rewind a little bit here, because there is something to be said about being at the right place at the right time; or knowing the right person. As a person who now tries to make a difference by being a strong home birth and natural family living advocate, I know who you know can sometimes make all the difference. For some people they just need that connection with real birth; they need to know someone who will talk about what birth really is about from a natural and physiological point of view. Above all people need to be exposed to home birth because it normalizes birth.

I was almost connected at one small point during my first pregnancy, just weeks before my first birth a friend of a friend was having a baby. I asked where she was having the baby at and when. My friend said she was in labor now, and having the baby at home. A jolt of sudden uncomfortableness and worry struck me, “At home! Why?” (Thinking oh my gosh there is no epidural at home!) My friend responded with a rather obvious sounding answer, “Well her mom is a midwife.” “Oh,” I said in an understanding tone. Somehow this made total sense now. If her mom is a midwife then it’s okay for her.

Quickly all home birth thoughts were intercepted with other conversations of non-birth related content. To this day I feel that should have been my contact with home birth. Instead I missed my first calling and just two months later I was induced two weeks before my due date against my own wishes (along with two other women from my OB’s office) to fit into the OB’s schedule.

I learned an awful lot that night. I learned I would never give birth to a healthy baby in a hospital again. I learned that in a hospital it is okay for others to look at your body, touch you, reach into you, and deliver your baby; but it’s not okay for you to do so.

I also learned that birth does matter, not just a healthy baby. Healthy empowered moms matter and instincts are stripped away by technology and birth colliding. This often even includes the instinct to breastfeed.

I was shocked at how disconnected I felt from the waist down. These strangers were in charge of me. There is something about being tied to IV’s and monitors, naked from the waist down in a hospital bed, legs in stirrups, that takes your power away. Even though some one at some point said, “Here comes your baby, look at your baby come” I felt like I wanted to reach over my belly and feel, or catch. I’d seen that in a birth video once –a nurse said something like ‘you can touch your baby’s head and feel’ to a mom giving birth flat on her back. I waited for someone to say that to me, but no one did.  Be it because of hospital policy, or be it because of shame, it was a no-no to touch or even catch what was mine. I felt so disconnected as I tried eagerly to see over my belly, knees being held up to my ears by three sets of hands to the chants of, “Push, push, pushhh…. good girl.”

I wondered so much about just staying home. I had what I thought was an unexplainable and unfounded desire to hibernate in a dark corner like an animal.

Around the same time that I got pregnant with baby number two I heard a doctor on television actually say that women are physiologically unable to catch their own babies. Already committed to having a home birth that comment further sealed the deal. I was catching my own baby this time. Not only do I dislike someone telling me that I can’t do something, I didn’t believe a woman would let her baby just fall to the floor (many mammals are born that
way though). Surely even if a woman didn’t squat with intent to catch her baby the child would be born slipping onto bed or floor without assistance or harm. My research lead me to discover that women have given birth effortlessly while in comas, unassisted and unmedicated. We’ve all heard the stories of scared teens giving birth suddenly, alone in a bathroom. The body just gives birth when it’s time. Not to mention National Geographic taught me from a young age more than just that women in tribes go topless; they also sometimes give birth to babies unassisted and catch them.

Shauna’s eighth baby, born into her hands this summer.

I was also somehow sure a woman could give birth in total control; in control of her thoughts, feelings, and use of good judgment. I was no longer buying into the stereotypical out of control agony portrayed in movies. I didn’t know, but I deeply believed a woman giving birth, if allowed, could totally be in control and instinctively know how to give birth.

I figured that squatting would give me the best angle to catch my baby. Being in a squat, on bent knees, or even on all fours is clearly the most natural and easiest way to birth a baby. Squatting has roots in ancient history as far as birth goes back. It is only within the last 100 to 150 years, since physicians took control of birth, that women have been required to have babies laying their backs in the lithotomy position. Lying on the back (or semi lying) has obvious benefits from the doctor’s perspective as it provides a good view and way to manually remove a baby, as well as use a scalpel to cut a wider opening to the vagina. The use of gigantic tongs (forceps), vacuum suction extraction on the baby’s head, and even manually pulling on the baby’s head have all been routinely practiced by physicians.

Elizabeth Noble, author of Childbirth with Insight, states, “Women who squat for birth can generally deliver their babies without any manual assistance at all. Gravity and the free space around the perineum allow the baby’s rotation maneuvers to be accomplished spontaneously.”

There are vast differences in giving birth in a squatting position rather than lying down. Well over half of all the births in this country currently involve some type of surgical or operative procedure such as; cesarean section, episiotomy, vacuum extraction, or the use of forceps. These interventions and their accompanying risks could be avoided if women would just adopt a squatting position for birth. Aside from working with rather than against the body and gravity the birth canal depth is shortened during a squat, and the pelvic diameter is increased. In fact just the simple act of squatting can open a women’s pelvic outlet by up to 28 percent. All of these benefits can shorten the second stage of labor and the need for interventions. Squatting also reduces the risk of tearing. Dr. Michel Odent writes in Birth Reborn that, “This position assures maximum pelvic pressure, optimal muscle relaxation, extensive perineal stretching, and minimal muscular effort. It also provides the best safeguard against serious perineal tears.”

Routinely birthing moms are put on their backs or reclined in beds which center the mother’s weight on her tail bone, narrowing the pelvic outlet and compressing major blood vessels which reduce proper circulatory function. This in turn reduces oxygen to the baby and to the uterus making contractions less productive and more painful. Less oxygen to the baby signals distress in the infant, which if in a hospital could cause a whole round of interventions. Combine an oxygen deprived baby with a mother trying to push uphill with a baby that cannot move into a good birthing position because of restricted pelvic room, and ultimately you have mothers who are very good candidates for a birth that must be forcefully assisted by forceps, vacuum extraction or the ever so common routine C-section. The Centers for Disease control states on their website that cesarean sections are now at 32.8% in North America (2011).

