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Women, Birthing, and Boundaries

“Birth doula work is not about double hip squeezes. It isn’t about birth plans. Birth doulaing at its heart is a spiritual path that will rip away your narcissism and your selfishness. It will restructure your values and strengthen your compassion and empathy for all people through pain and humility. It is about learning how to BE in the presence of conflict and the human experience of living at its most raw and gut wrenching…”

–Amy Gililand

Watch out! Bookshelf reduction mission in full swing!

Mark has become embroiled in many land and garden improvement projects in the last couple of months. Now that it is hot outside again, he has switched some of this attention to interior home improvement projects as well, one of which is building a new little countertop onto the half-wall between our kitchen and dining area (saw is presently squealing in my ear as I type) and one of which is painting some of the walls in our house. Wall-painting necessitated bookshelf moving, which necessitated book removal, which prompted me to go on a massive book decluttering and downsizing mission. As I’ve mentioned, I am thoroughly in the mood to wrap up, wind down, finish up. I feel a powerful, powerful call to finish all kinds of things so I can fully greet my baby in October. So, this bookshelf downsizing played right into my current mood. One of the books that didn’t make my “keep it” list was The Feminine Face of God, a classic feminist spirituality book by Sherry Ruth Anderson and Patricia Hopkins (now in a giveaway box near you, so if you’re interested and you’re local, let me know and it is now yours!). This isn’t because I don’t like the book, it is because I don’t feel as if I will need to return it to again. In evaluating and reducing my book collection, I find odds and ends I’d marked to write about or remember. Rather than storing the whole book, it makes sense to me to save the one or two pages I’d marked instead and let the book move on to enrich new lives. From The Feminine Face of God, I’d saved this quote about women and permeable boundaries:

Women have permeable boundaries. Perhaps it is the experience of our bodies in touch with the bodies of others that makes it hard for us to close down our psyches. Perhaps it is genetic. Or both. Or something else. But our bodies feel the irrevocable connection of the tides with our cycles of monthly bleeding. And in lovemaking we can be penetrated and receive another. And with pregnancy we carry another for nine full moons, more or less. When we separate from that other, we can feed it from our own body. And later the cycles that tie us to the moon and tides stop. And all this is true whether we give birth or not, have sex of not. The possibility is what creates the openness, and this openness is a precious gift (p. 183).

The distinct flavor of experience which comes with the gift shapes how we perceive reality, how we act, how we create, and what we value. And more than anything else women value relationships. We blend and weave and combine and sustain all kinds of relationships, and this work, this webmaking, not only shapes our lives but makes us profoundly vulnerable to the needs of others.

This is why, to me, attachment is at the core of the mothering life. (As opposed to the “detachment” often espoused by pop-culture interpretations of Eastern philosophical thought.) I think it also explains why women can hurt and wound each other and why when we let people in “too far,” sometimes we need to push them all the way out again. Or, when someone disappoints us or lets us down, why we might turn to reject them. They’ve been allowed to enter our permeable boundaries and if we lose trust or a sense of closeness for some reason, we shut them completely out, rather than recognizing it as a momentary experience.

In the book, the authors go on to explain:

The solution to our permeable boundaries is not to seal them off or barricade our hearts and adopt a ‘me first’ attitude. When we do that, we suffer unbearable isolation. But neither is it to betray the deep sources of wisdom and meaning in our lives. Instead we need to find the unique, and probably unstable, balance that fits us at a particular time, a balance that includes, but is not limited to, the needs of our partners and family. (p. 185)

Does needing to carve out the time and space we need for our own deep places make us selfish? This is one of the fears Anderson and Ruth explore….

Of all the fears we have heard from women about taking time and space for themselves, the most common by far was the fear of being selfish. If there is a mantra women repeat to themselves to deny their longing for solitude, it is probably, ‘Selfish. Selfish. Am I being selfish?’

For two years following her separation from her husband, Lynette lived alone in a tiny studio apartment, studying massage therapy, and asking herself this question. She no longer led the young people’s group at church, or planned and prepared festive parties for her friends and extended family. She didn’t even read the newspaper much.

‘So people call and ask, ‘What’s happened to you, Lynette? You used to be so outgoing and giving,’ she told us. ‘Just yesterday one of my favorite aunts telephoned and said right out, ‘I love you, my dear, but it’s clear to me you’re being very selfish pursuing this massage-therapy business. Living in your own apartment with no one to look after but yourself is very selfish and ungrounded!’

