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Brought to our knees

“Rigid plans work best if you’re building a skyscraper; with something as mysteriously human as giving birth, it’s best, both literally and figuratively, to keep your knees bent.” –Mark Sloan, MD (Birth Day)

Today I spent a few minutes listening to a lovely webinar by Amy Glenn, the author of Birth, Breath, & Death. The topic was Supporting a Birthing Woman’s Spiritual Practice and I was immediately caught by Amy’s comparison of giving birth to kneeling in prayer. She mentioned that giving birth may drop us to our knees, just as those who pray may pray on their knees. Since I’m currently writing about birth as a spiritual experience, I connected to this implied notion: birth as embodied prayer. And, looking at the webinar photo of a woman kneeling in August 2013 019child’s pose, my own birth-prayers came vividly to mind. In my first labor, I spent a lot of time on my knees, later wishing that I had also given birth on hands and knees rather than being encouraged to birth in a semi-sitting position that I felt contributed to tearing. Later, when I discovered birthing room yoga, I loved realizing that these kneeling postures that I adopted spontaneously and intuitively in my first labor were yoga poses—an inherent body wisdom I carried within me, waiting to arise when called upon. This is part of my first birth story, briefly touching on my time on my knees…

Mark & Mom were wonderfully supportive of me as I labored. I tried various positions and they stacked up pillows for me on the bed so that I could be on my hands and knees on a soft surface (they put the Boppy onto some other pillows to make a “well” for my belly) and then Mom read some of my birth affirmations to me. That worked for a while. I also tried the birth ball for a while and ended up spending a lot of time on my knees on the floor with my head and arms resting on a pillow on the bed…

via My First Birth | Talk Birth.

Kneeling to birth played a prominent role in my second birth experience as well and I have frequently described the rapid birth of my second son as an experience that literally drove me to my knees. When writing about this birth experience, I said:

I was extremely proud of my body and its super-awesomeness 🙂 I felt that my sense of birth trust was physically manifested in my actual birth experience. My body was a powerful and unstoppable force and I had to get out of my own way and let it happen! I felt driven to my hands and knees–like a power was holding me there. After the birth my body felt weak and “run over by a truck”—I felt powerful and like a warrior during the birth…

via Quick Births | Talk Birth.

And, in perhaps my most spiritually meaningful birth experience, the home miscarriage-birth of my third baby also brought me to my knees:

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Brand new sculpture inspired by the thoughts in this post.

When I was still having the “HOW?” questions, other women that I knew who had experienced miscarriage started to come to mind and I knew I could do it too. I told myself that I had to do what I had to do. I said out loud, “let go, let go, let go.” I said I was okay and “my body knows what to do.” The afternoon I found out the baby died, I’d received a package that included a little lavender sachet as a free gift with my order. When my labor began, for some reason I wanted the sachet and held and smelled it throughout the experience. As I chanted to myself, “let go, let go, let go,” I smelled my sachet (later, I read in one of my miscarriage books that in aromatherapy lavender is for letting go). I also told myself, “I can do it, I can do it” and “I’m okay, I’m okay.” I felt like I should get more upright and though it was very difficult to move out of the safety of child’s pose, I got up onto my knees and felt a small pop/gush. I checked and it was my water breaking. The water was clear and a small amount. I was touched that now these gray pants were my water-breaking pants too…

Contractions continued fairly intensely and I continue to talk myself through them while Mark rubbed my back. I coached myself to rise again and after I sat back on my heels, I felt a warm blob leave my body. I put my hand down and said, “something came out. I need to look, but I’m scared.” Then, “I can do it, I can do it,” I coached myself and went into the bathroom to check (it was extremely important to me not to have the baby on the toilet). I saw that it was a very large blood clot. I was a little confused and wondered if we were going to have to “dissect” the clot looking for the baby. Then I had another contraction and, standing with my knees slightly bent, our baby slipped out…

via Noah’s Birth Story (Warning: Miscarriage/Baby Loss) | Talk Birth.

When the time came to gave birth to my rainbow daughter, she brought me to my knees as well and she was the only baby I caught in my own hands while in a kneeling position. Here is a segment from her birth-prayer:

At some point in the bathroom, I said, “I think this is pushing.” I was feeling desperate for my water to break. It felt like it was in the way and holding things up. I reached my hand down and thought I felt squooshy sac-ish feeling, but Mom and Mark looked and could not see anything. And, it still didn’t break. Mom mentioned that I should probably go to my birth nest in order to avoid having the baby on the toilet. My birth nest was a futon stack near the bathroom door. I got down on hands and knees after feeling like I might not make it all the way to the futons. Felt like I wanted to kneel on hard floor before reaching the nest.

…I couldn’t find her heartbeat and started to feel a little panicky about that as well as really uncomfortable and then threw IMG_0422the Doppler to the side saying, “forget it!” because big pushing was coming. I was down on hands and knees and then moved partially up on one hand in order to put my other hand down to feel what was happening. Could feel squishiness and water finally broke (not much, just a small trickle before her head). I could feel her head with my fingers and began to feel familiar sensation of front-burning. I said, “stretchy, stretchy, stretchy, stretchy,” the phone rang, her head pushed and pushed itself down as I continued to support myself with my hand and I moved up onto my knees, with them spread apart so I was almost sitting on my heels and her whole body and a whole bunch of fluid blooshed out into my hands. She was pink and warm and slippery and crying instantly—quite a lot of crying, actually. I said, “you’re alive, you’re alive! I did it! There’s nothing wrong with me!” and I kissed her and cried and laughed and was amazed.

via Alaina’s Complete Birth Story | Talk Birth.

Motherhood, especially my postpartum experience with my first baby also dropped the legs out from under me and I used the same expression echoed above in writing about this postpartum crucible:

I had regularly attended La Leche League (LLL) meetings since halfway through my pregnancy and thought I was prepared for “nursing all the time” and having my life focus around my baby’s needs. However, the actual experience of postpartum slapped me in the face and brought me to my knees…

via Planning for Postpartum | Talk Birth.

I’m not the only mother who finds this an apt description of the process of giving birth, today I found this touching story about memorializing the still birth of a mother’s baby girl:

This blanket isn’t much to look at. It isn’t a work of art. But it holds an entire story within its stitches. It holds the legacy of our precious baby girl who was stillborn, yes, but she was still born. Her name is etched on our hearts, and her short little life was not in vain. In those 37 weeks, she brought us joy and excitement. She brought us laughter. She brought me to my knees (to dry heave, because of being in pain, and to pray…). She brought us together, tighter, as a family. She brought us love. She brought us hope.

via Mind Mumbles: Our Stillbirth Storm.

And, I also read this gorgeous birth story that brings the concepts of prayer and birth kneeling into direct, evocative connection:

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Brand new sculpture inspired by the thoughts in this post.

From this point on, labor was like a long, hard prayer taking place through a dark and cold night. It literally brought me to my knees. At times I knelt, hands clasped in front of me. I had to work hard to surrender, to open myself up to the reality of labor and pain and let it be. It was a challenge. Knowing I needed to surrender to the labor, and to your advent, I made a silent decision to open my hands. I held them open and palm up in between each contraction. I tried to keep them open as long as I could once a contraction started. This was one of the most poignant parts of your birth – this surrender. I had to keep pushing my soul in the direction of you. I needed an openness of spirit as much as of body, for my spirit was caught up in a complicated grief from the months prior. At one point, when a contraction was coming, Kristen said to me, “Camille, you need to let this be big.” How did she know that I was holding back, hesitating? I needed to surrender to the hugeness of the mystery of life and birth and yes, even death. The challenge in your birth, dear Silas, was in the soul places…

…Kristen said simply, “Ok. Just listen to your body.” She trusted my body, which was so freeing. As I pushed, it felt natural. I was part of the pushing, as were you. I knew that the pushing was working, that you were coming down into the world. No one moved closer or moved away. No one tried to move me. I remained in the cleared meadow of a space with the freedom to move as my body wanted to move. There was complete freedom to do just as my midwife asked – to listen, and listen closely. To be. I was on my hands and knees, as close to earth as I could muster in the middle of Queens. And the transition to pushing felt seamless. I was permitted to remain in the deep cavities of my body, which were doing such brave work…

via The Birth Pause: Unhurrying the Moment of Meeting: The Story of Your Birth.

It isn’t only mothers who are brought to their knees by the act of birth, so are birth witnesses:

This is the story of falling in love with a baby before we even met her, the story of witnessing two friends fall deeper in love and the joy of meeting someone you just know you’ll know a lifetime in their very first second of life. This experience brought me to my knees in the end, a wreck of being awake 39.5 hours after witnessing such beauty I thought my heart would explode. I wailed in happiness, and entered a place where the only logical thing to do was roll around in the grass in the sun in full, tearful joy. I forever remain grateful to be a part of this.

It’s beautiful to document beauty, to witness beauty and just downright jump inside beauty…

via a birth story » Sara Parsons Photography.

In fact, we even see birth and knees referenced in the Bible as well:

Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said to Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die!” And Jacob’s anger was aroused against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” So she said, “Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, and she will bear a child on my knees, that I also may have children by her.” Then she gave him Bilhah her maid as wife, and Jacob went in to her.

[No need to note how strongly I object to the notion of women being “given” to men. The author of the post referencing this quote then goes on to explain what ‘on my knees’ actually means, which is a little different than what I was thinking…]

…On my knees refers to the custom where the husband impregnated the surrogate while the surrogate reclined on the lap of the wife, and how she might even recline on the wife as she gave birth. The symbolism clearly showed the child was legally the child of the mother, not the surrogate, who was merely in the place of the wife in both conception and birth.

via Genesis 30 – The Children Born to Jacob.

Other birthing women experience the energy of birth as an embodied experience of Shakti. While Shakti can be personified as a Goddess, she is also understood as the great cosmic “fuel” of the universe, the feminine force that drives creation. Women may experience the energy of birth as Shakti moving through, with, and within them. While not specifically about birth, I recently wrote about Shakti in a related sense:

Shakti woman speaks August 2013 043
She says Dance
Write
Create
Share
Speak.

Don’t let me down
I wait within
coiled at the base of your spine
draped around your hips
like a bellydancer’s sash
snaking my way up
through your belly
and your throat
until I burst forth
in radiant power
that shall not be denied.

Do not silence me
do not coil my energy back inside
stuffing it down
where it might wither in darkness
biding its time
becoming something that waits
to strike. August 2013 050

Let me sing
let me flood through your body
in ripples of ecstasy
stretch your hands wide
wear jewels on your fingers
and your heart on your sleeve.

Spin
spin with me now
until we dance shadows into art
hope into being
and pain into power.

7/1/2013
via Woodspriestess: Shakti Woman Speaks

After thinking about this post all day and working on it in snippets at a time, a friend shared this quote with me saying that it reminded her of me. It felt like the perfect closing:

“As women connected to the earth, we are nurturing and we are fierce, we are wicked and we are sublime. The full range is ours. We hold the moon in our bellies and fire in our hearts. We bleed. We give milk. We are the mothers of first words. These words grow. They are our children. They are our stories and our poems.”

–An excerpt from “Undressing the Bear” by Terry Tempest Williams

Wednesday Tidbits: World Breastfeeding Week!

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Today is the last day of World Breastfeeding Week and I fully intended to create a link-full Tuesday Tidbits post about this yesterday. However, I was busy helping actual breastfeeding mothers at my monthly LLL meeting and then came home and worked on my handout and project preparations for our second annual MamaFest event this Saturday. I then had a faculty meeting while Mark took Lann to tae kwon do and went grocery shopping with the other kids and by the time I had a few minutes to spare again, it was 11:00 at night and I figured I might as well forgo Tuesday Tidbitting and just watch Teen Wolf instead! 😉 For MamaFest, I’ve been getting together handouts, a trivia game, and pins for prizes for my La Leche League booth, birth art supplies and display items and birth education handouts for the Rolla Birth Network/Talk Birth/birth art booth, and miscarriage/stillbirth handouts for the Rainbow Group loss support table. I’ve toyed with various projects for my birth art booth and finally came up with something that feels perfect—birth or motherhood affirmation/blessing cards!

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I got better at them the more I made. This one has a pocket with other little affirmation cards in it. I also started to experiment with painting on little glass “stones” to go in the pocket too. I need glass paint markers really though and I quickly ordered some, but they won’t make it in time for MamaFest.

For ideas for affirmations for them, I’m bringing along several books, including:

25 Ways to Joy & Inner Peace for Mothers

25 Ways to Awaken Your Birth Power

World Breastfeeding Week often seems like an occasion during which the media perceives non-breastfeeding mothers as being “discriminated” against somehow, and some women seem to take the occasion personally—like its very existence is a personal criticism. This article about the “I Support You” initiative is good in theory, but I sense in it the suggestion that WBW is specifically trying to make non-breastfeeding mothers “feel bad” and I did not appreciate the loads and loads of comments on the article that reference “La Leche Nazis”—particularly because said “Nazis” apparently visit mothers in the hospital to critique their mothering and I seriously doubt that any of the experiences shared in the comments were actually with LLL Leaders (who I have never been known to go to a hospital room uninvited and try to make mothers breastfeed. That isn’t part of our job at all. The commenters were probably dealing with whichever nurse is assigned to lactation, trained or otherwise).

I plan for my message to say: “To all those mothers who’ve learned the difference between the mother you think you will be and the one you actually are — I Support You.”

via I Support You: The Conversation We Should Be Having About Breastfeeding And Formula.

A related article that also has some great insights and thoughtful content (but for which, again, I feel breastfeeding advocacy is misconstrued):

Three billion things can go wrong when you breastfeed. But even with a bad latch, tongue tie, thrush, a clogged duct, and a crazy oversupply, I still think that nursing this little boy is the most amazing magic that I’ve ever felt in my life. I am the only thing that is keeping my child alive right now. You’re damn right that’s a superpower. When my breasts are engorged and I’m in pain, or when I swoop in to a room and soothe my screaming baby with my body, I want to shout it from the rafters, just like all of you did. This time, my breasts make milk. That is my superpower. And yet I have seen that breastfeeding moms get tested too: the nasty stares, the mean comments, the endless questioning that makes you doubt yourself: “Are you sure he’s getting enough? He’d sleep longer if he took a bottle. He’ll never be independent if he’s attached to you all the time.” The Mommy Wars have fueled the embers of fear and failure on both ends of the feeding spectrum. The simple act of feeding your child now comes with having to defend your choices.

via Milk Drunk | Kim Simon.

