“Birth doula work is not about double hip squeezes. It isn’t about birth plans. Birth doulaing at its heart is a spiritual path that will rip away your narcissism and your selfishness. It will restructure your values and strengthen your compassion and empathy for all people through pain and humility. It is about learning how to BE in the presence of conflict and the human experience of living at its most raw and gut wrenching…”
Mark has become embroiled in many land and garden improvement projects in the last couple of months. Now that it is hot outside again, he has switched some of this attention to interior home improvement projects as well, one of which is building a new little countertop onto the half-wall between our kitchen and dining area (saw is presently squealing in my ear as I type) and one of which is painting some of the walls in our house. Wall-painting necessitated bookshelf moving, which necessitated book removal, which prompted me to go on a massive book decluttering and downsizing mission. As I’ve mentioned, I am thoroughly in the mood to wrap up, wind down, finish up. I feel a powerful, powerful call to finish all kinds of things so I can fully greet my baby in October. So, this bookshelf downsizing played right into my current mood. One of the books that didn’t make my “keep it” list was The Feminine Face of God, a classic feminist spirituality book by Sherry Ruth Anderson and Patricia Hopkins (now in a giveaway box near you, so if you’re interested and you’re local, let me know and it is now yours!). This isn’t because I don’t like the book, it is because I don’t feel as if I will need to return it to again. In evaluating and reducing my book collection, I find odds and ends I’d marked to write about or remember. Rather than storing the whole book, it makes sense to me to save the one or two pages I’d marked instead and let the book move on to enrich new lives. From The Feminine Face of God, I’d saved this quote about women and permeable boundaries:
Women have permeable boundaries. Perhaps it is the experience of our bodies in touch with the bodies of others that makes it hard for us to close down our psyches. Perhaps it is genetic. Or both. Or something else. But our bodies feel the irrevocable connection of the tides with our cycles of monthly bleeding. And in lovemaking we can be penetrated and receive another. And with pregnancy we carry another for nine full moons, more or less. When we separate from that other, we can feed it from our own body. And later the cycles that tie us to the moon and tides stop. And all this is true whether we give birth or not, have sex of not. The possibility is what creates the openness, and this openness is a precious gift (p. 183).
The distinct flavor of experience which comes with the gift shapes how we perceive reality, how we act, how we create, and what we value. And more than anything else women value relationships. We blend and weave and combine and sustain all kinds of relationships, and this work, this webmaking, not only shapes our lives but makes us profoundly vulnerable to the needs of others.
This is why, to me, attachment is at the core of the mothering life. (As opposed to the “detachment” often espoused by pop-culture interpretations of Eastern philosophical thought.) I think it also explains why women can hurt and wound each other and why when we let people in “too far,” sometimes we need to push them all the way out again. Or, when someone disappoints us or lets us down, why we might turn to reject them. They’ve been allowed to enter our permeable boundaries and if we lose trust or a sense of closeness for some reason, we shut them completely out, rather than recognizing it as a momentary experience.
In the book, the authors go on to explain:
The solution to our permeable boundaries is not to seal them off or barricade our hearts and adopt a ‘me first’ attitude. When we do that, we suffer unbearable isolation. But neither is it to betray the deep sources of wisdom and meaning in our lives. Instead we need to find the unique, and probably unstable, balance that fits us at a particular time, a balance that includes, but is not limited to, the needs of our partners and family. (p. 185)
Does needing to carve out the time and space we need for our own deep places make us selfish? This is one of the fears Anderson and Ruth explore….
Of all the fears we have heard from women about taking time and space for themselves, the most common by far was the fear of being selfish. If there is a mantra women repeat to themselves to deny their longing for solitude, it is probably, ‘Selfish. Selfish. Am I being selfish?’
For two years following her separation from her husband, Lynette lived alone in a tiny studio apartment, studying massage therapy, and asking herself this question. She no longer led the young people’s group at church, or planned and prepared festive parties for her friends and extended family. She didn’t even read the newspaper much.
‘So people call and ask, ‘What’s happened to you, Lynette? You used to be so outgoing and giving,’ she told us. ‘Just yesterday one of my favorite aunts telephoned and said right out, ‘I love you, my dear, but it’s clear to me you’re being very selfish pursuing this massage-therapy business. Living in your own apartment with no one to look after but yourself is very selfish and ungrounded!’
‘You know,’ Lynette told us thoughtfully, ‘doing something for yourself is like being pregnant. From the outside, being pregnant can look selfish. You take in all this extra food. You sleep more than usual. You are not as interested as you used to be in other people’s lives, including the lives of your own family. But inside another life is growing. It needs quiet, nourishment, and rest. At first, no one can see this life, but this has absolutely no bearing on the matter. The inner life is growing and it demands your attention.
‘But,’ she continued, ‘being pregnant is easier than this other birthing. Because in our material society, we trust the process that gives us something we can see and touch and hear—a live baby. This other birthing—well, who can be sure? So much trust is needed to turn down or tune out the internal critic and focus on what is happening inside you instead of always serving others.’ (p. 204)
In the closing to this section about the call for solitude and the attachment of family life, the authors quote another participant, Sara:
“True caring means being able to give from fullness…And for that I need my solitude. It is the very birthplace of altruism.” (p. 204-205)
In typing all of the above in the non-solitude I am currently experiencing this is what happened to my little pile of books to be blogged about:
And, I gained a creative companion: