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Wednesday Tidbits: Pregnancy and the Sacred

“I see the beautiful curve of a pregnant belly shaped by the soul within.” –Hafiz
(quoted in The Art of Pregnancy) 

IMG_8522Today we’re heading over to my parents’ house to see my brother and his wife for the big “gender reveal” of their baby! They had an ultrasound last week and had the sex of the baby sealed in an envelope (and then baked into cake pops) and are traveling here to share the surprise with their family. While permission has been given for me to talk about their pregnancy in my blog posts, I find myself hesitant somehow—this is their journey and their experience! However, let me just say that I had no idea how excited I’d feel about their baby. I really look forward to having a niece or nephew! My brother is nine years younger than me. I also have two sisters. My brother and I had a conflictual relationship in childhood and our personalities always clashed a lot. I occasionally worried about who he’d end up marrying, because I was pretty certain that he’d choose someone “clashy” and we’d gradually drift apart and rarely see him. However, my brother grew up to be an awesome man (he was actually an awesome kid too, he was just high impact—much like my second child is—and it was hard for me to cope with that energy as a pre-teen/teen/young adult woman) and now he has an awesome wife who is not clashy at all. In fact she pretty much feels just like a sister and I love and appreciate her. JanuaryMollyBarb 005They are planning a homebirth with a midwife and I can’t wait to keep talking birth together! On New Year’s Eve I helped them listen to their baby’s heartbeat for the first time and it was one of the best experiences of my life 🙂 JanuaryMollyBarb 087There is a lot of “everyday sacred” to pay attention to pregnancy as well as in parenting (and life!) and several topics caught my eye this week. The first was this short post on First the Egg:

The person leading the service asked the congregation to think about and support, among other groups, “parents and all those whose primary spiritual practice is caring for children.” And I’m so tired–so tired–because we never get decent sleep and we’re always ‘on,’ and I have so little self left over for creativity or meditation beyond the practice that is parenting (one act of care and then the next and then the next) and the practice that is writing (one word and then the next and then the next). And it felt goofy even at the time, but a wave of gratitude washed through me. I felt recognized in a way that I never, ever do outside my household. I felt like I was sitting amongst a community that could see what parenting is and what children are. Articulating that parenting is an intellectual, emotional, spiritual discipline and practice is both powerful and rare…

via parenting as a spiritual practice.

Reading Molly’s post brought back to mind my own post on breastfeeding and parenting as spiritual practices:

I calculated that so far in my life I’ve put a baby to my breast more than 12,000 times. Even if I only experienced a February 2014 003single moment of mindful awareness or contemplation or transcendence or sacredness during each of those occasions, that is one heck of a potent, dedicated, and holy practice. In the unique symbiosis of the nursing relationship, I recall a quote from the book The Blue Jay’s Dance (1996) by Louise Erdrich about male writers from the nineteenth century and their longing for an experience of oneness and seeking the mystery of an epiphany. She says: “Perhaps we owe some of our most moving literature to men who didn’t understand that they wanted to be women nursing babies.” (p. 148)

via Breastfeeding as a Spiritual Practice | Talk Birth.

I also absolutely loved this blog post on bringing the sacred into a hospital birth:

As a doula, one of the largest roles we take on is the job of environmental modification. In simple terms? Atmosphere.

Many times, we are the weavers of the “bubble”, so to speak, that mother will labor in – be it the physical atmosphere (furniture, objects, beloved items), the sensory atmosphere (sounds, smells, textures), or the emotional atmosphere (tension, ease and calm, excitement, and love).

All of the amazing doulas I have come across use elements of the above principles. Time and time again, I hear stories of “my awesome doula who used a soft voice when I felt frantic” (setting the emotional atmosphere), or “the soothing sound of piano that really grounded me in early labor” (setting the sensory atmosphere). We can be the key builders, setting the tone for the overall experience, utilizing whatever mom has discussed early on as her needs, wants, and wishes…

via How to Bring Sacred to the Hospital Setting — Lauren A. Condron, MOT, OTR/L.

