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Wednesday Tidbits: Books, Babies, and Breastfeeding Mama Ornaments

In February of 2014, I sat on the stones in the woods, came face to face with a raccoon in the tree and suddenly knew that I was pregnant again. In October of 2014, I sat on the stones in the woods awaiting the imminent arrival of my new baby boy. This week, I sat on the stones in the woods with a baby boy who is now approaching his first birthday. The wheel spins quickly.

12074630_1672247639654118_5798984318455904624_nAfter feeling a little fried and exhausted from parenting this teething whirlwind of a toddling boy, I enjoyed reading this article about motherhood as a spiritual practice:

Motherhood is a deeply spiritual act. We birth another human soul at great personal cost, and are tasked with providing for that baby and raising them to adulthood. The daily grind of being a mother, of constantly putting somebody’s needs before your own is the most character-building exercise I have ever had to do. No spare time is squandered, no act of love too great. On those days where the house is a mess, everybody is crying and I’ve made five cups of tea all gone cold, taking the time to remember the sacredness of what I am doing, the beauty and the impact of my every decision on these little one’s lives. I am the Mother. I am not the clean, clinical mother with the apron tied around her waist but I am infinitely more valuable than that.

Source: Motherhood and Spirituality — Mama Bird

(Note: I also know awesome mothers who rock aprons!)

It made my heart so happy to read these words from Rachael at Moon Times about my new Earthprayer poetry book: “a beautiful book of poetry that calls to earth women, earth mamas, wood pixies…”

The book is available on Amazon US and Amazon UK as well as from our Etsy shop. I’m also working on developing a free companion e-course!12115561_1673721906173358_8351932066983960577_nSpeaking of books, I contributed to the Indiegogo campaign for Pam England’s newest book. I love Pam’s work and it has left an indelible imprint on my own births, life, and work.

Support Birthing From Within’s new book and our vision for changing the conversation about birth.

Source: New Birth Book: Ancient Map for Modern Birth | Indiegogo

Is it too soon to mention Christmas? We’re working on some Christmas ornaments! I’m excited to see holiday lights behind these luminous mamas.

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I was interviewed by KNOWHEN this week, talking about TTC, birth empowerment, birth education, and pregnancy loss: Molly Talks About Childbirth & Her Own TTC Story – KNOWHEN

And, speaking of pregnancy loss, in October we honor Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Please feel free to use this photo as your own profile picture on Facebook if you need to do so:
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Tuesday Tidbits: This Time Last Year…

As I mentioned in my 11 month update, the first year of life with a new baby feels like a journey through a labyrinth. The moments I experienced last year while pregnant take on a particularly poignancy as I round the curves of The Return, this time with baby in arms.

I love the moments of continuity…last year with my pregnant belly, this year at the pumpkin patch with a toddler selecting his own pumpkin.

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Last year getting my pregnancy photos taken and having a mother blessing, this year having some breastfeeding photos taken (note: carefully selected goddess sarong for photographic continuity!).

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_DSC0457fInterestingly, this time last year I was taking online instructor trainings for Sacred Pregnancy and Sacred Postpartum. This year, quite by accident (in terms of exact timing), I ended up starting the Sacred Pregnancy Birth Journey instructor course online. I won this course in a Red Tent fundraising auction via Moon Times in the winter, but I didn’t actually take it until this month.

For today’s tidbits post, I’m taking a walk down memory lane and looking at posts from around this same time last year…

Stretching time, wondering about twins, and making a belly cast:

I felt on the edge of tears from the time I woke up almost until the time we did the belly cast—feeling stressed, rushed, and WHY. However, we had a great time doing the cast (even though we had to stop to rescue a hummingbird from the actual jaws of a cat, save Alaina from being clawed by another cat, and answer computer questions from the boys. Sometimes I have to pause and realize that the overwhelm I feel lately is probably just a feature of the realities of having three kids with various needs already, a job, a business, a dissertation to write, books waiting to be born, and several serious life passions and be preparing to add another human to the family. Perhaps it would be weird if I didn’t feel overwhelmed and a little panicky, rather than it feeling like it is a personal failing that this is how I’ve spent a lot of time feeling lately.)

Source: Stretching Time | Talk Birth

Then, painting and re-painting that belly cast into a fall leaves theme that I still love: September 2014 122

I am 100% pleased with the re-do. Sometimes a revision is exactly the right choice! I feel like the comparison of my first attempt and my second looks like one of those side-by-side Pinterest comparisons, only both of these were from me!

