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Thesis Tidbits: Feminism, Midwifery, and Motherhood

“Feminism catches fire when it draws upon its inherent spirituality. When it does not, it is just one more form of politics, and politics never fed our deepest hungers.” –Carol Lee Flinders (in The Millionth Circle)

Yesterday, I spent several hours finishing a blog post for Feminism and Religion regarding empowered self-care (it won’t run until next  week). It is a primarily a personal narrative, rather than a political commentary, but as I was writing it, I learned about new legislation introduced in Missouri in an effort to effectively destroy the practice of independent midwifery here. I also have a friend whose family March 2014 082 member just experienced terribly abusive treatment during the immediate postpartum period. I typed feverishly away with an absolutely excruciating headache and a million things on my mind, primarily the very many injustices experienced by women during the childbearing year. I was also left wondering HOW we can truly take care of ourselves when legislators and health care workers actively take dramatic and even cruel steps to prevent us from doing so?

Another friend wrote a comprehensive blog post about this malpractice insurance legislation and the issues involved with it. Midwifery advocacy organizations have already introduced a perfectly appropriate piece of legislation this session and do not need the proposed bogus piece of legislation that offers nothing in the way of protection for Missouri midwifery consumers and instead simply serves to drive midwives out of practice:

…Fortunately, midwives in Missouri do offer a grievance process and adhere to the practice standards set by the certifying agency NARM (North American Registry of Midwives). While there is already a high degree of professional accountability practiced in Missouri, this is because the state professional organization (Missouri Midwives Association) believes it is important and necessary for the professional practice of midwifery and not because the state has directed midwives to do so.

The state of Missouri has continued to be uninterested in working with midwives and home birth families to improve and safeguard the practice of midwifery.

Is there a better option? YES! HB 1363

Instead of HB 2189, we would like to suggest directing legislators to support HB 1363. This is a comprehensive midwifery licensing bill which does provide a mechanism for oversight and responsible, regulated practice. It also addresses the issue of malpractice insurance by requiring midwives to have coverage under the same conditions as physicians. It would also require Medicaid reimbursement for families desiring the care of Certified Professional Midwives and home birth.

via Missouri Legislature Works Against Women, Families and Midwives….AGAIN. | Midwives, Doulas, Home Birth, OH MY!.

I also recently finished a class on ritual theory for my doctoral degree program. The text for the class was To Make and Make Again: Feminist Ritual Thealogy by Charlotte Caron. In it, I was repeatedly reminded that gathering with other women in a circle for ritual and ceremony is deeply important even though it might just look like people having fun or even being frivolous, it is actually a microcosm of the macrocosm—a miniature version of the world we’d like to see and that we want to make possible. Returning to Caron, she explains something similar: “Ritual change is symbolic change, but it can lead to direct action or to ideological change, so it can be an important element in strategizing for change. One way of causing change is to re-form or alter the system. This involves recognizing that we are part of the system and that the system is dependent on feedback from its parts to keep it in balance, which means that we have the capacity to change” (p. 209).

Ritual experience can lead to practical action: spiritual praxis. But, this action does not need to look the same for all women, nor does it always have to involve large structures of society or even sweeping societal change.

“It is important to recognize that not all women will choose to act in the large structures of society. While it is hoped that all women will act toward justice, still electoral politics, lobbying, and revising the economic system may not be the spheres in which some women exert their energy. Ritual actions, raising children to be just and caring people, living in just ways in intimate and community relationships, and modeling different patterns and values are political actions to change patriarchal ideology. The choices of what spheres to devote energy to are important to honor. The constraints of women’s lives—when they are disabled, when they are dealing with past traumas, when they are raising young children, and when they are doing the many other things expected of women in our society—mean that women need to make choices that will allow them to live with integrity and well-being.” (p. 211)

A number of options of action are possible. “What is important are women’s choices to act in concrete ways in every circumstance, to know our neighbors, to raise children to be caring people, to live as if justice exists, to be just in personal relationships, and to live in the community in ways that model the values of justice and well-being for women and all of creation.” (p. 211)

As a mother who works extensively with other mothers, I appreciated Caron’s acknowledgement that raising children is a feminist act with potential to create change as well. “Another strategy for change is through raising children to be just and caring people. A media image portrays feminists as being against motherhood—but in fact, feminists make the best mothers. They raise children aware of themselves and the world, of options and values, of what justice means and how to work toward it, and how to be self-critical and self-respecting” (p. 203-204). Caron also explains that “in a just society, women would be free to make whatever decisions they needed to, for however long they needed to, in relation to political action in the public and the private sphere. All people would participate in the decision-making, and women would be supported in their decisions rather than, as sometimes happens, made to feel guilty for not doing enough or not valued for what they do.”

In connection with women being valued for what they actually do, Caron makes an interesting note about the visions women in her research hold for the future, for the possible:

“Interestingly, none of the visions described by women was based in self-fulfillment, in gaining personal power, or in one’s group having power and the expense of others. Instead, the interviewees talked about the elimination of social, economic, military, and other patriarchal problems, and about living in a world of valued individuals, healthy and diverse relationships, economic and environmental sustainability, equality for all, and shared decision-making and power” (p. 220).

Connected to these themes, one of my classic favorite quotes about women’s spirituality groups is this one:

“…Women’s spirituality groups can become birth centers for social change”

–Anne Rush in The Politics of Women’s Spirituality (p. 384)

March 2014 127

Rise for Justice

1497514_10153552346400442_1148387720_nOkay, so I knew I would enjoy The Vagina Monologues. How could I not, right?! Well, I did not expect to be SO blown away by the power, presence, and passion of my magnificent friends. They were incredible. Seriously incredible. It was an amazing show!  There were many powerful moments–some very funny, some sad, some horrifying. My friend, doula, and colleague did the piece on birth at the end and brought me to tears with her vibrance and passion. There was a moment in the middle where the teenage girl member of the cast read out some statistics on the One Billion women who are raped, abused, or assaulted. Each member of the cast began to rise in turn and as they did, their friends in the audience rose with them, until the whole theater was standing. We rose for justice.

I’ve mentioned several times that I came to birth work with a core foundation in feminism and social justice work, primarily in domestic violence. I remain firmly convinced that the way we treat women in the birthplace reflects an overall cultural attitude towards women in general. I believe that peace on earth begins with birth. I believe that we can change the world with the way we greet new babies and celebrate new mothers and see the deep, never-ending work of parenting our children. I believe in rising for justice and I keep vigil in my heart every day for women around the world.

In a stroke of coincidence that gave me chills, my independent study student who is working on a Breastfeeding and Ecofeminism course submitted her weekly reflections and in it she mentioned Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues, and One Billion Rising with no idea that I was going to the show this week. As I read her reflections, the connection between the personal and political was so tangible that I asked her if I could use her assignment as a guest post for my blog. Part of the reason I assigned the book Reweaving the World for this course was because of how it contextualizes the issues facing women so broadly and makes this undeniable connection between exploitation of the planet and exploitation of women’s bodies. While it might sometimes trigger a sense of hopelessness and distress, I think ultimately, the contextualization is empowering. The Vagina Monologues are based on the courage of women telling their stories and sharing their truths. Likewise, I appreciate Alea’s generosity and courage in sharing her reflections with my readers…

November 2013 061

Dancing for Change: A look inside a personal exploration of ecofeminism, sexuality, and social justice.