February 2014 014

Wednesday Tidbits: Activism!

vdayutvs_webRolla Birth Network is pleased to be one of the co-sponsors of the upcoming production of The Vagina Monlogues, Eve Ensler’s classic feminist empowerment play.

The local production of The Vagina Monologues will benefit the Russell House, a shelter for battered women and their children. The event is specifically planned as part of V-Day:

“V-Day is a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. V-Day is a catalyst that promotes creative events to increase awareness, raise money, and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations. V-Day generates broader attention for the fight to stop violence against women and girls, including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation (FGM), and sex slavery.”

Last year we had a candlelight vigil on Valentine’s Day in honor of One Billion Rising. While that was a wonderful project too, this play production is much more ambitious and is very exciting! Here are some more details:

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Local cast members (including my very own talented and awesome doula! 🙂 )

Rolla Area Citizens for Women 2014
Presents a Benefit Production of

Eve Ensler’s
THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES

FEBRUARY 21, 2014 at 7:00 PM

Venue:
Cedar Street Playhouse
701 North Cedar Street
Rolla, Missouri 65401

$5.00 Minimum Donation per person CASH ONLY
Benefits The Russell House

I’m really looking forward to going!

Another Missouri-local opportunity specific to birth advocacy and midwifery activism is the annual Friends of Missouri Midwives Cookie Day at the Capitol coming up next week:

1524390_680284898676217_1590110806_oYes, it is true, Barbara Harper will be there! Isn’t that cool?! I heard her speak at the CAPPA conference in 2010 and very much enjoyed her presence and devotion. I hope the weather cooperates so I can see her grace our Capitol building with her poise and information!

“Let us initiate our daughters into the beauty and mystery of being strong and confident women who claim their right to give birth and raise their children with dignity, power, love, and joy.” –Barbara Harper

One of the opportunities that is also going on this month that is not local, but virtual instead, is DeAnna L’am’s Red Tent Summit. It is free to register and participate. I have not yet carved out the space I need to actually tune in, but the lineup of speakers and wealth of topics is amazing!

Also, while all of these particular events are offered with a wonderfully upbeat spirit of intent and energy, I also feel like sharing an activism-related quote that I’ve had saved in my drafts folder for a long time that acknowledges the important role of anger and activism:

I’m not afraid to say it. Hell, isn’t anger kind of a prerequisite for activism work? As a birth worker I get to watch abuse after abuse, injustice after injustice – over and over again. I mean, really, what spurs the need for activism work if not injustice? And injustice stirs up indignant anger.

We have this huge deficit with the word, “anger.” Somehow, whenever it is said, we cling to this connotation that it – the word, the feeling – is inherently BAD. It took me a lot of years to come to the understanding that there are no “bad” or “good” feelings – that emotions just are. They are states of being which reflect either met or unmet needs.

Anger is usually a catalyst emotion…

via I am an Angry Activist.

I’ve self-identified as an activist since at least 1996 (when I first began working at the same battered women’s shelter for which the Vagina Monologues production is benefiting, actually!) I do find that some anger (or sheer disbelief!) at injustice is part of the fuel that drives my present-day activism. In fact, social justice was at the heart of my response several years ago when asked why I became a childbirth educator:

…the question was posed, “why did you become a childbirth educator?” I responded with the following: because I care deeply about women’s issues, social justice and social change and I feel like women’s choices in childbirth are intimately entwined with this. Because I believe peace on earth begins with birth. Because the births of my own sons were the most powerful and transformative events of my life. And, because I believe every woman should have the opportunity to feel and know her own power and to blossom into motherhood with strength, confidence, and joy. ♥

…On a discussion board once, someone asked the question “what’s at the root of your love of birth?” I was still for a moment and let my intuitive, heart-felt, gut level response come to me and it was this:

Women.

Women’s health, women’s issues, women’s empowerment, women’s rights.

Social justice….

via Why, indeed? | Talk Birth.