‘You know,’ Lynette told us thoughtfully, ‘doing something for yourself is like being pregnant. From the outside, being pregnant can look selfish. You take in all this extra food. You sleep more than usual. You are not as interested as you used to be in other people’s lives, including the lives of your own family. But inside another life is growing. It needs quiet, nourishment, and rest. At first, no one can see this life, but this has absolutely no bearing on the matter. The inner life is growing and it demands your attention.

‘But,’ she continued, ‘being pregnant is easier than this other birthing. Because in our material society, we trust the process that gives us something we can see and touch and hear—a live baby. This other birthing—well, who can be sure? So much trust is needed to turn down or tune out the internal critic and focus on what is happening inside you instead of always serving others.’ (p. 204)

In the closing to this section about the call for solitude and the attachment of family life, the authors quote another participant, Sara:

“True caring means being able to give from fullness…And for that I need my solitude. It is the very birthplace of altruism.” (p. 204-205)

In typing all of the above in the non-solitude I am currently experiencing this is what happened to my little pile of books to be blogged about:

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That would be new countertop wood shavings and a Baby Hugs bear.

And, I gained a creative companion:

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🙂

International Women’s Day: Body Prayer

I roam
sacred ground
my body is my altar
my temple.

I cast a circle
with my breath
I touch the earth
with my fingers
I answer
to the fire of my spirit.

My blood
pulses in time
with larger rhythms February 2014 040
past, present, future
connected
rooted
breathing.

The reach of my fingers
my ritual
the song of my blood
my blessing
my electric mind
my offering.

Breathing deep
stretching out
opening wide.

My body is my altar
my body is my temple
my living presence on this earth
my prayer.

Thank you.

I wrote this poem in the spring of last year and was very pleased when Trista Hendren, author of the children’s book The Girl God, wrote to ask permission to reprint it in her new book: Mother Earth. I received my copy of the book last month and wanted to offer a mini-review of it today, International Women’s Day, because as Trista says, it is “a beautiful tribute to the world’s first ‘woman.’” Mother Earth is theoretically a children’s book, but it offers an important message and call to action to all world citizens. Along the top of the pages is a story, written as a narrative experience between Trista and her daughter Helani, about the (human) mother’s need to rest. The story evolves into a message about the Earth and the care and rest she is crying out for. Each page features a large illustration and below the illustration is a relevant spiritual quote, poem, prayer, or message.

February 2014 038(I got a big kick out of seeing the company I keep on the back cover…Buddha, Hafiz, the Dalai Lama, Starhawk…Molly Remer?!)


I’m still wrapping up the school session as well as preparing for a big event next weekend. I feel taut, overcommitted, crabby, snappy, distracted, and out of time for writing even though I have a pile of ideas for things to write about (always!). Trying to remember that this is normal for me during the week of final paper grading and final exam giving and does not indicate a permanent state of imbalance requiring mass quitting of everything, but that is still how it feels in my (tired) body. It was nice to revisit this poem and take some quiet time to read the whole book.

I wrote a prayer for mothers last year on International Women’s Day:

See your worthIMG_8522
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.

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

It is also important to remember the sociopolitical purpose of this day:

International Women’s Day is not about Hallmark. It’s not about chocolate. (Thought I know many women who won’t turn those down.) It’s about politics, institutions, economics, racism….

As is the case with Mother’s Day and many other holidays, today we are presented with a sanitized, deodorized, nationalized, commoditized version of what were initially radical holidays to emphasize social justice.

Initially, International Women’s Day was called International Working Women’s Day. Yes, every woman is a working woman. Yes, there is no task harder perhaps than raising a child, for a father and a mother. But let us remember that the initial impetus of this International Working Women’s Day was to address the institutional, systematic, political, and economic obstacles that women faced in society.

via How we miss the point of International Women’s Day–and how to get it right. | What Would Muhammad Do?.

