Archive | August 2011

Active Birth in the Hospital

One of the inspiring images in ICAN of Atlanta's "Laboring on the Monitors" slideshow.

The vast majority of my birth class clients are women desiring a natural birth in a hospital setting. My classes are based on active birth and include a lot of resources for using your body during labor and working with gravity to help birth your baby. Sometimes I feel like active birth and hospital birth are incompatible—i.e. the woman’s need for activity runs smack dab into the hospital’s need for passivity (i.e. “lie still and be monitored”). So, I was delighted to discover this awesome series of photos from ICAN of Atlanta of VBAC mothers laboring on the monitors. It IS possible to remain active and upright, even while experiencing continuous fetal monitoring.

In my own classes, we talk about how to use a hospital bed without lying down—the idea that a hospital bed can become a tool you can use while actively birthing your baby. Here is a pdf handout on the subject:How to Use a Hospital Bed without Lying Down. In this handout, I offer these tips for using the bed as an active assistant, rather than a place to be “tied down”:

While being monitored and/or receiving IV fluids that limit mobility, try:

  • Sitting on a birth ball and leaning on bed
  • Sitting on bed
  • Sitting on bed and lean over ball (also on bed)
  • Kneeling on bed
  • Hands and knees on bed
  • Standing up and leaning on bed
  • Leaning back of bed up and resting against it on your knees
  • Bringing a beanbag chair, putting it on the bed and draping over it (can also make “nest” with pillows)
  • Partner sitting on bed and woman leaning on him/supported squats with him
  • Partner sitting behind woman on bed (with back leaned up as far as it will go)

While giving birth, try:

  • Hands and knees on bed
  • Kneeling with one leg up (on bed like a platform or “stage”)
  • Holding onto raised back of bed and squatting or kneeling
  • Squatting using squat bar

While most of the above tips can be used during monitoring, additional ideas for coping with a simultaneous need for monitoring AND activity include:

  • Kneel on bed and rotate hips
  • Sit on edge of bed and rock or rotate hips
  • Sit on ball or chair right next to bed (partner can hold monitor in place if need be)

If something truly requires being motionless, it can be helpful to have some breath awareness techniques available in your “bag of tricks.” One of my favorites is: Centering for Birth

Some time ago, a blog reader posed the question, can I really expect to have a great birth in a hospital setting? I definitely think it is possible! I also think there is a lot you can do in preparation for that great hospital birth! When planning a natural birth in the hospital, it is important to consider becoming an informed birth consumer. I always tell my clients that an excellent foundation for a simple, effective, evidence-based birth plan is to base it on Lamaze’s Six Healthy Birth Practices. My own pdf handout summarizing the practices is also available: Six Healthy Birth Practices. Don’t forget there is also a great video series of the birth practices in action! You might also want to get a copy of the book Homebirth in the Hospital. And, check out this post from Giving Birth with Confidence: Six Tips for Gentle but Effective Hospital Negotiations.

Before you go in to the hospital to birth your baby, make sure you have some ideas about this very popular question, how do I know if I’m really in labor?

And, finally, be prepared for the hospital routines you may encounter by reading my post: What to Expect When You Go to the Hospital for a Natural Childbirth.

For some other general ideas about active birth, read my post about Moving During Labor (written for a blog carnival in 2009).

Best wishes for a beautiful, healthy, active hospital birth! You can do it!

Book Review: Homebirth in the Hospital

Homebirth in the Hospital
by Stacey Marie Kerr, MD
Sentient Publications, 2008
Softcover, 212 pages
ISBN: 978-1-59181-077-3

Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE,

I would venture to say that most midwifery activists and birth professionals have said at some point, “what she wants is a homebirth in the hospital…” This comment is accompanied with a knowing look, a bit of head shaking, and an unspoken continuation of the thought, “…and we all know that’s not going to happen.”

Well, what if it is possible? A new book by Dr. Stacey Kerr, Homebirth in the Hospital, asserts that it is. She was originally trained at The Farm in TN (home of legendary midwife Ina May Gaskin) and after going to medical school realized that she, “…needed to balance my new knowledge with my old priorities. I missed the feeling of normal birth, the trust that the birthing process would occur without technology, and the time-tested techniques that help women birth naturally. And so it was that I went back to midwives to find the balance.”
If you are a dedicated homebirth advocate, I recommend reading Homebirth in the Hospital with an open mind—clear out any cobwebs and assumptions about doctors, hospitals, and birth and read the book for what it is: an attempt to create a new model of hospital birth. What Dr. Kerr proposes in her book is a model of “integrative childbirth”—the emotional care and support of home, while nestled into the technology of a hospital.

