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Birthrites: Birth as a Rite of Passage

“Woman-to-woman help through the rites of passage that are important in every birth has significance not only for the individuals directly bellypictureinvolved, 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 (Rediscovering Birth)

“I love and respect birth. The body is a temple, it creates its own rites, its own prayers…all we must do is listen. With the labor and birth of my daughter I went so deep down, so far into the underworld that I had to crawl my way out. I did this only by surrendering. I did this by trusting the goddess in my bones. She moved through me and has left her power in me.” ~Lea B., Fairfax, CA (via Mama Birth)

I have long held that birth is a rite of passage worthy of acknowledgement, care, and deep respect.  This post is second in a series of short posts from the book Birthrites by Jackie Singer (the first was about ritual). Singer writes powerful about birth as a rite of passage here:

Birth is the archetypal rite of passage for a woman, containing the essential elements of any ritual: separation from normal life, a profound transition during which the participants occupy a timeless time, followed by re-entry into society in a changed state. It can also be seen as a holy sacrament; the entry of a soul from another plan into this earthly dimension. Birth has always been, and still is, a momentous event, attended by great hopes as well as genuine risks, and one in which people call on a variety of powers for support and protection…

…such a calling in of the spirit is still possible today, whether the birth is at home in a candle-lit pool, or by Caesarean in a brightly lit hospital…

Some collected quotes from past posts on this theme…

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

via Birth as a Rite of Passage & ‘Digging Deeper’ | Talk Birth.

‘Birthing is also a rite of passage–into parenthood–and like any other passage, it comes upon us and we just have to deal with it. It’s an awe-inspiring experience, and it would be perfectly natural to want to prepare in some way. And you can do that. But to some extent the experience is still out of your control.’ (The Pink Kit)

via Birth as a Rite of Passage | Talk Birth.

“Childbirth is a rite of passage so intense physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, that most other events in a woman’s life pale next to it. In our modern lives, there are few remaining rituals of initiation, few events that challenge a person’s mettle down to the very core. Childbirth remains a primary initiatory rite for a woman.” –from the book MotherMysteries

via Thesis Tidbits: Birth as a Shamanic Experience | Talk Birth.

‘So how can today’s modern goddesses, and in particular mammas-to-be, prepare themselves for life’s many transitions? A good starting point is to create your own rite of passage for whatever transition you may be going through. Pregnant women could change their planned baby shower to a Mother Shower (also known as a Blessingway). Mother Showers celebrate and nurture the mother rather than focusing exclusively on the child and are a growing trend amongst women. They offer pregnant women a chance to honour their pregnancy journey, to enjoy symbolic rituals of preparation for the labour and birthing ahead and indulge in an afternoon of loving, nourishing attention from their closest friends and family. And yes, there are still cupcakes!’ –Kat Skarbek

via Rites of Passage… Celebrating Real Women’s Wisdom | Talk Birth.

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Thesis Tidbits: Mary Christmas

Mary Goddess with child Paola Suarez sm

Mary and Child painting by blogging friend Paola Suarez

“…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 outsider to Catholicism and other branches of Christianity, but I see Mary as an aspect of the sacred feminine that weaves its way through a variety of religious traditions and practices. As a Unitarian Universalist myself, I believe there are many ways to touch the “chord of the sacred” within each of us and that we can find threads of commonality and expression in most religions. Since it is Christmas today, I wanted to share some intriguing excerpts from several different Mary-themed blog posts that touched me this week and that also relate to my dissertation topic of birth as a spiritual experience…

The first is from a birth blogging friend Kelli, who writes with love and tenderness about what the Christmas story can teach us about giving birth:

Another thing that Mary surely understood was that she was specially chosen to bring this new life into the world through the capabilities of her own body alongside that unconstrained power that placed him there in the first place. For birth is about releasing expectations and trusting that you are supported. It is knowing that just by the way your body was designed and grew this life, you are capable of bringing this life forward. In our modern world, what birth is all about hasn’t changed. It isn’t about dreading pain. It isn’t about wondering if “they” will let you do this or that. It isn’t about enduring it until it is over. It isn’t about being afraid and resigning to hope simply for a healthy baby. The child you carry is destined to impact the world. We may not know how, but we can know it is for certain. As the mother of this child, you matter. Mary is revered as holy by many of varying faiths. If giving birth is not sacred work, then what is? Birth, mamas, is about knowing. How this special and amazing child you carry comes into the world matters a great deal. How this child’s mother is revered before, during, and after the process of birth matters a great deal…

via How Can the Christmas Story Teach Us About Birth? – Confluence Mama.