Source: Belly Cast! | Talk Birth

And, from there, making another belly cast with the intention of creating a pottery belly 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!

Source: Belly Bowl! (and new altar bowl) | Talk Birth

And, it worked!

Completed Pottery Clay Belly Bowl! | Talk Birth

I mused over whether I was ready or not:

The inexorable march towards Birth-Day is such an interesting, liminal place to be in. It both feels “mysterious” and inevitable. The closer I get to my official due date, the more wide open the possibilities seem as to when he will be born…when, in reality, the options narrow each day! I still have a certain sense of unreality about the whole thing—like, am I really going to do this? Am I really going to have a BABY????!!!!!

Source: Ready or Not! | Talk Birth

But, my Sacred Postpartum training really helped me prepare, as I took a ceremonial bath:

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.

Source: Sacred Postpartum, Week 2: Ceremonial Bathing | Talk Birth

And learned how to make Happy Tea:

I’ve been interested to note that I’ve dreamed with increasing realism about the baby for the last three nights in a row. Last night, I was getting him latched on for the first time. The night before, my mom and Mark had brought him to campus for me to nurse on my breaks from class. The night before that was a water birth dream (two actually, both about twins). To me this indicates that whatever lingering “not readiness” I might be experiencing in my waking life, my subconscious is getting it. At some level, my brain is getting down with the idea of really, truly having another baby and it is incorporating him into my dreamscape/life accordingly.

Source: Sacred Postpartum: Happy Tea + 40 Week Update | Talk Birth

My Mother Blessing ceremony also helped me recognize my own strength and courage:

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.

Source: Mother Blessings and the Power of Ritual | Talk Birth

In the power of ritual, I learned (again) that life is like birth, and we give birth as we live.

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Closing the Bones…

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After my own postpartum sealing ceremony, November 2014.

I’m thrilled to have a guest post from Awen Clement on the Brigid’s Grove blog this month. She writes about Closing the Bones, a ceremony for postpartum women…

“After the birth of my son, I felt broken open”

Did you feel this way after the births of your children? Did you feel as though you had opened yourself body, mind and spirit to bring that new life into the world? Did it surprise you to feel this way?

We give so much when we birth our children, on every level, and then we keep on giving as we move on in our mothering. We feel exhausted, but that exhaustion somehow doesn’t seem to lift no matter how well we rest. We may feel as though something is missing, some part of ourselves that we were sure was there before. It probably isn’t something you would ever mention to anyone and even if you did many would simply point out that you’re a mother now, of course your tired and of course you feel different…

Read more here: Guest Post: Honouring the Bones of my Sisters – Brigid’s Grove

IMG_9800My own post about my postpartum sealing ceremony can be found here:

Ceremonial Bath and Sealing Ceremony | Talk Birth

Talk Books: The Last Midwife

9781250074461A baby’s first cry was the sound of angels’ songs. No matter how long and difficult the labor, no matter how the mother moaned from the pain and the tearing, praying and cursing, Gracy knew joy at the sight of the baby’s body pushing into the world, felt exhilaration as she caught the tiny living creature and held the soft, wet flesh in her hands a moment longer than was necessary. And she passed that sense of wonder on to the mother, exclaiming over the fingers and toes as tiny as birds’ claws, the eyelashes thin as a thread, the button of a nose.

It was not the money or the gold dust or the barter items that sent Gracy over icy trails, that drew her out of sleep-warm quilts at midnight to face cold and howling blizzards. She went where she was called because she knew a woman needed her, because new life waited for her…

The Last Midwife is a historical mystery novel set in gold rush country, a Colorado mining town in the 19th century. Gracy Brookens is the last midwife in the community, aging and creaky, but taking long treks into deep country to continue to serve women, despite the presence of a new, modern doctor in town. Unfortunately, a baby is murdered and Gracy is accused of the crime. Mixed with birth stories, personal trauma and the witnessing of intense family suffering, the baby’s murder case comes to trial and Gracy must face the chance of imprisonment as well as rejection and betrayal from some of the women she has loyally served. The mystery of who really killed the baby runs through the book along with several other intertwined subplots that are like mini-mysteries of their own.

While the twist ending left me a little disappointed, The Last Midwife was a realistic, interesting, engaging, suspenseful, well-developed, and creative read that doulas, midwives, and childbirth educators will particularly enjoy.

