Search Results for: fear

Sacred Pregnancy Week 3, Part 1: Fears & Forgiveness

On Friday and Saturday this past week, I took the time for a Sacred Pregnancy weekend. I did many projects from the class and it was a fulfilling, fun time. Reflection, art, and self-care, for the win! These types of projects are exactly why I wanted to take this class during my current pregnancy (I also went ahead and signed up for the Sacred Postpartum training, which begins on October 1st, and is therefore perfect for the month I am due).

The fears exercise for this week of training took me a while to finish. I wrote my list on Monday morning, but didn’t burn them until Friday afternoon. Interestingly, I continued to add to the list during the week, so I guess I wasn’t finished after the initial song portion (Grandmother by Nina Lee on the Sacred Pregnancy CD). I actually found myself waking up each morning over the whole week with the Grandmother song in my head. Anyway, after writing the list I tore it into individual strips. I waited until I had some time alone in the afternoon while my kids were visiting my parents and then I used the little bean pot I use as a burn pot/Kali pot to burn them each after reading them aloud. I had to play the song twice to finish them all! Most of them were connected to the development of my business this year, but some to my pregnancy/birth as well.

Anyway, when I got to my fear of being “too much” the paper flared up hugely and I dropped both it and my phone on the floor! Luckily, I hit the picture button as I was dropping it! (flare picture below) I found this significant and when I then moved into the forgiveness work the theme of being “too much” was actually what my Mother’s Wisdom card related to.

Mother’s Wisdom deck meditation

This was a powerful exercise also. I picked Oshun and got a much different message from my own interpretation of the card than the book interpretation I later read. I listened to the Standing at the Edge song on the CD while I journaled about empowerment immediately following the fear release and before looking at the book. You can see what I got from the card in my journal entries below. The actual card meaning was about balance and harmony in one’s family and life which is actually a timely message for me too, as was my own intuited message from the card.

As I explained in the class work online:

My husband and I have a creative business sculpting and pewter-casting and making jewelry together. We’ve really grown this year and have been pushing ourselves hard on our co-creative endeavors (hoping to wrap up development of some important stuff before our new baby is born in October). Our most recent was the completion of our first joint book project. I did all the writing, which was an 18 month intuitive process, and he did all the illustrations, design, and layout. We couldn’t have done it without each other! It was a perfect collaboration of our strengths and skills. However, we’ve been working and pushing so hard to get it finished and ready that our family had somewhat fallen out of balance and harmony! (So, the work has been in harmony, but the rest of our family needs have been getting kind of pushed aside!)

And, I know it is an overused analogy but working on a big creative project is similar to giving birth. My current pregnancy is very entwined with my current work and I was really interested to see how both my fears and forgiveness exercise work this week related to both my business and my pregnancy as creative processes and birth endeavors…

After this work and after my kids got home, I worked on my forgiveness tree. I didn’t include a picture of the one with the names filled in–just pre-names and post-colors. It was a good exercise too. I listened to Nina and did the card meditation (above) and then started on my tree and worked on it throughout the course of an afternoon. I’ve done most of the exercises for this class with the company of my little daughter (3), who is entranced by this kind of work. This time she did a painting of a goddess-fairy while I was working on the tree. I’ve never used watercolors before this class, so I’m not very good with them, but having fun anyway! Process, not product, after all…

*You did not miss Week 2. I haven’t made any posts about it yet. Just week 1:

Sacred Pregnancy Week 1, Part 1: Sacred Space

Sacred Pregnancy, Week 1, Part 2: Connecting

Tuesday Tidbits: Pain, Birth, and Fear

20130903-200523.jpg  “…if you want to know where a woman’s true power lies, look to those primal experiences we’ve been taught to fear…the very same experiences the culture has taught us to distance ourselves from as much as possible, often by medicalizing them so that we are barely conscious of them anymore. Labor and birth rank right up there as experiences that put women in touch with their feminine power…” -Christiane Northrup

During my first pregnancy, I read like crazy. I felt like I was studying for the biggest test of my life, only it was impossible to know what was actually going to be on it. When I actually gave birth, I was delighted to find I was able to get out of my head and trust my body. Quite some time later, I figured out that information about birth does not equal knowledge about birth.