Then, from a pagan blogger from whom I borrowed my post title today, this post about being pregnant with divine potential:

What could be more magical than conceiving, gestating, and giving birth to the embodiment of Christ consciousness?

What could be more magical than birthing the return of light into a darkened world?

What could be more magical than dissolving shame and restoring the brilliant shine to a woman’s life?

For all its shrillness and glitter, the Christmas season offers us images of Mary, big-bellied, pregnant with the Power of Being, however you might name it.

Allowing ourselves to deepen into those images might well dissolve the shame that so often obscures the light imbuing our bodies. Allowing ourselves to resonate with Mary might well unleash the life-celebrating energy already radiating from our bellies, our body’s core…

via Mary Christmas! Being Pregnant with God – PaganSquare.

And, of course, the breastfeeding activist in me thrilled to read this article about Pope Francis supporting public breastfeeding and this juicy, relevant snippet caught my eye about the image of the nursing mother—Mary—as historically symbolic of God’s love:

The cultural shift was so great that even Catholics soon came to regard the breast as an “inappropriate” image for churches. Instead, the sacrifice of the cross – the suffering Jesus – became the dominant motif of Christianity while the Nativity was sanitized into a Hallmark card.

“Ask anybody in the street what’s the primary Christian symbol and they would say the crucifixion,” said Margaret Miles, author of “A Complex Delight: The Secularization of the Breast, 1350-1750,” a book that traces the disappearance of the image of the breast-feeding Mary after the Renaissance.

“It was the takeover of the crucifixion as the major symbol of God’s love for humanity” that supplanted the breast-feeding icon, she said. And that was a decisive shift from the earliest days of Christianity when “the virgin’s nursing breast, the lactating virgin, was the primary symbol of God’s love for humanity…”

via Pope Francis backs public breastfeeding! And that makes him traditional… | Sacred and Profane.

On a related note, I also recently enjoyed seeing a picture on my Facebook feed of one of my birth goddess sculptures standing on shelf next to a Lego Pope and a lovely nativity set.  🙂

Merry (or Mary!) Christmas to you and may we all celebrate the birth of divine potential as we greet the dawning of a new year.

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Thesis Tidbits: Cut, Stapled, and Mended

Recently I found myself totally absorbed by Roanna Rosewood’s birth memoir: Cut, Stapled, and Mended. In an unexpected overlap with my thesis project topic, in many ways Rosewood’s book is about a journey to the sacred feminine within herself. This thread of the discovery of the larger forces of what it means to be female that runs throughout the book makes a perfect connection to my thesis topic about birth and spirituality (though, I’ve actually switched my topic again and am returning to using birth as the subject of my dissertation instead). Writing about the blessingway ceremony her mother and some friends had for her, Roanna wonders, “After the initiation of birth, will I feel comfortable in the world of women?” (p. 33).

Later, after her second cesarean, she hears from other people the comment that so many other women experience when they experience disappointment or trauma in birth: at least you have a healthy baby. Roanna writes, “I lift the corners of my mouth in silent submission, ignoring my heart’s protest: Birth is not an accident, to be celebrated when you make it through alive. Birth is a rite of passage. There was something I was supposed to do. I am not strong enough to bring life into this world, not good enough. I am unworthy of procreation. Incomplete. An actor playing the role of a woman” (p. 89).

During the birth of her last child, she feels the might of creation pass through her and feels she is herself inhabited by the Divine: “Only then does the Divine come, taking my body as her own. I am no longer alone. There is no fear…I experience completeness. I find religion. Infinity is tangible. Generations of children, their dreams, passions, defeats and glories—they all pass through me, converging here, between my thighs…” (p. 146-147).

She touches on this theme again as she concludes her beautifully written book:

“I understand why we fear birth and seek to make it a sterile and planned event. But doing so denies us our greatest opportunity: partnership with the divine. It’s not possible to numb oneself to fear, pain, and death without also numbing ourselves to courage, pleasure, and life” (p. 160).

Speaking of my thesis/dissertation, sometimes my mind boggles at how wonderfully the Internet “smallens” the world. Nané Jordan, who I quoted in my original thesis proposal, happened to find my blog post and offered to send me a copy of her own dissertation and thesis on birth/women’s spirituality related themes. The package arrived today from Canada and I am very much looking forward to digging into her work. I’m also sending one of my own pewter goddess pendants back to her and I love to know how we’ve made this connection, through words, from across the miles. 🙂

“This is a pilgrimage into women’s wholeness and holiness in giving birth. A journey into re-weaving human connection to the Earth and to each other through birth.” –Nané Jordan in Birthdance, Earthdance

And, this quote caught my eye via The Girl God on Facebook this evening:

“The only people who should run countries are breastfeeding mothers.” – Tsutomu Yamaguchi; Hiroshima Survivor

Birth Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 2013 011

Some of my sculptures-turned-pewter-jewelry.

