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Happy Birth-Day: Tanner’s Home Water Birth Video

_DSC0461fToday, my sweet, energetic, fiery, powerhouse of a baby boy turned one! In honor of his birthday, Mark finished putting together Tanner’s birth video. This is the first time I’ve ever had any video of any of my children’s births and it feels tender to share (which is why it took a year to put it out there). Birth is a very private, inner experience for me. I like to give birth virtually alone. So, having video feels like having another observer there, and birth for me is about not being observed. The music that plays in the video is the song Standing at the Edge from Sacred Pregnancy that I listened to throughout my pregnancy and then hummed to myself during labor. When I shared about my sealing ceremony after his birth, I mentioned how meaningful it was to me that this song started to play both as I was entering my ceremonial bath and again as I was getting back out. Well, guess what happened when I went to take a shower this morning on his birthday? This song was also the first to begin as I stepped into the shower!

The written version of his birth story is here: Welcoming Tanner Matthias! | Talk Birth

I’ll do a separate Happy Birthday blog post in a couple of days. I just wanted to make sure to get this video up today! I spent some time at Tanner’s naptime today going through the cards from my mother blessing ceremony and enjoying that energy and affirmation, rather than rushing to my to-do list.

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Tuesday Tidbits: This Time Last Year…

As I mentioned in my 11 month update, the first year of life with a new baby feels like a journey through a labyrinth. The moments I experienced last year while pregnant take on a particularly poignancy as I round the curves of The Return, this time with baby in arms.

I love the moments of continuity…last year with my pregnant belly, this year at the pumpkin patch with a toddler selecting his own pumpkin.

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Last year getting my pregnancy photos taken and having a mother blessing, this year having some breastfeeding photos taken (note: carefully selected goddess sarong for photographic continuity!).

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_DSC0457fInterestingly, this time last year I was taking online instructor trainings for Sacred Pregnancy and Sacred Postpartum. This year, quite by accident (in terms of exact timing), I ended up starting the Sacred Pregnancy Birth Journey instructor course online. I won this course in a Red Tent fundraising auction via Moon Times in the winter, but I didn’t actually take it until this month.

For today’s tidbits post, I’m taking a walk down memory lane and looking at posts from around this same time last year…

Stretching time, wondering about twins, and making a belly cast:

I felt on the edge of tears from the time I woke up almost until the time we did the belly cast—feeling stressed, rushed, and WHY. However, we had a great time doing the cast (even though we had to stop to rescue a hummingbird from the actual jaws of a cat, save Alaina from being clawed by another cat, and answer computer questions from the boys. Sometimes I have to pause and realize that the overwhelm I feel lately is probably just a feature of the realities of having three kids with various needs already, a job, a business, a dissertation to write, books waiting to be born, and several serious life passions and be preparing to add another human to the family. Perhaps it would be weird if I didn’t feel overwhelmed and a little panicky, rather than it feeling like it is a personal failing that this is how I’ve spent a lot of time feeling lately.)

Source: Stretching Time | Talk Birth

Then, painting and re-painting that belly cast into a fall leaves theme that I still love: September 2014 122

I am 100% pleased with the re-do. Sometimes a revision is exactly the right choice! I feel like the comparison of my first attempt and my second looks like one of those side-by-side Pinterest comparisons, only both of these were from me!

Source: Belly Cast! | Talk Birth

And, from there, making another belly cast with the intention of creating a pottery belly bowl:

During this pregnancy, one of my personal philosophies has been to do stuff that I haven’t done before. This is my last chance to be pregnant (really!) and I want to make sure I leave no stones uncovered or cool stuff undone!

Source: Belly Bowl! (and new altar bowl) | Talk Birth

And, it worked!

Completed Pottery Clay Belly Bowl! | Talk Birth

I mused over whether I was ready or not:

The inexorable march towards Birth-Day is such an interesting, liminal place to be in. It both feels “mysterious” and inevitable. The closer I get to my official due date, the more wide open the possibilities seem as to when he will be born…when, in reality, the options narrow each day! I still have a certain sense of unreality about the whole thing—like, am I really going to do this? Am I really going to have a BABY????!!!!!