The underlying message of these articles, however, as well as that of World Breastfeeding Week itself, is really about the value of community support for mothers. The whole “village” and “tribe” concept. When I hear mothers describing attempts to breastfeed, I hear mothers with broken hearts as well as many stories involving broken circles of support:

I am a systems thinker and always hold in mind that breastfeeding, like all aspects of women’s lives, occurs in a context, a context that involves a variety of “circles of support” or lack thereof. Women don’t “fail” at breastfeeding because of personal flaws, society fails breastfeeding women and their babies every day through things like minimal maternity leave, no pumping rooms in workplaces, formula advertising and “gifts” in hospitals, formula company sponsorship of research and materials for doctors, the sexualization of breasts and objectification of women’s bodies, and so on and so forth. According to Milk, Money, and Madness (1995), “…infant formula sales comprise up to 50% of the total profits of Abbott Labs, an enormous pharmaceutical concern.” (p. 164) And the US government is the largest buyer of formula, paying for approximately 50% of all formula sold in the nation…

via Breastfeeding as an Ecofeminist Issue | Talk Birth.

Giving Birth with Confidence also wrote about the role of the breastfeeding village:

You’ve probably heard “it takes a village” when it comes to parenting and raising children. And it’s true — surrounding yourself with supportive family, friends, and professional and online resources goes a long way in making your parenting experience a better one. But what about a “village” for breastfeeding? Breastfeeding can be (and often is) a wonderful experience. It also can be trying, challenging, and hard work. Creating access to a network of people and resources who support breastfeeding will help you in times of need, provide a sounding board for your thoughts, and celebrate with your triumphs.

via World Breastfeeding Week: Creating Your Village — Giving Birth with Confidence.

And, so did Brain, Child magazine:

For breastfeeding advocates, then, your best shot at influencing other mothers to breastfeed is when you’re nursing yourself—and talking it up to your pals, especially if you’re central in your network, which gives you what social scientists call high “transitivity.” And, it stands to reason, that even if you’re not a breastfeeding advocate—even if you don’t even know what colostrum is—you can still be affected by the changing norms. Once your friends breastfeed in front of you, chances are excellent that witnessing a two-year-old lift up her mother’s shirt to nurse at a park just isn’t worthy of a second thought, much less a flinch. Like in the obesity study where friends of friends were shown to convey habits, you’ve become “tolerant.”

via The Village | Brain, Child Magazine.

Reading these articles made me think of the classic article by Teresa Pitman, originally in Mothering magazine (I think). I think this article is responsible for the introduction of the word “tribe” into the natural mothering lexicon as it is currently used (but, maybe it was The Continuum Concept, which is what Pitman references in her article. I know for me, it was Pitman’s article that first introduced me to the notion of a “tribe” and the fact that I needed one!). I was excited to hear her speak on the subject in person at the La Leche League International conference in Chicago in 2007.

I realized that we had formed our own, very small tribe. Spending our days together satisfied our need for adult companionship without separation from our babies, and working together made all the chores — even cleaning disgusting stuff out of the bottom of the fridge — more fun.

Eventually our husbands both found work in other communities, and our daily time together came to an end. But I had seen how important this kind of relationship is for me, and I deliberately tried to recreate it with other friends.

Not long after Vicki and her family moved, I was at a church picnic when I saw Lorna for the first time. She and her family had just arrived in our community. Something about the way she held her baby was familiar to me, and I went up and introduced myself.

She, too, was looking for a tribe, as she had recently moved away from her family. Soon my new friend Lorna and I got together every Thursday to bake bread (and sometimes other foods) for our families for the week. She had a bigger house and roomier kitchen, so we generally went there. We split the cost of the ingredients, and as our children played together (by then, I had three children and Lorna had six), we kneaded and shaped the dough. While the bread was rising, we talked and tended to other tasks. I often brought a basket of things that needed mending, so we could work together while we were waiting.

We were there when she miscarried her seventh baby, and she tended to my older children while I was giving birth to my fourth. I still think of Thursday as baking day, even though Lorna now lives hundreds of miles away.

My children are almost grown, but I still work with parents. The theme of loneliness is as strong and prevalent as it was when I sat crying on my bed with my new baby, wondering how I’d cope with no one to talk to. Certainly the desire to overcome isolation is one of the reasons why women return to work; it’s a need easily understood by those of us who opt to stay home with our children.

We truly are social animals; we need to be with other people to feel good, whole, and happy. It’s worth the effort to create tribes, however small and imperfect they may be.

via Finding Your Tribe – by Teresa Pitman.

I was also reminded of my own past thoughts about surviving postpartum:

“In western society, the baby gets attention while the mother is given lectures. Pregnancy is considered an illness; once the ‘illness’ is over, interest in her wanes. Mothers in ‘civilized’ countries often have no or very little help with a new baby. Women tend to be home alone to fend for themselves and the children. They are typically isolated socially & expected to complete their usual chores…while being the sole person to care for the infant…” –Milk, Money, & Madness

via Postpartum Survival Tips | Talk Birth.

And, I thought about the role that a tribe—or lack of one—plays in “lactation failure,” that may be falsely attributed to biology OR to evil “La Leche Nazis” assaulting unsuspecting women in hospital rooms with steaming piles of dogma doo.

I’ve remained firmly convinced for, like, ever, that it is culture that fails mothers and babies and not women’s bodies that fail. And, I truly wonder if it is ever possible (except for in cases of insufficient glandular tissue, metabolic disorders, breast surgery/removal, and clear physical malformations) to really tease apart whether a mother is actually experiencing lactation failure or sociocultural failure. I remain fairly convinced that in many cases it is impossible to know—but, that a mother (or physician) may certainly experience it as “lactation failure” and thus add that data point to the 1%. I have long maintained that a lot of people forget that breastfeeding occurs in a context and that context doesn’t necessarily support breastfeeding. However, I do also know from years of experience that motherbaby physiology can lead to problems too and we often overlook that in assertions about breastfeeding.

via Preventing Culturally Induced Lactation Failure | Talk Birth.

The idea of the “I Support You” campaign, with its “unbiased” subtext, also caused me to take another look at some past thoughts about “bias” and breastfeeding:

While I very much appreciate this observation and reminder, we also absolutely need to remember that biased means to exhibit “unfair prejudice”–it simply IS NOT “biased” to support breastfeeding as the biological norm and most appropriate food for babies. I was very concerned to read the comments on the post from other educators talking about their own “biases” toward physiologic birth or breastfeeding and how carefully they guard against exhibiting any such bias in their classes. Hold on! Remember that the burden of proof rests on those who promote an intervention—birth educators and breastfeeding educators should not be in a position of having to “prove” or “justify” the biological norm of unmedicated births or breastfed babies. I hate to see birth instructors being cautioned to avoid being “biased” in teaching about breastfeeding or birth, because in avoiding the appearance of bias they’d be lying to mothers. You can’t “balance” two things that are NOT equal and it is irresponsible to try out of a misplaced intention not to appeared biased. So, while I appreciate some of this educator’s points, I do think she’s off the mark in her fear/guilt and her acceptance of the word “bias.” The very fact that making a statement that someone has a bias toward breastfeeding can be accepted as a reasonable critique is indicative of how very deeply the problem goes and how systemic of an issue it is. If I say that drinking plenty of water is a good idea and is healthier for your body than drinking other liquids, no one ever accuses me of having a “bias towards water.” Breastfeeding should be no different. But, as we all know, breastfeeding occurs in a social, cultural, political, and economic context, one that all too often does not value, support, or understand the process…

via A Bias Toward Breastfeeding? | Talk Birth.

And, along these same lines, I saw a great quote from one of my midwife Facebook friends:

“Being an advocate for breastfeeding as the biological norm, healthiest and safest mode of feeding for most mothers and children is just that. It is meant to inform, enthuse, support, save lives, normalize the act. It is not meant as a slight or condemnation of non-breastfeeding mothers. Individually women breastfeed or not for a whole host of reasons. That is reality. That fact is respected and in no way is judgmental. Acknowledging the individual diversity does not change what breastfeeding is and why we need to continue to advocate for it around the world.” Desirre Andrews, CPM, RM

Exactly!

Speaking of my smart Facebook friends, I enjoyed reading a personal post from an IBCLC friend about why she didn’t celebrate WBW this month:

I think I’ve closed the “breastfeeding mother” chapter of my life, content instead to serve other breastfeeding mothers the best I know how. This is a big shift for me, since I’ve never approached breastfeeding support other than from the perspective of a mother who is also “walking the walk.” Am I “over” breastfeeding? The truth is, today, I’m ambivalent about it. My celebration of World Breastfeeding Week will always be welcome—I will never not be a supporter or an advocate, but a decade is a long time to do something, to do anything. A decade is a long time to be a breastfeeding mother; to not be one anymore, without ceremony or the closure that a more formal ending might offer, leaves me a bit unsettled.

via Why I didn’t celebrate World Breastfeeding Week this year | normal, like breathing.

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This small but mighty little girl still really, really, really likes to “nonny.”

Reading this made me reflect on my own breastfeeding journey and the toddler point at which I am with my own (likely) final nursling. I’ve wondered a lot if and when this chapter of my life will close in terms of working with other breastfeeding mothers. It is still very much my current reality, so it is hard to assess. What I do know is that when I go to LLL conferences and I see women who have been Leaders for 30 years, I think…that is my future. And, I leave with the distinct impression that I’m a lifer. However, a couple of years ago I might have said the same about birth work and now when I see pictures from my pregnancies, read some of my own writing, or look at some of the childbirth education supplies I’ve amassed over the years it all feels very far away now.

But, returning to the idea of support and tribes and breastfeeding women and I Support You to mothers of all kinds in their mothering journeys (which I DO absolutely believe in!), I also thought again of this:

This month as I sat in the circle at our mother-to-mother breastfeeding support group meeting, I looked around at all the beautiful mothers in that room. I reflected on each of their journeys and how much each one has been through in her life, to come to this time and this place, and tears filled my eyes. They are all so amazing. And, my simple, fervent prayer for them in that moment was that they could know that. Know that on a deep, incontrovertible level. I tried to tell them then, in that moment. How much they mean to me, how incredible they are, how I see them. How I hope they will celebrate their own capacities and marvel at their own skills. How I see their countless, beautiful, unrecognized, invisible motherful actions. How when I see them struggling in the door with toddlers and diaper bags and organic produce that they’re sharing with each other, I see heroines. They may look and feel “mundane” from the outside, but from where I’m sitting, they shine with a power and potency that takes my breath away. Moderating toddler disputes over swordplay, wiping noses, changing diapers, soothing tears, murmuring words, moving baby from breast to shoulder to floor and back to breast without even seeming consciously aware of how gorgeously they are both parenting and personing in that very moment, speaking their truths, offering what they have to give, reaching out to one another, and nursing, nursing, nursing. Giving their bodies over to their babies again and again in a tender, invisible majesty. In this room is a symphony of sustenance. An embodied maternal dance of being.

via International Women’s Day: Prayer for Mothers | Talk Birth.

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Stopped for some sandy nonnies.

Last year’s World Breastfeeding Week Post Round Up | Talk Birth.

Tuesday Tidbits: Wild Woman

Women are the most beautiful embodiment of empowered awakening. We breathe life into the world with the heave of our body, sing the sacred into song with our soul, and heal the deepest of wounds with our boundless heart. Our time has come. Love is calling us all to remember the eternal ecstasy of Being. Now is the time. Now is the place. Love is here pressing itself into the moment. Love calls us to remember the universal creative pulse. Love calls all of humanity to its embrace. Love calls for women to claim their deepest truth, to create their greatest gift, and to rise from the ashes of a yesterday gone, to rise to fulfill authentic self. We women are awakening. We women are empowering. We women are rising. I am a woman rising.

~ Ani Kaspar

wildwoman

via Wild Woman Sisterhood on Facebook

This past weekend was the La Leche League of Missouri conference. I absolutely love these conferences and always learn so much, usually things I can use instantly. At this conference, I gave two presentations. The first was about miscarriage and grief and was sparsely attended, but pretty powerful. The second was about Moontime and it was really crowded! The participants were a diverse crowd and I felt a little unsure of my ability to connect with all of them without being excessively “woo woo.” Though, I expressed that concern in a comment on another woman’s blog post and I got this wonderful remark in return: I was just listening to an online interview with Sonia Choquette where she said that “woo woo” should be “where it’s at,” meaning that when we’re “woo woo,” we’re actually connecting to our authentic self, being in touch with our intuition, etc.

I’m going to remember this in the future—woo woo is where it’s at! 😉

Anyway, one of the things I shared during my talk is that mothers of small children are more likely to have PMS than anyone else—it is partly because our bodies call out to us to rest and be alone and we often can’t be when we have little babies that need us. It really, really does help with all pre-menstrual symptoms to be able to take some time to yourself to rest and rejuvenate rather than staying “on” all the time. Several women emailed me with follow-up questions and so here are the links and resources that I suggested for them:

Check out Miranda Gray’s website, particularly her free handouts. Deanna L’am is another favorite resource and she has resources for pre-moontime daughters as well.  Oh, and Tisha Lin’s Pleasurable Periods is another good resource as well as The Happy Womb from Lucy Pearce which has a free ebook about having a happy, healthy menstrual cycle. I’ve been digging into this subject a lot over the past year—any posts I’ve written are here. I’m also really liking the book I recently got called Honoring Menstruation by Lara Owen.

Bringing it back to the Wild Woman, I also shared a quote previously shared here:

“…Could it be that women who get wild with rage do so because they are deeply deprived of quiet and alone time, in which to recharge and renew themselves?

Isn’t PMS a wise mechanism designed to remind us of the deep need to withdraw from everyday demands to the serenity of our inner wilderness? Wouldn’t it follow, then, that in the absence of quiet, sacred spaces to withdraw to while we bleed — women express their deprivation with wild or raging behaviors?…” –DeAnna L’am via Occupy Menstruation

And, this book project recently caught my eye: Blood Sister, Moon Mama: a Celebration of Womanly Ways – submissions for a new book

Less related, but cool, I also just downloaded The Creative Joy Workbook (free!) from the incomparable Jennifer Louden.

For me, honoring moontime in my own life is very much about taking it to the body and listening to myself in the way in which I learned to do during pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and lactation. So, I loved this quote I spied on Facebook late last night:

Your body is your own.
This may seem obvious.
But to inhabit your physical self fully,
with no apology, is a true act of power.
This sovereignty over your body may need to be cultivated.
Most of us have been colonized; other people’s ideas, desires,
and expectations have taken hold in our flesh. It takes some time
and effort to reclaim our own terrain.

Own yourself. Say no when you need to.
Only then can you say yes…

– Camille Maurine, Meditation Secrets for Women (via TheGypsyPriestess)

I have read this book and actually have used part of the quote on my own before, but it spoke to me again in this different medium last night.

I’ve also written about the thoroughly embodied act of motherhood and likewise enjoyed this snippet via Facebook as well:

Nitty Gritty Motherhood | Theresa Martin

Motherhood came as quite a shock to me. It was just so… physical. It was often messy and gritty. Without motherhood, I probably could have lived my whole life without being truly present for any of it.

But as I reflect, it seems so much of a female’s life is just so physical.

Take menstruation for example, that first initiation into womanhood. It’s holy and sacred, a reorienting of our bodies from girlhood to womanhood, a constant preparation for the possibility of nourishing new life within us.

Menstruation is that time when we are called to change our focus from “doing” and “completing” to just being and reflecting. We are called to rest and to reevaluate our priorities and to ponder how our lives are going. So while this time is special and sacred, the shocking physical reality remains. I think my girlhood reaction to first learning about menstruation sums it up well: “We bleed?! From THERE!!??”

All of motherhood is no different. There’s that act that causes motherhood in the first place. It’s carnal and messy. Then there’s pregnancy. Like menstruation and sex, it occurs inside my body. I have the experience of housing, protecting, and growing my children until they can breathe for themselves. After that comes labor and birth. Once again, messy, gritty, carnal reality.

~ Theresa Martin, excerpt from “Nitty Gritty Motherhood”

Read more! http://www.newfeminismrising.com/2012/07/nitty-gritty-motherhood.html

Katharine Krueger ~ Journey Of Young Women, Consultant and guide, Girls’ Empowerment and Coming of Age http://JoYW.org/

And, yesterday, I went on my own wild woman adventure picking wild raspberries with my kids. I wrote about it on Pagan Families and included a bonus recipe for wild raspberry sorbet:

…may I be reminded June 2013 024
of the courage and love
shown in small, wild adventures.

Wild black raspberries are ripe at my Missouri homestead and this morning I went on an expedition with my three children to gather what we could. As I returned, red-faced, sweating, and after having yelled much more than I should and having said several things I instantly regretted, I was reminded of something that I manage to forget every year: one definition of insanity is picking wild berries with a toddler. In fact, the closest I ever came to spanking one of my kids was during one of these idyllic romps through the brambles when my second son was three. While still involving some suffering, today’s ramble was easier since I have a nine and a half year old now as well as the toddler. This time, my oldest son took my toddler daughter back inside and gave her a bath and put her in new clothes while I was still outside crawling under the deck in an effort to retrieve the shoes and the tiny ceramic bluebird I’ve had since I was ten that my girl tossed over the railing and into the thorns “for mama.”

While under the deck, I successfully fished out the shoes (could not find the tiny bird) and I found one more small handful of June 2013 038raspberries. Since the kids were all safely indoors, I took my sweaty and scratched up and irritable self and ran down to my small, sacred space in the woods. I was thinking about how I was hot, tired, sweaty, sore, scratched, bloody, worn, and stained from what “should” have been a simple, fun little outing with my children and the above prayer came to my lips. I felt inspired by the idea that parenting involves uncountable numbers of small, wild adventures. I was no longer “just” a mom trying to find raspberries with her kids, I was a raspberry warrior. I braved brambles, swallowed irritations, battled bugs, sweated, swore, argued, struggled, crawled into scary spaces and over rough terrain, lost possessions and let go of the need to find them, and served as a rescuer of others. I gave my blood and body over to the task.

When I returned and showered, my oldest begged for me to make homemade raspberry sorbet with our findings. I’ve never made June 2013 063sorbet before and wasn’t sure I should dare try, but then I gathered my resources and said yes to yet another small adventure…

via Small Adventures (sorbet recipe included there!)

I’ve also been enjoying the wild, riotous blooms of summer:

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Happy Mother’s Day!

“Blessed be all the mothers of mothers.
Blessed be all the daughters of daughters.
Blessed be all the daughters of mothers.
Blessed be all the mothers of daughters.
Now and forever, wherever we are.” –Diann L. Neu

In Uganda there is a special word that means “mother of a newborn”–nakawere. According to the book Mothering the New Mother, “this word and the special treatment that goes with it apply to a woman following every birth, not only the first one. The massages, the foods, the care, ‘they have to take care of you in a special way for about a month.'”

There is a special word in Korea as well. Referring to the “mother of a newborn child,” san mo describes “a woman every time she has had a baby. Extended family and neighbors who act as family care for older children and for the new mother. ‘This lasts about twenty-one days…they take special care of you.'”

These concepts–and the lack of a similar one in American culture–remind me of a quote from Sheila Kitzinger that I use when talking about postpartum: “In any society, the way a woman gives birth and the kind of care given to her and the baby points as sharply as an arrowhead to the key values of the culture.” Another quote I use is an Asian proverb paraphrased in the book Fathers at Birth: “The way a woman cares for herself postpartum determines how long she will live.

Dana Raphael, the author of Breastfeeding: The Tender Gift, who is best known for coining the word “doula” as it is presently used, also coined another valuable term: matrescense. “Nothing changes life as dramatically as having a child. And there was no word to describe that. So we invented the word–matrescence–becoming a mother.”

Happy Mother’s Day to mothers around the world!

Mother's Day

Want to find out what mothers really want? Check out the newest Listening to Mothers survey results: Listening to Mothers III: Report of the Third National U.S. Survey of Women’s Childbearing Experiences

Other Mother’s Day reads:

Womenergy (Womanergy)

Prayer for Mothers

What If…She’s Stronger than She Knows…

This is a modified repost of a previous post for Citizens for Midwifery. It is being crossposted today at CfM, Talk Birth, and Pagan Families.

The Revolving Wheel (Gift from the Sea)

“With a new awareness, both painful and humorous, I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women. I am convinced it has nothing inherently to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children. It has to do primarily with distractions. The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls–woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life. The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.”
Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

Lindbergh’s notion of mother as the axis of the household wheel really resonated with me, as did her descriptions of being pulled off center and distracted by a million aspects of the “wheel” of life. Her comment that saints were rarely married women made me smile, because it makes me think of Wayne’s Dyer’s comments that gurus rarely have eight kids, because there is nothing like the experience of parenting to shake your sense of yourself as someone who has it all together, spiritually or otherwise. And, it makes me think about how after some reading about Zen philosophy, I decided that Buddhism and Zen were not for me, because attachment is at the core of a mothering life. I got super irritated with old Buddha and his remarks about being “non-attached” and I thought, “easy for you to say, Mr. Go Sit Under a Tree and Wait for Enlightenment while your wife stays home and takes care of your kid—I guess she was too unenlightened and ‘attached’ to let go.” Being a mother has taught me a lot about relationship as the ground of being and relatedness, not non-attachment, as the core of a rich human experience. As I described in a prior post:

I have learned a lot about the fundamental truth of relatedness through my own experiences as a mother. Relationship is our first and deepest urge. The infant’s first instinct is to connect with others. Before an infant can verbalize or mobilize, she reaches out a hand to her mother. I have seen this with my own babies. Mothering is a profoundly physical experience. The mother’s body is the baby’s “habitat” in pregnancy and for many months following birth. Through the mother’s body the baby learns to interpret and to relate to the rest of the world and it is to mother’s body that she returns for safety, nurturance, and peace. Birth and breastfeeding exist on a continuum as well, with mother’s chest becoming baby’s new “home” after having lived in her womb for nine months. These thoroughly embodied experiences of the act of giving life and in creating someone else’s life and relationship to the world are profoundly meaningful.

via Breastfeeding as a Spiritual Practice | Talk Birth.

Anyway, Lindbergh says:

…to be a woman is to have interests and duties raying out in all directions from the central mother-core, like spokes from the hub of a wheel. The pattern of our lives is essential circular. We must be open to all points of the compass; husband, children, friends, home, community; stretched out, exposed, sensitive like a spider’s web to each breeze that blows, to each call that comes…
How difficult for us, then, to achieve a balance in the midst of these contradictory tensions, and yet how necessary for the proper functioning of our lives. How much we need and how arduous of attainment is that steadiness preached in all rules for holy living…

She also acknowledges the essential, and yet often difficult to find, need for solitude to find stillness as the axis of the revolving wheel of life:

…Women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves; that firm strand which will be the indispensible center of the whole web of human relationships. She must find that inner stillness which Charles Morgan describes as ‘the stilling of the soul within the activities of the mind and body so that it might be still as the axis of a revolving wheel is still…
This beautiful image is to my mind the one that women could hold before their eyes. This is an end toward which we could strive–to be the still axis within the revolving wheel of relationships, obligations and activities…
… she must consciously encourage those pursuits which oppose the centrifugal forces of today. Quiet time alone, contemplation, prayer, music, a centering line of thought or reading, of study or work. It can be physical or intellectual or artistic, any creative life proceeding from oneself…
…It need not be an enormous project or great work. But it should be something of one’s own. Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day—like writing a poem, or saying a prayer. What matters most is that one be for a time inwardly attentive…
~Anne Morrow Lindbergh from Gift from the Sea

I recall feeling this way about my own mother—that she was the center of our family, the anchoring space, the core to return to.

Other thoughts from Lindbergh that I related to after finding them online when reading reviews of her book and stories about her life include:

“I cannot see what I have gone through until I write it down. I am blind without a pencil…I am convinced that you must write as if no one were ever going to see it. Write it all, as personally and specifically as you can, as deeply and honestly as you can. … In fact, I think it is the only true way to reach the universal, through the knot-hole of the personal. So do, do go ahead and write it as it boils up: the hot lava from the unconscious. Don’t stop to observe, criticize, or be ‘ironic.’ Just write it, like a letter, without rereading. Later, one can decide what to do.”

And that made me think about story and being a story woman and I also saved this quote (not from Lindbergh):

We constantly weave life events into narrative and interpret everything that happens through the veil of story. From our smallest, most personal challenges to global issues that affect nations and generations, we make the world fit into the story we are already carrying. This unceasing interplay between experience and narrative is a uniquely human attribute. We are the storytellers, the ones who put life into words. – Christina Baldwin, Storycatcher (via The Circle)

Here’s what’s been happening in my wheel lately and the stories I’ve been weaving (Zander featured heavily the last time I wrote a primarily personal update post. This one has more moments from Lann):

How funny that we had to wait for spring before being able to actually make a snowman this year! (*note bat posed for imminent destruction too!)

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Last week, Lann had his first test (yellow stripe) in taekwondo. He did a good job!

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Future plans involve moving on from cardboard armor, to real movie stuff…

In the car on the way home from a different class, Lann was planning his birthday party (Sept). He wants to learn how to make silicone movie masks. He said: “I’ll do the sculpting and art part, you do the reading and talking about it part, Dad can do the sitting around with his mouth open part, Zander can do the running around and squealing part, and Alaina can do the napping.” I said: “does Dad really only sit around with his mouth open?!” And Lann said, “Mom, in AWE!” He also said they’re going to go to the Drury Inn and dress up in Lord the Rings costumes, “and, we’ll have to hang up a sign that says Nerdfest.”

That same week we were briefly discussing the massive scale of the universe and the fact that the Earth is hanging around out there in space, spinning, and Lann said, “sometimes my brain hurts when thinking about a selection of topics.” 😉 And, that reminded me of a long ago Lann story when he was about four. We were doing the whole, “I love you as big as the sky” type of thing, and I said, “I love you as much as the universe–and guess what, the universe has no end, it keeps getting bigger, and goes on forever!” And Lann said, “oh mom, that’s so beautiful I don’t know what to say.”

The week before, Lann hitched a ride to taekwondo with Baba and since I was on break from class, I was home with Zander and Alaina (usually they go grocery shopping with Mark while I’m in class). Zander came running in to get my iphone so he could take a movie of something and I heard him their room taking a movie and narrating to Lann as he does so, so that he can give him the movies when he gets home and catch him up on what Z’s been up to while they’re separated! Good buddies!

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Heartbreak of tooth decay sculpture from fall of last year–mama covers head, not wanting to know and yet holding both baby and the extracted teeth. At her heart is a jewel, because she acts with deep love.

We’re dealing with ongoing dental issues with Alaina. Despite our heroic efforts, she’s ended up with the most severe problems of any of our children. Last week I took her to the local pediatric dentist. He was really nice and informative and Alaina did really great with him. However, she needs a LOT of work, more than I thought, and it is going to be really expensive. She needs the crowns she already has replaced because they were not fitted correctly by the first dentist and there is decay around/behind them, plus she needs four other crowns and also two regular fillings. :*(

We’re definitely going to have to go through the general anesthesia route. The local pediatric dentist only does this work in the hospital and we got the estimate from the surgery center for the hospital portion only and it was $8900. Our insurance will cover part of it (we’ll still have to cover about $4500), but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that that is absurd. What a broken system. Taking your kid to the hospital for two hours to get their teeth worked on just should NOT cost $9000, no matter who pays for it, that is patently ridiculous. So, I’m going ahead with the consultation I made for her in Springfield on Wednesday. I called in advance to double-check and they do their oral surgery work in an outpatient surgery center rather than in a hospital and their estimate for the clinic part is $2000, total. That is more like it and is worth the two-hour drive (one way). I wish I hadn’t bothered taking her locally, because now we just have to do the exact same thing on Wednesday and then still go back. She has to have a physical first, before she can have anesthesia, so I also made an appointment for her first-ever visit to the doctor. What I really, really wish is that I’d just taken her to Springfield in the first place, last year, when we first started to get her teeth taken care of. I am so angry with the dentist we took her to in St. Louis. I was happy with the same office for Lann (different dentist, 8 years ago), but I have HATED everything that happened there with Alaina and I wish I’d never taken her there. I feel like they actually caused the problems she has now by not acting to treat the teeth I first brought her in about and then doing an absolutely CRAPPY job on everything they did after that. I don’t actually feel like I really have energy to really be angry though, my primary feeling is sadness and anxiety about what is to come.