In years past, I also wrote about the connection to birth as a feminist issue:

“The minute my child was born, I was reborn as a feminist. It’s so incredible what women can do…Birthing naturally, as most women do around the globe, is a superhuman act. You leave behind the comforts of being human and plunge back into being an animal. My friend’s partner said, ‘Birth is like going for a swim in the ocean. Will there be a riptide? A big storm? Or will it just be a beautiful, sunny little dip?’ Its indeterminate length, the mystery of its process, is so much a part of the nature of birth. The regimentation of a hospital birth that wants to make it happen and use their gizmos to maximum effect is counter to birth in general.” –Ani DiFranco interviewed in Mothering magazine, May/June 2008

via International Women’s Day, Birth Activism, and Feminism | Talk Birth.

Happy International Women’s Day! May we all find the space in our day to take a deep breath and honor our bodies, our families, and women around the world who are working, working, working every day to make the world a gentler place to live. (Even if we sometimes get snappy while doing it…)

November 2013 061

Day of Hope and Healing (Plus Amethyst Network Birthday Giveaway)

A Birth Healing Blessing

Blessed sister, beautiful one
with broken wings.
Your journey is a difficult one…
that no mother should have to endure.
Your path is steep, rocky and slippery
and your tender heart is in need of gentle healing.

Breathe deeply and know that you are loved.
You are not alone,
though at times, you will feel like a
desolate island of grief
untouchable
distant.
Close your eyes.
Seek the wisdom of women who have walked this well-worn path before you,
before,
and before,
and before you yourself were born.
These beautiful ones
with eyes like yours
have shared your pain, and
weathered the storms of loss.

You are not alone (breathe in)
You will go on (breathe out)
Your wings will mend (breathe in)
You are loved (breathe out)
~ Mary Burgess (Mending Invisible Wings)

Today is the Day of Hope and Healing, a national remembrance day for families who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, infant or child loss. Tonight, one of my friends is having a Day of Hope event for local families. I’m happy to participate and I picked out the poem above to read. I also made a prayer flag as part of the prayer flag project. I included lines from a song that spoke to me deeply during my second miscarriage. I left the mama’s arms unglued so that they can close, open, or wave in the breeze. Unfortunately, the glue I used leaked through, which gives her a “weeping Madonna” quality. I was bugged by it at first and almost didn’t show a picture, but then I decided I actually like it like that!

August 2013 027 August 2013 028

This week is also The Amethyst Network’s third birthday. I helped co-found this organization as a direct result of my own in-the-midst-of-miscarriage-realization about the need for miscarriage doulas in the world, and I’m proud of the resources we’ve collected and the services we offer to women around the country. As TAN posted on our Facebook page:

We hope you’ll join us in celebrating this week by doing random acts of kindness or paying it forward and then coming back here and telling us about what you did. Whether it’s related to your baby’s memory or not, what goes around comes around, and TAN believes in being a force for good in the world. We hope you will join us in celebrating our birthday by giving gifts to those around us.

***Giveaway now closed. Ravenna was the winner!***

So, I decided to offer a pendant giveaway in honor of TAN’s birthday! (I also reached 500,000 hits last week and I often do a giveaway for things like that, so it is doubly time to do one!) I made this pendant last night specifically for TAN’s birthday. It has a footprints charm like the one that was so meaningful to me, a howlite stone, and also a tiny amethyst heart (and a freshwater pearl). It comes on a simple ribbon, but can easily be taken off and added to your favorite chain instead. You don’t have to do anything fancy to enter, just leave a comment. If you’d like to share The Amethyst Network’s page or website with your Facebook friends or followers, then you can earn a bonus entry! (just make sure to leave another comment telling me you did so)

August 2013 011

(classy twig not included 😉 )

The giveaway will close next Monday night.

I also made a diverse assortment of birth art goddesses last night and I decided to make a miscarriage mama with a footprints charm too. She is purple and is holding an amethyst crystal, in honor of The Amethyst Network’s birthday too! I haven’t decided what to do with her yet…keep her…sell her…do another giveaway…

August 2013 048Here are the rest of the mamas who came to life in my hands last night:

August 2013 043There are some VBAC mamas, a river mama, a laboring mama, a birthing mama, a moon mama, and a loss mama. I’m working on adding them to my etsy shop along with some more new pendants! 🙂

August 2013 020

Other past posts about miscarriage may be found here.

Womenergy (Womanergy)

The day before my grandma died, my dad came over and said he’d coined a new word and that I could have it: Womenergy. He said he’d googled it and didn’t come up with anything. I googled it later though and there are a couple of people who have used it before, so I think my dad actually said Womanergy instead, which is still available. So, womanergy has been coined now too! 🙂 I dozed off during Alaina’s nap today and when I woke up the word was in my head and so were a bunch of other words. I channeled a bit of my inner Alice Walker and wrote:

Womenergy (Womanergy):

Feeling fierce at 37 weeks last year.