I’m currently finishing a book about women’s rituals and this paragraph caught my eye last night in relationship to my own experience of birth activism (and other activist work):

“One of the other problems in areas of small population is the relationship between local and regional leadership. Often, people who are competent local leaders are recruited to work regionally or nationally in their organizations. This policy frequently leaves a vacuum at the local level because leadership is not broadly enough based in those communities.”

I’ve seen this happen with myself, noticing that as I became involved with birth activism on a national level, my time for local birth activism was necessarily reduced. (And, then as my interests and commitments broadened beyond birth, the time for birth activism of any kind reduced.) I also see it happening with digital commitments—basically, the more I do for people on a virtual level over the internet, the less I have to give on a face-to-face local level. I’m still sitting with this realization and wondering what to do with it. The organizers of the One Billion Rising event in Denver this year recently contacted me to ask permission to read one of my poems aloud during their event. I was thrilled to say yes, but then I also thought about my local community and how most people here would not be familiar with my poem at all. So, Denver hears it, but my own local area does not. Interesting. I also found out this week that one of my essays about my grandma was translated into French and published in a French magazine. Cool, yes, but again gave me pause…

January 2014 063Related past posts:

Birth Violence

Tuesday Tidbits: Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence During Pregnancy

Guest Post: Abuse of pregnant women in the medical setting

Business of Being Born: Classroom Edition

Tuesday Tidbits: The Role of Doulas…

Community Organizing

Birth Matters!

Taking it to the Body, Part 4: Women’s Bodies and Self-Authority

Good Birth Books to Gift to Others

I’ve recently had several requests from friends asking about the best birth books to give as gifts to pregnant relatives. After sending my third response, I realized that there’s a blog post in here somewhere!December 2013 010

Here are my current recommendations:

Sacred Pregnancythis book is simply beautiful. My past review is here.

Giving Birth with Confidence—this is the well-known childbirth education organization Lamaze International’s guide to pregnancy and birth and it is one of my favorites. My review of a past edition is here.

The Birth Partnerthis guide by Penny Simkin is a classic for helping fathers or other birth partners serve during labor

The Greatest Pregnancy Everfocused on positive mental attitude during pregnancy and cultivating a mother-baby bond prenatally (caveat: I’ve not actually finished reading this one, so I’m not sure if I have any reservations about it or not. I bought it at the last CAPPA conference)

Birthing from Within—the original birth art resource and a fabulous “out-of-the-box” handbook for preparing for birth. It is not attached to a particular outcome and can help mothers dig deep whether experiencing a home birth or a cesarean. This book is my all-time favorite, but my recommendation comes with a caveat that the short breastfeeding section is terrible.

The Baby Book-a comprehensive, reassuring look at baby’s first year by Dr. and Martha Sears.

For birth stories, I love and adore Simply Give Birth (past mini-review is here). I also like Journey Into Motherhood (available as a free digital copy here) and Adventures in Natural Childbirth.

I used to recommend The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth, but is has been replaced by an updated version called Optimal Care in Childbirth and I’ve not yet read that one. My educated guess is that it is still an excellent recommendation! 🙂 I also used to recommend The Birth Book by Dr. Sears. It is still a good suggestion, but it is now an “older” book and so I don’t put it at the top of my list any longer.

Also, make sure you grab a copy of the free Guide to a Healthy Birth from Choices in Childbirth. I love this little booklet so much! It is my top favorite resource for tabling at community events. Another free educational resource that I recommend (particularly for women planning natural births in hospital settings) is Mother’s Advocate. There is a free booklet and a series of videos that explore Lamaze’s Six Healthy Birth Practices (which all mothers deserve as part of evidence-based care during birth, regardless of birth location).

Past book lists and related suggestions:

What To Do When Newly Pregnant and Wanting a Natural Birth…

Suggested Reading

Postpartum Reading List

Book list: Preparing Children for Homebirth

Non-Advice Books for Mothers

2012 Book List (all kinds of stuff, not just birth)

In addition, all the books I’ve reviewed in the past are available on my website from this link, so make sure to browse and see if anything else jumps out at you as a good match.

