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The Breastfeeding Brain

IMG_9880I have many blog posts building up, but the bulk of my energy is devoted to lactation and newborn-cradling right now and I need to accept that as my current focus! (Or, I should learn how to write very short posts with one hand or even one finger–circumstances not very conducive to sparkling insights or sustained creative flow!). The picture above is of my favorite new nursing mama sculpture. Her deep redness reminds me of seeing thermographic images of lactating women at a La Leche League International conference in 2007. The chests of the women in the slides were brilliant swirls of red, orange, and yellow energy. The thermographic images of non-lactating women were a blue-green color. The speaker was Peter Hartmann, a researcher from Australia, on the topic of “The Anatomy of the Lactating Breast.” It was a keynote luncheon speech, so we all chowed down on our salads and looked at thermographic images of lactating breasts at the same time. It was awesome and I still wonder what the Chicago Hilton staff made of our luncheon “entertainment”! This evening I dug out my notes for the exact numbers and 30% of the mother’s resting energy in the body is diverted towards lactation, while 23% of her resting energy goes to the brain. This demonstrates biologically the intense amount of importance nature places on lactation. It also demonstrates why a nursing mother may feel “fuzzy” or like she can’t think (or write blog posts!) like she used to, because literally, the energy formerly being used by her non-lactating brain is now centralized in her brilliantly colorful chest (baby’s habitat)! Hartmann said that lactating breasts are “on fire” and non-lactating breasts are “cool,” indeed the chest of the lactating mother is of a higher temperature. And, the mother’s chest can adjust by several degrees in response to her baby’s body temperature.

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Re-reading these notes led me to then re-read notes from Nils Bergman, MD’s lunchtime presentation about “Mother-Baby Togetherness: The Biological Needs of the Baby for the Mother” as well. I’ve referenced this presentation before in my article The Birth-Breastfeeding Continuum. This extremely high-energy, enthusiastic, and fast-paced presentation by Bergman remains, to date, one of the most powerful and impactful conference sessions I’ve ever attended about any topic, ever. He was passionate about the concept of the mother as baby’s habitat. Literally, the mother’s chest is the “maternal nest” after birth, providing the baby’s home for at least the next six months after birth. He shared that there are four patterns of mammalian infant care patterns: cache, follow, nest, and carry. Homo Sapiens are a “carry” species. Human milk is very low in protein “which suggests that human newborns should be continuous feeders.” I have long joked that babies nurse at the precise rate of speed of their digestion. Biologically, this turns out to be true!

Bergman cited research from Gallagher that, “through hidden maternal regulators…a mother precisely controls every element of her infant’s physiology from its heart rate to its release of hormones and from its appetite to the intensity of its activity.” Breastfeeding provides ALL of the sensory stimulation a baby needs and is “an invisible hothouse in which the infant’s development can unfold,” with breastfeeding quite literally providing brain wiring for the baby. The brain is a social organ and breastfeeding is about creating love as much as it is about food. And, the mother herself is the baby’s natural environment with everything the baby learns filtered through the mother’s body. Bergman was emphatic that separation from mother feels life-threatening to the baby, because it is in the “wrong place” when it is not with mother. “The universal response to separation (wrong habitat) is protest.” And, a period of intense activity trying to find the habitat and restore the rightful state of being. The Motherbaby is a single psychobiological organism. Bergman also said that the mother doesn’t need to specifically DO anything—“just by being she meets all baby’s biological needs.” And, mother herself has a biological need to hold and care for her baby.

So…this is me right now with Tanner, exactly. His habitat. His place. Where everything is just as it should be.

Welcoming Tanner Matthias!