Talk Books: Q & A with Jenny Kitzinger

cropAugust 2015 048“These hands are big enough to save the world, and small enough to rock a child to sleep.”

–Zelda Brown

Childbirth education pioneer and feminist icon, Sheila Kitzinger has five daughters. After reading and reviewing Sheila’s passionate, beautiful, inspiring memoir: A Passion for Birth, published shortly before her death this spring, I did a short interview with her daughter, Jenny Kitzinger…

  1. How has your own work been influenced by your mother?

I grew up knowing that the ‘personal was political’ – including issues such as birth, marriage and death – and believing that nothing was taboo or closed off for discussion.

My early work on AIDS, and then on child sexual abuse, as well as my most recent work on the treatment of patients in long-term coma, has all been fundamentally influenced by my mother’s approach to life and work.

  1. What was it like to grow up with a birth activism “celebrity”?

To me my mother was just normal – so I took for granted her passion, determination and impact on the world, and the privilege we had as children of meeting lots of interesting people from the world of women’s rights, politics, and the arts.

  1. I was struck by the focus on humanitarian work in Kitzinger’s memoir. Do you have any childhood memories of these experiences and their influence? Are you still involved in cause-oriented work as an adult?

We often had people staying who needed support – it was lovely to meet the different people who came into our home – and to see the practical support and nurture my mother offered them. Sheila was also clear that the personal was political and that alongside supporting individuals it was necessary to learn from them and work alongside them to tackle root causes of problems.

My sister Tess was centrally involved in support for refugees – a cause also close to my father’s heart (he came over to England as a refugee in 1939). I was involved in setting up one of the first incest survivors refuges. Polly was also active in disability rights, advocating for people with mental illness. Our oldest sister, Celia, is a leading campaigner for sexual equality and equal marriage.

Since my sister, Polly’s car crash in 2009, Celia and I have worked together to examine the treatment of people with catastrophic brain injuries, including rights at the end-of-life. Although we are both full professor, and publish academically, we are committed to making work accessible to families, health care practitioners and policy makers. That is why we designed an online support and information resource about the vegetative and minimally conscious state.

  1. How many times did you hear birth stories around the dinner table?

We are a loud and talkative family. We would often discuss childbirth issues around the dinner table – alongside topics such as sex. This was fine at home, but I think when we went out to eat in restaurants I am not sure next door tables always enjoyed either the content of our lively debates, or the volume of the conversation as we became engrossed in family debate and everyone spoke at once!

  1. What do you feel like is your mother’s most enduring legacy?

The transformation of assumptions about childbirth – alongside a broader contribution to respecting women’s experience and supporting their rights to have choice and control over their own healthcare decisions.

Sheila

A Passion for Birth, My Life: anthropology, family and feminism by Sheila Kitzinger

(Pinter & Martin)

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Talk Books: Touching Bellies, Touching Lives

touchingbelliesEvery so often I end up reading a book that is nothing like I was expecting and yet is totally amazing. Touching Bellies, Touching Lives is one of those books. Subtitled “Midwives of Southern Mexico Tell Their Stories,” I was expecting a collection of birth stories from Mexican midwives. While there are birth stories, and everyone knows that I love birth stories, this book is so much more than a birth story collection. It is a personal pilgrimage, a preservation of the legacy of midwives, an examination of cultural birth practices, and a sobering first-hand account of the declining culture of traditional midwifery in Mexico. Many people may have the misconception that in Mexico or other South American cultures, midwifery is commonplace and maybe even flourishing. In Touching Bellies, we come to understand that Western medical practices are encroaching at a steady pace and that many midwives are elderly, retiring, and not being replaced. A steady theme runs throughout of women going to midwives for “belly massage,” but going to “modern” facilities to have their babies (unfortunately, they’ve imported some U.S. 1950’s-style practices in terms of birth position, birthing alone with no husbands allowed, and being treated dismissively in labor. This is along with a cesarean rate over 40% and up to 70% much in some cities).

The author, Judy Gabriel, takes multiple trips to Mexico on her quest to document the lives and stories of Mexican midwives (most of whom are age 65 and many of whom do not live to see the end of the book). She photographs the midwives and, with some hurdles with language barriers, listens to their stories–asking about the first birth they attended as well as any births that were problematic for them. She returns to them bearing hearing aids, dresses, and photos of family members from the United States. She travels through rough terrain and to distant villages on her quest to listen and learn from these midwives. I was completely absorbed by Judy’s dedication to her mission and her personal insights and life lessons as she travels and learns.

