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The Last Time

I lie in bed with him, cementing the details in my memory. The way the morning air is heavy and green. The sound of last night’s raindrops continuing to drip from the overfull gutters on the roof. The insistent stab of a single-note bird song in the air. His head nestles in the crook of my arm the way it has done every morning for three years. Blond hair against my nose, breathing in the slightly baby smell of him. “This is the last img_9756time,” I whisper softly. “We are all done after this. This is the last time we will have nonnies.”

This is not the first last time for me, but it is the last, last time.  The first baby was born 14 years ago and gathered to my breast with all the tenderness and uncertainty and instinctiveness of a first, first. “Do you want nursies?” I whisper to that new little boy, and we begin the next steps in our bond, nursing for nearly three years, until one day, six weeks away from the birth of the next baby boy, the first little brother in our family, I decide that we truly have to be done. I am a breastfeeding counselor for other nursing mothers and I feel like I should want to tandem nurse my two boys. I fondly envision their hands joining across my body, the easy love and camaraderie between them blossoming through this shared time with their mother. But, I feel an intense irritation with nursing while pregnant, nearly a sense of revulsion and the almost irresistible urge to shove away my sweet little boy as I prepare to greet the life of another. I talk to my midwife about my feelings and she explains that with her own two daughters, the agitated feeling at nursing the older one did not go away with the birth of the second, but instead became dramatically worse.

After hearing this, I feel panicky and I decide we do, in fact, have to wean. He is a very verbal and precocious toddler and I am easily able to explain to him that it is time to be finished nursing. One night though, he lies in bed with me crying and begging to nurse. He says he really needs to. I tell him, “remember, we’re all done, but if you really, really need me, if you really, really still need to have nursies, you can.” He doesn’t nurse, but instead falls asleep, reassured that while our nursing relationship might be over, I’m still here.

The second baby boy nurses the longest of any. Beginning while still attached to me by his umbilical cord, after a short and intense birth in my alaina005living room, nursing is the comfort tool that soothes the powerful emotions and hot temper of this baby. To him, breastfeeding is “na na’s,” a word he learns to say at only six months old, reaching towards me from his father’s arms and calling, “Mama, na na! Mama, na na!” At nearly three, when snuggled in my lap for comfort after an emotional meltdown and burst of fiery, destructive temper he explains: “Mama, when I’m not with you, I feel like I’m in lava. When I’m not nursing, I feel like I’m in a dragon’s mouth!” When this boy is 3.5, I nurse him for the last time. I am pregnant again and feeling the same aversion and revulsion towards our once-treasured bond that I felt with my first. We talk and I tell him we are all done. I wonder if I will be sorry that I have weaned him if something happens to the new baby, will I be sorry that I cut him off and then don’t have a new baby to nurse? I decide that no, I will not be sorry. In fact, that I am truly desperate to be done nursing him.

This third baby, a third boy, does not ever make it to my breast. He dies early in my second trimester, less than two weeks after I nurse my second son for the last time, wondering if I’ll be sorry about weaning him. Though I am overcome with grief at the loss of my baby, I never regret the decision to wean the toddler. What follows is the only three months in more than fourteen years in which I am not pregnant or nursing anyone. april-2014-022A short fourth pregnancy, less than six weeks in duration this time, fills in another month, and then, I am pregnant with my daughter.

My only girl is born in one sudden moment, whole and healthy, into my hands as I kneel on a futon in my living room. The wild, sweet relief I feel at seeing she is actually alive is the most powerful emotion I’ve ever felt in my life. She is gathered to my breast in the coldness of this January morning and continues to nurse for the next three years, until I am pregnant with her little brother. “Na na’s” become “nonnies” with her and she is finally weaned in the sunny days of spring. We sit in the field by our house, kites flying on a windy day. She cries on my lap when I tell that we have to be done, “remember, this is our last time. We’re all done now.” My second son comes over to us, he of the big feelings and the lava of emotions. “What happened?” he asks. I tell him that she is feeling sad because we are all done having nonnies now and he reaches out to touch her leg. “I’ve been where she is,” he says compassionately, “I know what she feels.”