Feeling fierce at 37 weeks in 2011.

Often felt when giving birth. Also felt at blessingways and circling with women in ceremony and rituals. Involved in the fabric of creation and breath of life. Drawn upon when nursing babies and toting toddlers. Known also as womanpower, closely related to womanspirit and the hearing of one’s “sacred roar.” That which is wild, fierce. Embedded and embodied, it may also be that which has been denied and suppressed and yet waits below her surface, its hot, holy breath igniting her. Experienced as the “invisible nets of love” that surround us, womanergy makes meals for postpartum women, hugs you when you cry, smiles in solidarity at melting down toddlers. It is the force that rises in the night to take care of sick children, that which holds hands with the dying, and stretches out arms to the grieving. It sits with laboring women, nurses the sick, heals the wounded, and nurtures the young. It dances in the moonlight. Womenergy is that which holds the space, that which bears witness, that which hears and sees one another into speech, into being, into personal power. Called upon when digging deep, trying again, and rising up. That which cannot be silenced. The heart and soul of connection. The small voice within that says, “maybe I can, I think I can, I know I can. I AM doing it. Look what I did!” Creates art, weaves words, births babies, gathers people. Thinks in circles, webs, and patterns rather than in lines and angles. Felt as action, resistance, creation, struggle, power, and inherent wisdom.

Womenergy moved humanity across continents, birthed civilization, invented agriculture, conceived of art and writing, pottery, sculpture, and drumming, painted cave walls, raised sacred stones and built Goddess temples. It rises anew during ritual, sacred song, and drumming together. It says She Is Here. I Am Here. You Are Here and We Can Do This. It speaks through women’s hands, bodies, and heartsongs. Felt in hope, in tears, in blood, and in triumph.

Womenergy is the chain of the generations, the “red thread” that binds us womb to womb across time and space to the women who have come before and those who will come after. Spinning stories, memories, and bodies, it is that force which unfolds the body of humanity from single cells, to spiraled souls, and pushes them forth into the waiting world.

Used in a sentence:

“I’m headed to the women’s circle tonight. I could really use the womenergy.” February 2013 196

“I felt like I couldn’t keep going, but then my womanergy rose up and I did it anyway.”

“Feel the womenergy in this room!”

“She said she didn’t think she could give birth after all, but then she tapped into her womanergy and kept going.”

“I hope my friends have a blessingway for me, I need to be reminded of the womenergy that surrounds me as I get ready to have this baby.”

Feel it…

Listen to it…

Know it…

In the air, in her touch, in your soul.

Rising
Potent
Embodied
Yours…

“For months I just looked at you
I wondered about all the mothers before me
if they looked at their babies the way I looked at you.
In an instant I knew what moved humankind
from continent to continent
Against all odds.”

–Michelle Singer (in We’Moon 2011 datebook)

“I believe that these circles of women around us weave invisible nets of love that carry us when we’re weak and sing with us when we’re strong.” –SARK, Succulent Wild Woman

There is a wild tiger in every woman’s heart. Its hot and holy breath quietly, relentlessly feeding her.” – Chameli Ardagh

Circles of women (and art)...

Motherhood and Embodiment

“Loving, knowing, and respecting our bodies is a powerful and invincible act of rebellion in this society.” –Inga Muscio

As I’ve written before, pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding are incredibly embodied experiences—motherhood in general feels very much a molly37weeks 016physical commitment. Our relationship with our children begins in the body, it is through the maternal body that a baby learns to interpret and engage with the world, and to the maternal body a breastfeeding toddler returns for connection, sustenance, and renewal.

Why might birth be considered an ecofeminist issue though? Because mother’s body is our first habitat. We all entered the world through the body of a woman and that initial habitat has profound and long-lasting effects on us, whether we recognize them or not. Midwife Arisika Razak explains, “the maternal womb is their first environment. The cultural paradigm of birthing is the first institution that receives our children…Each of these elements—womb, birth culture, and family—has a profound effect upon the new human bring. Each deserves our best thinking and analysis. What would it be like if we envisioned a society in which positive, lifelong nurturing support—from old to young, and young to old—were the dominant theme of human interaction?” (p. 167).