We spend a lot of time informing and educating women about their choices surrounding birth and are often then surprised that this apparent information does not translate into experience once in the birth room. Obviously, this is partially because the birth room is a context impacted by a large number of social, cultural, psychological, and environmental factors, but I believe it is also because with all of our information we still haven’t managed to help parents develop knowledge and the two are not the same. Parents are often not able to recall or to mobilize information resources while actually embroiled in the birth experience. They need an inner knowing and inner resources to draw on for coping.

via Information ≠ Knowledge

I also pondered (and continue to ponder) how women really learn about birth. Like I did, most of them seek out written information and this can lead to information overload…

With the wonderful world wide web available to us 24/7, the deluge of information we encounter (and seek out) during pregnancy can feel a lot like drowning. So many choices, so much to learn, so much to digest. There are times when everything seems to come into question — from what you eat during pregnancy to whether you should create a birth plan…

via Stop Birth Information Overload by Getting Back to Basics — Giving Birth with Confidence.

My all-time favorite article about the notion of this “information feeding frenzy” engaged in by pregnant women is by Pam England who explains the following:

It would seem at first glance that a mother who gathers lots of information during pregnancy is motivated and headed in the “right direction.” However, a more important detail of her preparation is her being aware of what is motivating her to August 2013 041become so well-informed. What does the drive for information feel like in her body? How does she know in her bones and gut how to use the information? And to what degree is she is aware of any of this?

If she is not listening to the subtle messages in her body, in her breath, in her dreams, or in the patterns in her thoughts and emotions, then she is acting from her conditioning and not from awareness. From the outside, no one may be able to tell the difference, but on the inside, she will feel the difference…

via Birthing From Within – Information Frenzy.

Which brings me back to this quote:

“I usually claim that pregnant women should not read books about pregnancy and birth. Their time is too precious. They should, rather, watch the moon and sing to their baby in the womb.” –Michel Odent

via How Do Women Really Learn About Birth?

And also to another of my own articles about information overload during pregnancy:

Many pregnant women have information overload. They are faced with more information than they know what to do with. They are bombarded by it. What they really need is “knowing.” They need to know: “What skills do I possess or can learn that will help me greet my birth with anticipation and confidence? What are my tools? My resources? Can I just let it happen?” As an educator I ask myself, “What will help them feel confident? Feel ready? Trust their bodies and their capacities?”

via Talk Less, Learn More: Evolving as an Educator

A lot of this information feeding frenzy, including that of my own first pregnancy, may be related to fear of labor, pain, and the unknown.

Could it be that human fear of pain is being used to generate financial profit? (the opium-is-the-opiate-of-the-masses model). Perhaps once the notion of palliative care reached a certain level of acceptance for the dying within the medical community, it began to spill over into other human conditions (the slippery-slope model). Or, perhaps we don’t want transparency at all (the denial model)…

…I can think of many questions that fall under this topic…Why do we call the intense phenomenon of birth “painful”? How do our genetics, behavior, training and thought-processes affect our experience of pain? What about the health care culture – has it focused on relieving pain at the expense of what we gain from working with pain short of trauma or imminent death? How do we prepare women for working with sensation without automatically labeling it pain? Is the “empowerment” often attributed to giving birth what is learned by going through the center of the “there is no birth of consciousness without pain” experience? These questions are just a start…

via About Pain and Birth | Dancing Thru Pregnancy® Blog.

Could these fears also be tied to our cultural lack of appropriate vocabulary for pain?

A childbirth educator interviewed during the film briefly discusses pain and says that we need more words for pain, because it is ridiculous that we have only one word that is used to describe a hangnail, a broken leg, being hit by a car, and labor. I had already been musing about pain during labor and how we perceive it, talk about it, and so forth and this comment was additional food for thought for me. I’m thinking that there are many other words used to describe women’s experiences of labor and birth other than pain–a word that is limited in scope and that for some women may well not even apply to the experiences in birth

via Words for Pain

Or, to a fear of “losing control” during labor?