“There really was a baby!” –Me, in birth video

IMG_8557As was my pregnancy custom, on October 3oth I woke up around 3:00 a.m. with definite contractions. They were spaced about 30 minutes apart, however, and I kept myself awake unnecessarily waiting for them to get bigger or closer together. I finally got up at 4:30 or 5:00 and Mark got up too. As I as I got up, contractions picked up to about three minutes apart. I couldn’t believe I’d “wasted time” by lying down, non-sleeping AND non-laboring! I felt very adrenaline filled and excited. The sense of urgency and “coming soon” was very familiar to Zander’s exceedingly fast labor, whereas my sense of need to call Mom during a contraction and then changing my mind afterward was similar to Lann’s. And, leaning on the kitchen half-wall as an ideal labor position was similar to Alaina’s. There was no slow lead-in here, these were sharp, strong, intense contractions that I already couldn’t talk through. Though they felt big and serious, they were also short in duration. I lit my birth altar candle and since I wanted to have clean, freshly washed hair, I decided to take a shower.

043 044After showering and even blowdrying my hair for cuteness in future pictures, the intensity of the contractions increased again. Mark got to work on filling the pool and heating more water as soon as I got out of the shower and he kept messing with the pool even though I was starting to feel like I needed him (also needed pool, so he wasn’t doing the wrong thing!). I felt sure that this was picking up FAST. We texted Mom and she contacted Robin and Summer (midwife and doula). I felt a weird sensation of time pressure then, looking out window, waiting and not wanting to be observed, waited for, or watched. The pool continued to take a lot of time and attention and was annoying. Plus, the hose popped out when Mark was in the laundry room and flooded the floor. I was saying things like, “this had better be the best thing ever, because right now I hate it!” I couldn’t decide if I should keep standing up or try something else like sit on the birth ball or try the water. It seemed early for water (except during contractions!), so I sat on the ball at which point contractions became HUGE, but, also only 8-10 minutes apart. I was confused and kept trying to figure out what made more sense—smaller, more frequent contractions while standing up, or bigger but far apart on the ball. I was laughing about my indecisiveness and kept saying, “so, tell me what to doooooooo!” (which is actually my most despised thing in labor). I opted to stay on the ball because I felt open there and when standing I felt like I was closing my legs together and tensing up. On the ball, I started humming the Sacred Pregnancy Standing at the Edge song I listened to so often during my pregnancy: standing at the edge…clinging to my innocence…one more tiny step…time is here and now…diving into the unknown. I believe in me, I believe in meee-eeee. I believe in me, I do, I do…

Later, in the pool, I turned on the rest of my Sacred Pregnancy playlist from the CD, which I both liked and didn’t like because I could no longer anchor myself then with the “I believe in me, I do” hum.  I talked and joked and laughed about stuff a lot. And, I would sing little things like: let’s find something else to say and not owie-zooooowie… I do not know how else to say that these were intense, big, powerful contractions. To my memory, they feel like they were the biggest, most painful contractions I’ve ever had—but slooooooowly far apart. The sensation of downward pressure was powerful already during each, but the distance between them very confusing. After back and forthing verbally for some time, I decided to get in the pool: this had BETTER be WORTH IT.

I loved the pool, but I also, intensely, felt like I was on “display” or being watched. I also felt a little isolated or separated and observed, even by my own mom (who, mindfully, went to sit on the couch to give me space). I kept feeling worried and pressured about my midwife and doula getting there any minute, even though we talked in advance about how I mainly needed them for immediate postpartum care and only wanted them to come in at the very end. I had never talked to my mom about specifically when to tell them to actually come though, so I kept thinking they were sitting in the driveway waiting for me (they weren’t, because they were being respectful of what they knew I wanted and needed). As with my other babies, I knew in my heart I wanted to birth alone, but then with immediate postpartum/follow-up care. This is hard to balance and gauge. And, I acknowledge that it isn’t really fair to the midwife either! My birth brain really needs to be alone and unwatched and I knew in the pool that I wanted to push my baby out before anyone else was there.

I took my favorite birth goddess sculpture into the pool with me where she kept me company and floated with me and reassured me until I was pushing and set her outside the tub (ever practical, I didn’t want her to get lost in what I knew would end up as bloody water!).

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If you look close, you can spy the little goddess in my hand.

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Here, I was laughing about feeling like a little toad in a pool.