Delivery of the after birth in an upright position also has clear advantages. When the placenta isn’t compressed there is less chance of blood pooling up and creating large clots, and gravity aids in placental expulsion.

When the day finally came for me to catch my baby I talked myself through the contractions. I told myself I could do this. I said over and over I can do this, because as a pregnant mammal it’s what I was put here to do. When I felt it was time I squatted over a mirror and saw the crown. I told myself to enjoy this moment, not everyone gets to catch their own baby, and I didn’t want to miss one second of this experience. I swirled the thick wet black hair that was presenting around in a circle with my fingertips. Any and all pain was gone, it was amazing. I focused on this new life that was unfolding from my body. I waited for contractions and I let my body do the work without forceful pushing or feeling agony. When the baby slid into freedom and the room was engulfed with newborn smells and newborn cries I cried out, “It’s a boy, it’s a baby boy!”

The impact of that birth was powerful and amazing; so much so that I have caught five more children from my body since then. There is a saying about the “thrill of the catch,” and midwives and doctors know this. It’s intoxicating and it’s very powerful to catch a baby.

So much harm has been done to cloud the process of childbirth. Birth isn’t just about babies, it’s about mothers too. It’s about how they work together. Catching your own baby puts you focused on your birth, and without trying you take the control and suddenly you feel and know what you need to do. Focusing on the important task of birth made an impact on me a very positive way as a mother. True freedom over my body gave me independence, confidence, and self-control.

Not every woman may want to catch her own baby, but every woman should be encouraged to do so, or at the very, very least know they can if they do wish to. Most women I have spoken with actually say they have never even thought of it.

The state of birth in this country lies squarely in the hands of birthing women. Until we start demanding more respect and more variation in our birthing options we have no one to blame but ourselves. We must first credit ourselves with being able to birth safely the way nature intended before anyone else will give us that credit. The seeking out of safe and natural birth options will slowly continue to influence and change how birth is perceived.

There are specialized hospital beds that can be converted in a way that women are more upright. If you will be giving birth in a hospital request them, demand them. Hill-Rom makes such a bed; the Affinity Three Birthing Bed aids a woman to side lie, squat, kneel, sit, and lean in various positions. It has a labor bar and position controls that are quite impressive. The bed can be lowered or raised up, down, back, and forth

There are birth balls, birth bars, and birthing stools that can aid in more natural upright positions in whatever birth setting you choose. There are showers and tubs to soothe a mother.

I share my experiences with catching my own babies, and have even shared very private birth photos and even one video with others in the past; because I have been told by so many women it has empowered them. I also hear from lots of women who say how strong both me and my legs must be to squat down like that. I assure that it’s not my legs that are strong; it’s my heart and my passion, and the willingness to open up and catch what is mine.

Shauna Marie is happily married to the man of her dreams. They live in the Midwest where they juggle eight energetic children while homeschooling and developing upon a one acre hobby farm of veggies, fruits, chickens, geese, and the dream of a dairy goat. She blogs about her life at Life with Eight Kids. Shauna is very passionate about family with an emphasis on childbirth and healthy, happy moms and babies.

Postscript: Shauna’s most recent birth story, excerpted below, is an excellent description of a squatting birth!

I was standing there in the still of the labor lull a rush of hormones hit me and the baby’s head slipped fully into the birth canal. I squatted down instinctively. I was then super indecisive: I flip-flopped between on my hands and knees to squatting, then squatting with one leg up and one leg down, then a leg up on the side of the tub, then standing upright, then a squat-stand and finally then back to the other positions all over again. This baby was going to start to seriously crown in a big way and I had no idea where I wanted to be! Having done this so many times I had way too many choices in my head and I knew what they all felt like. Later Ricky told me he got nervous that I was moving around so much in the tub; he was worried I’d slip and fall. I however felt firmly planted like a rock. I told him later I felt like I had sticky gecko pads on my limbs and slipping never crossed my mind.

Our baby was starting to crown as I finally squatted down low with one leg higher than the other (I was out of time to change things up. I’ll just squat and do it the same ‘boring’ highly effective way I always do it I thought lol.) I used some counter pressure on her velvety head to help ease her head out but it wasn’t really needed and a painless contraction inched her head fully out.

via Life With Eight Kids: Beatrice’s Unassisted Birth Story (half hour labor and birth -with extra info on my favorite topics of vernix, cord cutting, and not pushing).

Related Talk Birth resources:

Active Birth in the Hospital

Spontaneous Birth Reflex

How to Use a Hospital Bed without Lying Down

What to Expect When You Go to the Hospital for a Natural Childbirth

References:

(Elizabeth Noble, Childbirth with Insight, 78). See also Golay, J., et al., “The squatting position for the second stage of labor: effects on labor and maternal ad fetal well-being,” Birth 20(2) (June 1993):73-78.

Postpartum outcomes in supine delivery by physicians vs nonsupine delivery by midwives.Terry RR, Westcott J, O’Shea L, Kelly F. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2006 Apr;106(4):199-202. Conclusion: Nonsupline positions during labor and delivery were found to have clinical advantages without risk to mother or infant. Enhanced maternal outcomes included improved perineal integrity, less vulvar edema, and less blood loss.

Dr. Martha Collins D.C., Pregnancy and Chiropractic Planetciropractic.com

Russell JGB. Moulding of the pelvic outlet. J Obstet Gynaec Brit Cwlth 1969;76:817-20

Squatting can enlarge the pelvic outlet up to 28 percent (Russell, J.G., “The rationale of primitive delivery positions,” Br J Obstet Gynaecol 89 (September 1982):712-715

Paciornik M; Commentary: arguments against episiotomy and in favor of squatting for birth. Birth 1990; 17(2): 104-5.

The total U.S. cesarean delivery rate reached a high of 32.9% of all births in 2009, rising 60% from the most recent low of 20.7 in 1996 Martin JA, Hamilton BE, Ventura SJ, et al. Births: Final data for 2009. National vital statistics reports; vol 60 no 1. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2011.