Guest post by Alea Scarff

I began reading The Politics of Breastfeeding which sparked a series of “hell, yes’s!” It also left me feeling inspired, excited and validated that I’m not the only one with these feelings and notions about women, breastfeeding, and the injustice I witness within this issue. Her kick-ass presentation of the truth among this profound cultural issue left me enlivened and ready for action sentence after sentence.

Then I read several pages of Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism. Yikes. This was heavy. I suddenly found myself caught between two worlds of inherent optimism excited for positive social change, and the deep dark issues of ecology and the longstanding reality of suffering and inequality of women on this planet. I felt my body overcome with anger. A feeling of helplessness ensued. I felt those women in third world countries starving and overheated, overworked and just trying to sustain the lives of their children on top of enduring mental, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. I felt all the children who suffer because of this. I felt all of the gender imposing rules children in the western world are conditioned by, thus tainting our hearts and souls with limitation and sharp edges surrounding who we are allowed to be in this society. All of the emotionally repressed men; all of the objectified, degraded women who have never known what it feels like to feel good in their bodies.

I began to feel my grandmother’s oppression she suffered from my grandfather in the 60s. The abandonment, the sexual abuse, the use and re-use of her as a resource and service for himself. I felt my mother’s experience of an emotionally abusive relationship, and finally my experience of sexual molestation as a child. Where was all of this coming from? A deep sadness came over me as I desperately tried to figure out my own issues with sexuality and my relationship to the world as I sat amongst strangers in this warm coffee shop. Was I angry about what happened to me? Was I angry at my partner? Past partners? Was I angry at the world? I really couldn’t identify where the anger came from, or where it was directed. I had to stop, refresh, and start over. Maybe this shit is too intense for me. Maybe I need to change my course of study.

No, no. You can’t run away. I realized I had been running from this issue my whole life and it’s finally time to recognize it. I stopped, took some deep breaths, did some yoga asanas to release the sticky tensions of injustice lurking in my joints throughout my body. Ok. Begin again.

So I went back to my childhood, with my deepest memories of the frequent encounters of gender inequality. My mother, to this day, credits me for bringing to light her own femininity and capturing her attention to the inequalities of men and women. Something that went unnoticed until I came along, however she still was not interested in changing the ways of the world to the extent I was. She had her own social change she was working on. It was entrenched in art and consciousness. Luckily, I picked up on this, and found my own desire for changing the world through consciousness. Consciousness through equality for women. How could anyone else NOT be outraged by the fact that 8 out of 10 songs on the radio were sung by men? As a twelve year old, I began writing letters to radio stations. I couldn’t understand how no one seemed to care about this absurd injustice constantly happening on the radio. Something so simple yet so powerful as radio permeated our culture – and no one seemed to notice. There were a plethora of female musicians that I favored at this age. How could I not hear them on the radio? On top of an array of social issues such as this, I always HATED those older men who would make random, confusing, degrading comments to me for others’ and their own amusement. What the hell was up with that?

I began reading an interview with Eve Ensler, the creator of The Vagina Monologues and the global women’s campaign, One Billion Rising. The figures quoted from the UN in this interview left me in a deeper outrage. One billion women on the planet today are beaten or sexually assaulted. I reflected on an article I had read earlier that week, as well about how to talk with your children about their private parts and to help prevent them from being sexually abused. The article stated that one in five girls are sexually molested and one in six boys are. I never identified with the label “sexually molested” nor did I want to admit I was affected by this, but just in the last few years when I looked at the definition, I realized, even my few small inappropriate experiences are considered just that, and they have, in fact, affected me.

I had to take a few days off. This all needed to settle inside and I had to figure out what to do with it. I spent days pondering, how do I continue to explore this crucial subject and maintain a positive outlook? How do I channel this anger into solutions for helping others? How can I continue researching and hold my strength and goddess energy as a female role model, an inspiration for my two little boys, my partner, men and women, and the planet?

This is a tall aspiration I set for myself, I realize. I suppose this is simply what I aspire to be.

I began speaking with my mother about my sexuality from a young age and my exploration of it now. It was both comforting and disheartening to discover my mother had similar inappropriate sexual experiences as a child that I endured, as well as finding she’s still on her journey of understanding this taboo topic herself, female sexuality. Perhaps a running thread in my family of women? Or is this prevalent everywhere? Why is no one talking about it? Even after being so close with my mother, and being able to talk about anything for as long as I can remember, it took some courage to bring up this subject with her. Regardless, I am so glad I did.

I began to read again. I decided I had to begin with an open heart and mind, as I swim right through the obstacles of understanding the depths and spaces of the world of women and the planet. There is a lot to be grateful for, and a lot that needs changing. Positive reflection throughout this journey can only bring more light. Letting go and forgiving my past experiences, and the oppression the women I know and love have endured, I take a step into a new beginning. I can move forward continuing to understand my path of my sexuality growing up, and what this means for me now. I feel I’ve got a long way to go, and I can sense a gap of mystery and unknown feelings sitting somewhere inside. But I’m ready to embrace and heal whatever decides to reveal itself.

I am now in the process of releasing fear and letting go. Letting go of being afraid to speak up and stand up for what’s right; of being viewed as a bitch, uptight, or simply being exposed. We as women need to start somewhere within this realm in order to ignite change. Rather than accepting these old cultural paradigms and letting them continue to thrive within this patriarchal society, it’s time to change this tired, destructive trend. As Ensler quotes in a recent interview with Deccan Aitkenhead for The Guardian, “We have one in three women on the planet being raped or beaten…We’ve all learned to be so well behaved and polite. We should be hysterical.”

Ensler launched One Billion Rising which, on Valentine’s Day in 2013 brought close to one billion women out on the streets to protest against violence towards women. Ensler’s goal is to have one billion gather on February 14th outside buildings that represent justice – police stations, courthouses, and government offices – and dance. That’s it. Where and how they dance is up to them; each is organized at a local level. In this, I found tremendous uplifting relief.

Through this personal revelation, I’ve decided to remain free – and not restrained by anger or resentment of injustice. I simply cannot move forward or flourish from that space. We must find liberation through the endurance, triumph and the celebration of womanhood. Simply. This is the only way to encourage and create change. I must release the tensions that like to creep up and burrow inside my joints and muscles. I no longer will walk around carrying this stuff – I’d rather be dancing than dwelling. This is the only way I will find my way to living up to my goddess vibration of inspiration for social change for my two little boys, my partner, women and men, and the planet collectively.

Next year on Valentine’s Day, I think I will be dancing.