“Everyone who interacts with a pregnant woman is, in some way, her ‘teacher.’ Telling birth stories, sharing resources, imparting obstetrical information, giving advice or warnings—these are all direct or indirect ways of teaching about birth and parenting. Whether you currently identify yourself as a ‘childbirth teacher,’ or you are a midwife, doctor, doula, yoga teacher, nurse, therapist, breastfeeding counselor, or you are simply a woman or man who cares about the power of the childbearing year, you already hold the power of mentoring within you.”

–Pam England

Talk Books: Laughter & Tears: The Emotional Life of New Mothers

Laughter and Tears: The Emotional Life of New MothersBecause books are my first and longest-lasting love, I began my blogging career with a book blog. I eventually gave it up when I felt I no longer had time for it and turned my attention of other blog work. However, I occasionally mine the old blog for content here and I’ve realized that rather than doing traditional reviews, I really, really like doing my somewhat-new “talk books” posts on this blog. I’ve mentioned before that one of my reasons for blogging is simply to store information in one place that I want to remember or come back to later. If I’ve typed up everything I like from a book, I don’t really need to hang onto the book and the “essence” of many books (or at least what I got from them) is all compiled in one place. So, what follows is one of those mined posts (though at the end, I got caught up in the topic and went off into some related thoughts).

Laughter and Tears: The Emotional Life of New Mothers was written in 1997 by Lamaze co-founder Elisabeth Bing. I found myself with a dearth of postpartum resource books after giving birth to my first child and desperately hungered for them. I went on a dogged mission to locate them, finding them somewhat difficult to unearth, and eventually I think I read basically every book ever written on the postpartum period.  I started out enjoying Laughter and Tears, but found it less and less engaging as it went on. I think there is such a great need for books about postpartum out there—ideally, for women to read before their babies are born. I wish I would have had one already on my shelf when my first baby was born, instead of having to discover the niche later. However, part of why the book was not engaging by the time I actually read it was simply because it is geared toward women in the immediate postpartum (and also first time mothers primarily)—when I read it, I was no longer there and so my interest in the book waned fairly quickly. I also found a the heavy emphasis on “reclaiming your body” off-putting—there was even a comment like, “now that your baby is a robust two month old, you can begin to reclaim your body by reducing or eliminating feedings at night.” Excuse me? “Robust” TWO MONTH OLD? That is practically still a fetus as far as I’m concerned!

Several quotes I marked to share:

“Our society is profoundly ambivalent about children. On one hand, we praise family values, but on the other, we emphasize individual liberty and the rights of women to have as many freedoms as men. We encourage mothers to desire to have it all, but do not guarantee maternity leave, health insurance, or day care. We use babies to sell products, from laundry detergent to automobile tires, but we don’t want a mother with a toddler in the seat next to us on an airplane. We question the legality of abortion but threaten to withdraw welfare benefits from disadvantaged children. We celebrate children and praise parents for having them, but we do not provide structures or systems to help nurture them.”

And, one I still find extremely relevant:

“The degree of pleasure you take in your mothering is not the same thing as loving the baby or being an effective parent. Keep in mind there is a distinction between mother love and maternal satisfaction. You may love your baby very much but be dissatisfied with your life circumstances.”

There was also a quote that I find a new relevance in today now that our household structure has changed to both parents being home nearly full-time. I’ve been confronted over and over again in the last several months with how many “keys” to the household and family life that I’ve held over my ten years as the primary parent in the home and that, at some level, there is a power in being the one who knows (even if it just where the mustard is, for example) and that switching over to sharing those household details doesn’t actually come easily for either parent, no matter how we’ve said we wish to share them. I’m also noticing how very, very many details of the somewhat invisible work of parenting are still very much my responsibility—such as planning birthday parties or taking kids to playgroup or making dentist appointments or making sure Christmas presents are purchased and equal—and apparently, I do not know how to let those go or start transferring some of the responsibility without feeling put-upon, annoyed, demanding or like, I’ll just do it myself, since I’m the expert anyway. And, as this quote below references, I also have enjoyed being the primary emotional parent as well and still hold on to that terrain—essentially, what I want to share is the cooking and towel-folding responsibilities, while still getting to be the one run to for security and snuggles.