Marion Sousa writes: “[Squatting shortens and widens the pelvic outlet.” (Childbirth at Home. New York: Bantam, 1976 in Judith Goldsmith, Childbirth Wisdom from the World’s Oldest Societies, 153)

Several studies have reported that in the majority of women delivering in the lithotomy position, there was a 91% decrease in fetal transcutaneous oxygen saturation (Humphrey et al. 1973, 1974)

Robertson, Empowering Women: Teaching Active Birth in the 90s, (105)

Dr. M. Odent Birth Reborn, (101)

Hill-Rom Affinity Three Birthing Bed educational video and website. Online user manual http://www.hill-rom.com/PDFs/manuals/UserManuals/u025_iet.pdf

Happy Halloween!

In keeping with my annual tradition, I’m trying to squeeze in a Halloween blog post this year! Two quotes from Zander about the day:

Let’s go to another park and continue this torturefest.” (as we were leaving the wet, cold, stormy park after homeschool playgroup)

And…

I guess this is the ‘trick’ part of the day” (as we staggered to our various destinations)

We actually ended up having a nice day in the end and it was a funny day in many ways, but there was lots of chaos and assorted mishaps and I felt like I needed a Halloween doula to get me through! I started to just have to laugh—after the peanut butter sandwiches blasted out of the door and landed upside down in the gutter, after I looked in my mirror to see I’d left my gas tank open, after a friend had to call me to tell me my skirt was shut in my car door, and so on. After the “torturefest” remark, instead, I took five kids to the buffet at Sirloin Stockade. Alone. While wearing my gypsypriestess costume. There is even a chocolate fountain at this buffet and I did, indeed, help five children and myself to chocolate self-dipped strawberries. I took this selfie in the bathroom before leaving the restaurant. I think I officially gained a new superpower tonight…

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I just turned the camera around and took a picture of the actual look on my face. I wasn’t making a specific face here!

Said costume ended up wicking up water from the ground ten inches up and I had to wear it all day and on the streets of town all night! After a cold, rough start to trick or treating, we actually ended up finding a reasonably festive neighborhood, the rain and wind stopped and the environment felt warmer, and we ended up having a lot of fun on the streets together. (Mark also brought me leggings and a hat, and that helped too.)

Here is an assorted gallery of pictures from all our Halloween activities this year :)

(clicking one picture to enlarge will enable a slideshow/larger photos and captions)

Tuesday Tidbits: Blogging, Busyness, and Life (Part 2)

This is part 2 of my post from last night. In said post, I made the following observation:

In the last year, I’ve taken on regular (unpaid) blog contributor commitments with multiple other blogs. I’m recognizing that some of these experiences feel rewarding and enriching and some feel more like I’m being “used” to contribute to the project of another person without a lot of gain for myself. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple of weeks both pondering how to be less hard on myself as well as about the role of blogging in my life…where does it fit? Is it inhibiting other work I could be doing or contributing to it? How do I make the transition between focuses, or, is it possible to maintain multiple focuses and multiple blog commitments…?

via Blogging, Busyness, and Life: Part 1 | Talk Birth.

I did a little google search for the “shadow side” of blogging and I read some great stuff:

If your online business model is centered around free, then you are training your audience to devalue you…

I’m talking primarily about blogs and newsletters here. The past few years of explosive blogging growth has created a sort of information “arms race,” where everyone is trying to pump out more and more free information, because by God, that’s what everyone else is doing. That’s had some good, bad and ugly consequences…

The Bad: The more business your blog helps brings in, the less time you have for blogging. There’s a fine balance between running a business and running a blog. Sure, you can hammer out excellent content and make scads of people happy, but at the end of the day you still have to do the stuff that pays the bills. It’s hard to keep up with a blog, the comments, the newsletters, etc., when you’re doing it all gratis. (James Chartrand has a great post on “sweatshop blogging.”) So naturally, you branch out into products and services…

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against “free” – I’m against “freeloaders.”…

But free is expensive. Not to the person receiving it, but the person who is creating it. I probably put 30 hours into producing those workbooks, and an additional 10 hours this month writing blog posts and tweaking this blog to make it snazzier for you. That’s an entire 40-hour workweek. For free.

Think of your weekly paycheck (or if you’re self-employed, just divide your monthly income by 4.33). That’s some damned expensive “free.” But we do it happily, because we know if we’re positioning all that free right, then our “right people” will find us and hire us to do more involved things…

But if all you do is free, people don’t see how expensive it is for you – and they don’t appreciate you.

via The Dark Side Of Blogging: When Free Gets Ugly.

To be clear, I’m not talking about charging for blogging—what I’m talking about is how blogging may use up time that could potentially be spent on activities that generate income. I have book ideas, I have classes to work on, I have products to develop and list on etsy and every time I write a blog post instead, I could theoretically have been building one of those aspects of my life instead.

People even imply and suggest (or at least the Twitter gang did) that bloggers should be ashamed of asking for money, for any kind of payment for that solid advice and knowledge. Bloggers should be ashamed of asking for money for the posts they write, the ones that take anywhere from 3 to 15 hours of work a week.

Yet, no one feels ashamed reading their favorite blogs every day. They feel no shame learning, benefiting and profiting off someone else’s unpaid labor – without ever having to dig out a penny.

People get upset over sweatshop workers slaving away – but they think nothing of being the sweatshop owner that profits every day from every blog. In fact, many people think that’s okay.

via Free Blog Posts.

Last night, I also wrote about that feeling of being “too much” for people sometimes:

When I attended the GGG this year, one of the realizations I came home with is that sometimes I feel like people are trying to get me to be less (more about this some other time). And, I remembered a session I had with a healer who did a somatic repatterning process with me—one of the beliefs she tested on me was, “I am not enough.” It got a marginal response, but then she tested, “I am TOO MUCH.” And, THAT is the one that tested as true. I wonder how much about myself that I try to change or that I struggle with actually comes from the fear of being, too much. Too intense. Too active. Too talkative. Too much thinking, too much writing, too many ideas, too many projects, too much waving of my hands and pacing when I talk. Too, too, too, too much.

via Blogging, Busyness, and Life: Part 1 | Talk Birth.

