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Ceremonial Bath and Sealing Ceremony

IMG_9629At three days postpartum, my mom and my doula, Summer, came over to do a sealing ceremony for me based on what I’d learned during my Sacred Pregnancy and Sacred Postpartum certification trainings. A sealing ceremony is based on the idea of “closing” the birth process. Pregnancy and birth are all about opening. We open up our bodies, minds, spirits, and hearts for our new babies. After birth, the body remains “open” and the idea with sealing the birth experience is to psychologically and physically “close” the body and help the mother integrate her birth experience into the wholeness of who she is. It is part of her “return” to the non-pregnant state and it is transition commonly overlooked by modern culture and sometimes by women themselves. We chose three days postpartum because that is a classic day for the “baby blues” to hit and it seemed like an important day to acknowledge, but it can be done at any point, preferably within the first 40 days. We started with the ceremonial bath. I had a very powerful experience with pre-birth ceremonial bath I did and this postpartum bath experience was very profound as well. My doula ran the bath and added milk and honey and I set up a small altar by the tub. I chose items for the altar that I felt had a connection to the birth altar I set up before birth, but that were now connected to postpartum and mothering another baby. So, I used things that were mother-baby centered primarily, but of course also included the birth goddess sculpture that I held all through my labor as well. Continuity.

IMG_9477IMG_9482 Summer brought me a small glass of strawberry wine and then Mark came in with some rose petals and scattered them in and then left me to rest in my bath. I started my Sacred Pregnancy playlist and the first song to play was the Standing at the Edge song that I’d hummed during labor. Continuity.

IMG_9478It took me a little while to settle into it, but then I did. I reviewed his birth in my mind and sipped my wine. After I finished the wine, I used the glass to pour water over each part of my body as I spoke a blessing of gratitude for each part and what it did for us. I cried a little bit over some parts. I spoke aloud some words of closure about my births and my childbearing years. I felt grateful. I also felt a sense of being restored to wholeness, complete unto myself. As I finally stood to leave the tub…the Standing at the Edge song began to play again.

I’ve written before that I use jewelry to tell my story or to communicate or share something. I wore one of our baby spiral pendants through most of my pregnancy because it helped me feel connected to the baby. I wore it all through labor and birth too. The baby spiral pendant was one of the things I put on the little altar by the tub as a point of continuity between his birth and now. When I got out of the bath, I was going to put the spiral back on, but suddenly it didn’t feel like the one I wanted to wear anymore. I went to my room and there it was–my nursing mama goddess pendant. Putting down the baby spiral and putting on the nursing mama felt like a powerful symbolic indicator of my transition between states.
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I put on the same purple tank top I’d worn in my pregnancy pictures and nursed Tanner. I had a sarong nearby for the “tuck in” part of the ceremony and I put it over my shoulder and asked my mom to take a picture. After we took the pictures, I realized the sarong was also the same one I wore in my pregnancy pictures. Continuity, again!

IMG_9515With Mark then holding the baby, Summer and my mom “tucked” me in using heated up flax seed pillows and some large scarves/sarongs. This tucking in symbolically pulls your body back together after the birth (sometimes called “closing the bones”) and also re-warms the body, which according to Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic understanding, is left in a “cold” state following the birth. I felt a little strange and “shroud-ish” while being tucked up and then especially when they put my mother blessing sheet on top of me and left the room.

IMG_9516 IMG_9519As I laid there though, I reflected that the shroud feeling was not so creepy after all. In fact, it was pretty symbolic itself—the ending of something and the emergence of something, someone, new. I felt a sense of wholeness and integration and coming back into myself. I had a sensation of unity and, yes, of my body coming back together into one piece.

When I felt done, I called them to come back in and Summer put a “belly firming paste” of turmeric, ginger, and coconut oil that I’d made in my class on my belly and then she and my mom wrapped me up in the belly bind I’d bought for this purpose. I don’t have time to write a lot about bellybinding right now, but you can read more about it here. It is anatomically functional, not just symbolic or pretty. When I first learned about it, I was sold on the concept, distinctly remember how weak and hunched over I felt after previous births.