“Men are challenged by their attempts to be more involved and more nuturant than the ‘traditional’ father. Women are challenged not only by developing an identity in the world outside the home, but also by opening up and truly incorporating men into the intimate life of the family. You may have a concept of what a more involved father should be like, but if you are honest with yourself, is your image truly about sharing the love and nurturance? Or is it actually about wanting your partner to help with domestic chores? Are you really imagining a co-parent, or are you thinking of something more like a regular baby-sitter and handyman?”

Whatever it’s shortcomings, this book again reminded me of how vital postpartum support is for families in our society and reminded me of why I originally wanted to be a postpartum doula and how called I felt to that work. In 2004, I trained with DONA as a postpartum doula and felt 100% certain that I had found where I belonged (indeed, I still get Christmas cards and updates from one of my first postpartum doula clients—I was good at the work and they liked me a lot!). I stopped working as a postpartum doula in 2006 though. My biggest reason for discontinuing postpartum work was because at this point in my life I couldn’t reconcile taking care of someone else’s family while my own needed me so much. There I would be washing my client’s dishes and thinking that I have a huge pile unwashed at my own house (that my husband then did at night when he got home) and/or folding their laundry and thinking of the two full baskets at my own house in my own living room as yet not put away. Also, I recognized that I felt more comfortable with and am temperamentally more suited for educational/”academic” types of support  rather than the “intimate” hands-on support that postpartum or labor support requires. For a time after quitting, I really felt embarrassed about it because I was SO sure it was my “calling” and because I spent so much money on training, books, supplies, certification packet, etc. (Luckily, I totaled it up when I was preparing to quit and I made enough money from my clients to at least more than pay myself back for the training!)

I feel fervently that women/families need postpartum doula support (sometimes desperately) and I felt depressed to realize that I wasn’t the person for the role after all. I didn’t understand at the time, but I quickly figured out why the majority of the women in the postpartum doula training with me were middle-aged. They had the energy to “mother-the-mother” and “nurture the family” at that season in their lives, whereas I am still in a season in which I need to nurture my own family before I have the energy to spare to nurture someone else’s. There were also a handful of women in the training, like me, who had very young children. There were no in-betweeners, like where I am right now. I’ve begun to notice this in birth activism work (and to a lesser, but still noticeable extent, in breastfeeding support work) as well—passionate mothers-of-infants or toddlers and gray-haired sage-women are the ones who come together for the bulk of the birth activist workload in various organizations.

I’m also reminded again, however, of why breastfeeding support holds such a lasting pull for me and that is because postpartum is where it is at, that is where we are so very, very deeply needed as support people. Birth is amazing and exhilarating and women most definitely need us there too, but in the nitty-gritty, day-to-day, unglamorous, nipples and breast infections, teething, crying, dirty-haired, exhausted, wrung-out maternal web of daily being is a very tender and delicate beauty that becomes visible only when we’re willing to spend months and months, or even years, serving as a listening ear, a medication lookup, and someone to trust with both her laughter and her tears.

December 2013 018Additional resource: Non-Advice Books for Mothers

Guest Post: Infertility Doula

Infertility Doula:  Infertility and the Natural Birth Community

by Kristen Hurst

Okay, so you’ve wanted to have kids since you emerged from the womb. You had your dolls enact your birth plan before you could write it down. At some point, you adopted the title birth junkie, no shame attached. You studied to become a midwife or a doula. You finally get to the age at which you could conceivably conceive…and then you can’t. November 2013 019

For some women suffering from infertility, waiting the year before they can have access to IVF and other medical interventions isn’t the answer. It’s not that they don’t want to wait that long, it’s just that some women don’t feel comfortable with pumping your body full of hormones in order to conceive when you have made an effort to rid your home of hormone-altering plastics and chemicals. Yet when it comes to natural “solutions” it can be just as frustrating to be handed a garden full of herbs and told to wait. You’ve been waiting your whole life—the wait was supposed to be over.