The “belly massage” practice for which Touching Bellies gains its title was endlessly fascinating to me (and to Judy, the author) with midwives regularly helping position the baby, release tight muscles, and ease aches and pains through a gentle process of abdominal massage and fetal manipulation. This aspect of midwifery care was so pervasive that when Judy would ask in a village where the midwives are, many people would not understand and say that they don’t know what she is talking about. When she asks for the woman who massages the bellies of pregnant women, everyone knows where to tell her to go.

In this quote, a 75-year-old midwife tells the story of helping a woman who is in premature labor. The doctors have tried to stop her contractions without avail and now say she must have a cesarean and the baby will most likely die:

“…The mother-in-law said, ‘This woman knows more than you doctors. You may have gone to the university, but, excuse me, for you doctors it is always puro cuchillo, puro cuchillo [just knives, just knives]. Leave the midwife to work in peace, and you’ll see what can be done without knives.’

So I did my work. I rocked the girl in a rebozo and massaged her belly, moving the baby up. The contractions stopped.

The doctors asked, ‘How did you do that?’

I said, ‘You were standing right there watching. I did it in front of you. I’m not hiding anything. You saw me rock her; you saw me massage her.’

‘Is that all you had to do?” they asked.

I said, ‘Yes, that’s all I had to do. What else would I have to do?’

(The baby survived and was born at full-term six weeks later.)

The dedicated care for women, in touching their bellies, touches their lives. Almost all of the midwives in the book have access to nurturing touch and almost no other resources available and yet almost all of them report never losing a baby or a mother in childbirth.

I absolutely loved reading Touching Bellies, Touching Lives. It is an extremely interesting, thought-provoking, and thoroughly fascinating journey. The information about the gradual decline and near-extinction of midwifery in Mexico is sobering, but the book does end on a hopeful note.

You can read more about the book here as well as see some of the interesting documentary-style photographs of the midwives from the book (one of the points of Judy’s travels was to photograph the midwives and share pictures of their families in the U.S. with them and vice versa). The book itself is available via Amazon.

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

Tuesday Tidbits: How to Make Life Easier as a New Parent

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In all my years as a birthworker, I still find that one of the most overlooked topics in childbirth preparation is adequate preparation for postpartum—those early weeks, or months, with a new baby. In my personal life, I experienced a difficult postpartum adjustment with my first baby, an easier one with my second baby, and two delightful, nurturing babymoons with my last two babies. Years after training as a postpartum doula, good postpartum care remains one of my passions, so I really enjoyed this post from a mother of five. Her feelings of rushing to get back to “normal” feel very familiar even though almost twelve years have passed since my first, tender, postpartum adjustment:

“I remember coming home from going out for the afternoon with Hero at 7 days postpartum. After we got back to our tiny apartment I came down with a fever. I was probably wearing the cutest non-comfortable outfit I could squeeze into. I probably didn’t think that 7 days after giving birth required anything of me other than “getting back to normal.” Life went on, and I urged it faster. In fact, that’s the way I parented, too. Smile, laugh, roll over, sit, crawl, walk, run, milestone, milestone, grow, grow, grow…

When I think back on my postpartum times (for the most part) I remember being exhausted, being emotional, being upset at Kirby for not doing enough, feeling fragile, feeling sad, and feeling weak. And then I got pregnant with Peter… And by the time I had him, I had interacted with enough wise mothers who had screwed up enough to know better and they told me what to do and I listened. After five babies I could finally say I did it right. I’m not saying you have to do it like me. Maybe you’ve already got your postpartum flow down and you need no such advice. In that case, a w e s o m e…”

Now I realize that some moms can just go, and they are happier that way! I get that. But it took me too long to realize that that’s not me. And I don’t want you to spend too much time thinking that should be you if it isn’t. Don’t spend four days, don’t spend four weeks, and certainly don’t spend 4 entire babies feeling like a shell of a person trying to figure it out…

The Fike Life: How to postpartum like a boss.

Unlike my early memories of my first son’s life, rather than looking back with sense of regret and fatigue, I look back on the weeks postpartum with Tanner (fourth and final full-term baby) with a tinge of wistfulness for the sweet, delicate, care-full time we spent together, nestled in bed in milky, marveling wonder. The author of the post above describes it as a “little sacred space,” and that is exactly how I feel. It also needs to be fiercely protected.