A topic that frequently arises in birth classes is about the fear of “losing control” in labor. Losing control, “losing it,” or “freaking out” are concerns expressed by women preparing to give birth. It is important to acknowledge that this is a common fear. I also like to ask parents to think about what “freaking out” or “losing it” would mean to them? I ask them to consider what benefits there may be to losing control. I also say, “What if you do freak out? Maybe, so what?! Maybe it is okay. Maybe it is good. Maybe it is helpful…”

via Fears About Birth and Losing Control

Or, perhaps more simply, to a lack of trust in our care providers?

I was interested to read a short segment in the book Labor Pain about studies on fear about birth. A Swedish study indicated that it was not pain that caused women the most anxiety about labor (44% of women had fear of pain). It also wasn’t fear of death of the mother or baby (55% worried about this). It wasn’t fear of their physical or mental capacity to give birth (65% feared this), but it was “lack of trust of obstetric staff during delivery” (73%).

via Fear & Birth

Men may also feel a lot of fear surrounding birth and have few ways to express it:

Although a man cannot feel the same pain as a laboring woman, I believe that many men experience a similar cycle of emotions in the birthing space to that which Dick-Read described, with a slightly different end product, namely: Fear > Tension > Panic. A man who is not confident in his partner’s birthing abilities, who is poorly informed, and/or who is poorly supported, becomes increasingly tense; and if this tension is not eased, then he spirals into an irreversible state of panic. This panic manifests differently in different men: some men become paralyzed by their fear (the familiar specter of the terrified dad sitting stock-still at the foot of the bed), while others spring into hyperactivity, bringing endless cups of water or becoming obsessively concerned with the temperature of the birth pool.

via Fathers, Fear, and Birth

I think it is also important to recognize the deep gifts to be found in facing our fears and doing it anyway:

We may feel guilty, ashamed, negative, and apologetic about our deepest “what ifs.” We worry that if we speak of them, they might come true. We worry that in voicing them, we might make homebirth or midwifery or whatever look bad. We don’t want to add any fuel to the fire of terror that already dominates the “mainstream” birth climate. And, we don’t want to lose “crunchy points.” We want to be blissfully empowered, confident, and courageous. And, guess what? We are. Sometimes that courage comes from looking the “what ifs” right in the eye. Sometimes it comes from living through them. My most powerful gift from my pregnancy with my daughter, my pregnancy-after-loss baby, was to watch myself feel the fear and do it anyway. I was brave. And, it changed me to learn that.

What if we can learn more from our shadows than we ever thought possible? There is power in thinking what if I can’t do this and then discovering that you CAN…

via What If…She’s Stronger than She Knows… | Talk Birth.

20130903-200533.jpg

Birth Fear

“…if you want to know where a woman’s true power lies, look to those primal experiences we’ve been taught to fear…the very same experiences the culture has taught us to distance ourselves from as much as possible, often by medicalizing them so that we are barely conscious of them anymore. Labor and birth rank right up there as experiences that put women in touch with their feminine power…” -Christiane Northrup

Since it was just Halloween, I wanted to re-post some things about fear and birth that I shared on another blog a couple of years ago. I encounter a lot of women who are very scared of birth, particularly of the pain of birth. Grantly Dick-Read’s Fear-Tension-Pain cycle has influenced the teachings of most natural birth educators and most people readily connect to the idea that fear leads to elevated tension in body which leads to increased pain (more about fear-tension-pain in a linked post below).

One of my favorite birth books, Birthing from Within, has several sections about coping with fear. The author’s idea is that by naming fears and looking them in the eye rather than denying they exist, you shift your thinking from frozen, fear-based, thoughts to more fluid, adaptable coping-mechanisms. There is a useful handout based on her ideas available at the Transition to Parenthood site.

I also think of this quote from Jennifer Block:

Why is it that the very things that cause birth related morbidity rates to rise are seen as the ‘safe’ way to go? Why aren’t women and their doctors terrified of the chemicals that are dripped into their spines and veins—the same substances that have been shown to lead to more c-sections? Why aren’t they worried about the harm these drugs might be doing to the future health of their children, as some studies are indicating might be the case? Why aren’t they afraid of picking up drug-resistant staphylococcus infections in the hospital? And why, of all things, aren’t women terrified of being cut open?

I actually was afraid of these things, which is part of why I didn’t go to a hospital to have my babies!