In my experience, natural birth communities tend to do an excellent job supporting mothers who have experienced miscarriages, but are less certain about the role of would-be mothers who can’t conceive. It’s not that we don’t welcome them, especially if they are midwives and doulas, but we assume that they have another place to go: there are a significant number of infertility support groups in the world that even have their own lingo! Nevertheless, midwives and doulas that have experienced infertility are an integral part of our community, and their needs—and perspectives— shouldn’t be ignored.

For women who have only recently discovered their infertility, we can support them through natural treatments and even more conventional fertility treatments. We can offer acupuncture, fertility massage, and a variety of herbs and dietary changes.  We can accompany these women to difficult appointments. We can offer to be an infertility doula, a concept that, as far as I can tell, was coined by Ebru B. Halper to describe the profession she created as a result of her struggles with infertility. Halper guides women through the overwhelming maze of fertility treatments, providing whatever kind of support they may need. I’m not sure why this concept hasn’t caught on, but I think it’s a helpful frame for how we can approach infertility in our communities.

Since training to become a doula, I’ve often thought about how we can be doulas for the women in our communities no matter what they’re experiencing. I often feel as though I am a doula to my children, helping them birth their best selves. But that process has to extend beyond the treatment process into whatever grief or celebration might follow. Ultimately, there is no one “right” thing to say to a birth worker who cannot have her own babies. What we need to do is to listen and be present because we know that birth is a gift. I can’t know what it feels like to be denied that gift, but there are many women who can share their perspective.

The point of this conversation isn’t to make me feel grateful for the fact that I have been able to give birth—it is to celebrate grief as an end in itself. “Grief is neither a disorder nor a healing process: it is a sign of health itself, a whole and natural gesture of love,” says Dr. Gerald May. He continues, “[n]or must we see grief as a step towards something better. No matter how much it hurts–and it may be the greatest pain in life–grief can be an end in itself, a pure expression of love–“  As a birthing community, we must bear witness to this painful love rather than assure the woman that it’s “meant to be.” We can’t stop being infertility doulas once the treatment is over. Making space for both the love within birth and the love within grief can only make our lives richer.

Kristen Hurst is a mother, a writer, a yogi, and a doula. She received her bachelor’s degree in fashion marketing, and writes often about pregnancy and maternity fashion for Seraphine Maternity.   When she’s not trying to juggle the lives of  her sons, she enjoys painting and catching up with a great Jane Austen novel.

Birth Mystery

“Whether a woman knows it or not, she is a vessel of great magnitude born capable of reshaping humanities destiny if she only knew the true depths of her innate gifts. Be prepared now to see the fierce face of the feminine rock as her inner geographies of volcanic strength erupt from a love she has held in her belly for life all of her days. This is not a gasp of her last breath. It is her birthing cry into her wise leadership on our planet.” –ALisa Starkweather

“Birth, like love, is an energy and a process, happening within a relationship. Both unfold with their own timing, with a uniqueness that can never be anticipated, with a power that can never be controlled, but with an exquisite mystery to be appreciated.” –Elizabeth Noble

“Birth is not a cerebral event; it is a visceral-holistic process which requires all of your self–body, heart, emotion, mind, spirit.” –Baraka Bethany Elihu (Birthing Ourselves into Being)

Last weekend, I taught our final Birth Skills Workshop of the year. While I know I have been writing about my sense of separation from birth work or the phase of “moving on,” in which I find myself, this workshop was an excellent experience. The women were so beautiful and interested and anticipatory. The couple working together was so loving. My doula co-presenter was so present and grounding. I came home feeling really positive and enthused and I also found myself considering new birthwork-related ideas and new possibilities, including something that I’m really excited about, but don’t feel like I can share publicly just yet. This work is in my blood, my roots, my heart and my soul, regardless of how direct the services are that I offer or the primacy/priority of face-to-face birthwork in my life. I will never not care about birthing women. They’re too amazing. They’re too important. And, my own sense of being, my spirituality, my thealogy, is too intimately entwined with my own embodied experience of gestating, birthing, lactating, and mothering, to ever make a full separation from it. After I got home and looked at my few pictures from the evening, I realized that in eight years of teaching birth classes, I have exactly zero pictures of me doing so! But, here is one of some of the mamas were enjoying a much deserved relaxation session after a lot of active birth practice. 🙂