Source: Ready or Not! | Talk Birth

But, my Sacred Postpartum training really helped me prepare, as I took a ceremonial bath:

And, that is when I had my “breakthrough” moment. My eyes were prickling with tears and I said: “I associate taking baths with being weak and wounded.” I associate baths with cleaning blood away from myself and gingerly poking around for tears in my most vulnerable tissues.

Source: Sacred Postpartum, Week 2: Ceremonial Bathing | Talk Birth

And learned how to make Happy Tea:

I’ve been interested to note that I’ve dreamed with increasing realism about the baby for the last three nights in a row. Last night, I was getting him latched on for the first time. The night before, my mom and Mark had brought him to campus for me to nurse on my breaks from class. The night before that was a water birth dream (two actually, both about twins). To me this indicates that whatever lingering “not readiness” I might be experiencing in my waking life, my subconscious is getting it. At some level, my brain is getting down with the idea of really, truly having another baby and it is incorporating him into my dreamscape/life accordingly.

Source: Sacred Postpartum: Happy Tea + 40 Week Update | Talk Birth

My Mother Blessing ceremony also helped me recognize my own strength and courage:

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.

Source: Mother Blessings and the Power of Ritual | Talk Birth

In the power of ritual, I learned (again) that life is like birth, and we give birth as we live.

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Heart Art

cropMollyblessingway 126Twenty years ago today, after asking me out at Lion’s Club Park after a long day of making rope with the Boy Scouts, I went on a date with a tall, quiet, curly-haired boy. It was my first date ever and we had lunch, saw While You Were Sleeping at the theater, and walked around the park. Twenty years ago, people! While our lives have grown and evolved and changed and become broader and deeper and more connected and added four other lives to the planet (only one of which got that curly hair!), our original teenager-connection of respect, affection, friendship, security, complementary strengths, and sense of home-place in each other’s company, has never changed. I’m so glad that what started out as sort of a chance and unexpected pairing, became something so steadfast and strong.

I was thinking about what to post today and about our complementary strengths and I realized that I wanted to finally share our Heart Art assignment from the Sacred Pregnancy course I took while I was pregnant with Tanner. I didn’t end up posting about it right away because it felt private, but I did save a draft post about it to share someday. In this exercise, the couple paints a heart together and then fills in the heart with things they love about the other person.

When I told my husband about the exercise he said he didn’t want to do it. He is usually game to do anything I want to do and to support any project I care about, but this time he said, “you know how I am. If I’m at work and they do a team-building thing where everyone has to go write something nice about everyone else, that is my idea of hell. I’d rather do anything else than have to write things about someone else. Not everyone is into or likes this kind of stuff. I am not the kind of person who likes to do these kinds of things.” He then went on to say, “but if I can just tell you why I love you, I would say…” and then he listed off all my good qualities and made me cry and cry.

I decided I should honor his truth in that this is not his kind of exercise and that I would do the Heart Art activity by myself. But, then we were walking together as we do every night and he brought it up again, saying that it is writing that is not his strength, but that he really wanted to tell me all these things and it was beautiful and affirming to hear and I cried and we stood in our driveway hugging and kissing and crying together.

I’d painted the heart and added my side of the words after our first conversation and when I went back inside, I added his words to the other side. One of the best things about our relationship is how our skills/strengths complement each other and this exercise was another example of how that works.

August 2014 010Inspired by our heart art, I then I added these glass hearts to my Sacred Pregnancy altar where they remained until after Tanner’s birth in October.

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(Unfortunately, instead of watching While You Were Sleeping, reminiscing, and having a twenty-year-date, I have to go give a final exam!)

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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Sacred Postpartum, Week 1: Birth Stories and Vow

Backtracking a little into week one of my current Sacred Postpartum class, for the first week’s assignments in reviewing our own birth and postpartum experiences, I set up a mini sacred space and put on some of my birth power bracelets (Mark and I started making these recently and I love them! It is like carrying a mini-mantra, birth power reminder with me every day).