And, in a continuation of the notion of “sleeping with your ex,” I also wanted to share this quote about “burning down the farm”:

I can’t tell you how many people want to make a big positive change in their lives, but are afraid to make the leap. They don’t want the discomfort, don’t want to leave what they’re comfortable with.

From losing weight or getting healthy to quitting a job you hate to learning something hard, most people would rather stick to what they know.

I’m here to make a rather drastic but effective suggestion: burn down the farm.

via Burn Down the Farm : zenhabits.

Additionally, in a synchronicity that gave me chills, during the teleclass I was listening to just as I hit publish on part one of my post, ALisa Starkweather described that sometimes we feel “small” and sometimes we feel “big”—and that we are both. Sometimes we are small—both in terms of playing it safe, but also in being small-minded, or shrinking away—and sometimes we are big. We can hold both of them and bring them together, into integration, and accept that we have our small times and our big times and so do others. It reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend on Facebook a few weeks ago in which she mentioned sometimes feeling like she likes her “online self” better than her real self. I identified with what she wrote, because I have thought the same thing and have been heard to say more than once, “I think I’m a better writer than I am a person!!!” ::::sob:::: I also wrote a blog post a while ago that touched on this somewhat—I.e. is my online self my “real self.” I concluded that it was a part of my real self and that I am both more and less than I might I appear online!

So, which is it? Am I authentic and open, or keeping my mouth shut all the time?! Maybe both. What I know is there is a lot I don’t write about. I don’t write because I’m too scared, or too sensitive, or too fearful, or too self-righteous, or too busy, or too annoyed, or too scattered, or too embarrassed. I don’t write things because I have relatives who read this or friends who read this and I’d rather not share some things with some people. And, which is it? Do I have nice energy and a gentle voice or am I a strident hospital-basher out to demonize and victimize?!

And, I started to reflect that I guess I am all these things and how people experience me and my writing is in part up to me and in part up to them. Just like in real life. I can be gentle, kind, and nurturing. I can be critical, judgmental, and harsh. I can be helpful and I can be selfish. I can be patient and impatient. I can be friendly, I can be preoccupied. I can be energetic and enthusiastic and upbeat and I can be exhausted and defeated. I can be a fabulous, fun mother and I can be a distracted and grouchy mother. I can be funny and I can take myself too seriously. Different people, relationships, and environments bring out different expressions of who I am. Sometimes I really like myself a lot. I like who I am, I like how I move through the world, and I’m impressed with my own capacities. I have great ideas and solid values and principles and the ability to articulate those in writing. Sometimes I actually hate myself. I see only the bad parts and I wish I could just be better. I feel hypocritical and over aware of inconsistencies in my own thoughts/beliefs and my expression of my values in the world. I often want to be better than I am, but in rare moments of grace and self-compassion, I realize that I’m pretty good already. And, in some moments of self-righteousness and superiority, I actually feel better than some people in some areas/some ways!

via The dualism of blogging (and life) | Talk Birth.

I can express myself more fully and in a more polished/thought out way online than I often have the occasion to do in person, when I often feel more frazzled and distracted in real-life than I’d like to feel. However, from the reverse side, when I read someone else’s blog, I often actually feel like I get a fuller and more complete picture/experience of that person than I do in person when I’m rushing by trying to grab a few snippets of conversation at the skating rink! So, I feel like their online selves help me actually know their real selves better than I would if I just had to rely on face to face time. I’m not sure if that makes sense typed out, but I’ve been thinking that recently also–thank goodness for friends with blogs, because I feel like I understand them much better and learn more about how they think and feel. Additionally, in a type of reverse experience, I’ve met several people who online rubbed me the wrong way/seemed abrasive and/or rude and when I met them in real life, I loved them and they were tons of fun! (And, I’ve met people in real life who I thought were awesome online and discovered them to be meh in real life…)

I also thought about some other blog posts about blogging and touching on perfectionism and people-pleasing:

A few years ago, such responses might have bothered me, but now…well, they still bother me a bit. (Hey, this is HALFway up the Mountain–I’m human after all!) They don’t get under my skin quite as much as they would have in the past, however, since I’ve come to this helpful, empowering realization: There will always be idiots.

This may sound negative, but it’s actually incredibly liberating! It drives home an important lesson: You can’t please everyone! Once you fully realize this, you can stop trying! You can stop worrying, “What will ‘They’ think?”! You can stop letting your actions be determined by a handful of strangers–who are probably going to be negative no matter what you say or do! You can just be yourself, do your best, and live your life.

What a relief!

It’s also incredibly empowering to remember that just because someone offers bait, doesn’t mean that you have to take it–in person, on Twitter, or anywhere else. You can let them put in their two cents of negativity and leave it at that. You can just let it go, or you can choose not to take it in at all.

via Dan Teck | Halfway up the Mountain.

Dan’s wife Jody also had a good post on a similar theme:

And so we live our lives committed to pleasing everyone because when they are pleased, they will approve of us, praise us, and love us.

It makes so much sense that we would live our lives in this way – who wouldn’t want to feel loved?

But what I realized is the cost of getting this love was absolutely exhausting. Even though I tried very hard to not upset anyone, I found that I still would. While it was rare, I would sometimes receive phone calls from angry people saying that I didn’t do x, y, and z quickly enough or well enough or in the right way. I would receive emails saying that I wasn’t soulful enough or caring enough or loving enough.

Hearing these criticisms would devastate me. But I was determined to not give up – I knew that if I just tried a little bit harder, I would still be able to please them. I knew I could eventually make them see my side and “win them over.”

And sometimes I could. But oftentimes I couldn’t.

Eventually I learned four words that were powerful enough to change my life:

You can’t please everyone.

via Four Words to Free Your Soul – Heart of the Soul.

This thinking about blogging and life and work, also has me thinking about technology and its role in my life. Its contribution to my feeling “sped up” and fragmented. I’ve been talking for months now about creating a Say NO Experiment, in which I spend 30 days saying no to as many things as I can (many of which catch my eye online). However, since I haven’t ever started that experiment I signed up to participate in this cool sounding teleseminar: Red Tent Revival.

Something caught my eye there though and it was the notion of saying YES to life. I feel like lately everything operates under this yes, yes, yes buzzphrase and yet I am struggling with the courage to say NO. It is popular to advocate grabbing life by the horns, seizing the moment, etc., and yet my default reaction is almost always YES. And, then, I have to backtrack back to the NO that actually wants to be heard!

So, then I read this beautiful post from Hands Free Mama (who I love, even though every time I read her I find myself noting the irony that she has built her business on the internet essentially around critiquing parental use of technology).

If I live to be 100, it will not be because I could accomplish more in one day than most people could in a week.

It will because I took time to gaze at stars, watch sunsets, and walk beside my children, not ahead of them.

If I live to be 100, it will not be because I earned prestigious degrees that adorned my walls.

It will be because I pursued the passions of my heart and decorated my soul.

via If I Live to Be 100 | Hands Free Mama.

And, on the flip side, since I love to keep myself in a constant state of self-imposed mental knots of paradox and dualism, I also read this post about why parental use of technology is fine and does not need to be demonized (for examples of ongoing trend of pointing out the flaws of those nasty, bad iphone “addicts,” feel free to check out this and this. Both of these examples absolutely have merit and possible created uncomfortableness or defensiveness precisely because we can see ourselves in them. However, both of them are also using technology to critique technology in a way that is beginning to feel trite and overused.)

I don’t want to model the perfect mom who doesn’t exist and hide the rest of my life from my kids. I want to model the balanced (and sometimes unbalanced) normal mom who loves them very much. And today, part of normal = tech user. It is time for society to realize that.

via Oh those technology obsessed neglectful parents… – PhD in Parenting – PhD in Parenting.

I have to say that when I read content decrying technology as negative and lamenting the abundance of children on their “devices,” part of me hears: “these new-fangled kids driving cars instead of good old horses and buggies!” This is reality. In my specific family, technology and screen-time built my family’s financial security and our literal home. My husband made a living for years off of screens—eight hours a day in front of one in fact. I use one now to support my family and to, get this, be with my children. Using a computer (ipad, etc.) is how I teach, how I write, how I communicate, how I interact, how I earn money, how I sell my creations. My mom was on the phone a lot when I was a kid. I’m on the computer a lot. Maybe Idealized Mythical Past Mom was in the cotton field a lot, or washing laundry for others, or working in a lace factory, or milking cows, or shelling peanuts or making paper flowers, or keeping up the house, or taking care of younger children, or, or, or. Moms have never “not worked.” And, they’ve never been non-”distracted,” just the mode and texture of this “distraction” shifts with times, contexts, roles, activities, and availability of whatever. Perhaps it is all just life and living?! I am as interested by mindfulness and present moment awareness as the next person and yet I always wonder: “can’t I be typing this blog post in the present moment?!” Can’t I be thinking about my to-do list in the present moment? Can’t I be smelling this rose in the present moment? AND, can’t I also be sending this text in the present moment? Why does “present moment” have to be synonymous with no to-do list and no technology? I can very presently us both…right?!

Moms read books, watch TV, fold laundry, nurse babies, follow around toddlers, talk to friends, weave baskets, bake bread, cook meals, and yes, write blog posts and check in with their online classes, while simultaneously being with their children. It is interesting that only the activities involving technology/screens are portrayed as or described as “being distracted” and not “present” with parenting. When I had my conversation with my mom yesterday about coming from a noble line of busy women, she told me about a skit that she was involved with as a child (part of Girl Scouts? I forgot already! Too distracted!). It was a Mother’s Day skit and each girl portrayed her own mother as a parody. My mom, fulfilling the role of her mom, talked on the phone the whole skit and said, “just a minute kids,” at periodic intervals. This was in those “good old days” of the 1950′s, often romanticized today as heyday of the “traditional family.” Today, skit-mom would be saying, “I need to update my Facebook status!” (or, something). This is NOT to say that mindfulness in parenting and connection with children is not important—not at all, what I AM saying is that this is not a “new,” technology-specific parenting experience. My own mom talked on the phone quite a bit and she also wove baskets and worked on craft projects and had tea parties for my little sister and helped my brother with costumes and talked to my dad and visited with her friends, and, and, and. ALL of those things “distracted” her from specifically talking to/interacting with ME, but, why not? It is part of living in a family and being part of a system of complex, multifaceted, multitalented, multi-interested, real people. In my own family now, that includes an ipad and iphone and a computer, as well as many, many other things.

(And, by the way, I think that was an awful idea for a Mother’s Day skit! My mom said, “and, we never spoke of it again.” ;-D)

Took this picture last week and find it a perfect illustration:

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Pewter artwork in front, written screen-work in back! :)

And, I took some more (non-people) pictures of snippets from my life at home with my family:

We’re having a great time with this often big and sometimes small life together. I just want to remember to keep noticing that :)

 

 

 

Blogging, Busyness, and Life: Part 1

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“The successful woman has a secret. She’s learned that she owes it to herself, her children, and the world to make the contribution she was born to make. She’s learned to ask for advice and help, to insist on getting paid what she’s worth, and to set boundaries at work and at home so that her needs get met, not trampled. She puts her dreams at the top of her priorities list, not at the bottom. She feels great about being recognized for her accomplishments, and she’s totally OK with the fact that not everyone is going to like her when she stands up to those who would discount her or put her down.” –DEBRA CONDREN, Good Housekeeping, Aug. 2010

October 2013 013

Swoon! I’m in love with my late October roses. They are the most beautiful things ever and I DO, in fact, stop to smell them. Daily, as a matter of fact!