I hope some day all women will be able to greet birth with confidence and joy, instead of fear and anxiety. This does NOT mean denying the possibility of interventions or that cesareans can save lives. And, it also doesn’t mean just encouraging women to “trust birth.” Indeed, I  read a relevant quote in the textbook Childbirth Education: Research, Practice, & Theory: “…if women trust their ability to give birth, cesarean birth is not viewed as a failure but as a sophisticated intervention in response to their bodies’ protection of the baby.”

Here are some more good quotes from Childbirth without Fear:

A well–prepared woman, not ignorant of the processes of birth, is still subject to all the common interventions of the hospital environment, much of which places her under unnecessary stress and disrupts the neuromuscular harmony of her labor.

It is for this reason that thousands of women across the country are staying home to give birth…Women are choosing midwives as attendants, and choosing birth centers and birthing rooms, in order to regain the peaceful freedom to ‘flow with’ their own labors without the stress of disruption and intervention. Pictures on the wall and drapes on the window do not mask the fact that a woman is less free to be completely herself in the hospital environment, even in a birthing room. The possibility of her being disturbed is still there.

The women in labor must have NO STRESS placed upon her. She must be free to move about, walk, rock, go to the bathroom by herself, lie on her side or back, squat or kneel, or anything she finds comfortable, without fear of being scolded or embarrassed. Nor is there any need for her to be either ‘quiet’ or ‘good.’ What is a ‘good’ patient? One who does whatever she is told—who masks all the stresses she is feeling? Why can she not cry, or laugh, or complain?

When a woman in labor knows that she will not be disturbed, that her questions will be answered honestly and every consideration given her, then she will be better able to relax and give birth with her body’s neuromuscular perfection intact. The presence of her loving husband and/or a supportive attendant will add to her feelings of security and peace, so she can center upon the task at hand.

Childbirth without Fear was originally written in the 1940′s. The quotes above are just as relevant and true today.

Related posts:
Fear & Birth
Fears about birth and losing control

Fathers, Fear, and Birth
Fear-Tension-Pain or Excitement-Power-Progress?
Cesarean Birth in a Culture of Fear Handout
Worry is the Work of Pregnancy

Fathers, Fear, and Birth

“I told my dads that they were their partner’s lover and that their most important role at the birth was one they did everyday without classes, books or practice: Loving the mom. You could literally see the dads relax as this thought sunk in and took root.”

~ Lois Wilson, CPM

My husband supports me during my birthing time with our second baby

I don’t use these exact words, but I share something similar with the dads in my classes—your most important job is just to love her the way you love her, not to try to be anything different or more “special” than you already are…

I recently shared my review of The Father’s Home Birth Handbook by Leah Hazard and also wanted to share this excerpt from an article in Midwifery Today:

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Helping Men Enjoy the Birth Experience, by Leah Hazard

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Nearly 70 years ago, Grantly Dick-Read wrote in Childbirth without Fear that laboring women often experience a cycle of: Fear > Tension > Pain. This is a cycle with which many of us are familiar, and we’ve developed a myriad of ways to break the cycle since Dick-Read first published his seminal work in 1942. However, less attention has been focused on the emotional roller-coaster fathers experience throughout pregnancy and birth, and it’s this area that I’d like to explore in greater depth.

Although a man cannot feel the same pain as a laboring woman, I believe that many men experience a similar cycle of emotions in the birthing space to that which Dick-Read described, with a slightly different end product, namely: Fear > Tension > Panic. A man who is not confident in his partner’s birthing abilities, who is poorly informed, and/or who is poorly supported, becomes increasingly tense; and if this tension is not eased, then he spirals into an irreversible state of panic. This panic manifests differently in different men: some men become paralyzed by their fear (the familiar specter of the terrified dad sitting stock-still at the foot of the bed), while others spring into hyperactivity, bringing endless cups of water or becoming obsessively concerned with the temperature of the birth pool.

The root of this panic is fear, and it’s a fear which often begins to grow long before the first contraction is felt. As such, we need to think about ways that we can address and minimize this fear in the days and months preceding birth…

[Please read the rest of this article excerpt in the full online version of E-News: http://www.midwiferytoday.com/enews/enews1221.asp ]

Excerpted from “Beyond Fear, Tension and Panic: Helping Men Enjoy the Birth Experience,” Midwifery Today, Issue 95 Author Leah Hazard is the author of The Father’s Home Birth Handbook. For more information, visit www.homebirthbook.com .