“But when you suddenly understand that violence against women is the methodology that sustains patriarchy, then you suddenly get that we’re in this together. Women across the world are in this together.” –Eve Ensler

 

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:

1506285_10201181030470858_1053739884_o

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

Tuesday Tidbits: Breastfeeding and Ecofeminism

“Women united in close circles can awaken the wisdom in each other’s hearts.” ~The 13 Indigenous Grandmothers (via The Girl God)

I agreed to serve as a faculty mentor for a Breastfeeding and Ecofeminism independent study class that started yesterday. Since my husband and I also recently finished our Breastfeeding Mama in pewter, I felt inspired to create this little message…

b3wkwFor the class, my student is reading three books and working on several projects (one of which will be a series of blog posts, so watch for those!). We chose these books:

The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts are Bad for Business by Gabrielle Palmer

Milk, Money, and Madness: The Culture and Politics of Breastfeeding by Naomi Baumslag M.D. and Dia Michels

Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism by Irene Diamond

This is going to be so much fun! How lucky I am to get to do stuff like this! This is the course description we worked on together:

This course explores the cultural, social, and political environment surrounding breastfeeding in the United States through the lens of eco-feminism. We will examine global cultural attitudes compared to the United States, scientific research of the benefits of breast milk, marketing and advertising of artificial milk, and the sociocultural context surrounding infant feeding as a public health issue. This course emphasizes critical and varied perspectives on breast and bottle feeding; as well as the ways in which gender, race, and socioeconomic class affect women’s choices in breastfeeding. The birth-breastfeeding continuum will also be explored. We will study the aspects of ecology, spirituality, and feminism as well as many other perspectives supporting this holistic human experience for the well-being of the planet.

I wrote up some nifty course objectives as well:

  1. Contextualize breastfeeding as a public health issue both within the sociocultural environment in the United States and cross-culturally.
  2. Describe why breastfeeding is an ecofeminist issue—make connections between human treatment of the “world body” and the female body.
  3. Articulate the systemic and structural context in which breastfeeding takes place in the US. (Describe the political and economic influences on infant feeding in the US and frame the issue within a broad cultural context extending beyond the concept of personal choice.)
  4. Address the charge of “essentialism” with regard to breastfeeding in the context of feminist theory.

The student found me because of my past article on this subject…

Breastfeeding is a feminist issue and a fundamental women’s issue. And, it is an issue deeply embedded in a sociocultural context. Attitudes towards breastfeeding are intimately entwined with attitudes toward women, women’s bodies, and who has “ownership” of them. Patriarchy chafes at a woman having the audacity to feed her child with her own body, under her own authority, and without the need for any other. Feminism sometimes chafes at the “control” over the woman’s body exerted by the breastfeeding infant.

Part of the root core of patriarchy is a rejection of the female and of women’s bodies as abnormal OR as enticing or sinful or messy, hormonal, complicated, confusing…. Authentic feminism need not be about denying biological differences between women and men, but instead about defining both as profoundly worthy and capable and of never denying an opportunity to anyone for a sex-based reason. Feminism can be about creating a culture that values what is female as well as what is male, not a culture that tries to erase or hide “messy” evidence of femaleness.

However, precisely because of the patriarchal association of the female with the earthy and the physical, feminists have perhaps wanted to distance themselves from breastfeeding. This intensely embodied biologically mandated physical experience so clearly represents a fundamental difference between men and women that it appears to bolster biological reductionism. Yet in so doing feminism then colludes with patriarchy and itself becomes a tool of the patriarchy in the repression and silencing of women and their leaky ever-changing, endlessly cycling bodies: these bodies that change blood into food and bleed without dying and provide safe passage for new souls upon the earth. Sometimes the issue of a woman’s right not to breastfeed is framed as a feminist “choice.” This is a myth, made in the context of a society that places little value on women, children, and caregiving. It is society that needs to change. Not women and not babies.

via Breastfeeding as an Ecofeminist Issue | Talk Birth.

Last week I read a relevant article from Amy Glenn…

For the first time in human history, the female breast is nearly completely separated from its primary mammalian function. Rather than supporting the healthy development of our limbic lives, breasts are pornographically used to market a multitude of products. Why is the breast’s primary lactating function deemed strangely controversial today?

Despite the efforts of breastfeeding advocates, consider that mainstream news publications and talk shows feature mothers who nurse toddlers as cultural oddities…Our own society’s rupture from the wisdom of ancient ways is the true cultural oddity.

I applaud the efforts of public health advocates seeking to reconnect to the ancient wisdom of our female ancestors. Friends and family need to draw a fierce circle of protection and non-interference around the nursing mother-child dyad…

If it were up to breastfeeding advocates, federal legislation mandating paid maternity leave would exist everywhere. For nothing pressures a new mother to give up nursing more than struggling to meet the financial needs of her family. While teaching in Colombia, my employer was obligated legally to give me three months of paid maternity leave. Yet, if I had been working in the US at the time, it would have been up to my employer to determine the status of my maternity leave. The US stands alone as the only developed country without legally mandated paid maternity leave. This directly connects to our woeful breastfeeding rates…

Glenn read Palmer’s Politics book and it changed her perspectives on the systemic influences surrounding breastfeeding women:

In particular, Palmer’s connections between poverty and breastfeeding moved me. Over the last century, the purposefully deceptive marketing ploys of infant-formula makers have left tragedy in their destructive wake. For example, when promoting artificial milk in the developing world, companies dressed their representatives as medical professionals who claimed that their products were better than breast milk. Poverty stricken and largely uneducated mothers were persuaded to spend a large percentage of their household’s monthly income on the artificial milk powder that was considered best. To prolong its use, they often diluted the powder further reducing any nutritional value. In addition, these mothers lived in areas with poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water. Palmer describes how hundreds of thousands of babies died. At times, I had to put the book down as angry tears washed through me.

Choosing to move beyond the painful disconnections of our culture, I do my best to support the breastfeeding mothers I meet. Our world must move beyond separating baby from mother, self from breath, and bodies from hearts.

via In praise of breast milk.

I also read with interest an interview between Jeanette McCulloch of BirthSwell and Paige Hall Smith, a speaker at the 2013 Breastfeeding and Feminism conference, which makes some additional points about the relationship between income and breastfeeding rates:

PHS: The connection between women’s status and breastfeeding leads to a number of interesting ideas. We know from other research that both education and income are positively associated with breastfeeding outcomes. More research on why this is the case would be useful, particularly given that higher income is also associated with women’s employment. We also learn in this study that in those states where women have greater control of reproductive choices, and those where they are more likely to vote, also have higher breastfeeding rates. Since none of these are indicators that are directly implicated in breastfeeding success, we have to conclude that something interesting is going on in the climate of these states that makes a difference for women.

It makes sense that women who have higher status have more ability to manage their own time and resources (such as adjusting break times at work, taking additional maternity leave, determining the flow and location of their work) which may lead to higher breastfeeding rates. They may also have more authority at home and at work, which translates into greater ability to actualize their own decisions. Breastfeeding, like the ability to control one’s fertility, can be seen as a form of reproductive autonomy.

The relationship between women’s status and breastfeeding remained even when we controlled for available state-level breastfeeding support, such as access to IBCLCs, peer support like La Leche League, and baby friendly hospitals. One possible interpretation for this is that the breastfeeding support measures we have in place are ones that provide more assistance to higher status women than they do to lower status women. We need to think critically how our measures are affecting different populations. In general we found that clinical indicators of breastfeeding support had more impact on breastfeeding than did policy measures. This could have been because currently there insufficient “trickle down” from policy to women’s lives.

via Does Breastfeeding Hold Women Back? | Breastfeeding and Feminism International Conference

On a related-to-breastfeeding note, but moving off the topic of breastfeeding and ecofeminism, Mark and I also have a brand new nursing mama pendant that will be unveiled at the launch of our new collaborative business on February 1st! We’ll have a series of product giveaways, a free digital kit, and a new discount coupon as well. I’m so excited!