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I did my vow page and then a collage of reminders to myself. I made a birth stories page and then printed out copies of each of my kids’ birth stories and stapled them to the back of one journal page per story, including one for my third baby who was born in a second trimester miscarriage (the stories are all available on my blog here. I didn’t include pictures of the actual print outs! ). Then, I did a page on the front of each birth story with pictures of each kid and significant words/lessons from their stories. I ended with a collage of myself as I prepare for my upcoming birth at the end of this month (39 weeks now, 37 when I did the assignment) and took a picture of a blank page as well as a symbol of the story yet to be written…

(click for bigger pix)

I also just have to pat myself on the back again about having enrolled in these trainings at this point in my own pregnancy. It was a stroke of genius! And, while I knew I would benefit from them, I had no idea how very deeply I would do so.

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Sacred Postpartum, Week 2: Ceremonial Bathing

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My Sacred Postpartum class began last week, though this is my first post about it. One of the assignments this week was to prepare a ceremonial bath.

Despite the deceptively simple sound of the assignment, this bath was an incredibly surprising and illuminating experience. I originally put off doing it because I had “too much to do” and then when I started getting it ready and setting up a little altar and doing the smudging, I felt both nervous and kind of apprehensive. I told my husband, “I think this is the first real bath I’ve ever really taken.” I’m not really a bath person. I took baths as a little kid and then moved on to showers and never took baths again except while postpartum with each of my kids. And, that is when I had my “breakthrough” moment. My eyes were prickling with tears and I said: “I associate taking baths with being weak and wounded.” I associate baths with cleaning blood away from myself and gingerly poking around for tears in my most vulnerable tissues. I associate baths with crying and holding my empty belly after the death-birth of my third baby in my second trimester. In fact, the last bath I remember ever taking in my current home was the one following his birth in which I sobbed my sorrow into the water and bled away the last traces of my baby’s life. (I think I probably did take a postpartum bath after the birth of my rainbow daughter the following year, but I don’t have a memory of it. The only bath I remember ever taking in this house was my post-loss, grief bath.) I associate baths with strings of blood and mucous floating away from me through the water and feeling injured, hurt, damaged and invalid. Deconstructed, taken apart. Lost. Shaking. Barely being able to lift my legs to get myself back out. Having to call for help and be dried off. Hollow. Changed forever.

For this bath, I set up an altar space, turned on my Sacred Pregnancy playlist, smudged the room and the tub. My husband brought me my October 2014 004mother’s tea (a blend I made last week with friends using the recipe intended for later in this class). I added salts from the salt bowl ceremony at my Mother Blessing. I added a little bit of my sitz bath mix. I added almond milk and honey. My husband went and picked a rose and scattered the petals in on top of me after I was in the tub. As I settled into my milk and honey bath, I felt restless at first, but then I calmed and my mind became more still. I went through my previous bath memories and I cried a little bit. I completely relaxed and sank lower into the water. I touched my body gently and honored what she has given and where she has been wounded. I rubbed my wiggling belly and talked to my baby about having a gentle, easy, smooth birth with a gradual emergence. My thoughts turned to my possible plans for water birth for this baby. I realized that my own “weak and wounded” bath memories are probably, in part, related to why I don’t feel particularly attracted to water birth (though I wasn’t really attracted before I ever had any kids either, so it isn’t all related to those past bath experiences). Can I be strong and powerful in the water, or is that just where I bleed and cry? I’ve been planning to try water during this upcoming birth because I’ve never done it before and because it might help prevent the issues with tearing that I’ve had in the past. However, I have had trouble actually picturing myself doing it. As I stilled into this peaceful, non-wounded, ceremonial bath, I could picture a safe, secure water birth better than ever before.

And, later that night we set this up in the living room…

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(glowing pumpkin head courtesy of the kids decorating for Halloween, not for Sacred Atmosphere!)

And, to finish the assignments for this week’s class, we made and enjoyed Thai sweet tea for dessert after dinner!

Sacred Pregnancy Week 4: Honoring, Sealing, & Postpartum Care

“I am the strength of all women who have ever birthed a baby and I am ready to join that tribe.”