My mom kept me supplied with food and drinks and occasional encouragement and Mark stayed close, touching me and being present. There was lots of waiting in the pool (I feel like) for those slow but BIG contractions. I got out to pee and finally saw some BLOOD. I always wait and wait for this sign because for me it is the herald of nearly full dilation. I have no blood or any leaking or discharge until I’m only a short distance from pushing out a baby! I shook and shook in the bathroom at this point too, which I think was related to the temperature change from getting out of the warm pool and not transition per se, but it could have been both.

Back to the pool and out one more time to pee (more blood! Yay! Blood is so fun! Really. It is super encouraging for me to see during labor at this point.) I started to weirdly fret about my bladder at this point getting in the way of baby’s head (potentially): this can happen, you know, I told my mom and Mark (even though I was totally peeing and had no signs of bladder being in the way). I could tell baby was moving down and getting close to pushing, but I felt impeded with the amniotic sac intact. I moved to hands and knees in the tub and talked to myself: it’s okay. You’re okay. We’re okay. I can do it. We can do it. You can come out baby. We want you. We want you. (I cried I tiny bit saying this.)

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I like how you can see my friendly little birth altar glowing in the background.

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I turned back over then and kept on smiling…

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One hour before birth.

IMG_8543Some time after this, I started feeling inside after each contraction and could feel a hard lump getting closer and closer every time I had a (now close together) contraction. I didn’t feel sure it was a head though, but that maybe I was somehow feeling my own pubic bone or some other mysterious part of my anatomy never before felt. It felt squishy kind of, though hard underneath. (Duh, because it was an amniotic sac around a baby head, Molly!), so then I imagined I wasn’t fully dilated and was somehow prolapsing my cervix instead of feeling a baby’s head. I think these types of thoughts are one of the hazards of being a birth professional. They are also proof, to me, that no matter what odd or frightening things you think, babies’ heads still move down and come out anyway! At this point, the baby began to have hiccups. He was so low that it basically felt like my anus was hiccupping. I had Mark feel them very low on my belly—just above my pubic bone—and then I laughed and saidthis counts as a fetal heart tones check!

Finally, my water broke at last and I knew he was almost out. Pushing was intense and big and felt huge and hard and long. I became convinced baby weighed ten pounds and was probably not going to come out. I felt like it was taking a long time and a lot of work, but according to Mom and Mark it was about four pushes and date stamps on pictures reveal about 5-6 minutes total of this hard work. I also kept thinking someone else was going to come in. I felt the familiar burning on my front right side and knew I would tear again (labial/clitoral). It felt scary and I looked at my mom and said I was scared (she said, “I know”). I almost pushed through the burn, but then I stopped myself and waited for the next push and then his head was out, along with a bloom of blood in the water which does indicate tearing, but I didn’t get checked for tears (by my specific decision and request) so I don’t know for sure. A minimal follow-up push and his body came out into my hands. He bobbed to the top of the pool and I lifted him out of the water. He cried a little and was already reasonably pink. He was looking around and was a little bit gurgly. I talked to him and kissed his head and told him I loved him: oh my little one, oh my little one. Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! There really was a baby! Oh, he’s CUTE! I noticed his cord was around his neck and arm and somewhat awkwardly moved it off. It was 10:20, a little over five hours after I got up.

We called my dad to bring the kids back over to see the baby and cut the cord and they arrived a few minutes before Summer and Robin got there.

053 054After Robin and Summer arrived, they helped me out the pool which I was eager to get out of, but had a lot of trouble actually doing, and onto my futon nest on the floor between the pool and bathroom. This is the part I didn’t like. So familiar and so not fun. The weak and wounded transition. But, Summer (doula) reminded me that the warrior moments are in feeling the vulnerability too. Sometimes the warrior is found in showing the vulnerability and needing the help.

After some lying on the futon and waiting for the placenta, I went to the bathroom (still holding baby attached with cord) and the placenta finally came out there (after it was washed, I swallowed a small piece of it). Zander and Alaina cut the cord as they had been waiting to do and then left for playgroup with my friend who was waiting patiently outside to take them. When the placenta was examined, they saw he had a velamentous cord, which is fairly rare and can actually be dangerous and possibly explains my widely spaced contractions (giving baby time he needed).