Other related posts:

The ‘Of Course’ Response

World Breastfeeding Week post roundup

Taking it to the Body

 

Blogging, Busyness, and Life: Part 1

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“The successful woman has a secret. She’s learned that she owes it to herself, her children, and the world to make the contribution she was born to make. She’s learned to ask for advice and help, to insist on getting paid what she’s worth, and to set boundaries at work and at home so that her needs get met, not trampled. She puts her dreams at the top of her priorities list, not at the bottom. She feels great about being recognized for her accomplishments, and she’s totally OK with the fact that not everyone is going to like her when she stands up to those who would discount her or put her down.” –DEBRA CONDREN, Good Housekeeping, Aug. 2010

October 2013 013

Swoon! I’m in love with my late October roses. They are the most beautiful things ever and I DO, in fact, stop to smell them. Daily, as a matter of fact!

As the season shifts, I’ve recognized a familiar feeling. Oh yeah, this, I’ve had to say…again, it is my annual fall sense of needing something to change, of feeling overextended, overcommitted, and like other people are attempting to use me up or somehow consume me for their own purposes. I start to want to STOP. To take a break from it all. To retreat. I first consciously remember this feeling from November of 2009, the month that my third baby died unexpectedly during my pregnancy. Right before this, I’d been struggling with the feeling of being sped up and overcommitted and like I needed to pull back, but didn’t know how. Then, I experienced the birth-miscarriage of this baby and I did stop for a while. It was a crucible moment, a hinge upon which my life pivoted and changed directions. Though, the direction of the change is actually still in progress, still being birthed, even at this moment, four years later. Interestingly, when late fall rolls around each year, I experience the exact same thing.

When I first noticed the pattern, I wondered if it was an unconscious body memory of this miscarriage legacy, but I’ve come to think it is simply the season, and this is when I start to pay attention and make changes. I also know that this sensation of being “too busy” did not contribute to my miscarriage, as someone did actually once suggest to me, but is simply a regular feature of my Sept-Oct-Nov-Dec life. As I was working on this post, my mom came over to bring the kids back to me and she was also “sped up,” talking about her theater ushering commitments and her Halloween party and people coming over to learn how to make pottery (or another cool thing. My mom is the ultimate master of creative pursuits). And, I said to her as she was talking, “ah ha! I have a noble legacy of doing a lot.” I also remembered one of my realizations following my grandmother’s death earlier this year: one of the things I valued most about her was all the interesting things she did. She was vibrant and active and busy. She was always doing stuff. And, it was cool stuff and she was a cool person and I loved her and learned from her precisely because she was so busy and interesting all the dang time. I come from a long line of busy women with lots of interests…and abilities. Maybe that is just fine. When I attended the GGG this year, one of the realizations I came home with is that sometimes I feel like people are trying to get me to be less (more about this some other time). And, I remembered a session I had with a healer who did a somatic repatterning process with me—one of the beliefs she tested on me was, “I am not enough.” It got a marginal response, but then she tested, “I am TOO MUCH.” And, THAT is the one that tested as true. I wonder how much about myself that I try to change or that I struggle with actually comes from the fear of being, too much. Too intense. Too active. Too talkative. Too much thinking, too much writing, too many ideas, too many projects, too much waving of my hands and pacing when I talk. Too, too, too, too much.

So, I returned to this beautiful quote from Jen Louden in The Life Organizer:

“Would a weight lift off my shoulders if I realized that it’s normal to feel pulled between choices, that it’s normal to want to do more than I have time or energy for, and that it’s normal to have to choose between two equally wonderful things, that it’s actually a sign I’m a fascinating, amazing person?

via The Ongoing Crisis of Abundance | Talk Birth.

And, it said, oh yeah, this. I re-visited some of my past ah-ha moments and past November calls for change:

It is only when we silence the blaring sounds of our daily existence that we can finally hear the whispers of the truth that life reveals to us, as it stands knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts.

~ K.T. Jong (via Kingfish Komment)

Some time around November each year for the last three years, I’ve had a feeling of being “sped up” in my life and a desperate craving of stillness and rest. I begin to feel like pulling inward, “calling my spirit back” and re-integrating fragmented parts. Aside from my family members, I stop feeling like being “of service” to others and their interruptions of my space or requests for my time or attention begin to feel like impositions. I begin to hear the distant call to “retreat.” I crave stillness, rest, and being alone. I fantasize about broad expanses of silent time in which to think and plan and ponder. It then takes me until February to actually act on this urge.

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One of my grandma’s sweet, beautiful antique Shirley Temple dolls–one of her many passions in life.

via Time for a retreat! | Talk Birth.

And, the sense of needing to take a break and or FINALLY figure out how to write short, snappy posts:

I don’t want to totally put my blog on hold, but I do want to, finally, figure out how to write SHORTER posts for the time being and save the involved, insightful posts that I put a lot of thought into for my winter break. I also just really need to give myself permission to be “off” here and direct my attention towards other roles.

via Blog Break Festival! | Talk Birth.

I also found a most excellent reminder about over-blogging perhaps diminishing my “radiance”:

So, once again I’ve found myself staring at The Mountain of Too Much and a familiar a crisis of abundance. This happens routinely. I should be used to it by now! But, I feel this creeping sense of overwhelm and dismay as I look at my calendar, my commitments, and my neverending to-do list. And, as I continue to try to be more and do better and yet always feel as if I’m not enough. I feel myself getting ragged and I don’t like it. I also have a feeling that I’m forgetting the self-care mantra, “the things that matter most should never be at the mercy of the things that matter least.” I keep getting distracted by little bits and bites and losing sight of what I most value. I’m also not taking care of myself—not eating enough, running out of time to exercise, being preoccupied rather than present, always doing the “should dos” instead of the “want tos.” I crave rest. I fantasize about just being able to rest. But, then I discover I’m not sure I know how.

So, I very much appreciated this extremely thought-provoking audio-blog Women in Cyberspace ~ Our Blind Spots – IndigoBacal.com. She makes a lot of important observations about how women use social media, including blogging, and she shared: “What I discovered was that sharing as much of myself as possible, as much of my inspiration as possible [online] was actually diminishing my radiance…”

via Blog Break Festival

And, the sensation of being splintered and pulled:

Sometimes I think I just like and care about TOO MANY things. All of these things splinter my attention in a million ways however, and also leave me with a persistent sensation of, “well, I didn’t get everything done today.” I continue to try to make sure to unsubscribe from email lists and blog subscriptions to cut down on this immediacy sensation that a constant influx of new information and ideas promotes. As I told my husband, “if I

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One of my new projects! Too much?! I think not!

didn’t get that newsletter, or click on that article, or open that email, I would never have known about all those things I could have gotten done today.” Plus, there is always a new batch tomorrow! And, then I get a little depressed thinking why the rush to get things done and to finish? So I can die with a clear to-do list?! Come on!

via The Ongoing Crisis of Abundance | Talk Birth.