I look at that one week postpartum as a little sacred space that I will never get back. It’s a space where, for the most part, it’s just that brand new baby and me. And I’m selfish about it. And not sorry. Life will keep plummeting forward rapidly and I won’t ever stop it. But I can have a week with a floppy new baby on my chest in my bed and I’ll take it. And I’ll protect it.

AND IF THAT DOESNT TUG AT YOU MOTHERLY HEARTSTRINGS KNOW THIS… (super practical advice I got from my midwife with Peter)

When you have a baby you are recovering from an injury that is deeply internal. Your blood needs to stay concentrated there to bring essential nutrients to heal your organs and make you strong again. When you get up and walk around, your blood abandons your core and flows into your extremities, which can massively prolong your recovery. Stay rested and keep yourself down as much as you can. Just think of your organs! They need you!

via The Fike Life: How to postpartum like a boss.

It isn’t just the weeks following a new baby’s birth that matter, the first hour matters too and can set the tone for the rest of the postpartum journey:

…The way your baby is cared for and nurtured immediately after birth significantly impacts their transition from the womb to life outside.

In a culture that commonly separates mothers and babies for routine procedures such as cleaning, weighing and measuring, most babies are missing that critical time of being skin to skin with their mothers, which has short and long term consequences for all.

As these procedures are not necessary to maintain or enhance the wellbeing of either mother or baby, there is no reason why they cannot be delayed beyond the first critical hour.

via 7 Huge Benefits of An Undisturbed First Hour After Birth | BellyBelly.

Why doesn’t this uninterrupted hour and subsequent caring postpartum support happen for all new families? One reason is related to the “treatment intensity” of the US birth culture:

The questions you post in your article are good ones: Are midwives safer than doctors? How can homes be safer than hospitals and what implications does this study have for the US?

It’s a super knotty issue and it shouldn’t be about the superiority of midwives over doctors or homes over hospitals. The debate we should be having is over “treatment intensity” in childbirth and when enough is enough. The concern is that patients can be harmed by doing too much and by doing too little–in the US I worry that we cause avoidable harm by always erring on the side of too much.

via An Unexpected Opinion on Home Birth | Every Mother Counts.

Another is related to routine hospital practices that are not evidence based:

1. Start with giving the birthing woman antibiotics in high doses so that the baby develops candida (thrush) and colic. Then mix in a lot of stitches, either to repair the perineum or the lower belly/uterus.

2. Separate the mother and newborn. Make the mother walk a long distance (with her stitched body) to be able to see/feed her newborn…

via 6 Point Recipe for Making New Parenthood as Difficult as Possible | Wise Woman Way of Birth | by Gloria Lemay.

On a related note, we find that breastfeeding gets off to a better start when birth is undisturbed. We also find that decisions about breastfeeding may be made months before the baby is actually born:

…Recently, a nurse contacted me asking for ideas for teaching an early pregnancy breastfeeding class. I think this is a great idea, since mothers’ decisions about breastfeeding are often made before the baby is conceived and if not then, during the first trimester.

via Breastfeeding Class Resources | Talk Birth.

11800191_1651989138346635_1607714063463262593_nIt isn’t just postpartum during which we need these reminders about the “cycle of care.” The cycle of care of young children can be largely invisible, both to those around us and to ourselves. I’ve taken some time this week to appreciate my investment in my baby and cut myself a little slack on the other things I always want to “get done.” Brain-building is important work too!

Speaking of said baby, who has been taking his first steps this week at nine months old, I was amused this week to come across one of my older posts on family size decisions, in which I decreed my doneness with my childbearing years. Instead of embarrassing, I find the post oddly affirming or reinforcing that at some level I really did know that we weren’t quite “done,” there was still space in our family (and our hearts!) and there really was one more baby “out there” for us.

We decided we’d make the final, ultimate decision after she turned two, because too much longer after that point would make more of an age gap than we’d want. I posted on Facebook asking how do people know they’re “done.” I had an expectation of having some kind of blinding epiphany and a deep knowing that our family is complete, as I’ve had so many other people describe: “I just knew, our family was complete.” I didn’t have that knowing though—I vacillated day to day. What if I never know for sure, I fretted. Perhaps this sense of wistfulness and possibility with continue forever—maybe it is simply normal. One more. No, finished. But…ONE more?! And, I have a space in my heart that knows with great confidence that four (living) children would be the ultimate maximum for us. I definitely do not want more than four…so, does that mean there still is one more “out there” for us?

via Driveway Revelations (on Family Size) | Talk Birth.