In a cuter Alaina story, I made myself a little sculpture to use as a pendant, but Alaina appropriated it. When I finally put it on her, she said…”dooool.” I said, “did you just say ‘cool’!?” And she said, yes!

She also “knits” and likes tiny dogs…

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We get a lot of use out of the Ergo still too!

And, I guess our kids should be in a band:

Alaina sings!

Zander drums!

Lann drums too!

We went to my sister’s house a couple of weeks ago and the kids immediately took to my brother-in-law’s drums. Neither had ever drummed before and Zander really rocked it! Alaina singing was a moment I captured last week when I was printing invoices and she was sitting behind me putting on a show.

In my own news, I finally renewed my ICEA childbirth educator certification after dawdling on it for a long time, but I let my CAPPA certification lapse. It was a hard decision, but made the most sense. I’ve been moving on from birth education for quite some time, and continuing to shell out money for something I’m not using often doesn’t make a lot of sense.

My new classes begin today! After the hectic disequilibrium that comes with the final week of a school session, the following week feels a lot like coming home from being out-of-town—excited to see your familiar life, yet also slightly panicky about needing to “catch up.” Plus, there is so much to be unpacked…and then, BOOM, two weeks off is SHORT. My online class is full and my two in-seat classes have 12 students each. There was a lot of prep to do get ready for them–I always forget that these “breaks” aren’t about having a vacation, they are about preparing for next session.

I’m not sure how good I do about being the “axis,” but my wheel is a pretty fulfilling one 🙂

Non-Advice Books for Mothers

Mothering can involve a complicated and multileveled emotional terrain. What often speaks most clearly and helpfully to mothers is other women’s stories and experiences, NOT “advice,” prescriptions, promises, or admonishments.

I’ve noticed two types of “attachment parenting” mothers—those who discovered AP after having their baby or child(ren) and those who chose attachment parenting in advance, sometimes way in advance. While of course a host of factors are involved, both internal and external, I’ve also noticed that those who discovered, feel more content and are less likely to be hard on themselves about their AP-“failures.” If you discover something, you have an ideal to live up to. If what you start with is the ideal, essentially the only way to go is down! I’m one of the latter bunch, having envisioned my attachment parenting perfection and bliss for at least three years prior to actually giving birth to my first baby. After my first son’s birth, I dove into more and more and more parenting books, trying to make sense of my new life. And, to me totally honest, Dr. Sears books started to drive me out of my frickin mind, even though I agreed with the guy about almost everything. I still recommend him, I met him in real life in 2007 and consider him an excellent resource, however tMarch 2013 078he subtext I perceived in his books was: “do it the right way and you’ll always be happy and baby will never cry” and that was really, really hard on me as a vulnerable, sensitive new mother of a pretty cranky baby. So, I practically collapsed with relief when one of the birth center doctors suggested reading the book Misconceptions by Naomi Wolf. After this, I became obsessed with what is somewhat dismissively referred to as “the momoir”—memoirs of motherhood written by real women. Loved them. Lived by them. Learned from them. They “heard” me when I really, really needed to be heard.

Recently, a lovely friend and first-time mom on Facebook remarked that she needed to stop reading “advice” books about motherhood and try something else (though, still interested in reading about motherhood). Her comment reminded me so much of myself and I swooped in, ironically, with “advice” about other books to read. As I thought about books to suggests, the piles upon piles of books that I devoured came back to me in a rush. This morning, I went through my bookshelf and made a list of those that were influential enough to make the cut and be kept, versus being resold or passed along in the giveaway box. It is a big list! And, it is only a fraction of what I actually read. What was also really interesting for me to realize was that I haven’t read a book like this in ages, there are probably dozens more now! I still have several unread on shelf, but I no longer feel as if I need them in the same “lifeline” way in which I combed the library shelves with my first baby in his little sling.

So, here are my tips and suggestions on non-advice-based books for mothers. In general, I vote ixnay on any kind of “how to” mothering/parenting books. I vote yes on parenting memoirs, books about self-nurturing and mother-care, and sociopolitical commentary on motherhood. Disclaimer: a lot of the books on my list are written by “mainstream” authors, many of whom are pretty critical, sometimes very harshly, of attachment parenting. I find that some of these books create a lot of polarization with regard to Amazon reviews. At the risk of sounding very snobby myself, I would suggest that you are unlikely to enjoy these books if you are any of the following:

  • Unable or unwilling to engage intellectually with topics surrounding motherhood/parenthood.
  • Uninterested in the larger social, cultural, and political context surrounding individual mothers and their parenting “choices.”
  • Dismissive of the role that sociopolitical influences have on the lives and experiences of individual women.
  • Unable or unwilling to allow other women to define their own experiences and to recognize that not everyone experiences things the same way, and that that is fine, even desirable.
  • Fond of describing maternal honesty as “whining” and prefer “suck it up” approaches to sometimes painful explorations of complex feelings.

Before I list my books, make sure to check out Brain, Child magazine! I DO still read and devour this and feel as if it “saved me” multiple times during the first three years of parenting. And, make sure to check out my What Kind of Mother Are You Quiz, based on a memoir called Inconsolable.

These books may include links to prior posts/reviews about them. A lot of them are a blend of memoir and sociopolitical commentary—I classified them according to my perception of their primary emphasis. For all book reviews I’ve ever posted on my site, see this page.

Memoirs:

  • Let the Baby Drive by Lu Hanessian. This is one of my very favorites. Nourishing and enriching and relevant. May have a small tinge of “do it my way.”
  • Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. This is a classic. A memoir of the author’s first year with her son. She is a single parent and so the book addresses some of the challenges involved with parenting solo. This book is incredibly funny at times.
  • Callie’s Tally by Betsy Howie. Very, very funny, though not particularly “AP” (so if you’re looking for that, read Let the Baby Drive instead). This book chronicles how much money the author has spent on her daughter during her first year of life.
  • A Better Woman by Susan Johnson this one is an often painful to read memoir of a woman’s experience with an obstetrical fistula
  • Fruitful by Anne Roiphe (also addressed in prior post: Motherhood, Feminism, and More). This is a good look at the tensions between feminism and motherhood and navigating new identities
  • Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! A tale of mothering three sons.
  • The Blue Jay’s Dance by Louise Erdrich. Very lyrical, mild book. (Quoted or written about in these prior posts)
  • Dispatches from a Not-So Perfect Life–by a frequent contributor to Brain, Child magazine.
  • Inconsolable: How I Threw My Mental Health Out with the Diapers–memoir of a journey through severe postpartum depression. Darkly funny. Critical of attachment parenting, but in a manner in which I can identify.
  • Growing Seasons by Annie Spiegelman. This memoir is by a “sandwich generation” mother, caring for a toddler and for her own ailing mother.

Anthologies:

  • Mothers Who Think—collection of essays from writers for Salon.
  • The Bitch in the House–not all about parenting, about marriage, work, etc. Often angry.
  • Toddler–stories about parenting toddlers by one of the former editors of Brain, Child.
  • Beyond Onecollection of essays about adding a second child. I loved it. A friend I lent it to thought it was “horribly depressing.”
  • Real Moms—a surprising gem from MOPS. While I find many of their books too “surface” in emphasis and also very mainstream-Christian-mom directed, this one is great. One of my favorites.
  • The Fruits of Labor–about parenting at all stages of life. Some are tragic. This is more literary memoir than “tell all” memoir.