And, about maybe needing to quit blogging:

During this time, I abruptly decided this was IT, I HAVE TO STOP BLOGGING. I cried and cried. I don’t want to quit, but, if I can’t do homeschooling properly I certainly don’t deserve to be a blogger. And, then I remembered these quotes about stories and I especially remembered this one:

“As long as women are isolated one from the other, not allowed to offer other women the most personal accounts of their lives, they will not be part of any narratives of their own…women will be staving off destiny and not inviting or inventing or controlling it.” –Carolyn Heilbrun quoted in Sacred Circles

And, also this one:

Telling our stories is one way we become more aware of just what ‘the river’ of our lives is. Listening to ourselves speak, without interruption, correction, or even flattering comments, we may truly hear, perhaps for the first time, some new meaning in a once painful, confusing situation. We may, quite suddenly, see how this even or relationship we are in relates to many others in our past. We may receive a flash of insight, a lesson long unlearned, a glimpse of understanding. And, as the quiet, focused compassion for us pervades the room, perhaps our own hearts open, even slightly, towards ourselves.

–Robin Deen Carnes & Sally Craig in Sacred Circles

via I am a Story Woman | Talk Birth.

October 2013 075

Their season is passing and the cold is having an impact, but they’re still amazing.

However, I also don’t think it is my imagination that the pace of life and the requests/demands for time and attention have increased exponentially in the last couple of years. I don’t know if it is just my own stage of life, or actually the whole of modern society. I feel like it is society (or Facebook?!)—there is a LOT to DO all the time and prioritizing and choosing between those things can actually be a painful process, sometimes resulting in dropped balls, misunderstandings, and the sensation of apathy amongst people, that I don’t think is really true–I think it is more-to-do-keep-track-of-than-is-literally-feasible. I have reach a point in which the time in my life for several of my birth-related committed has passed and probably did so a couple of years ago, but I have continued out of loyalty, friendship, responsibility, obligation, and the fact that I DO still care a LOT, just not as much as I used to. I read an article some time ago (that I cannot manage to relocate) that continuing with work that you really feel finished with is the same as “sleeping with your ex.” Though I’ve never had an actual ex to sleep with, I can appreciate the metaphor and I feel like I DO need to acknowledge the areas in my own work/volunteer life in which I’m “sleeping with my ex,” rather than heading in the directions I feel called to pursue. Birthwork as a whole, with the exception of birth writing and birth art, has become that sleeping-with-my-ex territory for me, but it is SO HARD to let go, especially because the work is connected to important friendships and past experiences and, and, and.

In the last year, I’ve taken on regular (unpaid) blog contributor commitments with multiple other blogs. I’m recognizing that some of these experiences feel rewarding and enriching and some feel more like I’m being “used” to contribute to the project of another person without a lot of gain for myself. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple of weeks both pondering how to be less hard on myself as well as about the role of blogging in my life…where does it fit? Is it inhibiting other work I could be doing or contributing to it? How do I make the transition between focuses, or, is it possible to maintain multiple focuses and multiple blog commitments…? This reminded me of an article I read about healthy boundaries, which are really important for those of us who like to be of service to others…

Boundary setting is hands-down the most important lesson we women need to learn: “Healthy boundaries are like having a front door with a lock on it. You have the right to keep out unpleasant visitors.”

Boundary setting was certainly my most important lesson to learn in order to become empowered, because without healthy boundaries I created unhealthy, dysfunctional relationships . . . and I didn’t even realize I was doing it!

As someone who has tended to over-give, over-do, over-protect, even over-try, I have to remind myself when I begin taking on more than I feel comfortable with — whether it be helping a friend, counseling a family member through a rough time, or offering to “pick up the slack” for someone who has “bitten off more than they can chew” – to back up, slow down, and really ask myself:

“Do I want to be doing this?”

“Is this improving my life or exhausting me?”

“Has this started to become a co-dependent relationship with me as the ‘mother / caretaker’ and them as my ‘child / responsibility’?”

By being aware of how I feel (i.e. drained, frustrated, even resentful), I’ve learned how to catch myself from stepping into chaos, drama, and dysfunction much sooner than I used to.

~ Crystal Andrus

Read more: http://www.crystalandrus.com/healthy-boundaries-create-healthy-relationships/

I have some more thoughts and some quotes from blogs to share and I don’t yet feel actually finished with this post, but that’s okay and I will go ahead and continue with Part 2, tomorrow, even though part of me is saying, “no one is even interested in your lengthy mental machinations, why are you going on and on and on in your too muchly manner?!”

And, I’ll leave you with this cool video from an online event I’m attending tonight:

Talk Books: Sweetening the Pill

I haven’t actually read this book yet, or even obtained a copy, but I am intrigued enough by the promo spot that I’m doing a short blog post about it anyway! I’ve struggled with the question of birth control for some time. I took the pill for about six years and then after having my first baby in 2003 and going on the minipill, I had the sudden “epiphany” that if I was so committed to natural birth and breastfeeding and natural living and trusting my body, why the heck was I okay with filling said body full of hormones?! (The same epiphany, but including cloth diapers, led me to start using cloth moon pads rather than disposable as well. Never looked back!) We started using natural family planning instead (really, the Billings method) and it has been excellent for nine years—no “accidents” and more babies exactly when we decided we wanted them. And, no side effects, no money, and no hormones. Now that our family size feels complete, I find myself struggling with whether or not NFP will continue be “enough” until natural infertility takes over. NFP was fine when an accidental pregnancy was an acceptable option. At this point, an unexpected pregnancy would still be an acceptable option, however fast-forwarding the clock, I really, really, really, do not want to be someone who ends up having her first unexpected pregnancy at age 45 or something! I also do not want to engage in any permanent body-modification efforts (for either myself or my husband) when my own fertility will be up in the next 15 years or so (but body modification is forever!). So, I feel very optionless at this point…Anyway, on to the book I haven’t read. Here’s the promo copy I got that piqued my interest!

SWEETENING THE PILL OR HOW WE GOT HOOKED ON HORMONAL BIRTH CONTROL by Holly Grigg-Spall
Book Description: Millions of healthy women take a powerful medication every day from their mid-teens to menopause – the Pill – but few know how this drug works or the potential side effects. Contrary to cultural myth, the birth control pill impacts on every organ and function of the body, and yet most women do not even think of it as a drug. Depression, anxiety, paranoia, rage, panic attacks – just a few of the effects of the Pill on half of the over 80% of women who pop these tablets during their lifetimes.When the Pill was released, it was thought that women would not submit to taking a medication each day when they were not sick. Now the Pill is making women sick.However, there are a growing number of women looking for non-hormonal alternatives for preventing pregnancy. In a bid to spark a backlash against hormonal contraceptives, this book asks: Why can’t we criticize the Pill?

Carol Downer of Women’s Health in Women’s Hands makes a really important that our feminist health commitment to birth control access may blind us to the actual poor health impacts of the Pill:

“We discovered in the ’70s that the personal is political. Holly Grigg-Spall starts with her and other women’s personal experiences with the Pill, then thoughtfully and thoroughly considers it scientifically, medically and philosophically to discover the political truth of the Pill. She shares strategies for finding new ways to control our fertility while regaining control of our destiny. Grigg-Spall’s careful study on the Pill’s effect on women’s health is long, long overdue. We are so busy fighting to keep hormonal birth control available that we don’t want to question what it is doing to our health and our lives. After reading this book, we can never see the Pill in the same way again.”

Comments and resources welcome! 🙂

Guest Post: Paid Menstrual Leave?

Paid Menstrual Leave – it’s time!  

by DeAnna L’am. Reprinted with permission.