——

I really think the fear-tension-panic cycle makes a great deal of sense and it brought me to this quote:

“Fear is completely intertwined with what we experience as labor pain…And it is the fear in our physicians and nurses as much as the fear within ourselves.” –Suzanne Arms (Immaculate Deception II)

I think sometimes women underestimate the power the attitudes of other people in the birthplace hold over outcome (the nocebo effect, possibly)—while being prepared, confident, fearless, etc. as a birthing woman is excellent and she can sometimes manage to triumph over the fear of the others around her, I more often see the fear of others overriding the preparation and confidence a mother has tried to develop in herself. I think it is important that we actively cultivate coping skills and resources within fathers-to-be as well, so that they are less likely to get into the fear-tension-panic cycle and are better able to be present for the birthing woman (fear-tension-panic within doctors and nurses is a subject for another post!). Here are some other posts I’ve written specifically for fathers:

Ideas for supporting your partner in labor

No Right Way

Resources for Fathers to Be

Birth Affirmations for Fathers

For Labor Support Remember TLC or BLT

Comfort Measures & Labor Support Strategies

Helping yourself while helping your wife or partner in labor

(P.S. Yesterday this was a much more developed post and WordPress erased it accidentally and to my great dismay 😦 )

Fear Release for Birth

I want to share a fear release exercise that I’ve used several times at Blessingways for pregnant friends. I got the idea from The Pregnant Woman’s Comfort Book and then modified the wording slightly. I think it is a powerful exercise to do in a group. We circle around the pregnant woman holding hands and then read the following together:

There goes all fear you hold about giving birth. The birth will be perfect.

There goes all fear you hold about healing. You will heal beautifully

There goes all fear you hold about not being a good mother. You will be enough.

There goes all fear of never being creative again. You have a deep well of creativity within your soul.

There goes the deepest, most private fears you have about giving birth. You will be enough.

You will be enough. You are strong enough.

—–

Depending on the setting, I’ve also changed the word birth in the second-to-last-line to “life” instead.

I have written several other posts about fear and birth.

I also use this handout in my classes when talking about fear: Tracking Your Tigers, Effects of Fear on Labor.

Fear & Birth

I was interested to read a short segment in the book Labor Pain about studies on fear about birth. A Swedish study indicated that it was not pain that caused women the most anxiety about labor (44% of women had fear of pain). It also wasn’t fear of death of the mother or baby (55% worried about this). It wasn’t fear of their physical or mental capacity to give birth (65% feared this), but it was “lack of trust of obstetric staff during delivery” (73%).

This is tremendously significant! As I mentioned in the post, can I really expect to have a great birth, it is important to choose your birth care giver and place of birth carefully–to ask questions before your chile is roasted! Considering that the Listening to Mothers reports by Childbirth Connection and the Millbank Report on Evidence-Based Maternity Care reveal that many doctors do not utilize evidence-based practices, it seems that women’s top fear is very warranted.

Fears About Birth and Losing Control

A topic that frequently arises in birth classes is about the fear of  “losing control” in labor. Losing control, “losing it,” or “freaking out” are concerns expressed by women preparing to give birth. It is important to acknowledge that this is a common fear. I also like to ask parents to think about what “freaking out” or “losing it” would mean to them? I ask them to consider what benefits there may be to losing control. I also say, “What if you do freak out? Maybe, so what?! Maybe it is okay. Maybe it is good. Maybe it is helpful.” (This doesn’t come across in print quite the way it does in real life!) Surrendering to the flow and power of birthing can be of tremendous benefit. Losing it can mean letting go and letting the power BE. Letting the energy be. Letting birth carry you with it, instead of wrestling for control of it. (When discussing this topic, it is important to remain mindful that for mothers-to-be who are survivors of abuse, language about “surrender” and “letting go” can be very threatening and unhelpful.)

Thinking about “losing control” makes me think about the things that you can have over control of when it comes to your birth experience (I’ve also been reading The Big Book of Birth and it addresses this):

1. You can control who who choose as your doctor or midwife (and can choose to switch at any point in pregnancy if the match is not a good one).