Much later, as I complain about still nursing her little brother and exclaiming that I just need to be done, she asks me: “why don’t you get a kite?” “What on earth are you talking about?” I ask her, “Why would I need a kite?” She stares at me as if I’m foolish, “so you can fly it and then be done nursing Tanner!” she exclaims.

Tanner. The last baby. The baby I wasn’t expecting, the first pregnancy of six pregnancies that took me by complete surprise. The baby that taught me that blogging about how I was done having children was not, in itself, an effective means of birth control. The baby that challenged me to re-open myself, my heart, my body, and my family after I had mentally and emotionally shut the door on being pregnant again. The baby I whispered to as I knelt in the birth pool in my living room, “We want you, baby, we really, really want you. You can come out now.” It is finally with this baby, become toddler, that I realize that it is not nursing during pregnancy that I find so incredibly agitating, it is simply that I don’t really enjoy nursing someone after they reach about two. I always blamed the subsequent pregnancies on the agitation, the anxiety, the tense unrest, the canine or feline-like urge to nip and snap at my pesky offspring and to stand up, letting my overgrown baby plop to the ground, watching after me bewildered as I walk away, waving my tail. In truth, I simply do get done nursing. This is the first baby for which I have to admit that I am done july-2017-049simply because I am done, not because I am expecting the birth of another.

I do not always feel like a good mother, in fact I have often felt very badly about myself as a parent, and yet on this morning when I nurse the last child for the last time, I do the math and realize that I have put a child to my breast approximately 32,200 times over the last fourteen years. Maybe there are more than 32,000 ways to say I love you, I reflect, and each child has felt that from me day in and day out, in this embodied dance of interconnection, this weaving of cells into souls into life.

I stroke the soft little arm of my youngest son, here in my bed on this August morning as we nurse for the last time. I notice how my thumb and forefinger easily meet around even the uppermost portion of it and my eyes pinch with tears. In the last month he has lost his sweet yogurt-smelling baby breath in the mornings and instead smells a bit sour and in need of a tooth brushing. He unlatches and peers at me in the darkness. “I’m done,” he says, and rolls away from me. I cup my hand on the back of his head, the way I’ve done with each of my kids when they were newborns, feeling the curve of their skull under my palm and marveling how that head rested so easily in the cradle of my pelvis. My cells, my blood, my milk, made flesh. And, I cry.

This is the first time my body will be wholly my own, sustaining no one else’s life force but my own, in fourteen years. My body at 24 years old weighed just 159 pounds the day I gave birth, full-term, to my first eight pound baby boy in 2003. My body now 38 years old, weighs 160 pounds, and is pregnant with no one but herself.

Crossposted at Feminism and Religion and Brigid’s Grove.

Talk Books: Liberating Motherhood

liberatingmotherhood“Women’s liberation must be mothers’ liberation or it is nothing.”

–Germain Greer, in The Whole Woman, quoted in Liberating Motherhood

Since I have three homeschooled children (ages 6-13) and one toddler (2) who are all home full-time, as well as a home business, I often fell asleep with the book Liberating Motherhood in one hand and december-2016-001my nursing toddler asleep on the other arm. However, the mark of how much I liked a book can be told most reliably, not by my eventual typed review, but by the number of pages whose corners have been turned down. In case you can’t tell in the picture, that means that Liberating Motherhood is a winner. Complex. Witty. Wry. Assertive. Bold. A detailed manifesto of maternal feminism.

Liberating Motherhood is a fairly heavy read, made readable and engaging by Vanessa’s deft way with words, sharp wit, and clear explanations. It covers broad themes and weaves together issues of justice, ecofeminism, politics, and socialization in sections titled A Mother’s Body, A Mother’s Mind, a Mother’s Labour, and a Mother’s Heart. The core of the book is the argument that many mothers wish to actively mother their young children and yet are wholly unsupported in doing so. Patriarchy’s answer is subordination of women into a caregiving role that has no monetary or economic value or respect. Contemporary feminism’s answer is “full female employment” and outsourcing of childcare into a universal daycare system. Olorenshaw is assertive that the answer to the “problem of mothers,” is not more daycare, but rather more social and economic support, including a basic income. She is willing to tackle the classist assumptions that work outside of the home is inherently fulfilling for women, noting that the ability of women in the upper socieconomic status to “lean in” rests fully on the backs of lower paid, overworked women who are doing the work that no one else wants to do. However, she does not glamorize or romanticize the role of a stay-at-home mother either, exploring in-depth the economic and social vulnerability that women are placed in by depending on the income of a partner and exploring the potential for abuse and exploitation that results from this common social model.