A Russian lawmaker has asked parliament to give women two days paid leave a month when they menstruate… Mikhail Degtyaryov, a member of the nationalist LDPR party, wrote on his website “During that period (of menstruation), most women experience psychological and physiological discomfort. The pain for the fair sex is often so intense that it is necessary to call an ambulance”… Scientists and gynecologists look on difficult menstruation not only as a medical, but also a social problem…” ~ Standard Digital, August 2013

Fascinating! Lets look at how good things are turned on their heads, yet again, to result (unsurprisingly) in women’s dis-empowerment.

Indeed, a paid monthly Menstrual Leave would be an honoring, empowering option for women worldwide. Yet proposing it for all the wrong reasons diminishes us, and our cyclicity, to “a social problem.”

Campaigns have been initiated over the years under the guise of empowering women, which ended up diminishing, dis-empowering, and ultimately killing us! Marketing guru Edward Bernays was hired in 1928 by an American Tobacco Company president to increase sales of Lucky Strike cigarettes. Sigmond Freud’s work was utilized to expand understanding of ‘What Women Want’ and capitalize on it for marketing purposes.

Realizing that women were motivated and empowered by the suffrage movement, Bernays manipulated a real need – into a persuasive sales tactic. He hired women to march in the Easted Sunday parade smoking what he cleverly named their “Torches of Freedom.” Bernays succeeded overnight: he persuaded women to pick up an unhealthy habit, and commit to spending their hard earned money for years, by equating cigarettes with personal freedom and equality to men. Smoking among women exploded into unparalleled heights. Their personal freedom and equality to men continued to suffer…

Similarly, women were encouraged by manipulative campaigns to start giving birth in hospitals after countless generations of home births. Many new hospitals were built as a result of Second World War, to accommodate the staggering number of injured soldiers returning from battle. It took a few years for most hospitals to empty, as wounded soldiers either recovered or died. Faced with many large vacant hospital buildings and idle staff, administrators procured and released ad campaigns, which sinisterly manipulated women to believe that giving birth at home was ‘primitive’ and unsafe, while birthing at the hospital was promoted as safer, ‘modern’, and a highly intelligent choice.

Women bought into these campaigns, and many others like them, all over the world. They started smoking and felt ‘glamorous’. They started giving birth in hospitals and felt ‘modern’. They started using disposable menstrual products and felt ‘progressive’ and ‘in control.’ All along they have also been developing an array of respiratory diseases and dying of lung cancer; They have been cut open in cesarean sections (1 in 4, to accommodate doctor’s convenience); They have reached an all-time-high maternal and infant mortality rates following hospital birth; And they have been contributing to our planetary ecological crisis by damping 12 billion “feminine hygiene” products into landfills every year, in the U.S.A. Alone!

And here we are: In the midst of a pioneering worldwide movement of women reclaiming menstruation as the heightened state of awareness for which it was recognized in all indigenous cultures; In the process of inspiring women to honor their menstrual blood and their body’s needs, by taking time off to rest and renew themselves on the first day of their period — we are faced with a legal initiative which is both revolutionary and reactionary at the same time!

Wouldn’t it be revolutionary for the workplace to grant Paid Menstrual Leave to women? Wouldn’t we feel validated in our need for rejuvenation, honored for our body’s monthly regeneration, and empowered by the cultural acknowledgment of our rhythm?

We certainly would, if it weren’t billed as a response to “a social problem” of the “fair sex” who suffers “psychological and physiological discomfort.” Our menstrual cycle is neither a social problem nor a mere discomfort. Our menstrual flow is profound and life affirming work performed monthly by our bodies. We need to rest and renew in response to it, or we develop symptoms labled “psychological and physiological discomfort” by our culture (and frequently by us, too…)

Cigarettes, hospital births, and disposable menstrual products were sold to us through clever manipulative tactics, yet we never needed them… We DO NEED Paid Menstrual Leave!

We have stopped smoking in drovers. We have been reclaiming home births, and have started using sustainable menstrual products (such as cloth pads, sea sponges, and menstrual cups). It is time to claim for ourselves, and demand from our culture, a monthly PML to replace PMS!

PML (Paid Menstrual Leave) is the deeply deserved rest our body, mind, and spirit need monthly. In its absence, our body screams in PMS pain, and will continue to do so until we listen to its needs and honor them.

This is a call for action! Lets unite in demanding legaly-bound Paid Menstrual Leave — not as a patronizing gesture designed to send us home for being a “social problem.” But rather as the honoring of a deep need, which springs from our depth, to renew our body, our emotions, and our spirit – monthly – while preparing for another cycle in the ever turning wheel of our lives.  


© 2013, DeAnna L’am, Red Moon – Cycles of Women’s Wisdom™

DeAnna L’am, (B.A.) speaker, coach, and trainer, is author of ‘Becoming Peers – Mentoring Girls Into Womanhood’ and ‘A Diva’s guide to Getting Your Period’. She is founder of Red Moon School of Empowerment for Women & Girls™ and of Red Tents In Every Neighborhood – Global Network. Her pioneering work has been transforming women’s & girls’ lives around the world, for over 20 years.

DeAnna helps women & girls love themselves unconditionally! She specializes in helping women make peace with their cycle; Instructs Moms in the art of welcoming girls to empowered womanhood, and trains women to hold RED TENTS in their communities. Visit her at: www.deannalam.com

Disclaimer: I am a Red Moon program affiliate. However, the only affiliate link in this post is the one included here!

Birth as a Spiritual Experience (Thesis Project)

Here is your sacrament MR_089
Take. Eat. this is my body
this is real milk, thin, sweet, bluish,
which I give for the life of the world…
Here is your bread of life.
Here is the blood by which you live in me.”
–Robin Morgan (in Life Prayers, p. 148)

“…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…” – Giuditta Tornetta in Painless Childbirth

“I am the holy mother; . . . She is not so far from me. And perhaps She is not so very distinct from me, either. I am her child, born in Her, living and moving in Her, perhaps at death to be birthed into yet some other new life, still living and having my being in Her. But while on this earth She and I share the act of creation, of being, and Motherhood.”Niki Whiting, “On Being a Holy Mother” in Whedon

“Woman-to-woman help through the rites of passage that are important in every birth has significance not only for the individuals directly involved, but for the whole community. The task in which the women are engaged is political. It forms the warp and weft of society.” –Sheila Kitzinger

In 2011, I started working on my doctoral degree in women’s spirituality/thealogy (Goddess studies). Before I even began my first class, I chose my dissertation subject: birth as a spiritual experience. I’ve been steadily plugging away on my coursework and somehow in the midst of everything else that I am responsible for, I’ve successfully completed 13 of my classes. I already have a (not related) master’s degree and this is why I was admitted straight into the doctoral program, even though I have to complete a lot of M.Div (master’s of divinity) level coursework as prerequisites to the actual doctoral classes. After I finished my most recent class and got my updated transcript, I finally actually noticed how many M.Div classes I’ve completed thus far on my journey and it occurred to me to email to inquire what it would take to finish an M.Div degree first. I had this sudden feeling of what a nice stepping stone or milestone experience it would be to finish something, since I know that I have a minimum of three more years remaining before I complete the D.Min! They wrote back quickly and let me know that with the completion of three courses in matriarchal myth (I’m halfway through the first right now), my almost-completed year-long class in Compassion (I’m in month 11), and The Role of the Priestess course (involving three ten-page papers), all of which are also part of my doctoral program, the only other thing required for successful completion of my M.Div would be a thesis (minimum of 70 pages).