2. You can control where you give birth.

3. You can control who you ask to attend your birth as support–your partner, your best friend, your mother, your sister, a doula. (Anyone who attends should be there for YOU, not because they want to “see a birth” or because you feel obligated to have them.)

4. You can control how you prepare yourself for birth and the education you seek to help you explore your options.

5. You can control the type of books you read and the information you seek about birth.

6. You can control how you care for yourself during pregnancy.

7. If you are having your baby in the hospital, you can control when you go to the hospital.

Hypnobabies rephrases the usual concept of “transition” in labor as “transformation.” This is the time in labor in which many women fear “losing control.” Women may also pass through another transformation point as they move from early labor into active labor–this is sort of a “moment of reckoning” in which it becomes clear that it is really time to DO this! Erica Lyon, who wrote The Big Book of Birth referenced above, addressed this subject really well:

“…as a mother shifts from early labor to active labor, she begins to have an awareness that the labor is getting bigger, strong, more powerful. This often translates into a feeling or idea that you are going to ‘lose it’ or ‘lose control.’ This is a temporary, transient feeling that tells you labor is progressing. It does not mean you will go running naked and screaming down the hallway of your birth facility. What is really happening is a momentary emotional state that reflects your ‘social self’ beginning to fold inward. Labor is not a rational process, it is a body function that is experienced as a gradually intensifying event. You do not think your way through it. You do it. “

Essentially, this is a point in labor when you stop fighting with the “birth power” and begin to BE it. The process of birthing becomes your entire focus. I remind and encourage people to welcome the increasing intensity of labor–and suggest taking a “make it bigger!” approach to greeting and welcoming contractions, rather than trying to avoid or minimize them.

Pam England from Birthing From Within also has a great article  about “Losing It” in labor.

Other posts about fear and birth:

Birth Fear
Fear & Birth
Fathers, Fear, and Birth
Fear-Tension-Pain or Excitement-Power-Progress?
Cesarean Birth in a Culture of Fear Handout
Worry is the Work of Pregnancy
Fear Release for Birth
What If…She’s Stronger than She Knows…

Fear-Tension-Pain or Excitement-Power-Progress?

I love re-framing traditional concepts of birthing to more positive and empowering perspectives. Recently, I was reading an older issue of the International Journal of Childbirth Education and came across a concept that I immediately loved and will incorporate into my birth classes from now on. Most  childbirth educators are familiar with the Fear-Tension-Pain cycle–wherein fear raises tension in the body which leads to pain and so on. Reducing one element in the cycle leads to reductions in the others–i.e. reducing tension through relaxation techniques leads to less pain and then less fear.

While this is still a very useful concept and I will continue to use it, the new perspective I just read about was the Excitement-Power-Progress cycle. The idea being that labor can be greeted with excitement and welcome instead of fear and anxiety. As the power of birth grows, so does the progress towards meeting your baby! So, you can greet the increased power with excitement and confidence and know that your body is making beautiful progress.

The author of the article I was reading (Stacey Scarborough), phrased it like this:

“Fear = EXCITEMENT about being labor and having a baby!

Tension = POWER, strength, or energy!

Pain = PROGRESS”

Cesarean Birth in a Culture of Fear Handout

The cesarean rate in the US continues to rise and in 2006, 31% of all mothers had cesareans. The World Health Organization suggests a 10-15% cesarean rate is the upper limit to “necessary” cesareans and most experts agree that the US cesarean rate has gotten out of hand. Considering that a pregnant woman has a 1 in 3 chance of having major surgery just upon walking in the door of a hospital, it is important to become educated about cesareans and cesarean prevention. 

In September, Mothering magazine published an excellent article called Cesarean Birth in a Culture of Fear. In addition to being a thought provoking analysis of technological birth in the US and the ever-rising cesarean rate, it was also extremely well illustrated (including a remarkable computer created image of a woman in a “traditional US hospital setting” that gives me chills–she has 16 different “attachments” hooked up to her as she tries to focus and give birth to her baby). There is also a series of illustrations that very clearly demonstrate the step-by-step process of a cesarean in a way that we rarely see. Now, this useful article has been turned into a booklet and made available as a handout on the Childbirth Connection site!