However, I also find it to be true that four is most definitely the ultimate maximum. We laughed earlier this week remembering that a couple of weeks after Tanner was born I kept saying that I thought maybe we’d picked the wrong name for him. Mark asked me what I thought it should be and I said I kept thinking that maybe it should have been “Max.” While we joked at the time that this was because he is Maximus Babius, I only now caught on to the unintended double joke that he has definitely pushed our family size to our “max”!

Other tidbits:

I got this book about midwives in Mexico to review and have been zooming through it. It is SO good!

We’ve been working on new sculptures!

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(read more: Sneak Peek: Pregnant Mama – Brigid’s Grove)

We’ve added some new Moon Wisdom/First Moon bundles to our shop:

11825154_1650996815112534_7593072070926503121_nAnd, our new blessing cards came in. We were printing these on regular printer paper and are excited to have nice, professional cards instead!

11800234_1650792701799612_305310151573875723_nWe also still have five spaces left in the Red Tent Initiation program beginning at the end of the month:

Sign up for the Brigid’s Grove Newsletter for resources, monthly freebies, + art and workshop announcements.

And, as is our tradition, in honor of World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month, you can get 10% off items in our shop throughout August: WBW10OFF.

Talk Books: A Passion for Birth

Sheila

“We are only now beginning to discover the long term destructive effects on human beings and families of treated women as if they were containers to be opened and relieved of their contents.”

–Sheila Kitzinger

Sheila Kitzinger’s new autobiography, A Passion for Birth, is an absolute treasure. One of the most long-term and pivotal influences in the world of birth activism, I have quoted her work more times than I can count. In fact, I judge the quality of a book by the number of pages I dog-ear to return to. I turned down the corners of so many pages in A Passion for Birth, that it will take me a year’s worth of blog posts to share all the provocative quotes that caught my attention! While Sheila always included a personal flavor in her other books, this book is truly about her, her life, her passions, her family, her activism, her work. Interwoven throughout is the social justice oriented thread of her absolutely devoted dedication to women, feminism, and childbirth activism. Her book is very real, relatable, and readable as well as often charming. She doesn’t hold back from treading into controversial waters, however, and she is straightforward and unapologetic even when writing about topics that can be divisive in the birth world.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover the full-color series of photos in the center insert to the book, they range from Kitzinger’s childhood, a homebirth picture of the birth of one of her daughters, and ending with a poignant photo of Sheila’s casket, decorated by her family, resting easily on some chairs in the dining room of home she so loved.

An internationally recognized author and expert, Kitzinger was an anthropologist and one of the first professional people to acknowledge that women’s birth wisdom, stories, and experiences are worthy of study and attention. Spanning an impressive career of more than fifty years, Kitzinger’s anthropological and activist work was undertaken at a global level and her clear and unwavering commitment to social justice work and activism is a thread running strongly throughout her entire autobiography. The book takes us from Sheila writing and studying while sitting in a playpen in her yard (an effort to have a work area undisturbed by her five children!) to traveling with her family to Jamaica to study the birth customs and stories of the women there. Her identity as an anthropologist is clearly reflected in the cross-cultural birth experiences she surveys and describes and the autobiography includes lots of travel! It also includes homey touches like favorite recipes and descriptions of family traditions as well as stories of her own four homebirths, including that of twin daughters. I found myself wanting more content about her life with children, her life as a mother, which, while acknowledged and integrated through the text, was curiously absent from much of the narrative’s exploration. I was also curious to know more about the accident and serious brain injury experienced by her daughter Polly, which was mentioned somewhat incidentally (though it clearly had a significant impact on the family), as was the passing mention in a photo caption referencing her husband Uwe’s eye removal surgery.

Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in birth work, birth activism, feminist studies, women’s health, or anthropology, A Passion for Birth was compelling, inspirational, funny, straightforward, assertive, honest, candid, wry and dedicated.

“The way we give birth is an expression of culture. It can be spontaneous and instinctual, but it is still patterned by the society in which we live.”

–Sheila Kitzinger

Stay tuned for an ongoing series of themed posts based on additional content and thought-provoking quotes!

In a pioneering career spanning more than 50 years she campaigned for and oversaw a radical change in maternity care, placing women’s rights and choices at the very heart of childbirth. Her passion, research and knowledge of childbirth have had enormous impact on millions of women worldwide.

A Passion for Birth | Sheila Kitzinger | Pinter & Martin Publishers.