October 2013 036This photo reminds me of the amazing benefits of co-teaching a workshop with another birth professional. SO much better than teaching alone ever was! Doula Summer of Peaceful Beginnings Doula Services and I have been friends for a long time (we also co-founded Rolla Birth Network). She has helped me when I’ve needed help and I’ve helped her when she’s needed help, but our helping skills/abilities rest in different areas, which is why we work extremely well together with a workshop like this one. I provide the information and structure, Summer provides the gentle presence and soothing hand. A good workshop needs both!

I also re-discovered how I do enjoy putting together a nice information packet! 🙂

October 2013 023

In addition to my workshop-related epiphany, I had a lightbulb moment with regard to my M.Div thesis. It suddenly seemed clear to me that rather than create a scholarly, academic discourse proving a theory about birth as a spiritual experience, I need to integrate my theories with my birth art sculptures. I need to frame my work within this sculptural context, this personal experience, this lived reality of the might of creation. I have 234 pages of possible content for said thesis, all saved in an intimidating word document waiting to be sorted through and added to. It is overwhelming to even open. With my new idea of framing my thesis through my own art, I feel a pathway emerging through the information, a pathway that integrates the academic and the personal and that results in something uniquely my own…

October 2013 011

Some of my sculptures-turned-pewter-jewelry.

“Be soft. Think of [labor] as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall. Follow the stream, have faith in its course. It will go its own way, meandering here, trickling there. It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices. Just follow it. Never let it out of your sight. It will take you.” -Sheng-yen

“We vibrate to that primordial rhythm even before we have ears to hear…We vibrate to the rhythms of our mother’s blood before she herself is born. And this pulse is the thread of blood that runs all the way back through the grandmothers to the first mother.” – Layne Redmond (August 19, 1952 – October 28, 2013): Drummer/Composer, Author and much more (via The Girl God)

“Within the womb of every woman glows the consciousness of Mother Earth.” –Roslyne Sophia Breillat (via The Girl God)

Talk Books: Birth, Breath, & Death

I just finished reading a lovely little book by Amy Wright Glenn. Lyrical, gentle, contemplative, and touching, Birth, Breath, and Death explores Amy’s meditations on life as a doula, mother, and hospital chaplain. birthbreathanddeath-amywrightglenn

Amy Wright Glenn was raised as a Mormon and eventually found her way onto a different faith path, Unitarian Universalism. Her reasons for connecting with the UU church actually closely mirror my own. Amy mentions that she first finds the UU church through her interest in poetry, which I found interesting. She then explains, “I was drawn to the way that Unitarian Universalist (UU) ministers attempt to evoke wonder and exploration in the minds and hearts of their congregants” (p. 10). This attempt to engage with the “transcendent sense of mystery and wonder” is exactly what attracted me to the UU’s, as well as the respect for the interdependent web of life of which we are all a part, the affirmation of the dignity and worth of each human being, and the commitment to social justice.

Amy writes, “I had been raised to acknowledge only one entrance to God’s energy. In fact, one need not use the term ‘God’ at all. Such a term is another doorway into the mysterious heart unifying all existence. However, humans need language to direct the attention to the ineffable. There are many names for this mystery. The doorways were holy too” (p. 13).

She continues with a very UU perspective (I’ve heard of it describes as “the light shines through many windows. We respect all windows and welcome everyone, except for those who think they should throw rocks through everyone else’s window!”):

“Spiritual surface structures open human beings to encounters with the ineffable…I have no doubt when my father bows his head in a small Utah town, and when I meditate in quiet sublime stillness, we touch the same source. At their best, religious traditions affirm the wonder at the heart of existence and provide meaningful contexts for its experience. This mystery allows us to breathe, dream, love, and dimly perceive so,etching beyond time even while we live in time…The moon is simply the moon, a miracle enough” (p 16).