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The baby’s temperature was low and it took us some time and effort to get him warmed up and that was probably because I was in the water a little long after birth and that is my only regret about this birth. When his temperature was normal, we weighed him and he only came up as 6lbs4oz. He then weighed 7lbs4oz at two days, which means he was really bigger than that at birth. He weighs eight pounds now at a week. So, he weighed something at birth, but the exact amount is unknown! He was 20 inches and had a 14 inch head.

As I laid on my futon and latched baby on for the first time, I realized that in all my planning and fretting and preparing and deadlining, I’d forgotten how very, very much love was possible.

 

Mother Blessings and the Power of Ritual

Mollyblessingway 116You are the
most powerful
intelligent
inspirational

Woman

Close to my heart.

You continue to
become
exponentially more amazing.

Always giving
others the step UP.

Force of the cosmos
connecting the Web

You are.

Thank you.

–Phanie

 

At the end of September, my friend sat on the floor during my mother blessing ceremony and wrote the above poem for me. When she gave it to me she said, “I’m not like you, I don’t write things and share them on the internet.” It was very powerful to receive the gift of written word from someone who does not often write, but who knows how deeply writing speaks to me. 

My mother’s circle of friends began holding mother blessing ceremonies for each other in the early 1980’s. At the time they called them “blessingways” in honor and respect for the Navajo traditions that inspired them to begin their own tradition. As awareness of cultural appropriation increased, we shifted our language to use “mother blessing ceremony” instead, though I confess that “blessingway” remains the term rooted in my heart for these powerful, mother-honoring celebrations of the power of the life-giving woman. After having been blessed with a ceremony during her last two pregnancies in the late 1980’s and having co-hosted coming-of-age blessing ceremonies for me and my sisters in the 90’s, my mother reintroduced the mother blessing ceremony to my own circle of friends during my first pregnancy in 2003. We’ve been holding them for women in the area ever since. I believe each pregnant woman deserves a powerful ritual acknowledging her transition through pregnancy and birth and into motherhood, regardless of how many children she has.

Early this year, I became unexpectedly pregnant with the baby who will arrive into our arms at the end of October as our fourth living child. I did not intend to have more children and it has been hard for me to re-open the space in my mind, heart, and family to welcome another baby when I had mentally and emotionally “shut the door” and moved on from the childbearing chapter of my life. (However, it turns out that writing blog posts about how you’re not having any more children is not, in fact, an effective means of birth control.)

In the book Rituals for Our Times, the authors Evan Imber-Black and Janine Roberts, identify five elements that make ritual work. Mother blessing ceremonies very neatly fulfill all of the necessary ritual elements (which I would note are not about symbols, actions, and physical objects, but are instead about the relational elements of connection, affection, and relationship):

  1. Relatingthe shaping, expressing, and maintaining of important relationships…established relationships were reaffirmed and new relationship possibilities opened. Many women choose to invite those from their inner circle to their mother blessings. This means of deeply engaging with and connecting with those closest to you, reaffirms and strengthens important relationships. In my own life, I’ve always chosen to invite more women than just those in my “inner circle” and in so doing have found that it is true that new relationship possibilities emerge from the reaching out and inclusion of those who were originally less close, but who after the connection of shared ritual, then became closer friends.
  2. Changingthe making and marking of transitions for self and others. Birth and the entry into motherhood—an intense and permanent life change—is one of life’s most significant transitions in many women’s lives. A blessingway marks the significance of this huge change.
  3. Healingrecovery from loss, special tributes, recovering from fears or scars from previous births or cultural socialization about birth. My mom and some close friends had a meaningful ceremony for me following the death-birth of my third baby. I’ve also planned several mother blessing ceremonies for friends in which releasing fears was a potent element of the ritual.
  4. Believingthe voicing of beliefs and the making of meaning. By honoring a pregnant woman through ceremony, we are affirming that pregnancy, birth, and motherhood are valuable and meaningful rites of passage deserving of celebration and acknowledgement.
  5. Celebratingthe expressing of deep joy and the honoring of life with festivity. Celebrating accomplishments of…one’s very being.