Publishing and purchasing details: 

Author: Sheila KitzingerSheila
Published: 7 May 2015
Binding: hardback
Format: 240 x 160 mm
Pages: 384
Illustrations: colour and b/w photographs
Pinter & Martin edition available: worldwide
Translation rights: Pinter & Martin

Also available from: Amazon.co.uk | Wordery | The Hive | Waterstones | Foyles | Mail Bookshop | Amazon.com

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

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Tuesday Tidbits: What Does it Feel Like to Give Birth?

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‘All cultures believe that women become better and more generous through the process of giving birth. That is why some cultures use words such as ‘sacrifice,’ ‘suffering’ and ‘labour.’ These terms can seem overwhelming and to be avoided’ however, seen from a different viewpoint, childbirth helps us to become strong, resourceful and determined.’

(The Pink Kit)

via Birthrites: Birth as a Rite of Passage

“Understand that the tremendous energy going through you during birth is the same sort of power as the force of ocean waves moving towards shore. Know that just as a bird knows how to build its nest, and when to lay its eggs, you too will build your birthing nest…”

–Janice Marsh-Prelesnik (The Roots of Natural Mothering)

via Timeless Days: More Postpartum Planning

Women preparing to give birth for the first time often wonder what it is really going to be like. What is labor like? What do contractions really feel like? Is it really like “strong menstrual cramps” or is it “agony”? When I was pregnant with my first baby, planning to give birth at a birth center, and reading everything I could about natural birth, I remember feeling like I was studying for a huge test, but a test for which there was no “right answer” and that no one else could explain to me what would be on it. I read quotes about birth being a “mystery,” and found it frustrating. What kind of “mystery”? Why can’t anyone explain it? Culturally, we get mired down in a lexicon of birth-giving that is inadequate to express it, a mainstream birth model that communicates in terms of pain, medication, and clock-watching, platitudes about healthy babies being all that matters, and dichotomies or disagreements about what defines a “good birth.”

This week, a variety of articles caught my eye that help expand our vocabulary of birth by touching on what birth feels like….

My mom told me that when you give birth naturally, you get this power that you never felt before. This is true. Oh yes it is. And no matter what kind of birth you have, we all get that feeling of crossing over and joining our grandmothers and all ancient warrior women. We have joined the ranks. We will never be the same person we were before. We become a new human. A more refined human. A softer, more patient human. An unstoppable human. A mother.

via My Birth Story, My Heart: Lindsey & Soleil | Empowered Birth Project.

Sometimes, along with feeling power, there is intense pain:

…And then the contractions got really bad. They were so strong. So long. And so close together. This was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Sure, maybe I had brief periods of this intense (that’s not really a strong enough word… hellish is more like it) labor, but it was typically brief and pushing came quickly after that.

via My Homebirth in the Hospital – Mercy’s Birth – Mother Rising.

What do I mean by “lexicon”? I mean our language, our vocabulary, for birth. What words do we have to choose from to describe our birth experiences? Is there only pain, or is there more?

…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.

via Words for Pain | Talk Birth.

In the book Labor Pain, the author describes the results of a study about how women feel labor pain. The most frequently used description was “sharp” (62%) followed by camping, aching, stabbing hot, shooting, and heavy. Tiring was another word used (49%), exhausting (36%, intense (52%), and tight (44%). Other words and descriptions used were burning, grinding, stony, overwhelming, terrific, bruising, knifelike, invaded, baby in charge, powerful, relentless, crampy, like period pain, like thunderbolts, excruciating, frightening, and purposeful. Only 25% of first time mothers and 11% of mothers with other children described pain associated with labor as “horrible” or “excruciating” (the top of the pain-scale range).

How do women having their first babies really learn about birth? Is it only through reading or classes?

“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? | Talk Birth.

Women may feel a real sense of fear and trepidation about giving birth and, unfortunately, that fear may end up limiting their real options:

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 Tuesday Tidbits: Pain, Birth, and Fear | Talk Birth.

Birth environments may also limit women’s movements, sounds, and choices in ways that may actually increase pain:

“Why do we, then, continue to treat women as if their emotions and comfort, and the postures they might want to assume while in labor, are against the rules?“

– Ina May Gaskin (via Birth Smart)

via Spontaneous Birth Reflex | Talk Birth.

Giving birth isn’t simply a physical experience, it is an initiation. Facing fears, meeting challenges, moving through struggle, and coming out the other side, powerfully changed, are core elements of initiatory events.