I am again reminded 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.” Every mother deserves excellent care postpartum, however, the “arrowhead” of American postpartum care does not show us a culture that values mothers, babies, or life transitions. I am fortunate to have had the kind of excellent care that every woman deserves and that few women receive. Part of this was because I actively and consciously worked towards building the kind of care I wanted following birth, but part of it is because I am lucky enough to belong to a “tribe” that does value pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and mothering.

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Mother Blessings and the Power of Ritual

Mollyblessingway 116You are the
most powerful
intelligent
inspirational

Woman

Close to my heart.

You continue to
become
exponentially more amazing.

Always giving
others the step UP.

Force of the cosmos
connecting the Web

You are.

Thank you.

–Phanie

 

At the end of September, my friend sat on the floor during my mother blessing ceremony and wrote the above poem for me. When she gave it to me she said, “I’m not like you, I don’t write things and share them on the internet.” It was very powerful to receive the gift of written word from someone who does not often write, but who knows how deeply writing speaks to me. 

My mother’s circle of friends began holding mother blessing ceremonies for each other in the early 1980’s. At the time they called them “blessingways” in honor and respect for the Navajo traditions that inspired them to begin their own tradition. As awareness of cultural appropriation increased, we shifted our language to use “mother blessing ceremony” instead, though I confess that “blessingway” remains the term rooted in my heart for these powerful, mother-honoring celebrations of the power of the life-giving woman. After having been blessed with a ceremony during her last two pregnancies in the late 1980’s and having co-hosted coming-of-age blessing ceremonies for me and my sisters in the 90’s, my mother reintroduced the mother blessing ceremony to my own circle of friends during my first pregnancy in 2003. We’ve been holding them for women in the area ever since. I believe each pregnant woman deserves a powerful ritual acknowledging her transition through pregnancy and birth and into motherhood, regardless of how many children she has.

Early this year, I became unexpectedly pregnant with the baby who will arrive into our arms at the end of October as our fourth living child. I did not intend to have more children and it has been hard for me to re-open the space in my mind, heart, and family to welcome another baby when I had mentally and emotionally “shut the door” and moved on from the childbearing chapter of my life. (However, it turns out that writing blog posts about how you’re not having any more children is not, in fact, an effective means of birth control.)

In the book Rituals for Our Times, the authors Evan Imber-Black and Janine Roberts, identify five elements that make ritual work. Mother blessing ceremonies very neatly fulfill all of the necessary ritual elements (which I would note are not about symbols, actions, and physical objects, but are instead about the relational elements of connection, affection, and relationship):

  1. Relatingthe shaping, expressing, and maintaining of important relationships…established relationships were reaffirmed and new relationship possibilities opened. Many women choose to invite those from their inner circle to their mother blessings. This means of deeply engaging with and connecting with those closest to you, reaffirms and strengthens important relationships. In my own life, I’ve always chosen to invite more women than just those in my “inner circle” and in so doing have found that it is true that new relationship possibilities emerge from the reaching out and inclusion of those who were originally less close, but who after the connection of shared ritual, then became closer friends.
  2. Changingthe making and marking of transitions for self and others. Birth and the entry into motherhood—an intense and permanent life change—is one of life’s most significant transitions in many women’s lives. A blessingway marks the significance of this huge change.
  3. Healingrecovery from loss, special tributes, recovering from fears or scars from previous births or cultural socialization about birth. My mom and some close friends had a meaningful ceremony for me following the death-birth of my third baby. I’ve also planned several mother blessing ceremonies for friends in which releasing fears was a potent element of the ritual.
  4. Believingthe voicing of beliefs and the making of meaning. By honoring a pregnant woman through ceremony, we are affirming that pregnancy, birth, and motherhood are valuable and meaningful rites of passage deserving of celebration and acknowledgement.
  5. Celebratingthe expressing of deep joy and the honoring of life with festivity. Celebrating accomplishments of…one’s very being.

Notice that what is NOT included on this list is any mention of a specific religion, deity, or “should do” list of what color of candle to include! Mollyblessingway 177I’ve observed that many people are starved for ritual, but they may also be deeply scarred from rituals of their pasts. As an example from the planning of a past ceremony, we were talking about one of the songs that we customarily sing–Call Down Blessing–because we weren’t sure if we should include it in case it would feel too “spiritual” or metaphysical for the atheist-identified honoree (i.e. blessings from where?!). I also remembered another friend asking during a body blessing ritual we did at a women’s retreat, “but WHO’s doing the blessing?” As someone who does not personally come a religious framework in which blessings are bestowed from outside sources–i.e. a priest/priestess or an Abrahamic God–the answer, to me, feels simple, well, WE are. We’re blessing each other. When we “call down a blessing” we’re invoking the connection of the women around us, the women of all past times and places, and of the beautiful world that surrounds us. We might each personally add something more to that calling down, but at the root, to me, it is an affirmation of connection to the rhythms and cycles of relationship, time, and place. Blessings come from within and around us all the time, nothing supernatural required.

I also find that it is very possible to plan and facilitate women’s rituals that speak to the “womanspirit” in all of us and do not require a specifically shared spiritual framework or belief system in order to gain something special from the connection with other women.

In the book The Power of RitualRachel Pollack explains:

“Ritual opens a doorway in the invisible wall that seems to separate the spiritual and the physical. The formal quality of ritual allows us to move into the space between the worlds, experience what we need, and then step back and once more close the doorway so we can return to our lives enriched.”

She goes on to say:

You do not actually have to accept the ideas of any single tradition, or even believe in divine forces at all, to take part in ritual. Ritual is a direct experience, not a doctrine. Though it will certainly help to suspend your disbelief for the time of the ritual, you could attend a group ritual, take part in the chanting and drumming, and find yourself transported to a sense of wonder at the simple beauty of it all without ever actually believing in any of the claims made or the Spirits invoked. You can also adapt rituals to your own beliefs. If evolution means more to you than a Creator, you could see ritual as a way to connect yourself to the life force…

In the anthology of women’s rituals, The Goddess Celebrates, wisewoman-birthkeeper, Jeannine Pavarti Baker explains:

The entire Blessingway Ceremony is a template for childbirth. The beginning rituals are like nesting and early labor. The grooming and washing like active labor. The gift giving like giving birth and the closing songs/prayers, delivery of the placenta and postpartum. A shamanic midwife learns how to read a Blessingway diagnostically and mythically, sharing what she saw with the pregnant woman in order to clear the road better for birth.

Baker goes on to describe the potent meaning of birth and its affirmation through and by ritual acknowledgement:

Birth is a woman’s spiritual vision quest. When this idea is ritualized beforehand, the deeper meanings of childbirth can more readily be accessed. Birth is also beyond any one woman’s personal desires and will, binding her in the community of all women. Like the birthing beads, her experiences is one more bead on a very long strand connecting all mothers. Rituals for birth hone these birthing beads, bringing to light each facet of the journey of birth…

As my friends spoke to me at my own mother blessing ceremony, I felt seen and heard. They spoke to me of my own capacities, my Mollyblessingway 190strengths as a leader, teacher, and organizer. And, while I believe they were also actually trying to remind me of the opposite message, to take it easy and relax sometimes, one of the things I woke up the next day realizing is that yes, I do feel overwhelmed and overbooked and stretched thin at times. And, yes, I do whine and complain about it on Facebook sometimes, but in the end, I am always enough for whatever it is. I get it done anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever felt overwhelmed and then not done it (assuming “it” wasn’t a self-imposed expectation that I mercifully realized could be let go of). That is one my strengths: feeling the fear or the strain or the pressure or, yes, the excitement and thrill, and NOT getting paralyzed by it or letting myself off the hook. I work my way through and come out the other side, usually with my smile intact, my energy full, my head bubbling with ideas, and my eyes casting around for the next project. Occasionally, I do drop a ball, but pretty rarely, and when I do, I either find it or explain where it went and why I’m going to let it keep rolling away.

I discovered in this post-ritual reflection that it is just part of my personal process to be able to say, and be vulnerable enough to have people hear, see, or read, that I think maybe I can’t do something or that I’ve said yes to too much. The answer for me is not, “then don’t” or “stop” or “quit” or “take it easy,” it is to move forward and to see, again, that I was actually enough for what scared me or felt too big or too exhausting. I woke up the morning following the ritual in appreciation of my own capacities and how they continue to expand, even when I feel as if I’ve reached my own edges. I actually feel “too much,” “too intense,” “too big,” or “too fast” for people a lot, but what I don’t ever need is to be told to make myself smaller. I usually need to be able to say, “Yikes! What am I thinking?!” have that held for me for a minute, and then do it anyway. Just as those of us deeply invested in birthwork would never tell a laboring woman, “you’re right. You probably can’t do this. You should probably quit now,” my mother blessing ceremony reminded me that I am stretched thin precisely because I have it in me.