Thursday Tidbits: Everyday Sheroism in Birth and Life

February 2016 005Do you know how many days have gone by in which I’ve said: “well, I didn’t write my dissertation today?”

This past Monday I got to say: I *DID* WRITE MY DISSERTATION TODAY!!!!!!!!!

It may be a first draft rather than a final submission, depending on suggestions from the reviewers, but there is a huge qualitative difference between someone who is writing a dissertation and someone who has submitted a dissertation and who might need to make revisions. It is 187 pages and 88,000 words and involves one year of original research with 100 pages of collated research results. Five years of classes, study, and contemplation, with also doubling my amount of offspring during this time. I grew this dissertation project at the same time I was growing Tanner from a tiny newborn to a walking, talking toddler. And, I feel like I just pushed out the biggest baby of my life. I cannot even describe the energy expenditure this required of me. I feel so satisfied and very, very proud of myself.

At Red Tent last week, when we passed the rattle, we each had a moment to share something we needed to be “compassionately witnessed.” After making a good effort at doing daily dissertation work throughout December, I’ve been semi-half-hearted on it since, averaging one “good” day of intensive work on it per week. I was hoping to have it finished before we go on a trip this month, but I was feeling so strained and drained and tense that adding it to my to-do list felt almost cruel and possibly ridiculous. When it was my turn for compassionate witness, I shared with the circle that I had reached a point in which I could no longer distinguish whether finishing my dissertation was self-care or self-harm.

After making manifestation bracelets together at Red Tent.

After making manifestation bracelets together at Red Tent.

Now, in hindsight, I recognize the “transition” stage. I’ve known for a while now that it is part of my personal process with big projects to have to be able to have a time and a place in which I am able to say, I don’t know if I can do this. And, to have that fear and self-doubt, and vulnerability simply witnessed. And, then, do that thing anyway. It is hard to find a space in which this is “allowed.” Very often well-meaning suggestions are to cut myself slack, to lower my expectations, or to give myself a break. I have discovered that just like these comments are not actually helpful to a woman in labor, they are not helpful to me in “labor” with other big projects either. In fact, I think there is a secret “dark” side to many popular self-care messages, primarily because what we sometimes might pass off as “self-care” is actually a “shadow comfort” (to borrow Jen Louden’s term) and is actually a meanings of inhibiting ourselves, holding ourselves back, or sabotaging ourselves (or those around us, when we offer the “out” of quitting or not following through…of letting ourselves down). When I was able to let out the fear and doubt, only for a few minutes, and have it simply received, it was as if something unlocked within me and suddenly I knew I had it in me after all. Only a few days later, after several focused bursts of intense writing, I submitted my completed project.

Anyway, a long story just to make this point: I felt SO good after submitting it. I may never have been so proud of myself. I was giddy, thrilled, exhilarated, excited, and exuberant. “What if I had QUIT?!” I yelled, “then I would never have gotten to feel like THIS!” When I lower expectations, sure, I might meet them, but when I keep my expectations high…and meet them. There is nothing that can replace that feeling. And, guess what, it keeps stretching me to reach just a little higher and a little higher. And yes, the self-harm shadow side of continuous life-stretching is that I can be trapped into “striving and striving and never arriving,” but the self-care amazing life side, is that I prove to myself that I can do incredible things and that I accomplish that which may have felt impossible for a time.

Bringing it back to birth, I read this post about ten things not to say to a woman in labor and the first reminded me of my own big “push” to finish the dissertation and how compassionate witness is infinitely more valuable than sympathetic shadow comfort enabling:

Scenario 1: If a woman is trying to make a rational and educated decision while in labor (a very difficult thing to do when in pain!) about whether or not to get an epidural (which is a big deal, by the way) by saying “you don’t have to be a hero” is playing to her emotions and vulnerability which isn’t fair. If she’s questioning this choice instead of immediately signing up for anesthesia, she likely has a reason for the hesitation. I guarantee she doesn’t want an unmedicated birth to become “a hero”. Maybe she was hoping for a natural birth, or wants to reduce the chance of further interventions like pitocin, or maybe she’s wanting the best start for her baby. I don’t know. But by saying “you don’t have to be a hero” to help her make a decision is basically blowing her off when she is in a very vulnerable position. It’s a low blow.