The opening chapter explores the concept of integrative childbirth and “the 5 C’s” of a successful integrative birth: choices, communication, continuity of care, confidence, and control of protocols (“protocols are the most disempowering aspect of modern maternity care…”).

This section is followed by fifteen different birth stories, beginning with the author’s own (at a Missouri birthing center—my own first baby was born in a birth center in Missouri, so I felt a kinship there).

The births are not all happy and “perfect,” not all intervention-free, and most are quite a bit more “managed” and interfered with than a lot of homebirthers prefer (one is a cesarean, several involve epidurals or medications). I, personally, would never freely choose a “homebirth in a hospital” (I also confess to retaining a deep-seated opinion that this phrase is an oxymoron!). However, that is not the point. Over 90% of women do give birth in a hospital attended by a physician and I appreciate the exploration of a new model within the constraints and philosophy of the hospital.

The book closes with a chapter called “how to be an integrative childbirth provider.” The book has no resources section and no index.

I certainly hope that doctors read this book. I am also glad it is available for women who feel like homebirth is not an option or not available and would like to explore an integrative approach. Even though my opinion is that none of the births are really “homebirths in the hospital” as most bear little resemblance to the homebirths I know and love, unlike the content of the standard hospital birth story, they are deeply respectful births in the hospital and that’s the issue truly at the heart of this book.


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

Benefits of Prenatal Massage

In the U.S. there are more the six million pregnancies each year, and a growing number of women are opting to use massage to deal with the aches, pains and stress that come along with pregnancy. Studies have shown that prenatal massage can reduce anxiety, joint pain and swelling caused by poor circulation, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Massage therapists who are trained in prenatal massage must take extra precautions when giving an expectant mother a massage, including avoiding specific pressure points and ensuring the client is in a position that will not cause added stress to their body.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Colleen Bryan of Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa. about the benefits of prenatal massage:

Q: How can the benefits of massage transfer into the delivery/birthing room?
A. Regular massage can assist the labor process by enabling each woman to begin labor with less tension in the back, pelvis and legs. It also provides flexibility, prepares muscles and reduces stress levels which can improve the outcome of labor. It has been noted that labor is shorter with fewer complications for women who receive regular massage.

Q:  Are there any special tricks and tips that can be used through massage to help a birthing woman?
A: It takes a lot of hard physical work to get a baby into the world but steps can be taken to make that process easier. Regular massage throughout the second and third trimester will allow the muscles to be more relaxed and flexible through the delivery process. Not only does massage help throughout pregnancy and delivery but once baby and Mom are home that’s when disrupted sleep patterns need rejuvenation. A one hour massage is equivalent to three hours of deep sleep….often needed not only for Moms but Dads as well.

Q: When are the best times to receive a massage for pregnant women?
A: Pregnancy is a wonderful experience, but it often comes with physical challenges from a changing body. The second trimester is the safest time to start receiving regular massage, once or twice a month. Weight gain in the front of the body can change the center of gravity placing more stress on joints, the spine and muscles. Massage can offer relief from muscle pain and joint stiffness on into the third trimester as the baby grows and changes the body even more. At this time it would be beneficial to receive a massage every week.
Receiving massage during pregnancy is an excellent way to care for both Mom & baby. It should be part of every pregnant woman’s self-care plan.

Q: What are some of the cautions about receiving massage during pregnancy?
A: Prenatal massage is effective and safe for women with uncomplicated, low risk pregnancies. High risk pregnancies with certain medical conditions should get consent from their doctor before receiving massage. Massage should be avoided during the first trimester and there are regions of the body and specific therapeutic techniques that are contraindicated for prenatal massage. A professional massage therapist trained in prenatal massage will know what precautions need to be taken.

The Ragged Self

Several years ago I read a book called Trees Make the Best Mobiles. Primarily geared towards first time parents of infants, it didn’t cover a lot of new ground for me, but there were a couple of good reminders in it about present, mindful parenting. I originally wrote about this on an old blog and this week the notion of the “ragged self” came back up for me again. In the book regarding time with our children, the authors write: “They offer us a chance, not only to quell past demons, but to leave behind the pressures of the day. With them, we can be our best selves: alert, vibrant, and generous—and fully alive in the present tense.” And then, with regard to children learning your behaviors: “Make sure that what your child is absorbing isn’t your ragged, frustrated, or furious self, but your best self. And when it’s not, let him know that you know, and that you’ll try harder next time.”

Unfortunately, I think I often do show my “ragged” self to my family and am NOT necessarily my best, alert and vibrant self. It isn’t a “furious” self usually, but sort of a worn out and taut self. My husband “gets” to see this side a lot—I start out the day much more vibrantly and as it passes, I become more ragged so when he gets home, all that is left for him is “scraps.” I hate that. I also feel like my mom sees my ragged self more often than I’d like—aren’t these the people that matter most? Why do “other people” get the vibrant parts?! I try to tell them sometimes that that raggedness isn’t how I am or how I feel for a lot of the day, it is just that which is only “allowed” to reveal herself in front of them.

I’ve noticed the ragged self emerges when:

  • I’m hungry
  • I’m tired
  • I have a headache (sometimes related to the above two)
  • I haven’t had my two hours

What’s this about two hours?

Well, picture that newspaper kid from the movie Better Off Dead and you’ll have how I feel about it 😉 Almost every day, my wonderful parents pick up my boys and take them to their house to visit for approximately two hours. If I play my cards right, this is also when Alaina takes her afternoon nap, which gives me two hours on my own to “get things done.” I NEED this time in order to survive—in order to keep up with the other elements of my life besides mothering. I know other mothers swoon with jealousy at the idea of having a regular two hours—they should, my parents are awesome and they are a key factor in how I’m able to “do it all.” They’re my “tribe”—the village that comes to help me grind my corn. I rely on having this time and so when I don’t get it for some reason, I become very ragged and feel like I must quit everything else (surrender). So, sometimes when I start feeling ragged and can’t put my finger on exactly why, it comes to me: “I WANT MY TWO HOURS!”

Yes, that kid’s face is exactly how my own looks when I say it!

Another minute?

From the same book quoted above, the authors write “Each time you say, ‘I need another minute to finish this…,’ you squander a moment with your child, never to be reclaimed.”

I confess, though this is another good reminder, it also annoys me. There is a little too much “romanticizing” of parenting implicit within it. I thought of all the times when I’ve said “I just need another minute to…” Hmmm. Go to the BATHROOM! Finish fixing breakfast, put the baby to sleep, help someone else go to the bathroom, talk to my husband—the love of my life… I guess each could be seen as “squandering” and I have an inner monitor in my head that lets me know that! But, get real, sometimes you really DO need another minute to “finish this” and there is no reason to get all blamey about it! (I also confess that my defensiveness here is also about the times I do say “just a minute” when it really ISN’T that important and I could drop what I’m doing to meet their needs—but is it always actual needs, or sometimes just a nonstop desire for parental entertainment?)

The entertainment committee?

In thinking about entertainment, another quote:

“Keep in mind, too, that life isn’t all entertainment—even when you’re only three…Allowing them to become bored means letting them draw on their own resources. It means trusting them to make their own fun. A child who can reach inside herself for amusement or consolation is a child who is truly plugged in.”

And a final reminder:

“What we all crave is to be seen, really seen, and through that seeing, know ourselves. We spend much of our life—in work, love, friendship, and sometimes even in therapy—trying to achieve this.”


I’ve been having a ragged couple of days and have been lamenting my tendency to turn myself into one, long, relentless, failure-filled, self-improvement project. I get annoyed with myself for always wanting to be “productive” and conclude that becoming more awesomely zen-like is required aaaand! There’s another self-improvement project… 😉 Or, that I need to focus on just BE-ing (which as soon as it becomes a “pursuit” the very point is lost! That is just the kind of mental conundrum that makes me spin ruts in my brain). Anyway, yesterday morning I saw the tiny edge of a new top tooth in Alaina’s mouth and suddenly it all became clear to me why she hadn’t been napping as expected (thus not getting me my TWO HOURS!). I would have thought I’d be wise to this pattern by now—unexplained non-napping baby precipitates spiral of despair in mama involving large doses of self-criticism and conclusion that giving up all personal goals is required and then tiny tooth is revealed. Since I’ve done this exact thing with two other kids as well as with Alaina herself just last month, you’d think I’d finally get a clue!