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

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

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

Tuesday Tidbits: Life and Death

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A nice fresh October rose in the back yard.

“Here’s what I know about the other side: women carry the doorway to this place within the womb. The womb is the connection to the spirit realm from which all spirits enter.” –Tami Lynn Kent (Wild Feminine)

After my grandma died, I read an article that paralleled good birth care with good death care. I saved a quote from it to share, but didn’t post it because I didn’t really have anything else to go with it at the time. This month marks the six-month point since my grandma died and I found myself writing about her and making my own birth-song, death-song parallel for my most recent essay for Feminism and Religion and I knew the time for this current post had also come. (Note: the FAR post doesn’t come out until Wednesday, so the link won’t work until then.) Here is the quote I saved:

My Oma was completely cared for. She was bathed in her bed. My mom made homemade applesauce for her. My uncle gave her drops of wine. Her clothes were changed to housedresses she loved. We whispered love notes in her ears. We stroked her arms and held her hands. Nothing existed besides her.

A woman in labor, with the best support, is completely loved up. Taken care of so that she can focus on following her body and natural rhythms. She is massaged, sung to, whispered words of power and praise. All to fill her up so that she can remember her strength, courage, and beauty.

via Life and Death. Miracles Abound. | Naturally Prosperous.

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My grandma’s perpetual calendar. Made by my dad and painted by my mom in the 80’s or so, it was passed along to me. When I finally changed the tiles to September, it prompted another bout of crying because I had to put away the tiles from March–the last time my grandma touched and set up this calendar herself. It was both sad and painful and also beautiful and generative to be setting it up myself and now…the wheel of the year continues to turn and I really should be taking out September and setting up October…

My mom doula’ed my grandmother through her dying process and it was hard, but she did it. This week, my aunt sent out some pictures from my grandma’s doll collection so that we could pick which dolls we might like to have. My grandma loved Shirley Temple and had a Shirley collection, among quite a few other dolls. I’ve written before that I guess this love of dolls is genetic and I definitely got it from both my grandmas. Anyway, I was looking through the doll pictures and feeling impressed with the effort and love my aunt had put into captioning and describing each doll, as well as deciding which one was my favorite and then my eyes were filled with tears. I thought about my own dolls, there on the shelves and in nooks and corners of the house and pictured my little daughter going through them and taking pictures after I die and it was just really flipping sad.

And, so to continue to the theme of today’s post I remembered marking this poem in my 2013 We’Moon datebook (I’m getting ready to order my 2014 edition and so I’m going back through the things I’ve marked this year).

 We All Become Small

…Above the hospital bed
hangs a photo of you:
black lingerie, red curls,
mouth alive with laughter.

You were flamboyance
boasting bold jewelry
and flowered baseball caps.
Everyone called you Mom.

Now you are thin and still…
…You are the end of my journey
the final portrait.

No matter how red our curls,
how bright our rings
we all become small.

We all grow silent,
ease out of our feet,
slip away from our hands,
rise beyond our body
and fill the room with goodbye.

Natascha Bruckner (in We’Moon 2013)

I’d also marked a poem about miscarriage:

Sept 2013 021

I recently added new miscarriage memorial charms to my Etsy shop.

Miscarriage
I won’t forget
how cold that summer turned
after
or how my days developed
sharp edges or how
with time passing,
you still grow older.

You’re the girl I wasn’t
convinced I wanted,
and there’s no name
for the landscape I stand on.

–Joyce Hayden in We’Moon 2013

I really identified with the sentence, there’s no name for the landscape I stand on, feeling reminded of my own post-miscarriage drawing in which I tried to capture the sensation of having to walk over the bridge alone…

miscarriagedrawingOne of my friends does Prayer Paintings for mothers who’ve experience pregnancy loss, miscarriage, or stillbirth (she also does Birth Blessing painting to celebrate pregnant women). She asked me if she could paint one for me and as we talked it over, I realized I didn’t feel like I needed a loss painting OR one that was about pregnancy or birth, but rather something “integrative.” And, she created something beautiful for me that felt perfect. She titled it Empowering Circle of Reflection and I love the rich, red, surprising sky. It is perfect.