Notice that what is NOT included on this list is any mention of a specific religion, deity, or “should do” list of what color of candle to include! Mollyblessingway 177I’ve observed that many people are starved for ritual, but they may also be deeply scarred from rituals of their pasts. As an example from the planning of a past ceremony, we were talking about one of the songs that we customarily sing–Call Down Blessing–because we weren’t sure if we should include it in case it would feel too “spiritual” or metaphysical for the atheist-identified honoree (i.e. blessings from where?!). I also remembered another friend asking during a body blessing ritual we did at a women’s retreat, “but WHO’s doing the blessing?” As someone who does not personally come a religious framework in which blessings are bestowed from outside sources–i.e. a priest/priestess or an Abrahamic God–the answer, to me, feels simple, well, WE are. We’re blessing each other. When we “call down a blessing” we’re invoking the connection of the women around us, the women of all past times and places, and of the beautiful world that surrounds us. We might each personally add something more to that calling down, but at the root, to me, it is an affirmation of connection to the rhythms and cycles of relationship, time, and place. Blessings come from within and around us all the time, nothing supernatural required.

I also find that it is very possible to plan and facilitate women’s rituals that speak to the “womanspirit” in all of us and do not require a specifically shared spiritual framework or belief system in order to gain something special from the connection with other women.

In the book The Power of RitualRachel Pollack explains:

“Ritual opens a doorway in the invisible wall that seems to separate the spiritual and the physical. The formal quality of ritual allows us to move into the space between the worlds, experience what we need, and then step back and once more close the doorway so we can return to our lives enriched.”

She goes on to say:

You do not actually have to accept the ideas of any single tradition, or even believe in divine forces at all, to take part in ritual. Ritual is a direct experience, not a doctrine. Though it will certainly help to suspend your disbelief for the time of the ritual, you could attend a group ritual, take part in the chanting and drumming, and find yourself transported to a sense of wonder at the simple beauty of it all without ever actually believing in any of the claims made or the Spirits invoked. You can also adapt rituals to your own beliefs. If evolution means more to you than a Creator, you could see ritual as a way to connect yourself to the life force…

In the anthology of women’s rituals, The Goddess Celebrates, wisewoman-birthkeeper, Jeannine Pavarti Baker explains:

The entire Blessingway Ceremony is a template for childbirth. The beginning rituals are like nesting and early labor. The grooming and washing like active labor. The gift giving like giving birth and the closing songs/prayers, delivery of the placenta and postpartum. A shamanic midwife learns how to read a Blessingway diagnostically and mythically, sharing what she saw with the pregnant woman in order to clear the road better for birth.

Baker goes on to describe the potent meaning of birth and its affirmation through and by ritual acknowledgement:

Birth is a woman’s spiritual vision quest. When this idea is ritualized beforehand, the deeper meanings of childbirth can more readily be accessed. Birth is also beyond any one woman’s personal desires and will, binding her in the community of all women. Like the birthing beads, her experiences is one more bead on a very long strand connecting all mothers. Rituals for birth hone these birthing beads, bringing to light each facet of the journey of birth…

As my friends spoke to me at my own mother blessing ceremony, I felt seen and heard. They spoke to me of my own capacities, my Mollyblessingway 190strengths as a leader, teacher, and organizer. And, while I believe they were also actually trying to remind me of the opposite message, to take it easy and relax sometimes, one of the things I woke up the next day realizing is that yes, I do feel overwhelmed and overbooked and stretched thin at times. And, yes, I do whine and complain about it on Facebook sometimes, but in the end, I am always enough for whatever it is. I get it done anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever felt overwhelmed and then not done it (assuming “it” wasn’t a self-imposed expectation that I mercifully realized could be let go of). That is one my strengths: feeling the fear or the strain or the pressure or, yes, the excitement and thrill, and NOT getting paralyzed by it or letting myself off the hook. I work my way through and come out the other side, usually with my smile intact, my energy full, my head bubbling with ideas, and my eyes casting around for the next project. Occasionally, I do drop a ball, but pretty rarely, and when I do, I either find it or explain where it went and why I’m going to let it keep rolling away.