I was trying to come up with a picture to share of a ragged self—you know, sticking up hair and crazy eyes—and instead I felt like sharing a picture of Xena instead. And, sharing these two quotes:

Be wild; that is how to clear the river.” (Clarissa Pinkola Estes)

We’re volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. New mountains form” – Ursula Le Guin

But, returning to the notion of “being seen,” I’ve decided that rather than take a complete break from blogging, I’ve instead got to let go of making long, self-analyzing, personal journal type posts. I don’t know that anyone even actually wants to read them AND they take a long time to write (and make me seem neurotic and needy. Inside my head is an intense place!). This blog didn’t start out in that vein, but as I’ve noted, it took on more of a personal journal feel when I was pregnant with Alaina and in the months following her birth. I think it is time to bring it back from that personal ramble place and just share shorter and more simple posts. I have trouble with short—this is why I don’t enjoy Twitter very much—but I also know that long posts are very unlikely to be fully read. So, this is my last navel-gazing post for some time to come (unless something is already in my drafts folder—I do have 78 drafts in there!).

I got a necklace at the ICAN conference with the image of a standing woman holding her arms up to the moon. Inscribed on the back it says, “the call of the wild is not a difficult song.

Clear the river!



Giving kisses

Instructions for the New Mother

by Andrea Potos

Mothering magazine, January/February 1998 issue

Give up your calendar and clock,
start flowing with milk time.

Hunt for the frayed scraps
and threads of your fears.
Wrap your child’s cries around
the skein of your days.

Stop racing to meet your familiar ways–
know change
will always beat you.

Lower that small fist of resistance
still struggling to rise within you–start now–
unclench your life.
I feel like I have spent my whole mothering journey trying to unclench my life and to surrender fully to the rhythm of life with small children. I “should” myself a lot about this actually, telling myself about various things at various points during various days, “you need to just give up. You need to surrender. You need to figure out when to quit.” To be clear, this can be about things as simple as fixing myself breakfast or as complicated as wondering if I should give up blogging. As I’ve referenced, I’ve been going through a period of internal debate about my blog and my writing and wondering if I should just stop writing for a while. I feel like I am constantly awash with blog ideas and can spend the better part of a day waiting for the opportunity to finally have a few minutes to write one. While I really love it and find it fulfilling to do, I don’t like the tickling feeling that I’m spending so much time waiting to write about my life, that I’m not actually fully living my life. And, I do not like the frustrated, blocked, squelched, and denied feeling I get when I’m not “allowed” the space in my day I feel like I need to write (see my post about “my music“). So, I’ve spent quite a bit of time moaning and groaning about how I just need to know when to quit. I also somewhat coincidentally stumbled on a blog post by Progressive Pioneer about quitting blogging, in which she makes a lot of interesting points about the “darker side” of blogging.

And, duh, I know some people reading might think, “it’s simple. Just write when you have time and don’t write when life is too hectic. It’s just a blog, dummy.” And, I know that maybe someone will comment and say that I just need to find, “balance” (which is why I already wrote about that here). I know myself well enough to know that isn’t how I work though—I am very black and white about my responsibilities. Either I can make room in my life for something or I can’t. I cannot STAND having things lurking in the back of my brain that I want to do, or should be doing, or thought I was going to be able to do. I either have to do them, or cut off the possibility all together, otherwise they haunt me. I am almost pathologically responsible and it is impossible for me to “just relax” when I have a to-do or ought-to or thought-I-was-going-to-get-to hanging over my head—even if they are completely self-imposed.  Despite parenting for almost 8 years, I continue to have trouble realizing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em, often struggling to keep working on something or doing something, even when it would make more sense to just quit—or, perhaps more rationally, take a break and come back later.