Mollyblessingway 258

I wish for you a life full of ritual and community.” –Flaming Rainbow Woman, Spiritual Warrior 

(in The Thundering Years: Rituals and Sacred Wisdom for Teens)

Molly is a priestess, writer, teacher, artist, and activist who lives with her husband and children in central Missouri. She is a doctoral student in women’s spirituality at Ocean Seminary College and the author of Womanrunes: A guide to their use and interpretation. Molly and her husband co-create at Brigid’s Grove: http://brigidsgrove.etsy.com.

Portions of this post are excerpted from our Ritual Recipe Kit booklet.

Adapted from a post at Feminism and Religion.

Other posts about mother blessings can be found here.

All photos by my talented friend Karen Orozco of Portraits and Paws Photography.

Mollyblessingway 372

Tuesday Tidbits: Birth Blessings, Life, and Community

I wish for you a life full of ritual and community.” –Flaming Rainbow Woman

Last week we created some sweet, simple little birth spirals by request for a Sacred Pregnancy retreat in Illinois.  After doing so, we felt inspired to create some more simple little designs specifically intended for gifting for a birth blessing bracelet or necklace at a mother blessing ceremony. We priced them in order to make them affordable for nearly any budget.

(Charms and Jewelry by BrigidsGrove on Etsy)

My inspiration for these birth blessing charms were two quotes from Jeannine Pavarti Baker that I shared in a past post:

The entire Blessingway Ceremony is a template for childbirth. The beginning rituals are like nesting and early labor. The grooming and washing like active labor. The gift giving like giving birth and the closing songs/prayers, delivery of the placenta and postpartum. A shamanic midwife learns how to read a Blessingway diagnostically and mythically, sharing what she saw with the pregnant woman in order to clear the road better for birth

Blessingways and the role of ritual | Talk Birth.

Baker goes on to describe the potent meaning of birth and its affirmation through and by ritual acknowledgement:

“Birth is a woman’s spiritual vision quest. When this idea is ritualized beforehand, the deeper meanings of childbirth can more readily be accessed. Birth is also beyond any one woman’s personal desires and will, binding her in the community of all women. Like the birthing beads, her experiences is one more bead on a very long strand connecting all mothers. Rituals for birth hone these birthing beads, bringing to light each facet of the journey of birth…”

For almost all mother blessing ceremonies that we hold locally, we incorporate beads in some way—either for a birth bracelet or necklace or some other creation (for mothers who have had prior mother blessings and already have a bracelet or necklace, we’ve done wreaths, mobiles, and even a “gourd of empowerment.”)

After this project, we worked out some example projects for participants at MamaFest 2014 to make for FREE in the Red Tent. They turned out pretty lovely as well!

And, considering the role of ceremony in our life passages, I appreciated this beautiful, pictorial exploration of a birth release ceremony designed for a mother who experienced a traumatic birth:

…if a woman PERCEIVES that she or her baby is threatened with damage; or FEELS horror, fear and helplessness at a procedure…even if this procedure is ROUTINE to medical staff; she can experience that as a traumatic event.This is REGARDLESS of her level of pain relief at the time.It is REGARDLESS of the fact that she and her baby leave the hospital alive and physically healthy.” ©Birthtalk.org, Melissa Bruijn & Debby Gould

via Birth Release Ceremony | – Jerusha Sutton | Doula Sydney- Jerusha Sutton | Doula Sydney.

And, speaking of support from other mothers, I enjoyed and identified with this poignant look at the longing for community experienced by so many women:

“…I miss that village of mothers that I’ve never had. The one we traded for homes that, despite being a stone’s throw, feel miles apart from each other. The one we traded for locked front doors, blinking devices and afternoons alone on the floor playing one-on-one with our little ones.

What gives me hope is that as I look at you from across the park with your own child in tow playing in her own corner of the sandbox, I can tell from your curious glance and shy smile that you miss it, too…”

I Miss the Village | Bunmi Laditan.