I discovered in this post-ritual reflection that it is just part of my personal process to be able to say, and be vulnerable enough to have people hear, see, or read, that I think maybe I can’t do something or that I’ve said yes to too much. The answer for me is not, “then don’t” or “stop” or “quit” or “take it easy,” it is to move forward and to see, again, that I was actually enough for what scared me or felt too big or too exhausting. I woke up the morning following the ritual in appreciation of my own capacities and how they continue to expand, even when I feel as if I’ve reached my own edges. I actually feel “too much,” “too intense,” “too big,” or “too fast” for people a lot, but what I don’t ever need is to be told to make myself smaller. I usually need to be able to say, “Yikes! What am I thinking?!” have that held for me for a minute, and then do it anyway. Just as those of us deeply invested in birthwork would never tell a laboring woman, “you’re right. You probably can’t do this. You should probably quit now,” my mother blessing ceremony reminded me that I am stretched thin precisely because I have it in me.

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I wish for you a life full of ritual and community.” –Flaming Rainbow Woman, Spiritual Warrior 

(in The Thundering Years: Rituals and Sacred Wisdom for Teens)

Molly is a priestess, writer, teacher, artist, and activist who lives with her husband and children in central Missouri. She is a doctoral student in women’s spirituality at Ocean Seminary College and the author of Womanrunes: A guide to their use and interpretation. Molly and her husband co-create at Brigid’s Grove: http://brigidsgrove.etsy.com.

Portions of this post are excerpted from our Ritual Recipe Kit booklet.

Adapted from a post at Feminism and Religion.

Other posts about mother blessings can be found here.

All photos by my talented friend Karen Orozco of Portraits and Paws Photography.

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Sacred Postpartum, Week 1: Birth Stories and Vow

Backtracking a little into week one of my current Sacred Postpartum class, for the first week’s assignments in reviewing our own birth and postpartum experiences, I set up a mini sacred space and put on some of my birth power bracelets (Mark and I started making these recently and I love them! It is like carrying a mini-mantra, birth power reminder with me every day).

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I did my vow page and then a collage of reminders to myself. I made a birth stories page and then printed out copies of each of my kids’ birth stories and stapled them to the back of one journal page per story, including one for my third baby who was born in a second trimester miscarriage (the stories are all available on my blog here. I didn’t include pictures of the actual print outs! ). Then, I did a page on the front of each birth story with pictures of each kid and significant words/lessons from their stories. I ended with a collage of myself as I prepare for my upcoming birth at the end of this month (39 weeks now, 37 when I did the assignment) and took a picture of a blank page as well as a symbol of the story yet to be written…

(click for bigger pix)

I also just have to pat myself on the back again about having enrolled in these trainings at this point in my own pregnancy. It was a stroke of genius! And, while I knew I would benefit from them, I had no idea how very deeply I would do so.

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Belly Bowl! (and new altar bowl)

During this pregnancy, one of my personal philosophies has been to do stuff that I haven’t done before. This is my last chance to be pregnant (really!) and I want to make sure I leave no stones uncovered or cool stuff undone! ;) So, if I’ve thought about doing something in past pregnancies that I didn’t do or learned about something new to try since past pregnancies, I’m doing it now! One of those things was making a clay belly bowl. I’ve already done plenty of belly casts and, of course, I did a new one during this pregnancy too. Luckily, I have a mom who is a potter (everyone should be so lucky!) and so I drafted her for this project. Luckily, she is also a mom who is game for pretty much anything.

Mark and I made another cast of just my belly to use as a mold. FYI, it isn’t as fun to make a second belly cast during the same pregnancy—it feels more like a “chore,” or this again?!

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I am known for my efficiency, so of course we made this cast right before my ceremonial bath project. After it dried for several days, I took it over to my mom’s house and we (mostly she) rolled out a chunk of clay until it was a rough circle. After that, we pressed it into the belly cast and smoothed it out as best we could. She reminds me that there are many steps to go and it may not make it to the end of the project, but it has gotten started!