But, a couple of months ago as I struggled to complete something and simultaneously berated myself about not knowing when to quit, I also had a companion thought—is this what I want to teach my children? That when something feels difficult or is hard work or feels like a struggle, you just quit?! Do I want to raise children who give up when something isn’t going perfectly smoothly? Do I want them to learn to just throw up their hands, throw in the towel, and never raise a small fist of resistance? If I’d “known when to quit” trying to have another baby, I wouldn’t have Alaina right now. She is here expressly because I didn’t give up. I kept going even though it was hard and I felt like quitting and I even felt like maybe I was ignoring signs that told me I should quit. Maybe I’m actually glad I haven’t yet learned when to fold. So, I hold companion thoughts, that there is grace and ease in surrender; it makes sense, is harmonious, is zen. And, it is brave to try again. To not give up. There is beauty and strength in persistence and in refusing to quit. I do want my kids to know when to quit, but I also want them to value getting back up. I don’t want them to capitulate to the “plodding dullness of spirit” that can occur when you lower that small fist.

I was also reminded of an essay that I wrote several years ago, but no one has yet published, in which I considered the notion of “surrender” in relationship to mothering:

Is it more sensible, more true, more rational to surrender? Or is surrender another word for hiding behind? For failing to reach potential, to scale to new heights, to realize dreams. “I can’t because of the kids”—does that represent a truth and a surrendered, graceful acceptance of the season of my life, or does it actually mask fear and a hiding from potential? Isn’t it possible to hide behind my children and their need of me and in so doing deny all of us opportunities for growth and to stretch our personal boundaries?

Isn’t there value in the seeking? Is it better not to ponder and wonder, but instead to coast and flow? Which is more beautiful? Taking the fabric of life as it is and embracing it, or actively trying to sew something rich and new? Is acceptance or struggle more illuminating? Is flowing or paddling? Is it more graceful to surrender to the current or to flap my wings and soar above the trees?

What I know is that I wish to live passionately. With aliveness. Connected to the arteries and pulse of life. To know deepness, not hollowness. Sustenance and hope. Peace, but with the ability to peer into dark places and to ask difficult questions in order to more completely scale the cliffs of life. Vibrancy and truth in word, action, life, and rhythm.

I originally wrote the above in 2008 when my second son was two. After writing it, I paused in my chair and a spontaneous vision came to me—I was walking to the top of a hill. At the top, I opened my hands and beautiful butterflies spread their wings and flew away from me. Then, a matching vision—instead of opening my hands, I folded their wings up and put them into a box.

So, which is it? Open my hands and let my unique butterflies fly into the world. Or, fold their wings and shut them into a box in my heart to get out later when the time is right? Do I have to quit or just know when to stop and when to go? When to pause and when to resume?

What are the ways in which my children can climb the hill with me? To be a part of my growth and development at the same time that I am a part of theirs? How do we blend the rhythms of our lives and days into a seamless whole? How do we live harmoniously and meet the needs of all family members? To all learn and grow and reach and change together? Can we all walk up the hill together, joyfully hold up our open hands with our butterflies and greet the sun as it rises and the rain as it falls? Arm in arm?

I guess rather than balance per se, it comes back to mindfulness, attention, and discernment—knowing when to hold and when to fold. Just as I continue to return to my image of grinding corn, I continue to return to this inner vision of joyfully releasing our butterflies together…

Like many posts, I originally wrote most of this over a month ago, with, as noted, some quotes from a piece I wrote three years ago, but I continue to return to the same issues in my life. The to blog or not to blog question actually surfaced for me  in this post, but I then published several other pieces before it that were also musing on the same topic—so, if this seems like a rehash of some recent posts, consider that this one came first! This morning, as I considered that the time had come to finally publish this post, I sat at my living room sacred space/altar and these words came to my mind: surrendering to the moment is not the same as a permanent surrender.

Take Pictures

I’ve been thinking of one of my favorite poems today. Published some time ago in Mothering Magazine, it is called “Take Pictures” and is a poignant look at how fast it all goes.  The end gets me in my heart every time I read it:

“Holding tight to my neck, my son
trusts – he knows no other way – my touch lightly
dries his tears. I am his queen, his goddess, handily
his slave. Blink, it’s a photo again, a trick of the eye,

a frozen captive of time, paper, light and silver: my son
is a grown man: he drinks from his own hand.

Reader, I urge you,

spin slowly, take pictures, remember to laugh.” (emphasis mine).