What would it be like if we treated birthing women and their babies like they mattered?

Our first and deepest impulse is connection. Before Descartes could articulate his thoughts on philosophy, he reached out his hand for his mother. 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 and is vital to survival. The infant’s first instinct is to connect with others. Before an infant can verbalize or mobilize, she reaches out to her mother. 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 the mother’s body that she returns for safety, nurturance, and peace. Birth and breastfeeding exist on a continuum, with mother’s chest becoming baby’s new “home” after having lived in her body 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 experiences and the transition from internal connection to external connection, must be vigorously protected and deeply respected.

via Talk to Your Baby | Talk Birth and Breastfeeding as a Spiritual Practice

I have a particular interest in embodiment and my dissertation topic is related to a thealogy of embodiment (basically the Goddess and the body) and so my attention was caught by some great sections about birth, bodies, and family in the book The Art of Family:

AS WE MOVE THROUGH BODILY stages together, there are some special stages that are worth thinking of in advance. Pregnancy is one, of course, and babies. Nothing is more inescapably BODY than birth. For the mother, both through her pregnancy and the labor and delivery of the baby. In birth, the body gets to drive the soul for a change and one’s soul is on for the wild ride, whatever happens. What does she deliver, after all, but a body, this little lamblike creature packaged in a now wholly-other body? What does she deliver but a body—and what do she and Daddy count but a body’s toes, a body’s fingers? In these small ways we acknowledge our wholeness, our physical sacredness.

Gina Bria (2011-11-28). The Art of Family : Rituals, Imagination, and Everyday Spirituality (Kindle Locations 1693-1700). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

(Amazon affiliate link included)

And, I appreciate that Bria then moves into a consideration of how men experience pregnancy and birth…

YES, BIRTH IS THE BODY, and for women it is manifestly given. But one should note that the world over, there is a complementary effort by men to try to counterbalance the impressive power of women who have even the potential of birth, whether it is actualized or not. Men, too, have moments of making special use of their bodies. Men make quests, and perform feats of extraordinary effort, to put their bodies on the line in some attempt to match birth.

…For modern men, pregnancy means two things, not one integral, unfolding experience, as for women. First, they must cope with a partner undergoing tremendous physical change. In essence, they are no longer dealing with the same body. It’s a stressful experience, and many men fear they will never see their old partner again, quite literally. They listen to their wives agonize about weight gain and swollen ankles, and secretly grieve the loss, all the while maintaining a show of faith, for their wives, for themselves, that it will come to a happy ending. And on top of that, they must then forge a new relationship with the party responsible for this, someone they can neither see, nor touch, indeed, can hardly believe exists! Women at least get touched by their in-utero babies, even if it’s a swift kick from the inside. “Hey, it’s Daddy,’’ my husband said rather sheepishly into my belly one night. This seemed to me quite amusing, as if the baby needed an introduction to one half of his own genetic material. Then suddenly it struck me that I had never considered introducing myself to the baby, announcer like over an intercom—“This is your mother speaking’’—because I felt the bodily connection so inexorably. I knew I was well known to the baby, but my husband had no such advantage. He had to make connections in other physical ways, in this case using his voice. Making a family where men touch, speak, and care for children is a vital way to connect them to their own progeny; one way that many cultures, including our own, can often deny men. Perhaps you have been stopped in your tracks, as I have, over the recent spate of advertisements of bare-chested men holding tiny babies. Do advertisers, more than Freud, know what women want? Yes! We want to see our handsome men holding babies, snoozing with them, schmoozing with them in chest-to-chest communion. As Jane Austen asks, “What attaches us to life?’’ Anyone who lays on hands gets attached to life.

These thoughts really struck me in a profound way. During each of my own pregnancies, I remember marveling and feeling impressed, as well as a little sad, that my husband had to somehow forge this bond with a newcomer without the same benefit of the embodied, constant experience of pregnancy—pregnancy from the inside is different than pregnancy from the outside. I shared the author’s amusement in picturing how it would have been to “announce” my own presence to my babies. I’ve tried, but cannot fully imagine the process and psychological task involved with the paternal experience, of in a sense, “suddenly” having a baby to hold and care for and “instantly” love, though I’m sure I have the capacity within me somewhere (and, yes, I know that not all mothers feel an instant love either and may have the same sense of suddenness in their own lives—it was certainly true for me that the inner experience of a womb-dwelling baby was pretty different from the external experience of having a physically visible baby to tote around). As a pregnant woman though, the baby is basically inescapably present and part of me in an interconnected, interwoven, symbiosis of being. There is the transition at birth to an “outer” relationship, but that intense embodied interconnection continues immediately with the breastfeeding relationship. It is somewhat impressive or staggering to me almost, that men have to form their own connection born out of different “stuff” that the biology of gestation and lactation that weaves the motherbaby together.