As we worked on it, I said, “we’re so weird! Look at us!” But, then I said, “but, I like us. I’d so much rather that we actually do stuff like this than be like ‘normal’ people.” Yesterday, she popped it out of the cast mold and it did come out, which was one successful step of those remaining! Now it has to dry (without cracking!), get fired the first time (without cracking or exploding!), and then get glazed and fired a second time. So, it will be quite a few more weeks before we know the final result! At least we tried. :)

20141016-095615-35775498.jpgAnd, speaking of pottery bowls, last year I mentioned to my mom that I’d really like to have an “elemental altar bowl,” which is basically a portable little all-in-one altar. It “holds” all four elements in one: Earth the clay it is made from, water in the dish surrounding the candle, fire in the candle, and air in the smoke/flame. Anyway, I had no idea that she then worked and worked to try to create one for me, experiencing many collapsed or cracked bowls in the process of learning how to make one. But, because that is who she is, she did it! And, I received a beautiful elemental altar bowl for Christmas. While I may say my “love language” is “words of affirmation,” I also know that “gifts” is one of the love languages I express and, I think it may be my secondary love language. It really means a lot to me when someone has paid attention so well to something I’ve said or mentioned or written or expressed and then show that attention via a careful and loving gift like this.

Anyway, she made several other altar bowls recently and we actually have one of them on etsy now! It is hard to photograph in a way that shows all of its loveliness.

It also doesn’t have to only hold water, it can be used in many ways. Yesterday, I picked some rose petals to put it in and added one of my sculptures and lit a candle in honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

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“This is my body; this is the temple of light. This is my heart; this is the altar of love.” –Sufi song (quoted in Birthrites)

 

Sacred Postpartum, Week 2: Ceremonial Bathing

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My Sacred Postpartum class began last week, though this is my first post about it. One of the assignments this week was to prepare a ceremonial bath.

Despite the deceptively simple sound of the assignment, this bath was an incredibly surprising and illuminating experience. I originally put off doing it because I had “too much to do” and then when I started getting it ready and setting up a little altar and doing the smudging, I felt both nervous and kind of apprehensive. I told my husband, “I think this is the first real bath I’ve ever really taken.” I’m not really a bath person. I took baths as a little kid and then moved on to showers and never took baths again except while postpartum with each of my kids. And, that is when I had my “breakthrough” moment. My eyes were prickling with tears and I said: “I associate taking baths with being weak and wounded.” I associate baths with cleaning blood away from myself and gingerly poking around for tears in my most vulnerable tissues. I associate baths with crying and holding my empty belly after the death-birth of my third baby in my second trimester. In fact, the last bath I remember ever taking in my current home was the one following his birth in which I sobbed my sorrow into the water and bled away the last traces of my baby’s life. (I think I probably did take a postpartum bath after the birth of my rainbow daughter the following year, but I don’t have a memory of it. The only bath I remember ever taking in this house was my post-loss, grief bath.) I associate baths with strings of blood and mucous floating away from me through the water and feeling injured, hurt, damaged and invalid. Deconstructed, taken apart. Lost. Shaking. Barely being able to lift my legs to get myself back out. Having to call for help and be dried off. Hollow. Changed forever.

For this bath, I set up an altar space, turned on my Sacred Pregnancy playlist, smudged the room and the tub. My husband brought me my October 2014 004mother’s tea (a blend I made last week with friends using the recipe intended for later in this class). I added salts from the salt bowl ceremony at my Mother Blessing. I added a little bit of my sitz bath mix. I added almond milk and honey. My husband went and picked a rose and scattered the petals in on top of me after I was in the tub. As I settled into my milk and honey bath, I felt restless at first, but then I calmed and my mind became more still. I went through my previous bath memories and I cried a little bit. I completely relaxed and sank lower into the water. I touched my body gently and honored what she has given and where she has been wounded. I rubbed my wiggling belly and talked to my baby about having a gentle, easy, smooth birth with a gradual emergence. My thoughts turned to my possible plans for water birth for this baby. I realized that my own “weak and wounded” bath memories are probably, in part, related to why I don’t feel particularly attracted to water birth (though I wasn’t really attracted before I ever had any kids either, so it isn’t all related to those past bath experiences). Can I be strong and powerful in the water, or is that just where I bleed and cry? I’ve been planning to try water during this upcoming birth because I’ve never done it before and because it might help prevent the issues with tearing that I’ve had in the past. However, I have had trouble actually picturing myself doing it. As I stilled into this peaceful, non-wounded, ceremonial bath, I could picture a safe, secure water birth better than ever before.