Regarding Balance

My friends and I often reference the word “balance” in our conversations, with a popular refrain being, “it all comes back to balance!” I have several books about life balance—my favorite being A Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal and I feel like I continually engage in a dance with balance in my life, coming into various sensations of balance or imbalance throughout my days. I think I make a mistake in thinking that balance is something I will one day “achieve,” rather than dipping in and out of it. I also think that the cry for “balance” can sometimes be a secret code in my brain for, “I will eventually figure everything out and life will be perfect!” So, I appreciate this quote from the book  The Mommy Wars, with regard to balance, that eternal question:

“Let me save you some money: In a life with children, balance does not exist. Once you’re a parent, you can figure you’ll be out of whack for the rest of your life…Children are not born to provide balance. children are made to stir us up, to teach us how angry we can get, how scared we can be, how utterly happy, happier than we’d ever imagined was possible, how deeply we can love. Children turn us upside down and inside out; they send us to the depths and heights of ourselves; but they do not balance us. We can’t balance them either, and that’s a good thing, too. They’re finding out how to live in the world, and the most we can do is make them as safe as possible and have a good time with them.”

I have just started teaching (college) again after having a three week break and I’m teaching more classes than I ever have before, not to mention continuing to homeschool my kids and finding scraps of time to work on my own doctoral program. And, Alaina is on the move now—a seven month old baby is quite a lot more work than a younger baby! (Chiefly that she sleeps less and gets into more!) So, I’m in that time of trying to find my footing, my balance, with this new schedule and making sure I…once again…have my priorities in the right order. I have a blog post about “surrender” that I wrote several weeks ago that I keep waiting to post for some reason, as well as some other musings about keeping my blog posts going or not. I think I will keep writing, but I’m going to just post once per week—on Wednesdays probably (though, I may prep extra posts on that day to go out on different days). I also have plans for keeping them short, less navel-gazing, using material I’ve already written, and that sort of thing. While I really enjoy writing blog posts and there is something important—but hard to identify—that I get out of it (I think it is both about telling about it and playing my music), in the scope of my life right now, it really needs to slip to the bottom and possibly off of my radar entirely for a time.

This conviction that something I’m doing needs to change in order to be “balanced” (or perfect, as the case may be!) makes me think the root issue is really about control—control of life’s energy and flow—and reminds me of something else I read recently in Thomas Moore’s book, Original Self:

As a therapist, I often followed a simple rule…I would listen to a man or woman passionately explain what was going on in their lives and what they needed to do. This strong expression of self-understanding and intention told me a great deal about their suffering. I could see where and how they were defending themselves against life…it always seemed fruitful to explore the direction closed off by insistent plans for improving life.

To free our souls, we may have to be loosened by our suffering and our problems. Rather than look for ways to be further in control, we may have to surrender to the vitality that is trying to get some representation. Rather than understand our dreams, we might be understood by them–reimagine our lives through their challenging images. Rather than get life together, we might allow life to have its way with us and get us together in a form that is a surprise. (emphasis mine)

True personal strength is not to be found in an iron will or in superior intelligence. Real strength of character shows itself in a willingness to let life sweep over us and burrow its way into us. Courage appears as we open ourselves to the natural alchemy of personal transformation, not when we close ourselves by making the changes we think are best. (emphasis mine)

In the following section he also says that, “when people say they want to change, I hear a subtle rejection of the person they are…even then, a conscious plan for change usually comes from the same imagination that got us into trouble in the first place. A new project of self-transformation may land us back in the uncomfortable wallowing hole we just left.”

Hmm. Not sure what my conclusion is after all this now…to blog or not to blog. I don’t think that is really the question.

Getting a C-Minus

Several years ago, I read a collection of essays called Sons & Mothers that I picked up at the book sale. I marked this quote from it to share:

“I also believe that C-minus is the top mark for motherhood. Each generation strives to build faster, cleaner planes, trains, and automobiles and to be better parents than their own. Without this margin for error, there can be no growth, no development” [as a species].

This is hard for me to swallow as a quintessential 4.0 overachiever student type. I like A’s dangit! 😉

On a related note, check out this wonderful post from my homeschooling friend that draws parallels between evolving technology and the not-evolving nature of education. It is just full of awesome.