Giving birth is one of a series of important initiations a woman may experience in her lifetime. Initiations are intimately with change. They bring the initiate from one state of being into a new state of being. Initiations accomplish this task by putting the initiate through a series of experiences that challenge them in a particular way and bring them into new ways of being and of understanding. The initiate must meet these challenges and overcome any obstacles in order for the initiation to succeed in bringing about these changes.

via Thesis Tidbits: Birth as an Initiation | Talk Birth.

In the end, regardless of how your birth unfolds, there is one thing I will guarantee: you will feel the might of creation move through you.

“When I say painless, please understand, I don’t mean you will not feel anything. What you will feel is a lot of pressure; you will feel the might of creation move through you. Pain, however, is associated with something gone wrong. Childbirth is a lot of hard work, and the sensations that accompany it are very strong, but there is nothing wrong with labor.”

via Book Review: Painless Childbirth: An Empowering Journey Through Pregnancy and Birth | Talk Birth.

Other tidbits:

Nané Jordan is looking for contributions to her new book about the placenta. Sounds intriguing and I plan to contribute!

Sign up for the Brigid’s Grove Newsletter for resources, monthly freebies, + art and workshop announcements. Birth Spiral printable poster/gift coming as August’s freebie!

July 2015 066

“Birth is a time of deep transformation. We enter labor with excitement, trepidation and sometimes fear. We emerge with power, confidence and love.”

–Toni Lee Rakestraw, Organic Birth

What should I pack in my hospital bag?

Mollyblessingway 037Packing a bag of labor and birth supplies to bring to the hospital or birth center has become a modern-day ritual of birth preparation. Plan to have your bag packed and stored close to the front door of your home (or in the trunk of your car) several weeks prior to your due date.

Here are some ideas of what to pack in preparation for birthing day:

General

  • A sign for your door indicating your desire to labor without medication (if this is part of your birth preferences).

Edible Supplies

  • Hard candy or little lollipops for a quick boost of energy.
  • Honey sticks: These sealed, clear plastic straws hold about a tablespoon of honey and are another excellent source of quick energy. You can often find them at farmer’s markets or health food stores.
  • Clear liquids to drink: Herbal tea, sports drinks, apple juice, or white grape juice.
  • Water bottles for you and your partner.

Personal Supplies

  • Lip gloss or lip balm (many women find their lips getting dry during labor).
  • Your own nightgown or large, long t-shirt to wear instead of a hospital gown. (Why wear your own gown in the hospital? Many women find this comforting, comfortable, and an excellent reminder of personal autonomy and individuality).
  • Warm socks: Many women’s feet get cold during labor.
  • Toiletry bag with toothpaste, deodorant, etc.
  • Hair ties or elastic bands to hold long hair away from your face

Comfort Supplies

  • Back massager (or, simply, a tennis ball for someone to roll over your back).
  • Your own favorite pillow.
  • Flexible straws and a cup to make getting a drink easier.
  • Special picture or artwork to look at during labor (if you’ve created a birth plan poster bring it to hang on the wall of your room)
  • If you are planning to use aromatherapy during labor, pack your special essential oils.
  • Supplies for a birth altar for inspiration, encouragement, and support during labor. (I make birth art sculptures as well as birth blessing pouches that can be wonderful for this purpose.)
  • A “touchstone” object to hold during labor—this could be a special smooth rock, a little stuffed animal, a piece of jewelry, or other meaningful small object that feels good in your hand.
  • Special birth music on a birth playlist on your phone or MP3 player.

Birth Partner Supplies

  • Snacks: Things like granola bars, fruit leathers, or other quick snacks that do not have a strong smell are ideal.
  • List of people to call with the happy news.
  • Toiletry bag with toothpaste, deodorant, etc.
  • Change of clothes.

After the Birth Supplies

  • Nursing nightgown (any gown that opens in the front for breastfeeding).
  • Breast pads (disposable or washable cotton).
  • Pads for post-birth bleeding (lochia).
  • Clothes for baby to wear home.
  • Comfortable clothes for you to wear home (loose cotton pants—even maternity pants—work better than jeans)

Supplies That Won’t Fit Into a Bag

  • Birth ball (some hospitals have them available to use).
  • Car seat for your newborn properly installed in the backseat of your car.

Best wishes for a beautiful birth!

July 2015 116Sign up for the Brigid’s Grove Newsletter for resources, monthly freebies, and art announcements.