I have consciously self-identified as a feminist since I was 13. After giving birth for the first time at september-2016-01124, I became immersed in the writing and world of “mother’s rights,” and at this time, became rebirthed as a maternal feminist. My spiritual path is that of a goddess-feminist and I have been also immersed for years on a goddess path that is firmly feminist in orientation. Since my feminism has been entwined for a long time with my mothering and with goddess-spirituality, I sometimes found that Vanessa was arguing against a type of feminism which I find mostly unrecognizable, or almost more of a caricature of feminism than that which I have found in my work in the world. In fact, one of my favorite quotes from a book of feminist thealogy is feminists make the best mothers. (Charlotte Caron, To Make and Make Again). I also write for the feminist blog, Feminism and Religion, and while there have been a few notable exceptions, the majority of writers there seem to embrace a maternally-inspired/influenced feminism, unlike some of the writers and leaders encountered by Olonrenshaw. I don’t find that as many contemporary feminist thinkers and writers ignore the issues of mothers and maternity as much as she asserts. I would also have liked to see some coverage of the life structures and experiences of women like me who find their solution combining mothering while working for themselves. I have long said that I am not looking for an “or,” but for the “and,” mothering while also working on other tasks!

Published by Womancraft Publishing, Liberating Motherhood takes on not only the patriarchy, but neoliberal capitalism and modern feminism as well in a complex brew of social critique, call to action, values-exploration, and manifesto. Unapologetically assertive and with a large dose of wry wit and candor, Olorenshaw explores the many ways in which an insidious social and cultural web is woven that simultaneously devalues and ignores women’s unpaid work, yet benefits greatly from its fulfillment.

“The problem is, for all the talk of women’s liberation, when it is predicated on liberation from motherhood, it is no liberation at all. When feminism is based on ideas of equality which ignore the actual reality of her life, her deep wish to care for her children, and deny the value of caring, a mother is in chains. We need to get going on liberating motherhood. We can say loud and clear that: ‘I don’t need liberating from motherhood: motherhood needs to be liberated from a system which devalues it, devalues us and devalues our children.”

–Vanessa Olorenshaw, Liberating Motherhood

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Happy Birthday, Tanner!

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I actually got the perfect picture this morning of our birthday boy! Tanner is TWO! He says: “I’m two!” He speaks in 2-3 word sentences and adds words every day. He can basically say anything. He loves tools and fixing stuff and “working” with mom and dad. He watches closely enough that he even blows on the tops of the heads of tiny goddesses when he sits down with them and tries to work on the tops of their heads. He likes cars and trucks. He is the first kid to run to help when someone says, “help,” including trying to be the other side of furniture moving. Loves swings and big boots and running fast. Is observant and attentive and clever. Likes knives (too much!).

Falls asleep in my arms each night, just like he did the day he was born.

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His birth video is here and his birth story is here

We having his birthday party tonight and going to a Halloween party. He has a dinosaur costume as well as a karate kid t-shirt so he can be Johnny, the blond kid from the Karate Kid movie (he was Draco Malfoy last year. Apparently, I can only think of blond-hair-related costumes and bad kids in movies are blond?!) I have made a non-professional-looking pumpkin cake with super yummy pumpkin cream cheese icing.october-2016-076

I can’t image a world without a Tanner in it! He is a powerhouse, a dynamo, and an inextricable part of our family.