As the season shifts, I’ve recognized a familiar feeling. Oh yeah, this, I’ve had to say…again, it is my annual fall sense of needing something to change, of feeling overextended, overcommitted, and like other people are attempting to use me up or somehow consume me for their own purposes. I start to want to STOP. To take a break from it all. To retreat. I first consciously remember this feeling from November of 2009, the month that my third baby died unexpectedly during my pregnancy. Right before this, I’d been struggling with the feeling of being sped up and overcommitted and like I needed to pull back, but didn’t know how. Then, I experienced the birth-miscarriage of this baby and I did stop for a while. It was a crucible moment, a hinge upon which my life pivoted and changed directions. Though, the direction of the change is actually still in progress, still being birthed, even at this moment, four years later. Interestingly, when late fall rolls around each year, I experience the exact same thing.

When I first noticed the pattern, I wondered if it was an unconscious body memory of this miscarriage legacy, but I’ve come to think it is simply the season, and this is when I start to pay attention and make changes. I also know that this sensation of being “too busy” did not contribute to my miscarriage, as someone did actually once suggest to me, but is simply a regular feature of my Sept-Oct-Nov-Dec life. As I was working on this post, my mom came over to bring the kids back to me and she was also “sped up,” talking about her theater ushering commitments and her Halloween party and people coming over to learn how to make pottery (or another cool thing. My mom is the ultimate master of creative pursuits). And, I said to her as she was talking, “ah ha! I have a noble legacy of doing a lot.” I also remembered one of my realizations following my grandmother’s death earlier this year: one of the things I valued most about her was all the interesting things she did. She was vibrant and active and busy. She was always doing stuff. And, it was cool stuff and she was a cool person and I loved her and learned from her precisely because she was so busy and interesting all the dang time. I come from a long line of busy women with lots of interests…and abilities. Maybe that is just fine. When I attended the GGG this year, one of the realizations I came home with is that sometimes I feel like people are trying to get me to be less (more about this some other time). And, I remembered a session I had with a healer who did a somatic repatterning process with me—one of the beliefs she tested on me was, “I am not enough.” It got a marginal response, but then she tested, “I am TOO MUCH.” And, THAT is the one that tested as true. I wonder how much about myself that I try to change or that I struggle with actually comes from the fear of being, too much. Too intense. Too active. Too talkative. Too much thinking, too much writing, too many ideas, too many projects, too much waving of my hands and pacing when I talk. Too, too, too, too much.

So, I returned to this beautiful quote from Jen Louden in The Life Organizer:

“Would a weight lift off my shoulders if I realized that it’s normal to feel pulled between choices, that it’s normal to want to do more than I have time or energy for, and that it’s normal to have to choose between two equally wonderful things, that it’s actually a sign I’m a fascinating, amazing person?

via The Ongoing Crisis of Abundance | Talk Birth.

And, it said, oh yeah, this. I re-visited some of my past ah-ha moments and past November calls for change:

It is only when we silence the blaring sounds of our daily existence that we can finally hear the whispers of the truth that life reveals to us, as it stands knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts.

~ K.T. Jong (via Kingfish Komment)

Some time around November each year for the last three years, I’ve had a feeling of being “sped up” in my life and a desperate craving of stillness and rest. I begin to feel like pulling inward, “calling my spirit back” and re-integrating fragmented parts. Aside from my family members, I stop feeling like being “of service” to others and their interruptions of my space or requests for my time or attention begin to feel like impositions. I begin to hear the distant call to “retreat.” I crave stillness, rest, and being alone. I fantasize about broad expanses of silent time in which to think and plan and ponder. It then takes me until February to actually act on this urge.

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One of my grandma’s sweet, beautiful antique Shirley Temple dolls–one of her many passions in life.

via Time for a retreat! | Talk Birth.

And, the sense of needing to take a break and or FINALLY figure out how to write short, snappy posts:

I don’t want to totally put my blog on hold, but I do want to, finally, figure out how to write SHORTER posts for the time being and save the involved, insightful posts that I put a lot of thought into for my winter break. I also just really need to give myself permission to be “off” here and direct my attention towards other roles.

via Blog Break Festival! | Talk Birth.

I also found a most excellent reminder about over-blogging perhaps diminishing my “radiance”:

So, once again I’ve found myself staring at The Mountain of Too Much and a familiar a crisis of abundance. This happens routinely. I should be used to it by now! But, I feel this creeping sense of overwhelm and dismay as I look at my calendar, my commitments, and my neverending to-do list. And, as I continue to try to be more and do better and yet always feel as if I’m not enough. I feel myself getting ragged and I don’t like it. I also have a feeling that I’m forgetting the self-care mantra, “the things that matter most should never be at the mercy of the things that matter least.” I keep getting distracted by little bits and bites and losing sight of what I most value. I’m also not taking care of myself—not eating enough, running out of time to exercise, being preoccupied rather than present, always doing the “should dos” instead of the “want tos.” I crave rest. I fantasize about just being able to rest. But, then I discover I’m not sure I know how.

So, I very much appreciated this extremely thought-provoking audio-blog Women in Cyberspace ~ Our Blind Spots – IndigoBacal.com. She makes a lot of important observations about how women use social media, including blogging, and she shared: “What I discovered was that sharing as much of myself as possible, as much of my inspiration as possible [online] was actually diminishing my radiance…”

via Blog Break Festival

And, the sensation of being splintered and pulled:

Sometimes I think I just like and care about TOO MANY things. All of these things splinter my attention in a million ways however, and also leave me with a persistent sensation of, “well, I didn’t get everything done today.” I continue to try to make sure to unsubscribe from email lists and blog subscriptions to cut down on this immediacy sensation that a constant influx of new information and ideas promotes. As I told my husband, “if I

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One of my new projects! Too much?! I think not!

didn’t get that newsletter, or click on that article, or open that email, I would never have known about all those things I could have gotten done today.” Plus, there is always a new batch tomorrow! And, then I get a little depressed thinking why the rush to get things done and to finish? So I can die with a clear to-do list?! Come on!

via The Ongoing Crisis of Abundance | Talk Birth.