And, later that night we set this up in the living room…

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(glowing pumpkin head courtesy of the kids decorating for Halloween, not for Sacred Atmosphere!)

And, to finish the assignments for this week’s class, we made and enjoyed Thai sweet tea for dessert after dinner!

International Babywearing Week!

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October 5-11th is International Babywearing Week and we’ve cooked up a couple of new things just in time! First, we have been working on casting one of my original babywearing sculptures in hand-finished resin and after a lot of trial and error, we’ve finally got some ready and listed!

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And, not to pat myself on the back too hard, but I’m really, really pleased with the new pewter babywearing pendants we’ve created together too. These are hard to get to cast correctly, which is probably why I’m so pleased with them. We only have a limited quantity available. One of them is actually freestanding, so she can double as a tiny little birth altar figurine when you’re not wearing her. I stand her by my bed at night. :)
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We also have a new discount code that is available for this week only! For 15% off on any of our etsy shop items, enter babywearing2014.

For more about Babywearing Week, check out the info pages and celebration ideas from Babywearing International: International Babywearing Week – Babywearing International

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…all babies are born hard-wired for connection. For dependence. It is completely biologically appropriate and is the baby’s first and most potent instinct. I remind mothers that after birth your chest literally becomes your new baby’s habitat. Mother’s body is baby’s home—the maternal nest.

via Inseparable | Talk Birth.

I’ve never written much about babywearing on my blog, perhaps because it is such an integrated and essential part of my life with a baby that I don’t spend much time consciously thinking about it. When my aunt was here, she gave us a wonderful new Boba carrier for Tanner and I’m so excited! I think all babies need their own new carrier, no matter how many other babies and carriers we’ve already had. ;) I’m a huge fan of my Ergo, but I’m also looking forward to trying something new (but similar) for our new baby.

This is an excerpt from one of my only past posts about babywearing:

…She most wants to be with me, but often she doesn’t want direct play, she wants to ride along and see what interesting things I’m going to do. I think this is part of baby’s biology and part of how the motherbaby relationship is socially and biologically meant to be at this point—mother goes about her business grinding corn, perhaps, with baby very close and watching. Unfortunately, this doesn’t include typing things on the computer, which is what much of my work actually entails. So, I save household work to do while she’s awake and riding along and I do computer-based work while she sleeps. That way, we usually both get our biologically appropriate needs met within our cultural context…

via Integrated Mama | Talk Birth.

And, one more related post:

Before Descartes could articulate his thoughts on philosophy, he reached out his hand for his mother. I have learned a lot about the fundamental truth of relatedness through my own experiences as a mother. Relationship is our first and deepest urge and is vital to survival. The infant’s first instinct is to connect with others. Before an infant can verbalize or mobilize, she reaches out to her mother. Mothering is a profoundly physical experience. The mother’s body is the baby’s “habitat” in pregnancy and for many months following birth. Through the mother’s body, the baby learns to interpret and to relate to the rest of the world and it is to the mother’s body that she returns for safety, nurturance, and peace.

via Talk to Your Baby | Talk Birth.

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Womenergy moved humanity across continents, birthed civilization, invented agriculture, conceived of art and writing, pottery, sculpture, and drumming, painted cave walls, raised sacred stones and built Goddess temples. It rises anew during ritual, sacred song, and drumming together. It says She Is Here. I Am Here. You Are Here and We Can Do This. It speaks through women’s hands, bodies, and heartsongs. Felt in hope, in tears, in blood, and in triumph.Womenergy is the chain of the generations, the “red thread” that binds us womb to womb across time and space to the women who have come before and those who will come after. Spinning stories, memories, and bodies, it is that force which unfolds the body of humanity from single cells, to spiraled souls, and pushes them forth into the waiting world.

via Womenergy | Talk Birth.