On a not-particularly-related note, but just as something I shared via my Facebook page recently, I also appreciated this new bed-sharing flyer from some of my very favorite LLL authors!

safesleepIt is available to download for free as a pdf via: Resources | Pinter & Martin Publishers.

Mark and I hit our sixteenth wedding anniversary at the end of July. We went to a BBQ restaurant and took the kids to the county fair, because that is kind of what life after 16 years of marriage looks like.  We also had a nice life-and-biz-marathon planning session and garden cucumber-and-cream-cheese sandwiches dinner while my dad watched the kids too.

These little drummers, while not sale-ready yet, symbolize the harmony and joy of co-creating our lives, love, and work together...

July 2014 049

“…There, in the unplanned darkness,
was unlooked for wonder,
joy beyond ornament,
song beyond instruments.

At last the bride came and like a white flame
blazed among her maidens,
in brilliance more stern and starlike
and vastly more magnificent
than the ribbons and confections
we had planned for that day…”

Rainy Wedding | Talk Birth.

(This post is from three years ago with a poem from a friend that she wrote in 1998 after our wedding.)

Backing up a little further into July (I’ve been really busy lately and my blog has languished accordingly!). July first was my “priestessaversary.” It is also my husband’s birthday AND his “quitzaversary”—the anniversary of his entrance into self-employment and a home-based life. A couple of weeks later, I got my newly completed M.Div diploma via email (physical copy coming later) and the date on it is….July first!

 

 

Lento Tempo

“Invite the inner woman to speak in her language of poetry, bones, clouds, dreams, red shoes, fairy dust, ravens, and fissures of the heartland. She who dwells in the wild within will help to navigate the cliffs and valleys. She will show you the passage through – give you eyes to see in the dark. And then, when you are able, she will give you wings to fly out from that both nurturing and devastating abyss into divine light.”

–Shiloh Sophia McCloud

July 2014 037I’m taking an elective class called Women Engaged in Sacred Writing and one of our class texts is Women, Writing, and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine by Peggy Tabor Millin. While the book itself is not about birth, I was struck by the author’s use of the descriptor “lento tempo” to describe the “slow time” associated with creative projects. My thoughts turned to our family as we await the birth of my sister-in-law and brother’s baby boy. He is arriving firmly on his own timetable and the waiting for him is a process of discovery in and of itself. I’ve never been overdue myself and so it is interesting to notice the parallels between waiting for labor to begin and the very process of labor itself!

Millin writes about the various creative works that require “slow time” and also writes that women crave this time and need it to survive:

Like the gestation in the womb, change happens in lento tempo, slow time. Women crave lento tempo and need it to survive. Slow is the timing of fertilization and incubation, of creative process. Creative writing often resists being manipulated to meet deadlines. We may need to wait on dreams or synchronicity to inspire and guide our work. In lento tempo, we learn the wisdom of letting things rest—bread dough, marinara sauce, roasted turkey, babies, tulip bulbs, fresh paint, grief, anger, ourselves. Almost every book of advice on writing suggests putting a manuscript away for a while once it feels complete. Then the final edit can be undertaken with a fresh ear and eye. Centered Writing Practice teaches us patience, to do by not doing

…Through focused attention, we engage watchful listening—to our inner voice and to our experience. What we achieve is not a perfect product, but a spinning spiral of synthesis. The movement of this spiral cannot be driven, hurried, or organized. Lento tempo is the natural rhythm of creation—of body, earth, and universe. As such, lento tempo is the rhythm of creativity we hear by practicing awareness…

Women, Writing, and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine

(emphases mine)

While waiting with my mom, sister-in-law, and brother in Kansas, during one day of our visit we suddenly decided to look up any local labyrinths. We found one at a Lutheran church located only five miles from where we were driving at the time and so we swung by and walked the labyrinth together, pausing first to take symbolic pictures crossing the little bridge over to it—just like my sister-in-law prepares to cross the bridge into motherhood and take her own labyrinth journey of birth. We sang “I Am Opening,” one of our mother blessing songs, together when we reached the center. During the course of our visit, we kept discovering new “signs” every day that “today is the day!” and we eventually made a joke of it, since so far none of the signs have borne fruit! However, on this day we decided that our time in the labyrinth was a story and a precious moment in and of itself, independent of whether it eventually ended up having any part of the baby’s birth story.