I connect to this sense of wonder, with no need for explanation or interpretation—isn’t it is enough, to just marvel at what is? On my other blog, I once wrote:

I also have a favorite passage from Susan Griffin about the earth in which she exclaims, “We are stunned by this beauty.” That is exactly how I feel. This relationship to the planet is what used to make me feel that a conception of deity was unnecessary—isn’t it enough to just marvel at what is, right here in front of us? The majesty and the miracle of the natural world. I am stunned by this beauty. I am stunned by the realization that we are all suspended in space, spinning timelessly through the universe on this beautiful planet, so small in the vastness of all that surrounds us, and yet so big that it is literally our whole world. Sometimes when I have a bad day or feel overwhelmed by the swirl of daily tasks I remember that old saying about, “sometimes I go about pitying myself when all the while I am being carried by a great wind across the sky.” If we really stopped to think about this—to sense how we are carried by the great wind, I think the whole world would change, how people relate to each other and to the environment would be transformed. Stop, look, listen, breathe, and feel how we spin. Together.

Moving into birth, Glenn addresses the potent, transformative aspects of birth in describing attending her sister’s birth, the birth that led her into doula work (before the birth of her own son): “Birth brings powerful and painful sensations to the most intimate spaces of the female body…I stood transfixed by the life-giving strength found in her feminine power.”

She also explains:

“All forms of birth–physical, intellectual, spiritual, or emotional–bring one to the depths. The power to give birth originates in the creative life spirit birthing all, the seen and the unseen. According to Joseph Campbell, the source of life is beyond gender and the duality of male and female. However, when symbolizing the power that creates, Campbell argues the representation is ‘properly female.’ I agree. From this universal goddess energy emanates the seasons, the mountains, the rivers, and the galaxies. Writ large, human birth embodied the process of manifesting dreams, working diligently through our labors, and bringing vital energies to life. On this level, all human give birth. All humans participate in life’s creative energy…

On this level, we all need the renewing powers of ‘rhythm, ritual, and rest.’ This phrase reminds doulas of three helpful labor techniques outlined by legendary doula trainer, Penny Simkin. Rhythm, ritual, and rest not only aid birthing women, but they support all of us to move skillfully through our life’s labors. The power of rhythm restores vibrancy through dance, music, and motion. The power of ritual opens the way to direct encounter with the mysterious wonder of life. Rest renews and restores the very cells of our often tired and over-stimulated bodies and minds.” (p. 28-29).

And, she makes some poignant observations about breastfeeding, one that almost made me cry: “…only a child knows what his mother’s heartbeat sounds like from the inside” (p. 67) and one that made me cheer: “Family and friends need to draw a fierce circle of protection and non-interference around the nursing mother-child dyad.

In giving birth to her own son, Amy’s awareness and understanding are further deepened and expanded and she explains that:

“For me, birthing was a crucible moment, a dying, a deepening, and a healing. The light of birth transformed me into a mother. The light of birth is love. Looking back I see this clearly. Love was the pain and joy. Love restored me as I rested and held me up when I transformed into a wild eyed Kali. Love chanted with me in the birthing tub and love was certainly the epidural. Love pushed my baby out and gazed at me through Taber’s eyes. Love sustains me now as I watch his sweet small mouth suckle…” (p. 68)

Towards the end of this sweet, thoughtful book, she also used a great analogy that I’m going to borrow for my human services classes. She posits the scenario in which you are passing by a pond on the way to work and notice a small child drowning. You are wearing an expensive pair of new shoes and rushing into the water will ruin them. Do you rush in? The answer is YES. No one should choose their shoes over the life of the child and almost no one would respond to this scenario by saying that they would not save the child, yet, if the pond is world poverty, we do in fact, choose the shoes every day…we just aren’t looking those children in the eyes at the time…

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