October 2013 020Returning to my grandma as well as thinking about the purpose of writing and exploring feelings in writing and so forth, I also want to share this quote from We’Moon 2013:

“I see beauty in all faces, all women, near and far. All  winds blow, all ferns and grasses grow, all cello weep, all hands write. In writing move the body, the memory in the bones. Lift me up into these trees and into these women’s arms, all branches intertwining..Get those stories down. The moon, the Milky Way, the cream smear of falling stars, the bats and frogs and wood chips, racoons on a log. My jacket hangs on a tree stump every night, and I wear a spiderweb each dawn. Remember this: preserve. Pass on, embellish, enliven and unfold. All winds will blow this history into dust—unless we write it down, and name it holy…” Bonnie J. Morris (in We’Moon 2013)

One of the realizations I had after my trip to the Gaea Goddess Gathering this year was that not everything has to be a story. There doesn’t have to be a blog post around every corner. However, after reading the above, I thought that maybe it isn’t so bad/annoying that I look for the story everywhere and that I try to write it down and name it holy.

And, one last We’Moon transcription:

A Meditation by Mia Howell (in We’Moon 2013)

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New mother-blessing tree of life pendants.

The Japanese say that even the other side
has another side. We need to keep turning
things over in our minds until we can see
them in circles of motion, in spirals, in
the complete roundness of their being, through
all the cycles of becoming, undoing, renewing.

We need to understand how we got to this point
and then we need to remember it is just a point.
We feel each beat as a beat but also as part
pf the rhythm of the greater dance of greater things.
We need to turn ourselves around, in order to
see our journey in its full-spiraled progression,
to see our self in its many iterations
of age, development, understanding,
to see how the layers peel away one by one
and yet each is part of the other,
to see how the edges blur, to see how sometimes
there are no sides at all…

Tuesday Tidbits: Tree Mother

“Childbirth takes place at the intersection of time; in all cultures it links past, present and future. In traditional cultures birth unites the world of ‘now’ with the world of the ancestors, and is part of the great tree of life extending in time and eternity.” –Sheila Kitzinger

“Just as a tree grows best when anchored firmly in the earth, so can a pregnant mother feel strong and capable when supported by a sisterhood of nurturing friends.” -April Lussier

”And I say the sacred hoop of my people was one of the many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father.” – Black Elk (via Literary Mama)

“Good timber does not grow with ease; the stronger the wind, the stronger the trees.” – J. Willard Marriott

“A pregnant woman is like a beautiful flowering tree, but take care when it comes time for the harvest that you do not shake or bruise the tree, for in doing so, you may harm both the tree and its fruit.” –Peter Jackson

I am at the point in my school session in which I’m barely keeping my head above water! So, since I recently made a tree mama sculpture and because I recently helped do a tree-themed henna design on a pregnant mama, I decided to just go with some quotes today and call it a day!

I’m definitely no Mandala Journey, but my mom and I did a tree mandala attempt with my friend anyway:


And, the next day she had her baby! I think he was waiting for henna… 🙂

I also added some simple tree of life “birth amulet” pendants to my etsy shop! 🙂
Sept 2013 010

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:

August 2013 041

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:

August 2013 047

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

Thesis Tidbits: Naming and Claiming

As I mentioned recently, I’m working on my thesis project on the subject of birth as a spiritual experience. Today, instead of my usual August 2013 032Tuesday collection of links, I’m sharing some thought-provoking quotes that I collected while writing the prospectus for my thesis. Pictures in this post are from last night’s Day of Hope and Healing ceremony in Rolla.

The first quote really relates to the whole reason I chose this topic in the first place:

“In this culture…a woman can be made to feel foolish for emphasizing the centrality of giving birth to her identity or her personal religiousness, her ‘womanspirit’” (Listening to Our Bodies, Stephanie Demetrakopoulos, p. 18)

While it is the opposite in my own circle of friends, in the dominant culture, whether given “religious” significance or not, I find this is true: women are made to feel foolish for emphasizing the centrality of birth to her womanspirit, to her life, to her feelings about her capacities as a woman and mother. Women are made to feel foolish for struggling with birth trauma OR for feeling “empowered” by birth. After all, it is just one day. But maybe, just maybe, part of this sensation actually originates in sensitivity to the feelings of other women:

Elizabeth Gray in Sacred Dimensions of Women’s Experience explains:

…this is not the entire story of the ambivalence a woman experiences along the way to claiming the sacredness of her own birthing process. There is the reticence she feels about possibly offending other women by seeming to elevate her own birthing experience. How is one woman to claim her own experience of an ‘easy’ birth when she knows other women labor for days in pain and some women die giving birth? How is she to name as sacred her experience of having babies, when, for whatever reason, other women are childless? How is she to claim her own experience of ‘conscious’ home-birth…,when other women may now regret having been unconscious with medications? Or if you had a ‘bad’ experience giving birth, how are you to name that when women around you are happily anticipating a successful culmination to their Lamaze classes? Women’s naming of much in their own birthing experiences is silenced by the sensitivity to other women’s feelings.