And, about maybe needing to quit blogging:

During this time, I abruptly decided this was IT, I HAVE TO STOP BLOGGING. I cried and cried. I don’t want to quit, but, if I can’t do homeschooling properly I certainly don’t deserve to be a blogger. And, then I remembered these quotes about stories and I especially remembered this one:

“As long as women are isolated one from the other, not allowed to offer other women the most personal accounts of their lives, they will not be part of any narratives of their own…women will be staving off destiny and not inviting or inventing or controlling it.” –Carolyn Heilbrun quoted in Sacred Circles

And, also this one:

Telling our stories is one way we become more aware of just what ‘the river’ of our lives is. Listening to ourselves speak, without interruption, correction, or even flattering comments, we may truly hear, perhaps for the first time, some new meaning in a once painful, confusing situation. We may, quite suddenly, see how this even or relationship we are in relates to many others in our past. We may receive a flash of insight, a lesson long unlearned, a glimpse of understanding. And, as the quiet, focused compassion for us pervades the room, perhaps our own hearts open, even slightly, towards ourselves.

–Robin Deen Carnes & Sally Craig in Sacred Circles

via I am a Story Woman | Talk Birth.

October 2013 075

Their season is passing and the cold is having an impact, but they’re still amazing.

However, I also don’t think it is my imagination that the pace of life and the requests/demands for time and attention have increased exponentially in the last couple of years. I don’t know if it is just my own stage of life, or actually the whole of modern society. I feel like it is society (or Facebook?!)—there is a LOT to DO all the time and prioritizing and choosing between those things can actually be a painful process, sometimes resulting in dropped balls, misunderstandings, and the sensation of apathy amongst people, that I don’t think is really true–I think it is more-to-do-keep-track-of-than-is-literally-feasible. I have reach a point in which the time in my life for several of my birth-related committed has passed and probably did so a couple of years ago, but I have continued out of loyalty, friendship, responsibility, obligation, and the fact that I DO still care a LOT, just not as much as I used to. I read an article some time ago (that I cannot manage to relocate) that continuing with work that you really feel finished with is the same as “sleeping with your ex.” Though I’ve never had an actual ex to sleep with, I can appreciate the metaphor and I feel like I DO need to acknowledge the areas in my own work/volunteer life in which I’m “sleeping with my ex,” rather than heading in the directions I feel called to pursue. Birthwork as a whole, with the exception of birth writing and birth art, has become that sleeping-with-my-ex territory for me, but it is SO HARD to let go, especially because the work is connected to important friendships and past experiences and, and, and.

In the last year, I’ve taken on regular (unpaid) blog contributor commitments with multiple other blogs. I’m recognizing that some of these experiences feel rewarding and enriching and some feel more like I’m being “used” to contribute to the project of another person without a lot of gain for myself. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple of weeks both pondering how to be less hard on myself as well as about the role of blogging in my life…where does it fit? Is it inhibiting other work I could be doing or contributing to it? How do I make the transition between focuses, or, is it possible to maintain multiple focuses and multiple blog commitments…? This reminded me of an article I read about healthy boundaries, which are really important for those of us who like to be of service to others…

Boundary setting is hands-down the most important lesson we women need to learn: “Healthy boundaries are like having a front door with a lock on it. You have the right to keep out unpleasant visitors.”

Boundary setting was certainly my most important lesson to learn in order to become empowered, because without healthy boundaries I created unhealthy, dysfunctional relationships . . . and I didn’t even realize I was doing it!

As someone who has tended to over-give, over-do, over-protect, even over-try, I have to remind myself when I begin taking on more than I feel comfortable with — whether it be helping a friend, counseling a family member through a rough time, or offering to “pick up the slack” for someone who has “bitten off more than they can chew” – to back up, slow down, and really ask myself:

“Do I want to be doing this?”

“Is this improving my life or exhausting me?”

“Has this started to become a co-dependent relationship with me as the ‘mother / caretaker’ and them as my ‘child / responsibility’?”

By being aware of how I feel (i.e. drained, frustrated, even resentful), I’ve learned how to catch myself from stepping into chaos, drama, and dysfunction much sooner than I used to.

~ Crystal Andrus

Read more: http://www.crystalandrus.com/healthy-boundaries-create-healthy-relationships/

I have some more thoughts and some quotes from blogs to share and I don’t yet feel actually finished with this post, but that’s okay and I will go ahead and continue with Part 2, tomorrow, even though part of me is saying, “no one is even interested in your lengthy mental machinations, why are you going on and on and on in your too muchly manner?!”

And, I’ll leave you with this cool video from an online event I’m attending tonight:

Tuesday Tidbits: Birth Power

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“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

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“The way a society views a pregnant and birthing woman, reflects how that society views women as a whole. If women are considered weak in their most powerful moments, what does that mean?” –Marcie Macari

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“I think one of the best things we could do would be to help women/parents/families discover their own birth power, from within themselves. And to let them know it’s always been there, they just needed to tap into it.” –John H. Kennell, MD

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“As doulas, midwives, nurses, and doctors, it’s important to never underestimate how deeply entrusted we are with someone’s most vulnerable, raw, authentic self. We witness their heroic journeys, see them emerge with their babies, hearts wide open…” –Lesley Everest (MotherWit Doula)

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“When you have a baby, your own creative training begins. Because of your child, you are now finding new powers and performing amazing feats.” –Elaine Martin

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“Learn to respect this sacred moment of birth, as fragile, as fleeting, as elusive as dawn.” ~ Frederick Leboyer (via From Womb to Cradle Doula Services)

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‎”It takes force, mighty force, to restrain an instinctual animal in the moment of performing a bodily function, especially birth. Have we successfully used intellectual fear to overpower the instinctual fear of a birthing human, so she will now submit to actions that otherwise would make her bite and kick and run for the hills?” –Sister Morningstar (in Midwifery Today)

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“Birth is women’s business; it is the business of our bodies. And our bodies are indeed wondrous, from our monthly cycles to the awesome power inherent in the act of giving birth.” –Sarah Buckley