I also recently re-read a quote from a book I read two years ago that describes the inward and outward swing of women’s lives. Since it is the time of the new moon now, it seemed particularly relevant:

“When we become practiced in the art of moving between the ‘upper’ and ‘under’ worlds of our lives (outwardly focused and engaged with the world; inwardly focused and listening to our soul) not only does the pattern of light moving into dark, into light again become clear, but also the gradations. We often experience this movement in dramatic (and unpleasant) swings from one to the other, but bringing practice and awareness to this journeying allows us to settle more gently into these transitions; just as the moon takes two weeks to darken, or lighten in small gradations. After all, we do not spend half the month in a dark moon, and half with a full moon. Rather, there are just a few days each of full darkness and full moon, and all the rest of the time is in gradual transition.”

Journey to the Dark GoddessJane Meredith

May we honor the call of lento tempo in our own lives, in our pregnancies, in the lives of our children, and in the unique unfolding of our births and creative projects.

SHE…(Hysterectomy Sculpture)

July 2014 094Recently I received a special request to create a sculpture in honor of a woman’s hysterectomy experience. I haven’t really been taking custom orders for a while now, since it hard to keep up with everything I feel like making let alone what someone else wants me to make, but I was intrigued by the request and decided to give it a try. I sat with my clay for a long time. I never want to inadvertently dishonor someone’s experience with my sculpture work—I had several ideas, but I wasn’t sure if they were going to speak to the experience since I have not been there myself. It feels like a sacred responsibility to try to interpret another’s experience artistically. I found a sun charm to use as her center to symbolize how she holds the energetic imprint of her reproductive experiences, but I couldn’t figure out what word to put in her scar. Then, as I sat there, a word floated into my awareness…SHE

I created the basic design of the sculpture and went to bed without coloring or firing her. When I awoke the next morning, a poem was in my head and it was for her:

She who is open to possibilities. July 2014 097

She who has taken her own journey
carved her own path
learned her own lessons
and carries her own wisdom.
She who carries the story of a woman’s life written on her body.
She who has spun cells into life
She who has traveled
laughed
shared stories
danced
hugged
cried.
She who is….
complete
magnificent
ever-changing
surprising
unmistakably
SHE…

July 2014 102

Rolla Red Tent Event!

poster

On August 2, 2014 in conjunction with Rolla Birth Network’s annual MamaFest event, we will be hosting the Missouri Premiere of Things We Don’t Talk About: Women’s Voices from the Red TentI am thrilled to bring this film to Missouri and I hope many, many woman come to enjoy the Red Tent atmosphere during MamaFest. We aren’t just showing the film, we’re also having a real Red Tent event with free activities available from 4-8:00 (film itself from 6-8:00). If the event goes well, I’d love to continue hosting Red Tent events at other points during the year (perhaps quarterly). I already priestess a small monthly women’s circle and have done so for several years, but a Red Tent event would be broader in scope and open to many women of all kinds of belief systems and backgrounds.

Red Tents are safe spaces for all women that transcend religious/cultural/political barriers and just be about coming together in sacred space as women. While I personally have a Goddess-oriented perspective, Red Tents honor the “womanspirit” present within all of us. Within the safety and sacredness of the Red Tent, women’s experiences across the reproductive spectrum are “held” and acknowledged, whatever those experiences might be. (As well as menopause, menstruation, assault, grief, loss, etc.—it definitely isn’t just pregnancy related!)

In our Red Tent at MamaFest, we will have jewelry making, henna tattoos, tea, and bindis. I have a mini ceremony/ritual to do before the film starts, the film screening itself, and then a scarf dance and song to close it out. This is meant to be an inclusive setting/experience for women of many backgrounds and beliefs!

I’m still collecting red fabric and decor for our Tent and it is really exciting to me to finally be doing this, since I’ve imagined doing it for a long time! (Goodwill last week was a jackpot of red curtains!)

You can learn more about the film and about Red Tents in general by checking out filmmaker Dr. Isadora Leidenfrost’s YouTube channel.

I’ve also written some Red Tent themed posts in the past:

Tuesday Tidbits: Red Tent

Red Tent Resources

Tuesday Tidbits: Pregnant Woman

100 Things List!

mamafest 2014 flyer

 

Breastfeeding as a (s)hero’s journey?