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Talk Books: Lost on Hope Island

Patricia Harman is an experienced midwife, beginning as a community midwife in the 1960’s and goatmidwivesthen becoming a CNM and maintaining a busy practice with her obstetrician husband Tom. Her memories about midwifery practice are some of my all-time favorite midwifery memoirs. She has a delightful gift with sharing stories, wisdom, and creating what feels like a true relationship with the reader. Now, she has put her attention into a new project: fiction for middle-grade children. Her first child’s novel, Lost on Hope Island: The Amazing Tale of the Little Goat Midwives, tells the story of two siblings, Trillium and Jacob (ages 12 and 8) who are shipwrecked on a small island in the Pacific Ocean and separated from their parents.

Lost on Hope Island is set in the modern day, it is not a Swiss Family Robinson reboot. On the island, the children must learn how to survive with only each other, and the goats the inhabit the island for company. They make some surprising (and convenient!) discoveries left behind by previous homesteaders on the island that help them survive and they develop close relationships with their goat friends. After the traumatic death of one baby goat, they learn how to help the nanny goats on the island give birth to their kids when they encounter difficulties (specifying that their mother and grandmothers are midwives and they know that if a mother isn’t have any trouble, it is best to keep your hands off and leave her alone!). This tale is not a fantastical or “glitzy” children’s read, nor does it shy away from complicated and difficult topics, instead it opens the door to real questions about relationships and feelings and how to draw on one’s own strength when you think you can’t go on. It is unusual to find a middle grade children’s book about realistic people in unusual, but not fantasy, circumstances. The book is illustrated with charming little hand-drawn pictures of the goats and the island’s adventures.

I read Lost on Hope Island out loud to my kids at bedtime over the course of a few weeks. My kids are ages 2, 5, 10, and 13. The older boys groaned a bit about reading it and found the goat-birth scenes to be a bit “icky,” but after they settled into the rhythm and pacing of the story, they listened with rapt attention and we often mentioned the story at other points during the day. My five-year-old daughter loved the book and it taught my nearly two-year-old son how to both say “midwives” (in a truly adorable fashion…he would get the book and bring it to me saying, “mid-wiiiifes”) and also “bey-aa” like the goats in the story.

If you are looking for a family read aloud, this adventure story with a birth-worker twist, is the book for you!

Past reviews of Patricia’s other books:


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

Crossposted at Brigid’s Grove.

Happy Father’s Day!

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“When he becomes a father, a man leaves behind his life as a single individual and expands into a more inclusive role. He becomes a link in an unbroken chain. And in doing so, he himself undergoes a birth process–the birth of himself as a father.”

–John Franklin (FatherBirth)

It is almost Father’s Day and Brigid’s Grove is taking a some time to acknowledge fathers. We have two downloadable father-related gifts:

We also have some Special Father’s Day sale items in our etsy shop.

Father’s Day represents an important milestone for us, since it was this time three years ago that Mark gave his notice at his job and took the leap into a full-time, home-based life with the rest of us. This was prompted in many ways by his desire to spend more time with his family, which I wrote about several years ago in my Fatherbaby post:

We have discussed how each of our babies has been a catalyst for big changes in our home situation. Our first baby was the catalyst we needed to move away from our by-the-highway-no-yard townhouse in a city and onto our own land in the country near my parents. Our second baby was the catalyst we needed to finish building our real house and to move out of our temporary house and into our permanent home. So, we are now wondering what kind of catalyst our baby girl will be?

via Fatherbaby | Talk Birth.

The baby girl of which I spoke was the catalyst to finally make the leap. Then, after Mark was home full-time we had another baby, Tanner. For the first time in his parenting career, Mark was finally able to spend that precious year of babyhood with the baby and the rest of us, together, where we belong. They have a very tight bond and a beautiful connection.

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“Fatherhood challenges us, but it also enlarges us and reshapes our perception of what is important in the world around us. As we take stock of this new world, we find that doing our job as a dad is inherently honorable and respectful, and brings to us the dignity that goes with the territory. Far from being emasculating, being a dad makes us men in the finest sense of the term.”

Dads Adventure

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Past Father’s Day blog posts:

Article of the week:

10 Things To Reject In the Delivery Room | Consumer Health Choices

What I’m reading lately:

Burning Woman!