Homeschooling & Feminism

Though I spent my entire childhood as a homeschooler and my own children are also homeschooled, I find I rarely have the urge to write about it. Homeschooling for my own children felt like a “given” to me—I didn’t feel like doing any reading or soul-searching about making the decision, as it had been made in my mind before ever even becoming pregnant with our first child. Indeed, the decision was made when I was a child myself. When I had been married for about two years, I remember telling a friend that maybe I wanted to wait a little longer than many people do to have children after getting married, because once I had them, I knew I was in it for the “long haul.” There was no, “well, after they’re five, then I’ll have six hours a day to myself.” I knew without a doubt that once I had kids it was going to be a 24/7, 365 gig. She said, “well, you don’t have to homeschool you know. You always have a choice.” I said, “you know. I really don’t have a choice.” And, while I do know that in truth one always has choices, homeschooling was a completely foregone conclusion for me. (Breastfeeding was the same way—I didn’t “choose” between feeding methods, I was born to be a breastfeeding mother. There wasn’t a choice about it for me in my mind—much like if someone had asked me whether I was going to go with “artificial blood” or regular blood in my own body! Hmm, thanks, I’ll take what my body makes of its own accord!) Another Molly at the blog first the egg asked a couple of weeks ago for input about homeschooling and feminism—i.e. where are the homeschooling feminist mothers. I raised my virtual hand, but said I don’t really write about it and she essentially said, “get started.” I’m surprised by how many good “nuggets” exist at my old blog, just languishing and waiting to be mined into new blog posts here and I discovered that I had, in fact, done a little writing about homeschooling there. So, with minor modification, here are some thoughts about homeschooling and feminism…as primarily separate topics though, not intertwined…

Natural Life magazine often has good articles about homeschooling. A couple of years ago, I enjoyed one called “Education is Not Something That’s Done to You” and it addresses the (false) assumption that learning “can and should be produced in people.” It addresses the assumption that children won’t learn on their own, but must be made to learn by being kept in confinement with others their own age day in and day out. She notes that even homeschoolers often fall into the trap of thinking education must be “done to” children. I marked the conclusion to share: “What we should not do is create new schools—be they charter schools, private schools, or home schools—which perpetuate old assumptions of how children learn or who controls children’s learning.” I have to remind myself of this sometimes—if I start to feel like my own children “should” be doing something specific, or think “most 5 year olds can XYZ…” or if someone asks my boys if they’re getting ready to go back to school or remarks on how “is your mommy or your daddy your teacher,” that I reject that system—why would I try to use its values to define our experiences?

The other article I enjoyed in the same issue is  The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Rocks the Boat: Life learning as the ultimate feminist act. In it, the author quotes social commentator Susan Maushart as asserting that “motherhood needs to be at the center of human society, from which all social and economic life should spin. Society needs to ‘acknowledge that bearing and raising children is not some pesky, peripheral activity we engage in, but the whole point,’…Warehousing kids in daycare or school so mothers can get on with what they see as their real lives is not part of that vision, but we need to find ways to ensure economic security for women of all classes, and extend the vision to include fathers as well.”

While thinking about feminism and homeschooling, I had an epiphany while facilitating a series of women’s spirituality classes. The theme of one week’s session was “womanpower.” A point was emphasized several times during this class that in feminism the view of power is different. A patriarchal view of power is that of “power over” or control over—you have power, someone else doesn’t. You can use your power to control others, or to take their power away, etc. A feminist view of power is of cooperation—“power with” as well as inner power. When you have inner power, you do not need power over someone else. A hierarchical version of power falls away and is unnecessary. I reflected on the times I have heard women say, “I’m not a feminist, but…” and how I’ve always *boggled* at that. How can you NOT be a feminist, I’d wonder. Now, I think it is because of a misinterpretation of values—an interpretation that views feminism as wanting to “take over” or to “dominate” men or to prove that “women are better than men.” This is flaw in understanding—using a worldview rooted in “power over” concepts, instead of a totally different worldview or a reinvention of how society operates/what it’s values are. My epiphany is that this is just like homeschooling—you can’t use the “lens” of public school to understand homeschooling and you can’t use the “lens” of patriarchy to understand feminism. These different lenses are why you feel like you are banging your head against something when you speak to someone who is coming from a fundamental misinterpretation of the values at work. Feminism and homeschooling both involve alternate value systems to that of mainstream society and a revisioning of social structures into new kinds of systems (healthier ones).