Every single human being was drummed into this world by a woman, having listened to the heart rhythms of their mother.

––Connie Sauer

February 2014 003

Recently I re-posted an article I wrote about breastfeeding and parenting as spiritual practices. I received a comment on the re-post that really gave me pause and some food for thought:

I’ve really liked your writing about preparing for birth as a warrior’s rite. I only wish I’d had materials that prepared me for breastfeeding similarly…

I’d like to have at least one breastfeeding book out there that supports women in breastfeeding even when it’s hell, and that doesn’t assume any pain is due to some tiny, easily fixed problem. I continue to get the most condescending advice when I talk about this in public — I don’t know how anyone thinks, with the amount of pain I’ve experienced trying to make this work, that I haven’t already tried every obvious solution.

Anyway, that is all a bit tangential to your post. I do think breastfeeding can be spiritual, though for some of us, it may be an ordeal as much as birth is. I would love to see that acknowledged better in breastfeeding resources.

 

I’ve been a breastfeeding counselor for nine years. I’ve written before that I have much more often marveled that a mother kept breastfeeding than I have wondered why she didn’t! Mothers are amazing and they go through a LOT. Reading this comment made me wonder why I’ve never really written about my own breastfeeding stories in the sense of a hero’s journey—perhaps because the difficult parts, once overcome, then fade into the fabric of that ongoing relationship? Perhaps because of the sheer ongoing involvement of breastfeeding, rather than the more discreet, definable event of birth? Perhaps because the path can be even more twisty and intimate and embodied and thorough and invested than even pregnancy and birth? Perhaps because, for me, my early breastfeeding stories are very bound up in my overall feelings during postpartum and the struggles I experienced there? Perhaps because for me personally the breastfeeding relationship continues to evolve into toddlerhood and so some of visceral, newborn, early journey elements are subsumed into the more habitual and every day? Why have I never written about the bloody, messy, tearful, painful parts of breastfeeding in my own personal motherhood story?! They’re there. And, when I counsel mothers in person I do talk about those parts. I also never tell people that breastfeeding hurts because they’re doing it wrong—I tell them they will read that phrase over and over, but that in reality, most women experience some degree of discomfort and even pain in the early weeks. Where it becomes not normal is when there is blood or blisters or open wounds, but if someone suddenly started sucking on ANY of your body parts 8-12 times a day, I think it is logical that we can expect some adjustment or difficulty or stress or pain in adjusting to that degree of intense, sustained, body contact/involvement.

I wrote the following at the end of one of my blog posts last year: January 2014 041

I’m also reminded again, however, of why breastfeeding support holds such a lasting pull for me and that is because postpartum is where it is at, that is where we are so very, very deeply needed as support people. Birth is amazing and exhilarating and women most definitely need us there too, but in the nitty-gritty, day-to-day, unglamorous, nipples and breast infections, teething, crying, dirty-haired, exhausted, wrung-out maternal web of daily being is a very tender and delicate beauty that becomes visible only when we’re willing to spend months and months, or even years, serving as a listening ear, a medication lookup, and someone to trust with both her laughter and her tears.

Talk Books: Laughter & Tears: The Emotional Life of New Mothers | Talk Birth.

Birth has been one of my biggest passions for many years. It is so exciting and interesting and almost “glamorous”—it is where the thrill is, the big work, and the big moment: the baby’s emergence. But, guess what, it is in the breastfeeding relationship and the first year with the new baby in which the mother’s strength is really tested. Breastfeeding is the day in and day fabric of connection. It is a huge physical and emotional investment, the continued devotion of one’s body to one’s baby. Breastfeeding support may not as exciting or thrilling as birthwork for me, but it is so very REAL and so very needed, and part of the nitty-gritty reality of individual mother’s complicated lives as they find their feet on the motherhood road. It really matters.

In what ways has breastfeeding been a hero’s journey for you? I’ve written a lot about birth in this context—the idea of the birth warrior or birth as a shamanic experience or birth as a labyrinth path, etc…but what about the breastfeeding journey? How were you tested, how were you challenged, how did you rise, or make peace, or triumph, or cry, or scream, or dig so deeply into yourself that you had to gasp in wonder at your own capacity? What is your breastfeeding story…?

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