What is going on at Brigid’s Grove:

Other news:

On the blog:

Upcoming in-depth courses with Molly:

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Thursday Tidbits: Birthing Courage

There is a certain fire to books written about women’s health, empowerment, and feminism in the May 2016 0041970’s and 1980’s. I’ve been extremely fond of birth (activism) books written during that time period because they seem much less apologetic than books written today as well as much less concerned with appearing “biased” towards unmedicated birth (or various other topics). I also love women’s spirituality books of that era and while I’ve read a small handful of maternal activism books written in that time period, I haven’t read many about feminism itself. So, I recently finished reading a passionate, short collection of essays called Our Blood: Prophecies and Discourses on Sexual Politics, by Andrea Dworkin (1976). In it, of course, this section on birth and courage caught my eye:

“If we were not invisible to ourselves, we would see that since the beginning of time, we have been the exemplars of physical courage. Squatting in fields, isolated in bedrooms, in slums, in shacks, or in hospitals, women endure the ordeal of giving birth. This physical act of giving birth requires courage of the highest order. It is the prototypical act of authentic physical courage. One’s life is each time on the line. One faces death each time. One endures, withstands, or is consumed by pain. Survival demands stamina, strength, concentration, and will power. No phallic hero, no matter what he does to himself or to another to prove his courage, ever matches the solitary, existential courage of the woman who gives birth.

We need not continue to have children in order to claim the dignity of realizing our own physical capacity for physical courage. This capacity is ours; it belongs to us, and it has belonged to us since the beginning of time. What we must do now is reclaim this capacity–take it out of the service of men; make it visible to ourselves; and determine how to use in the service of feminist revolution.

If we were not invisible to ourselves, we would also see that we have always had a resolute commitment to and faith in human life which have made us heroic in our nurturance and sustenance of lives other than our own. Under all circumstances–in war, sickness, famine, drought, poverty, in times of incalculable misery and despair–women have done the work required for the survival of the species. We have not pushed a button, or organized a military unit, to do the work of emotionally and physically sustaining life. We have done it one by one, and one to one.” (p. 63-64)

Speaking of fire, I’m very much looking forward to Lucy Pearce’s new book, Burning Woman. My copy should be arriving soon! I’m honored and humbled to have contributed in a small way to the book:

This incendiary text was written for women who burn with passion, have been burned with shame, and who at another time, in another place, would have been burned at the stake. With contributions from leading burning women of our era: Isabel Abbott, ALisa Starkweather, Shiloh Sophia McCloud, Molly Remer, Julie Daley, Bethany Webster…

61iu1amr3WLI also read two good articles this week, one about mothering the mother:

And then there’s birth. Whether she delivers by an unmedicated vaginal birth, a medicated vaginal birth, or a C-section, the effort will be herculean, unlike any physical or emotional challenge she has faced to date – unless she’s already had a baby, that is. Giving birth requires a mother to push herself light years past her own limitations. She will be skyrocketed out of her comfort zone into a foreign land that demands strength, stamina, resilience and a shocking amount of trust – that her body really is designed to do this, that her tiny, yet-to-be-born baby is tough enough to handle all that pushing, gripping, and squeezing, and that this is an event that will eventually be over (those 35-hour labourers know exactly what I’m talking about). Along the way she’ll discover a crystal clear truth that she’ll lean on during the other heart-wrenching, body-challenging experiences that will inevitably come her way during the course of her life: the only way out is through…

via Mothering the Mother: New Mothers Need a Focused Period of Rest and Recovery

And, the second about four things to avoid if you want to have the birth you want:

So, best case scenario: You aren’t afraid and sneak off to your birth cave. Turn off your human mind and think very, very carefully (beforehand!!) about who you invite into this space.

via Avoiding These 4 Things May Help You Have the Birth You Want

In my personal and business life, we’ve been making tons of beautiful Story Goddesses and shipping them to fascinating locations like Costa Rica and Puerto Rico and Kuwait, as well as delighting in seeing photos of them that customers send of the goddesses enjoying travels on beaches in Cornwall and in pear trees in the UK.