Another issue of Natural Life had an interesting article about free schools called U of Free. Some points I liked: “most come with the free school philosophy of solely pursuing an interest, rather than for a degree or other recognition of knowledge. They resist the consumer-driven mentality sweeping traditional schools, where students vie for exam hints and quick solutions to get to the next step, with their ultimate goal being an exit out – their graduation. At Anarchist U, the students are all about learning itself. Without the pressure of exams and marks, students can relax and savor their learning moments.”

And on the same topic: “In his classes at U of T, he encounters a chorus of students whose sing-song refrain ‘is this on the exam?’ puts his pedagogical ideals out of tune. The classroom conductor laments that these U of T students are looking for a quick study guide ‘because they need the credit from my class to get the piece of paper.’ Instead of enjoying the educational experience, his students are disengaged, shrewdly seeking the quickest route out of the system.”

I struggle to cope with this in teaching college classes—I want to work with people who are excited to learn, not people who are trying to just get the grade and get out. I see this as the whole point of homeschooling/unschooling—to create a way of life that involves learning for intrinsic reasons, not extrinsic ones. This was very much true for me as a homeschooler and I carried it over into college—I didn’t understand why people were there for other reasons than to learn. It didn’t make any sense to me to hear someone recommend a class because it was an “easy A” (but had a teacher who was so boring and so pointless as to make you wish to be unconscious under a rock rather than listen to him any longer). What is the point of an easy A?! Hello! It also didn’t make sense to me to have to take classes that I wasn’t interested in (and I did have to do this), but I made the best of them by studying the stuff and trying to get it/like it. Someone at our craft camp one year expressed surprise that I was “self-taught” at the classes I was teaching—“so, you just learned this by teaching yourself?” Yes, I did! Why? Because I like to learn stuff—no one has to make me do it or show me how! I study and learn things all of the time, because I like it. I’m a very self-motivated, self-disciplined, self-directed person and credit that to my homeschooled/unschooled background (thanks, Mom!). I long while ago a heard a friend say about herself that if, “no one is making me do it, I won’t do it/learn it.” I thought that was incredibly sad as well as incredibly telling about the drawbacks of our current social methods of education as something that is “done to” people, rather than a self-directed process.

Pulling my two seemingly disparate subjects back together, I return to Wendy Priesnitz’ article in which she says this: “In short, schools – and society in general – treat children the way women don’t want to be treated. They don’t trust children to control their own lives, to keep themselves safe, and to make their own decisions. In this way, feminism and life learning are one and the same because they trust people to take the paths that suit them best. ” (emphasis mine)

Isn’t that just delicious?


Two pictures from our lives this morning:

Artists at work!

Pensively patting

A Fresh Look at Discipline

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

– Frederick Douglass

I’m cleaning up my “office” area and keep coming across small scraps of things I’ve saved to read later. One was a notecard sized piece headed, “A Fresh Look at Discipline.” I’m not even sure what book it came from. I’m making it into a blog post rather than continue to hang onto the scrap, because then it is stored/saved this way, rather than my needing to keep track of many little papers (this makes sense and seems efficient, right?! I will do this with more scraps as I discover them!)

A Fresh Look at Discipline

(from Playful Parenting…maybe?)

  • Cool off
  • Make a connection
  • Choose a “Meeting on the Couch” over a “Time-out”
  • Play!
  • Instill good judgement
  • Look underneath the surface, at the child’s feelings and needs
  • Prevent instead of punish
  • Know your child
  • Set clear limits

I’m also trying to remember to use Naomi Aldort’s SALVE formula, which connects with the looking under the surface at the child’s feelings and needs. And, today, I started trying something I read about in the book Momfulness which involves a three breath hug—take three deep breaths together while hugging. My second son, Z, gets so upset and mad about things that I tried this with him this morning when he was really mad and having trouble calming down and it helped. I also try to remember (and I did get this from Playful Parenting) that children are seeking connection—sometimes not always in “positive” ways, but the ultimate goal is connection—and you can either promote and encourage that in your interactions, or shut it down. And that, reminds me of a quote Lu Hanessian uses in her talks about parenting: “Ernest Hemingway said it was the world that does break everyone, not life itself, but that most of us get stronger at the broken places.” She reminds us that when you do have a “breakdown” with your children, that what matters most is how you repair the cracks.