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“We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains. That’s what I want to hear–to hear you erupting. You Mount St. Helenses who don’t know the power in you–I want to hear you…If we don’t tell our truth, who will?” –Ursula K. Le Guin

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“For most people, modern life meanders along a path of ups and downs, by and large devoid of high-voltage experiences that have the power to alter our lives in significant ways…The birth of a child is one of those significant experiences.” –John & Cher Franklin (FatherBirth)

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Birth power has been on my mind today after I read my friend’s Shauna’s unassisted birth story of her eighth baby:

Our baby was starting to crown as I finally squatted down low with one leg higher than the other (I was out of time to change things up. I’ll just squat and do it the same ‘boring’ highly effective way I always do it I thought lol.) I used some counter pressure on her velvety head to help ease her head out but it wasn’t really needed and a painless contraction inched her head fully out. I noticed I talked a lot to Ricky about what was happening like I was giving him a play-by-play of a sport. I stood up on two legs again…As I stood up Ricky took a few pictures of me holding her fully birthed head with one hand and I said, “Get a picture of me smiling.” I totally posed for a picture while I cradled her head between the two worlds of womb and Earth…

via Life With Eight Kids: Beatrice’s Unassisted Birth Story (half hour labor and birth -with extra info on my favorite topics of vernix, cord cutting, and not pushing).

Completely coincidentally, over the weekend I made a new sculpture that I named in honor of Shauna and her past births.

October 2013 024I called this one “Squatter’s Rights,” after an article draft Shauna wrote several years ago that had a potent impact on me, particularly her line, “and then I reach down and catch what’s mine.” (previously written about in this post.) I made the new sculpture because I received a message on etsy asking me about the sculpture shown at the conclusion of another past post:

“I believe with all my heart that women’s birth noises are often the seat of their power. It’s like a primal birth song, meeting the pain with sound, singing their babies forth. I’ve had my eardrums roared out on occasions, but I love it. Every time. Never let anyone tell you not to make noise in labor. Roar your babies out, Mamas. Roar.” –Louisa Wales

via What Does Coping Well Mean? | Talk Birth.

Over the weekend, I also made a batch of new sculptures for a training taking place in Hawaii:

October 2013 020I hope these bring a sense of birth power to the women receiving them :)

Tonight I lit a candle as part of the Wave of Light for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. It is important to acknowledge that power may be found in the full spectrum of experiences of the childbearing year…

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And, in a thematically appropriate connection, a Facebook fan sent me a link today to a powerful video of a woman singing during labor. I’d seen a version on YouTube before, so I went looking for it there and instead I found a short webisode specifically about singing during labor:

In my own first labor, I hummed the blessingway chant Woman Am I over and over again until the baby was born. I find that humming, vocalizing, and talking to/coaching myself is one way that I awaken my own birth power during birthing.

How do you awaken your birth power?

I shared some ideas in another past post, but I’d love to add to it!

Tuesday Tidbits: Tree Mother

“Childbirth takes place at the intersection of time; in all cultures it links past, present and future. In traditional cultures birth unites the world of ‘now’ with the world of the ancestors, and is part of the great tree of life extending in time and eternity.” –Sheila Kitzinger

“Just as a tree grows best when anchored firmly in the earth, so can a pregnant mother feel strong and capable when supported by a sisterhood of nurturing friends.” -April Lussier

”And I say the sacred hoop of my people was one of the many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father.” – Black Elk (via Literary Mama)

“Good timber does not grow with ease; the stronger the wind, the stronger the trees.” – J. Willard Marriott

“A pregnant woman is like a beautiful flowering tree, but take care when it comes time for the harvest that you do not shake or bruise the tree, for in doing so, you may harm both the tree and its fruit.” –Peter Jackson

I am at the point in my school session in which I’m barely keeping my head above water! So, since I recently made a tree mama sculpture and because I recently helped do a tree-themed henna design on a pregnant mama, I decided to just go with some quotes today and call it a day!

I’m definitely no Mandala Journey, but my mom and I did a tree mandala attempt with my friend anyway:


And, the next day she had her baby! I think he was waiting for henna… :)

I also added some simple tree of life “birth amulet” pendants to my etsy shop! :)
Sept 2013 010

Talk Books: Sweetening the Pill

I haven’t actually read this book yet, or even obtained a copy, but I am intrigued enough by the promo spot that I’m doing a short blog post about it anyway! 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…Anyway, on to the book I haven’t read. Here’s the promo copy I got that piqued my interest!

SWEETENING THE PILL OR HOW WE GOT HOOKED ON HORMONAL BIRTH CONTROL by Holly Grigg-Spall
Book Description: Millions of healthy women take a powerful medication every day from their mid-teens to menopause – the Pill – but few know how this drug works or the potential side effects. Contrary to cultural myth, the birth control pill impacts on every organ and function of the body, and yet most women do not even think of it as a drug. Depression, anxiety, paranoia, rage, panic attacks – just a few of the effects of the Pill on half of the over 80% of women who pop these tablets during their lifetimes.When the Pill was released, it was thought that women would not submit to taking a medication each day when they were not sick. Now the Pill is making women sick.However, there are a growing number of women looking for non-hormonal alternatives for preventing pregnancy. In a bid to spark a backlash against hormonal contraceptives, this book asks: Why can’t we criticize the Pill?

Carol Downer of Women’s Health in Women’s Hands makes a really important that our feminist health commitment to birth control access may blind us to the actual poor health impacts of the Pill:

“We discovered in the ’70s that the personal is political. Holly Grigg-Spall starts with her and other women’s personal experiences with the Pill, then thoughtfully and thoroughly considers it scientifically, medically and philosophically to discover the political truth of the Pill. She shares strategies for finding new ways to control our fertility while regaining control of our destiny. Grigg-Spall’s careful study on the Pill’s effect on women’s health is long, long overdue. We are so busy fighting to keep hormonal birth control available that we don’t want to question what it is doing to our health and our lives. After reading this book, we can never see the Pill in the same way again.”

Comments and resources welcome! :)