As I’ve been working through my classes, I’ve felt a gradual shift in what I want to focus on for my dissertation, and I already decided to switch to writing about theapoetics and ecopsychology now, rather than strictly about birth. I was planning to mash my previous ideas about birth and a “thealogy of the body” into this new topic somehow, perhaps: theapoetics, ecopsychology, and embodied thealogy. Then, when I got the news about the option of writing a thesis and finishing my M.Div, it became clear to me: my thesis subject is birth as a spiritual experience! This allows me to use the ideas and information I’d already been collecting as dissertation “seeds” as a thesis instead and frees me up to explore and develop my more original ideas about theapoetics for my dissertation! (This is the primary subject of my other blog.) So…why post about this now? Well, one because I’m super excited about all this and just wanted to share and two, because I’d love to hear from readers about their experiences with birth as a spiritual experience! While I don’t have to do the kind of independent research for a thesis that I will be doing for my dissertation and while my focus is unabashedly situated within a feminist context and a thealogical orientation, I would love to be informed by a diverse chorus of voices regarding this topic so that the project becomes an interfaith dialog. Luckily for me I’ve already reviewed a series of relevant titles.

Now, I’d like to hear from you. What are your experiences with the spirituality of birth? Do you consider birth to be a spiritual experience? Did you have any spiritual revelations or encounters during your births or any other events along your reproductive timeline? (miscarriage, menstruation, lactation…) Did you draw upon spiritual coping measures or resources as you labored and gave birth? Did giving birth deepen, expand, or otherwise impact your sense of spirituality or your sense of yourself as a spiritual or religious person? Did any of your reproductive experiences open your understanding of spirituality in a way that you had not previously experienced or reveal beliefs or understandings not previously uncovered?

When I use the word “spiritual,” I mean a range of experiences from a humanistic sensation of being linked to women around the world from all times and spaces while giving birth, to a “generic” sense of feeling the “might of creation” move through you, to a sense of non-specifically-labeled powers of Life and Universe being spun into being through your body, to feeling like a “birth goddess” as you pushed out your baby, to more traditional religious expressions of praying during labor, or drawing upon scripture as a coping measure, or feeling that giving birth brought you closer to the God of your understanding/religion, or, indeed, meeting God/dess or Divinity during labor and birth).  I’m particularly interested in women’s embodied experiences of creation and whether or not your previous religious beliefs or spiritual understandings in life affirmed, acknowledged, or encouraged your body and bodily experience of giving birth as sacred and valuable as well as your own sense of yourself as spiritually connected or supported while giving birth. I would appreciate links to birth stories or articles that you found helpful, books you enjoyed or connected with, and comments relating to your own personal experiences with any of the comments or questions I have raised above. I would love to hear about your thoughts as they relate to:

  • Pregnancy IMG_0225
  • Labor
  • Birthing
  • Lactation
  • Miscarriage
  • Infertility
  • Menstruation
  • Reproductive Rights
  • Birth as a feminist or social justice issue…

 Thank you!

With these things said, I also want to mention that I’m planning to redirect a lot of my writing energy/time into this thesis project rather than to blog posts. I’m trying to come up with a blog posting schedule for myself, but in order to actually do this thing, I must acknowledge that I have to re-prioritize some things and that means writing for my blogs probably needs to slip down a couple of notches in terms of priority of focus.

Oh, and I also hope this thesis project will turn into a book of some kind as well! 🙂

“It is hard to find a female-based concept such as Shakti alive within Western spiritual traditions. Shakti could be viewed as an expression of goddess in the female body at the time of birth. I would say its flow / expression and outcome of love is hindered by unnecessary interventions at birth which divert such energy towards fear- based, masculine forms. The use of masculine, rescue-based healing forms such as cutting (Grahn, 1993) can be necessary and useful, yet such procedures are currently used at the cost of women’s autonomy in the birthing process (see Jordan on C-section, 2007), and define the parameters of what feminist thinker Mary Daly called patriarchal medicine (1978). Modern women are largely lost when it comes to giving birth, turning to medical authority figures to be told what to do. Daly pointed to the dangers of this appropriation for women’s personal and collective autonomy.

Birthing bodies resist, disrupt and threaten standard North American modernist investments in linear time, rationality, order, and objectivity. Birth disrupts the Judeo-Christian male image of God, even as He hides the reality of female creation and creativity. I hold that women giving birth act from a focal point of power within their respective cultures and locations, the power to generate and renew human life itself from within the female body. This power is more absolute in its human reality then any other culturally sanctioned act of replication and material production, or social construction. I speculate that how this female power is expressed, denied, or acknowledged by women and within the society around a birthing woman reflects the degree to which women can and may express themselves at large. As each soul makes the journey through her/his mother, re-centring human consciousness within the female-based reality of human birth causes transformation of patriarchal consciousness as a whole…” –Nane Jordan, Towards an Ontology of Women Giving Birth

Happy Earth Day!

20130422-140554.jpgWhy this phrase? Two reasons:

Womb ecology reflects world ecology. World ecology reflects womb ecology.

And this (already used in several past posts):

When women are faced each day with enforced cesarean deliveries, birth control that maims and kills them, and doctors who think them dirty, when we encounter rape, violence in the streets, job discrimination, sexual slavery around the world, pollution and nuclear madness, we realize that reclaiming the integrative ways of our ancestors must involve our healing powers on all fronts—from the medical to the social to the environmental to the political to the psychological to the spiritual. Healing the divisions that were imposed during the patriarchal era is the survival issue of our time and our planet. A world that systematically sickens its women cannot survive. [emphasis mine]

Chellis Glendinning in Politics of Women’s Spirituality

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Tuesday Tidbits: Mothers and Work

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One of the best pictures I have of the “mothering” while “personing” experience!

“I’m winging it every day, praying, surrendering, steeping myself in grace by any means necessary. I grapple with finding my own integrity, to trust the path that I have chosen, to believe that I am mothering well, that I can claim for myself a belief in my own goodness.” – Elizabeth at Mothering with Soul

“Giving birth to a new life is about so much more than just the moment itself. The power of finding your strength as a woman through birth resonates for the rest of your life. It shapes you as a person, and as a parent.” ~ Gina Sewell

I want to say first that I believe, as the organization Mothers and More does, that all work that women do, whether paid or unpaid has social,  political, and economic value. In my own life I don’t distinguish between what I do for money and what I do as a volunteer, but that is partially a function of privilege, because I love all of my work and choose freely to do it. I recently finished reading the book The Art of Family and in it the author makes a point that I’ve made in various posts as well, mothers have always “worked,” it does no good to try to distinguish between “working mothers” and “stay-at-home mothers,” because the difference is much more fluid and alive than a category can hold.

FOUNDATIONAL TO A LASTING FAMILY is acknowledging that we will be many things to each other for our whole lives, even past death. We can abandon the old fears that family life will smother us and instead go after fully practicing ourselves in the presence of partner and children. In short, making a family is the best way to present ourselves, to stake our claim to a spot on earth. But “practicing ourselves’’ in front of our family, what does that mean? To give the essence of ourselves to our children is not necessarily dependent on the amount of time you spend with your children. Here, we must recast the debate over moms who work and those who stay at home with children. This is one of those divisions that turn up damned if you do, damned if you don’t, because it is a false one from the start. First, mothers have always been “at work,’’ whether farming, spinning, pioneering, running cottage industries, or investment banking. In history, women have always, of necessity, worked for the welfare of their families, some even forced to leave their children behind to find ways to sustain them. Imagine that pain, next time you come home late from the office.