But despite these many reasons for reticence, there is a bonding of women who have given birth. It is deep and silent…a silvery shadowed oath between life and death down which all ‘the birthing mothers on the planet’ have moved, those ‘mothers of all times without whom no one walks this planet.’ Women who have given birth reach out to one another…saying to all those mothers whose birthing experiences were different than hers, ‘Don’t feel badly. ‘Rejoice in the incredible, joyous, astounding fact of creation…Every moment a child is born is a holy moment…’

(Elizabeth Dodson Gray, ed. Sacred Dimensions of Women’s Experience, p. 49-50)

Before this quote, Gray shares that the patriarchal association of birth (and women) with “uncleanliness” continues to impact women August 2013 040today:

“Because of this ancient overlay, it is not easy for women to lay claim to our life-giving power. How are we do reclaim that which has been declared fearful, polluting and yet unimportant? How are women to name as sacred the actual physical birth, which comes with no sacred ritual, while lurking around the corner of time are the long-established meta-physical rituals of circumcision and baptism?” (Elizabeth Dodson Gray p. 49)

Women today are also laboring to birth a healthier, more whole planet and means of being. For many women this begins with how they approach pregnancy and childbirth, how they consciously prepare to the welcome their babies into the world.

It is well past time in human history to push aside male dread and boldly claim the sacred woman-centeredness of every human birth…The wonder at new human life cannot be separated from the sacredness of women’s bodies or women’s lives. We will be involved in a profound betrayal of the gift of life itself as long as individual men and male culture ‘freak out’ before women’s power to give birth…If we cannot affirm women and women’s bodies and women’s birthing and women’s choice, we will go on bringing death to the planet and to ourselves. We cannot affirm life without affirming women. [emphasis mine]

(Elizabeth Dodson Gray, ed. Sacred Dimensions of Women’s Experience, p. 50-51)

And, as I’ve touched on before, birth and breastfeeding are the original sacramental experiences:

“Woman’s body is a transmutation system; it has the power to change blood to milk, to change itself into food which in turn becomes the physical and psychic energy of a child. She is creating an incarnate soul, assisting it in growth.” —Stephanie Demetrakopoulos (Listening to Our Bodies, p. 36)

August 2013 052

(this is my prayer flag this morning when I hung it up at home after the event last night)

August 2013 017

Flowers released on the lake at sunset.

 

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

20130422-140545.jpg

Birth Matters!

“A well taken care of and rested mama almost always translates into a well taken care of and rested baby. Respecting mothers is an act of social change.” —Mother Health International

“The way a society views a pregnant and birthing woman, reflects how that society views women as a whole. If women are considered weak in their most powerful moments, what does that mean?” –Marcie Macari (She Births)

“…it is not easy for women to lay claim to our life-giving power. How are we to reclaim that which has been declared fearful, polluting and yet unimportant? How are women to name as sacred the actual physical birth, which comes with no sacred ritual…?” –Elizabeth Dodson Gray

Birth matters. It truly does. The impact is often ignored or minimized, but giving birth remains one of life’s most profound, pivotal, liminal, and initiatory events. Bizarrely, this is overlooked by much of modern culture. We spent many thousands of dollars on weddings each year as well as months of planning and preparation for “just one day,” and yet in pregnancy and birth are willing to let insurance companies dictate access to care providers and let care providers dictate access to evidence-based care. Some time ago I expanded the wedding analogy into a satirical look at why birth matters:

You stop sharing your feelings, but you can’t shake the memories. What you expected to be a beautiful day filled with love and celebration was not and you feel a real sense of grief at the loss of your dreams. You know you shouldn’t feel this way. You know that what really matters is your healthy, happy husband, but you keep wondering if your wedding really had to be that way. Yes, you love your husband and you are so happy that he is healthy, but you also wonder if that really is all that matters. Don’t you matter too? Doesn’t your relationship matter? What about respect, dignity, love, and self-worth? Don’t those matter too? Wasn’t this a special life transition for your family? Wasn’t it the beginning of a special relationship together and couldn’t that relationship have been celebrated, honored, and treated as worthy of care and respect?

via All That Matters is a Healthy Husband (or: why giving birth matters)

And, in a different post I made a list of why I care about birth, concluding with the following:

Because I know in my heart that birth matters for women, for babies, for families, for culture, for society, and for the world.

via Why Do I Care About Birth?

So, I particularly loved this quote from Ani DiFranco and I had to turn it into a picture! 🙂

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