May 2016 207I’m wrapping up a really fulfilling Practical Priestessing course. I’m also getting ready for a new online workshop about creating mother-daughter circles: Pink Tent Rising. I survived another session of grading papers as well as balancing everything else (even though I felt like I couldn’t do it, somehow I could. The only way out is through, just like birth! 😉 ). Tanner says adorable words like “kiwi” and my brother, sister-in-law, and fabulous nephew moved right next door to begin buildingMay 2016 010 their own house. My parents are getting ready to have an epic celebration party of their fortieth year of homesteading here in Missouri. We celebrated the 21st anniversary of our first date, I turned 37, and enjoyed Mother’s Day this month. Zander’s tenth birthday is right around the corner and both of my parents’ birthdays too. Mark had a vasectomy last month, so our childbearing years have fully closed and I feel really great about that decision. I still haven’t heard anything back about my dissertation (4 months now!). We also took a mini vacation to Big Cedar Lodge on Table Rock Lake and took the kids to the Dinosaur Museum in Branson.

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</stream of consciousness mini-update post>

Eighteenmonthababy!

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The serious little face. The fishing pole. The lactivist-baby t. The tiny Crocs. The blond hair.

This is what an eighteenmonthababy looks like.

I feel inspired to share a quick update post about our little Tan Tan and his adventures in becoming March 2016 012Boy instead of Baby. He is adding new words constantly. I cannot keep up with them all. We’ve skipped right past the stage at which I can keep a list of the words he knows how to say, because he can say anything (albeit with limited range of enunciation. So, most words are not clear, but you can ask him to say anything or repeat anything and he will do it. He will also follow instructions like, “go find a dinosaur and bring it to me.”) He is also starting to do a few two word combinations: “big car,” “yes, dog,” “Daddy, outside.” We are lucky in that he’s been able to shake his head for yes and no for many months now, which eliminates lots of frustration and confusion in communicating with someone with limited vocabulary. This month he has begun verbally saying, “yeah” as well though.

He adores going outside and would live outside all day long, in whatever weather, if he could. He April 2016 043loves playing on the trampoline and runs around on it in impossibly fast circles with blond hair sticking straight up all around his head. He also runs very fast inside and there his hair flops up and down in an adorable fashion. He has begun using the potty with some regularity on his own accord. Often wakes up with a dry diaper and will even pull at his pants saying, “pee pee, potty,” sometimes.

He has to do a lot of keeping up with everyone in the house and has a tendency to run after me/get left behind while I’m doing whatever it is that needs my attention. Falls asleep for nap each day in Ergo and sleeps by my leg in the bed, waking instantly if I try to get up without him.

Fascinated by the cats and enjoys the fact that we have baby kitties right now for him to study. Stares with delight. Says, “wow!” and “yay!” and “uh oh” liberally and has a most indescribable twinkle in his eye + the most impish grins and expressions of any toddler I’ve ever seen. Climbs on stuff. Jumps off stuff. Uses my body as jungle gym. Is a wrestling act to even keep him in the air while holding him, as he writhes and twists and climbs my body instead of just sitting on my him. Wants to be on counters and tables March 2016 007constantly. Desperate to “help” with all business elements like packing orders and attaching jump rings. It is hard to take good pictures of him because he is constantly in motion. I’m not sure if it is the fact that I’m older than I used to be, or that I have four kids now, or that I have a business to run, but it is extraordinarily tiring to parent this small delightful whirlwind of a person. I feel literally worn out and worn down by him at the end of every day. It is physically exhausting just to hold him. And, even exhausting and a physical strain on my body just to nurse him while wrestling his other hand around from my other nipple and holding myself up as he flops from side to side, kicks and twists his legs, stands up, etc. while also nursing. He has a huge presence in life and in our family. He is good at “rolling with it” in terms of noise and chaos and people suddenly swinging him up into the air. He is funny and clever and a tiny problem solver and “engineer.”

He also loves his shovel.

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I can hardly believe he is one and half already and yet, he is so here with who and how he is, I forgot that he hasn’t always been in our family.

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