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  • What Mothers Do (appears in Motherful) by Naomi Stadlen. I love this book! It takes a close look at how women mother and how skillfully they do so (so that on the outside it looks like they are doing “nothing”). This is not a “how to” book, but a book that tries to look below the surface and explore concepts that are very difficult to verbalize/articulate. She strives to put into words/give us language to describe what is it that mothers do all day–their often invisible contributions to life. Contributions that are often invisible even to ourselves. This is a very affirming and unique book. This is one of my top picks for tender new mothers. There may be some subtext about doing it “right” though.
  • Of Woman Born (included in this post: Motherhood, Feminism, and More). This is a classic sociological and personal exploration of the role, meaning, and cultural valuation (or devaluation) of mothers. This was my first exposure to the notion of motherhood as institution rather than simply as role/relationship.
  • Price of Motherhood  by Ann Crittenden. Emphasis on economics, but very interesting analysis of multiple cultural, political, and social influences on mothers.
  • The Motherhood Manifesto—by Moms Rising. Showed me there is an actual “mother’s movement” afoot!
  • Paradox of Natural Mothering—academic in tone. I really enjoy this book. Lots of food for thought. It is a little uncomfortable to read too because she is so spot-on in her analysis of mothers like me. It is strange to feel “under the microscope.” The author herself is a “quasi-natural mother,” so the analysis isn’t harsh criticism, but it is a critical look at the “cult” (my word, not hers) of natural mothering and has a LOT of excellent discussion about feminism and natural mothering. She says–and I completely agree–that natural mothering represents the intersection of three ideological frameworks: voluntary simplicity, attachment parenting, and cultural feminism.
  • The Mask of Motherhood
  • Misconceptions by Naomi Wolf. As I mentioned, this was the first book that I ever read about a woman’s postpartum experience. It was suggested to me by the doctor at the birth center when I expressed some teary frustrations about adjusting to my new life and wondering if I would ever get “back to normal.” This book is on the “angry” side–it is not a nurturing and tender read and she is critical of things I value (like LLL). I did not identify with the author’s birth experiences or feelings about birth (I felt tremendous during birth and powerful, empowered, triumphant, and confident) and her conclusions seems mis-drawn, i.e. her birth was terrible, ergo, birth itself is terrible and those who tell you otherwise are lying, but her postpartum feelings closely match my own (weak, wounded, invisible, etc.)
  • Perfect Madness by Judith Warner. Included in this post: I just want to grind my corn! Fairly harshly critical of attachment parenting. takes potshots at LLL.
  • The Mother Knot by Jane Lazarre (included in: OBs and Normal)
  • Big Purple Mommy—about creativity and motherhood and still nurturing one’s creative self.
  • The Mother Trip (included in this post: Small Stone Birth Activism)–this one is written by Ariel Gore, original founder of the awesome zine, Hip Mama.
  • The Mother Dance by Harriet Lerner. This one focuses on the psychology of women primarily.

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  • 25 Ways to Joy & Inner Peace for Mothers
  • The Tao of Motherhood
  • The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood
  • Mother Nurture by Rick & Jan Hanson. This book is phenomenal. Very comprehensive. It addresses mothers of children from birth to age 5, so even if you are several years past the early postpartum weeks, this book has much to offer to you! One of the focus areas is on “Depleted Mother Syndrome” and addresses coping with it via all areas (body, mind, social/relational).
  • Mothering the New Mother–classic postpartum doula book! Highly recommended.
  • This isn’t what I expected—postpartum depression recovery.
    After the Baby’s Birth by Robin Lim. This book is very holistic in approach and is one of my very favorite postpartum reads. It offers such gems as, “you’re postpartum for the rest of your life” (which some people have said they feel like is depressing, but I find a tremendously empowering statement!) and “when the tears flow, so does the milk” (with regard to the third day postpartum). It does have a large section on Ayurvedic cooking, which, personally, I don’t connect with, so be aware that that section is in there and depending on your belief system, might make perfect sense to you, or might seem inapplicable like it feels to me.
  • Mothers Guide to Self-Renewal

Novels/Others:

  • I Don’t Know How She Does It—fiction about an employed mother and the juggling act with which she tried to balance work and family.
  • Motherhood Confidential–this one is pretty weird. I almost didn’t include it and I also don’t know whether it is fiction or not. It is billed as “chicken soup for the spleen” and as an “anti-advice” book. I like the recommendation to scrape off the “dogma-doo” of parenting. It is about two best friends, one who becomes an attachment parenting homeschooling mother and the other who is a “detachment parent” and how rocky their relationship becomes.
  • Three Shoes, One Sock, and No Hairbrush by Rebecca Abrams. Primarily about adding a second child.

International Women’s Day: Prayer for Mothers

nursingmamas

This week marked my eighth anniversary as a breastfeeding counselor.  When I began, I didn’t how long I’d keep doing it and I’ve had a lot of discouraging rough patches with dwindling group membership in which I felt like giving up, but now I suspect I might end up as a “lifer.” When I started this work I had one little 18 month old boy. Now, that little boy is closing in on TEN this year! I’ve logged over 1200 contacts since my accreditation. I’ve learned so much from the mothers I’ve worked with and I continue learning new things all the time.

This month as I sat in the circle at our mother-to-mother breastfeeding support group meeting, I looked around at all the beautiful mothers in that room. I reflected on each of their journeys and how much each one has been through in her life, to come to this time and this place, and tears filled my eyes. They are all so amazing. And, my simple, fervent prayer for them in that moment was that they could know that. Know that on a deep, incontrovertible level. I tried to tell them then, in that moment. How much they mean to me, how incredible they are, how I see them. How I hope they will celebrate their own capacities and marvel at their own skills. How I see their countless, beautiful, unrecognized, invisible motherful actions. How when I see them struggling in the door with toddlers and diaper bags and organic produce that they’re sharing with each other, I see heroines. They may look and feel “mundane” from the outside, but from where I’m sitting, they shine with a power and potency that takes my breath away. Moderating toddler disputes over swordplay, wiping noses, changing diapers, soothing tears, murmuring words, moving baby from breast to shoulder to floor and back to breast without even seeming consciously aware of how gorgeously they are both parenting and personing in that very moment, speaking their truths, offering what they have to give, reaching out to one another, and nursing, nursing, nursing. Giving their bodies over to their babies again and again in a tender, invisible majesty. In this room is a symphony of sustenance. An embodied maternal dance of being.

So, today on International Women’s Day, when I visited the woods behind my house, I offered up this…

Prayer for Mothers: March 2013 057

I offer a prayer for all mothers
may you breathe deep down into your belly
may you tip your face to the sky
let your shoulders soften
your forehead smooth
your eyes close gently
your lips part

And may you take a deep cleansing breath
from your feet on the earth
all the way up through your legs
hips
belly
chest
shoulders
and throat

And with this breath
honor your own capacities
marvel at your own resources
notice your strengths
celebrate your successes
listen to your own wisdom
recognize your own heart.

Take a moment to see
really see
how often you act with great courage
how often you act with deep love
and how much of your life’s energy
spirals and spins around your children.

See your worth
hear your value
sing your body’s power
and potency
dance your dreams
recognize within yourself
that which you do so well
so invisibly
and with such love.

Fill your body with this breath
expand your heart with this message
you are such a good mother.