Bria also addresses the loving of a baby’s body that isn’t going to survive:

WE ARE NEVER MORE CRUSHED than when there is trouble at birth. No sadness holds for us the power of an incomplete body, a broken body. We grieve and turn heart stricken at this time like no other. In moments like these we can only comfort ourselves, with love, that love would allow us to care for this child when many would not be able to do so. We hope to find ourselves the kind of people who could, in such circumstances, make a life for a whole person, with an incomplete body. When our son was born with a leaking heart, an old-fashioned “blue baby,’’ and destined to die without surgical repair, we learned quickly that all we could give him, all he could receive as a newborn, was the small, inconsequential daily care of the body, gentle changing, warm nursings, our breath upon his face. Perhaps, we thought, it would be all he would ever get. In that season of attention, we really learned the significance of loving a body. A body, however small, records every trace of touch; it is never unconscious; unlike the mind, a body is never without sensing, even in sleep. A body will always remember.

I liked the description of a body always remembering. We do carry deep, physical memories of our pregnancies, births, and babies. I find the physicality actually comes back most clearly in dreams for me, when I can again feel with a sharp potency the sensation of a baby’s body slipping swiftly from my own body. I also like reading research that indicates that mother’s body carries fetal cells within her forever. I like thinking that physical evidence of the embodied, relational experience of pregnancy remains written into my very cellular structure (well, and on my bones and skin too, I suppose!). I found this a comfort after my little Noah’s birth, thinking that in a very real way, I would truly always remain a “little bit pregnant” with him and that perhaps some of his unique genetic material lives on in my body.

After birth, we continue to relate to our babies on a very physical, body-oriented level. There is nothing like a baby to bring things back to the body, to use your body and their own in a complete, intensive, totalness.

BABIES’ BODIES AND CHILDREN’S BODIES   LIKE PLAY, LOOKING AT THE body of an infant returns us to childhood. Babies’ bodies are a special form of being human, and they elicit in us essential, elemental emotions. They infect us with longing for the integration, the wholeness, they have. As new parents, we experience again all the helpless and exuberant feelings of children, the unfeigned marveling over everything manifested by a baby, a physical miracle. We cannot contain our awe, expressing it to everyone within earshot. New parents on the street can always be identified by their aura of vulnerability; they’ve shed the social cloth that keeps us all appropriately attired to go about our work. Instead, just like the baby, they are naked to everything good. They blink and look around, bemused, tired, and delighted. You will notice they always smile at you at the crosswalk—it is a secret, initiated smile. They assume you either know what they are smiling about or wish that you did. What is it they know? Their babies made them once again aware of the pleasures of physical delight. To care for an infant is a test of our humanness, a trial by fire and love.

What is good about caring for infants is that they never let us forget how essential the body is. They snuffle, bawl, and demand attendance. “Feed me, change me, hold me,’’ for an eternity of right-nows. And when they sleep, it’s as if they have cast themselves on a thin but safe shelf of floating wholeness, complete integration. They show us what we once were, without guile, delightedly in love with our own body. When infants turn into toddlers, the body is still in front, still demanding, but in a bigger world. Now protection from bodily harm becomes a concern of everyday physical life together. We aren’t as impressed by the bodily transmogrification that takes place in front of us, because we’ve learned to live with it happening every day, day to day. It’s impossible for the same miracle to impress us the same way over and over again. Thus begins the very fading away of the lesson we most need from our children—that there is intense pleasure in the active human body. Right under our noses they play. They play and play and we watch and nod as if this itself isn’t a further miracle. What do infants do when they get control of themselves, but move, explore, experience exhilarated delight in their bodies and what they can do. Their essence is to enjoy themselves as bodies, all over…Through physical life with our children, through care of them and play with them, the hands-on of it, we again acquire our innocent selves, a delight in each other and the world around us. We discover all over the potentialities of the senses. This is the heart of being with young children.