The real issue with at-home moms and working moms is the struggle for identity. Having children is the most identity-challenging and identity-changing thing women do—starting with pregnancy, when even your body gets an identity change. That should be our first big clue. But we are terrified to face it. Who wants to watch your identity evaporate, which is what having children often feels like? Identity isn’t about societal roles, either, though the ones we get stuck with can be more burden than help to us. In fact, if we allow societal roles to determine our identity, we are not really in control, we are accepting a series of masks. We have to ask ourselves the hard questions: Who would I be without this job, without this kid, without this income, without this education?—getting at the core of who we are. This is a work we must do solely on our own, and it is excruciating work. But no human gets out of it, not even mothers. Babies make you ask, “Well, who am I now?’’ Though it is currently hot in intellectual theory to say we are nothing but social and cultural constructions, this is not a spiritual truth. Identity is something you build relationship by relationship, not role by role. Families, especially at the young-children stage, are not the pause button pressed down on who you are and what you want to pursue. Yes, we may have to put off finishing that degree, taking the promotion that requires weekly travel, writing that screenplay, or finally learning French, but those things weren’t going to make you you anyway. Your relationships make you who you are, because they give you a chance to actually manifest yourself, which is what you really believe in. We fill up what we do with who we are. What we do can never fill us up.

Gina Bria (2011-11-28). The Art of Family : Rituals, Imagination, and Everyday Spirituality (pp. 8-9). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

This notion is also explored in an article I enjoyed from Mothering:

“…Women a few hundred years ago worked their butts off every day helping their family survive. They planted and harvested, killed and prepared their own food. The children either watched younger children, played (often unsupervised) or worked right along side them. Women who had to work outside of their home had other people or family members care for their children while they cared for others. The wealthiest women probably had other paid servants care for their children much of the time. Children played with other children. Children worked. Children solved some of their own problems and they found things to do…”

The Benefits of Ignoring Children (Sometimes) – Mothering Community

Personally, I refer to this as “grinding my corn”:

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Grinding my corn sculpture from several years ago.

I want to be with my children, but I wish to be engaged in my own pursuits at the same time. When our lives feel happiest and most harmonious is when exactly this is occurring—when we are all together, but each working on our own projects and “doing our own thing.” I envision a life of seamless integration, where there need not even be a notion of “life/work” balance, because it is all just life and living. A life in which children are welcome in workplaces and in which work can be accomplished while in childspaces. A life in which I can grind my corn with my children nearby and not feel I need apologize for doing so or explain myself to anyone…

I just want to grind my corn!

Returning to the issues of identity raised in the quotes from The Art of Family, the question is explored beautifully in the article Beautiful Catastrophe: The Death and Rebirth of Becoming a Mother:

You were twenty, twenty-three, thirty, thirty-five. You were free and young and somebody else.

We were free and young and somebody else.

But now, we’re mothers.

At some point the reality will hit us: We are never alone again, no matter where we are, and we are the only ones in the world who have become this person toward this child.

I’ve been the same woman my whole life. What about her? Where is she? Is she just dead?

Yes, she is just dead.

Does that seem harsh? Well, it is. So is motherhood.

Perhaps we can soften this whole thing by saying our identities are “transformed,” or we are “forever changed,” but the fact of the matter is that the woman you once were is gone, and she will never come back.

Period.

I also recently finished reading the anthology The Maternal is Political and in it Jennifer Margulis (later birth writer of the new book Business of Baby) says:

Jame’s working full time and my staying home wasn’t working. My working full-time and James’s staying home hadn’t worked either. We both wanted to be with our children. And we both wanted to work (something I was only able to admit once I tried being a full-time mom). But neither of us wanted to do one or the other exclusively.

–Jennifer Margulis April 2013 002

This is what we are working towards for my husband and me, hopefully this year. I think we both deserve to be home with the kids, I think we both also have other work that is valuable to pursue. I envision a life of seamless integration of our various roles and passions–all of us. We have a family mantra: “our family works in harmony to meet each member’s needs.” 🙂

“Is there one single aspect of motherhood that isn’t political? From conception to graduation, from your kid’s first apartment until you die, it is basically one political decision after another…” –Rebecca Walker

Also in The Maternal is Political, Beth Osnes writes about Performing Mother Activism (she has a one woman show) and I love her analogy of care being like a loaf of bread…

I go on with scenes that tackle the onslaught of societal expectations and repressive forces that creep into a woman’s life once she becomes a mother: “it happens one day. You find a large parcel on your front porch. You open it to find the status quo being delivered to you…well, actually, the status quo manual…” I go on with scenes that lambaste the fearmongering that goes on in our government and media: “The status quo wants you to dumb down, mother. It will tell you who to trust and who to fear.” I remind mothers that we must think for ourselves: “I say rage, mother. Do not go gently into that good night. Rage, rage, against the dying of your light.”

I have also stopped expecting that caring needs to be a whole and perfect project, like an unsliced loaf of homemade bread. I am April 2013 009coming to accept that, at least for me, caring about the world is more fragmented, much more like a store-bought loaf that splays open as soon as you open the bag. Here’s a slice of caring about antipoverty legislation, here’s one of caring for my three-year-old with the flue, here’s a slice of caring for victims of our country’s warring and, whoops, here’s even a slice of caring about my curtains. I have stopped imagining that caring is pure and unselfish; many people, including me, fashion their identities out of caring, whether for kids or for the world. Still: Bread is bread, and caring is caring. Whole or broken. Homemade or purchased. Consumed or given away.

I’m also learning that social movements will go on, even if nursing mothers or parents of toddlers have to drop out for a while. We will be back,someday, maybe when the youngest turns two or whenever we can again afford to dream like activists, rather than work like dogs. We may be more distracted than before, less available…But when we return, we will give a break to someone else who needs it—like those erstwhile college students who may be finding that carting babies to marches is harder than they anticipated.

And when we do rejoin the movement, it is possible that we will agitate and march and advocate from a deeper place within ourselves than we had known existed. It is possible that we will act from that cavity our children have hollowed out of us, that place where breath begins.

–Valerie Weaver-Zercher

And, as a lovely closing tribute to all women and all their work, remember this…

Mothers — you are powerful. Stand tall. You are full of grace. Stand tall. Join together and stand tall. Be as a Redwood tree. Stand April 2013 028tall. If you have stood next to a Redwood tree or seen photos of one, you will notice that they do not grow alone. They grow in groves with all of the trees connected together, even if they appear to be separate. Their shallow roots form a web that holds these big trees up in the wind. Redwoods do not fall very often. We can emulate those trees, mothers. We can hold each other up.

We may feel alone at times, but believe me and remember: You are being supported underneath the surface of where you live. Right beside you there is somebody thinking about you and supporting you whether you know it or not. Think of all the mothering that goes on in life. I have found in my life that it comes sometimes when you do not expect it and from someone you do not realize has your back. Someone in your root system seems to know that you need something. Women have a natural mothering instinct if they just listen to it.

Stand Tall

Other past posts about mothering and working:

The tensions and triumphs of work at home mothering

Guest post: working/parenting interview

The Ragged Self

Surrender?

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