Source: 10 Things to NEVER Say to a Woman in Labor | Mother Rising

And, here’s the deal…women in labor and postpartum are heroes. They are incredible. They are amazing. We should never deny them that knowledge, particularly if all we are offering in return is a patronizing platitude masquerading as compassion. This “One Day Young” photo project captures that sheroism:

These goddesses headed to a WIC peer counselor's office this week.

These goddesses headed to a WIC peer counselor’s office this week.

“In those first 24 hours, it’s like this warrior comes out in women,” says Jenny. “They gain this inner strength to protect the child and you can see it in the photos. “They’re like those heroic pictures of soldiers on the battlefield or the footballer after the match, still full of the adrenaline of achievement. This moment isn’t often captured in women, but what they’ve just achieved is just as important as that goal or that battle, and that moment deserves to be recorded and celebrated in the public arena.”

Source: Empowering Photo Project ‘One Day Young’ Reassures Women That Childbirth Is Nothing To Fear

At the same time, birth can be very hard work and the recovery can be intense and long-lasting. Culturally, while we may minimize, invalidate or deny women’s power, strength, and amazingness in birth, we also often minimize, invalidate, and deny their vulnerability after birth.

We don’t talk about postpartum pain — bleeding, stitches, not being able to stand upright, or easily walk around. We don’t talk about the struggles of early breastfeeding: cracked and bleeding nipples, mastitis, and worries about producing enough milk. We are only beginning to talk about postpartum depression and anxiety. And it almost seems as if new fathers and adoptive parents don’t matter at all. The rhetoric from those who don’t want change paint a rosy picture of motherhood, but the realities of these anti-family policies are much more grim. In a recent TED talk, I share a number of heart-wrenching personal stories from women who have suffered as a result of having to return to work too soon.

Source: Maternity Leave Policy Postpartum Pain – Susan Crowe

After submitting my dissertation, I was heard to say that I felt like I needed a long nap and maybe several large gifts. After the intensity and unpredictability of giving birth, a ceremony might be in order, either a sealing ceremony like I experienced, or a birth reclaiming ceremony as is described in this article:

“I wasn’t at the birth, but it was super quick and the mother felt traumatised. I came in on a Monday, and the baby looked a little pinched. I asked the mother about feeding and she said she thought it was going okay. I offered to change the baby’s nappy – I took it off and it was bone dry. I asked how long it had been on and it was over 12 hours. The maternal health nurse was due over that day, so we had a bit of time to suss what was going on, since I was a breastfeeding counsellor as well. From chatting, we realised her milk had not come in and the baby was clearly not getting anything.

The mother was super stressed and her baby was about a week old — and clearly not in fabulous shape. I talked about a birth reclaiming ceremony and we ran her a lovely warm bath. It was daytime, so we closed the curtains and played soft music. As she climbed into the bath, I saw her high, tense shoulders drop right down and she let out a big sigh. When she was ready, I stripped her baby, and placed the baby on her chest. We sat quietly, not saying a word. The mother started to cry, then sob, totally overwhelmed by the responsibility of being a parent and not doing a good enough job. All the while, looking at her sleeping baby, holding her.

As the mother eventually finished crying… her milk started to roll down her breasts. She looked at me, so surprised, and said, “Is that what its meant to look like?”

Source: Birth Reclaiming Ceremony – Could It Help You Heal? | BellyBelly

Finally, I like to share this link. I haven’t actually watched any of these, but for people who like TED Talks, this sounds like an interesting round-up!

11 TED Talks for Pregnancy and Birth — Tulsa Birth Doula, Bethanie Verduzco, CD(DONA) – Hello Sunshine Birth Services

February 2016 022What else is up with me this week:

  • The etsy shop is on limited inventory until March 1.
  • I’ve been working on the materials kits for both the Red Tent Initiation and Womanspirit Initiation courses that I have coming up. They’re beautiful and I’m so proud of both of them. Every time I pack up a kit, I feel so thrilled. Both trainings begin March 21st and still have spaces available for registration if you’re interested!

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