Gina Bria (2011-11-28). The Art of Family : Rituals, Imagination, and Everyday Spirituality (Kindle Locations 1729-1760). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

As they age, this physical, body-based relationality and experiences may wane, and yet still holds important value:

As our children age we must struggle to keep this alive for ourselves, for them, in one form or another, as the world begins its intrusion into our family lives. This may be as simple as pointing out that a flower is beautiful, that rain smells divine, that a hand held feels warm and comfortingly sweet, that nothing satisfies like cool water. Once children hit the walking stage and beyond, we spend more time explaining compared with the time we spent holding. Yet there are still many miniature ways of communicating with one’s body. Its active use—a nod, a wink, a hug—are all fleeting acts of committing one’s body, however momentarily, to another. Looks, touches, squeezes, physical smiles, a physical vocabulary—aren’t they what children long for? Indeed, isn’t that exactly what we thrill to in a romance—those little signals that you belong to each other—and isn’t that what we end up complaining of missing when our marriages seem stale? It isn’t just for romance that these things work, though it is there that we most seem to notice them. All of family life can capitalize on a richer life with each other’s bodies.

And, bringing it back to birth and the care of birthing bodies, I really liked this image via Facebook:

treatment

Plucking out the heart of mystery

Birth is a great mystery. Yet, we live in a rational, scientific world that doesn’t allow for mystery. ‘In this day and age, there must be a better way to have a baby,’ implies that if you are informed enough, strong enough, you can control it. Any woman who has given birth, who can be honest, will tell you otherwise. There are no guarantees. It is an uncontrollable experience. Taking care of yourself and being informed and empowered are crucial, but so is surrender. Forget about trying to birth perfectly. Forget about trying to please anyone, least of all your doctor or midwife…” –Jennifer Louden (The Pregnant Woman’s Comfort Book)

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life Amazon affiliate link included in text/image.

I’m halfway through a year-long class based on the book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. We’re examining and practicing compassion to ourselves and in personal relationships, community relationships, and to non-humans. The subject of our current month is, “making a place for others.” What does this mean? The author explains…

I began to notice how seldom we “make place for the other” in social interaction. All too often people impose their own experience and beliefs on acquaintances and events, making hurtful, inaccurate, and dismissive snap judgments, not only about individuals but about whole cultures. It often becomes clear, when questioned more closely, that their actual knowledge of the topic under discussion could comfortably be contained on a small postcard. Western society is highly opinionated. Our airwaves are clogged with talk shows, phone-ins, and debates in which people are encouraged to express their views on a wide variety of subjects. This freedom of speech is precious, of course, but do we always know what we are talking about?

Armstrong, Karen (2010-12-28). Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (Kindle Locations 1476-1481). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

I wonder about this sometimes in my own compulsion to blog—am I just adding to the digital cacophony out there, etc. and then that reminded me of a previously shared quote:

“A person who believes too earnestly in [her] own convictions can be dangerous to others, for absence of humor signals a failure in basic humanity.” –Thomas Moore (Original Self)

 Armstrong also makes this important observation:

Hindus acknowledge this when they greet each other by bowing with joined hands to honor the sacred mystery they are encountering. Yet most of us fail to express this reverence for others in our daily lives. All too often we claim omniscience about other people, other nations, other cultures, and even those we claim to love, and our views about them are frequently colored by our own needs, fears, ambitions, and desires.

Armstrong, Karen (2010-12-28). Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (Kindle Locations 1596-1599). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

We all do this so often. I find myself very annoyed when other people play “armchair psychologist” and yet still catch myself doing it as well. I also think about “gossip” and its role in human society. I think curiosity about the lives of others is normal and talking about other people’s behavior and experiences with them is also normal. I am most disturbed when those around me claim seemingly infallible understandings of the motives, characters, and psychology of others (in my classes, I remind students to “separate person from problem” and to “describe behavior rather than character”). It is very common for us not to even understand ourselves, so I find it interesting, frustrating, and surprising that we then seem to think we can have direct understanding of the inner workings and thought-processes of another person. “Instead of discoursing confidently on other people’s motives, intentions, and desires, we should recall the essential ‘mystery’ and realize that there is a certain sacrilege in attempting to ‘pluck out’ its heart to serve an agenda of our own.

What does this have to do with birth?

“Birth is life’s central mystery. No one can predict how a birth may manifest…Our dominant culture is anything but ‘natural’ so it is no surprise that childbirth, even with the most natural lifestyle lived by an individual family, sometimes needs intervention and medical assistance. This is not to say that any one mother’s efforts to have a natural childbirth are futile. Just that birth is bigger than one’s personal desires.” –Jeannine Parvati Baker (in The Goddess Celebrates: An Anthology of Women’s Rituals, p. 215)

When women’s choices are restricted in the birthroom or in access to compatible care providers, we’re plucking out the heart of mystery. When December 2012 073doctors or nurses “let” or “don’t let” a birthing woman do something, they’re plucking out the heart of mystery. When birth activists analyze a woman’s birth story for evidence of why things went “wrong,” we’re plucking out the heart of her rite of passage, of her story. When we fail to acknowledge the sociocultural context of breastfeeding OR when we cannot accept that a mother “couldn’t breastfeed,” we’ve plucked the heart of her mystery. When we need to have or know the “right answer,” chances are, we’re plucking the heart. And, we need to remember that…”Women’s surveillance of other women’s childbirth experiences–in this case, natural childbirth–can shape and constrain the individual choices women make in childbirth in much the same way medicalized assumptions about childbirth can.” (Christa Craven, Pushing for Midwives)

Armstrong goes on to explain…

Third, spend some time trying to define exactly what distinguishes you from everybody else. Delve beneath your everyday consciousness: Do you find your true self—what the Upanishads called the atman? Or does this self constantly elude you? Then ask yourself how you think you can possibly talk so knowingly about the self of other people. As part of your practice of mindfulness, notice how often you contradict yourself and act or speak in a manner that surprises you so that you say, “Now why did I do that?” Try to describe the essence of your personality to somebody else. Write down a list of your qualities, good and bad. And then ask yourself whether it really sums you up. Make a serious attempt to pin down precisely what it is that you love about your partner or a close friend. List that person’s qualities: Is that why you love him? Or is there something about her that you cannot describe? During your mindfulness practice, look around your immediate circle: your family, colleagues, and friends. What do you really know about each and every one of them? What are their deepest fears and hopes? What are their most intimate dreams and fantasies? And how well do you think they really know you?…How many people could say to you that you “pluck out the heart of my mystery”? In your mindfulness practice, notice how often, without thinking, you try to manipulate, control, or exploit others—sometimes in tiny and apparently unimportant ways. How often do you belittle other people in your mind to make them fit your worldview? Notice how upsetting it is when you become aware that somebody is trying to manipulate or control you, or when somebody officiously explains your thoughts and actions to you, plucking out the heart of your mystery…

Armstrong, Karen (2010-12-28). Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (Kindle Locations 1644-1658). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

The irony of the fact that I’ve just filled up a bunch of digital air space with my own opinions, instead of practicing this principle, isn’t lost on me. As I move through this month, in all contexts not just in birthwork, I would like to open more to this “heart of mystery” and to not knowing as well as to avoid the tendency to analyze and “understand” other people. I also wish to be mindful of plucking the heart out of anyone’s mystery—may I be a witness to their mystery and may they feel both seen and heard by me…

“Birth is always the same, yet it is always different. Like a sunset, the mystery is also the appeal to those who get up in the middle of the night to attend laboring women. While the sequence of birth is simple, the nature of the experience is complex and unique to each individual. No matter how much any of us may know about birth, we know nothing about a particular labor and birth until it occurs.” (emphasis mine) –Elizabeth Noble in Childbirth with Insight (previously shared here)

The Birthing Dance

I saw this post go by on Facebook during the week and saved it to share, because it would make a nice mother blessing poem to share with a pregnant mama:

The Birthing Dance

Come to me, My Child
Secret longing of my inner heart
Breath of spirit
Wandering the cosmos

Choosing your next lifepath
Seeking sanctuary in my womb
Visions of you stir my dreams
Your gentle essence drifting inward
Merging into matter
Coming into consciousness
Birthing into being
Your tender wisdom speaks
The ancient knowledge
of a mother’s power
Our bodies grow together
Two as one
Turning round, in birthing dance
You lead me
Opening the circle corridor
Descending into unhindered ecstasy
Into my arms