–Anni Daulter (Sacred Pregnancy)

August 2014 055Me to my husband last night: “so, I know I might look like I’m just dancing around with flowers in my hair, but I’m really getting certified.”

<Mark wisely refrains from wide-open joke opportunity>

Yesterday, I finished the last assignments for my Sacred Pregnancy class. While I primarily took this class for personal reasons and am glad I did because I truly think it was the absolute BEST thing I could have done for myself to get ready for Tanner, to spend some time focused on my pregnancy, and to get ready for another mindful birth and postpartum experience. I have also completed all the work needed to be a Certified Sacred Pregnancy Mini-Retreat Instructor. On October 1st, I start the Sacred Postpartum training program—again with a dual purpose of personal enrichment and professional development.

I completed some of the activities out-of-order and finished the silk painting and honoring crown from week 3 in conjunction with the postpartum and “sealing” work of week 4.

I chose to use my drumstick as my stick around which to wrap my silk, since the drum is one way I express myself. Bringing the words painted on the silk into my drumming seemed like a logical companion. My silk power was bold fearlessness! Zander and Alaina also worked on small pieces of silk with me.

I’d delayed making the flower crown I thought because I’d told myself that I’ve already had several flower crowns at different ceremonies and so making another one for “no reason” felt kind of redundant. However, after I finished my second silk painting, I looked behind me and saw some wildflowers and I realized I did want to make a crown and I wanted to be with real flowers and not artificial. I’d been going to do artificial since I have some and thought then I could at least check it off the list. I don’t like fake flowers though, I like real ones. As soon as I realized that there were enough wildflowers scattered around the yard that I could make a real one, I got excited about the idea. My daughter helped me find and cut the flowers and then we put it together. And, then took some picture with my new silk and the crown together.

“The first few months after a baby comes can be a lot like floating in a jar of honey—very sweet and golden, but very sticky too.” –American College of Nurse-Midwives

I love the idea of a post-birth sealing ceremony SO much. This is similar to a mother blessing, but it is held postpartum to help “seal” the birth experience and welcome the baby and the mother into motherhood (or mother of however-many-children-hood). Absolutely wonderful. I also love the song Standing on the Edge from the Sacred Pregnancy CD. I identify with it so much as I prepare for my next birth as well as to welcome a new baby who I wasn’t expecting to have. As I’ve noted often in recent blog posts, I’m working very hard to wrap up a variety of projects so that I can cocoon with my new baby and give him and me the time and space I know we will need after birth. I have gotten better and better at taking care of myself postpartum, in asking for what I need, and getting very, very clear with my support people about what is most important to me.

We actually made the flax pillows for the sealing ceremony at the beginning of the week and then used them on Sunday (Alaina and I made the PPD tincture together the same day as the pillows). My husband tucked me in with the flax pillows and scarf and draped the silk painting across me as well. I lit my pregnancy candles and listened to Standing at the Edge. I spoke aloud the things I celebrate myself for–all the projects and children I have given birth to.

As I was setting up my wrap and pillows, my almost-11-year-old son had said he’d like to do it too. So, after my own sealing experience, each of my kids in turn got sealed in the scarf with the flax pillows. And, then they went and got my husband and we sealed him too! For each, I offered a blessing: “I’m glad you were born. I’m glad you are my son/daughter/husband. I love you. Thank you.” I placed my hands on different parts of their bodies as I spoke and then ended with kiss on the forehead. They all loved it and were very calm and contemplative. I think it was good for all of us and was, in its way, a “sealing” of their births and our relationship.

While I always have had a mother blessing ceremony before the baby’s birth, this time I’m going to make sure to do a postpartum sealing ceremony as well. The birth I actually sealed most consciously was the second trimester birth-death of my third son. On my due date with him, which also happened to be my birthday, I did a ceremony outside by our little labyrinth and the tree where we buried him. I spoke aloud, “I am not pregnant anymore,” and took time to hold and honor the powerful, honorable, birth and release I’d given him.

I’ve written a lot about my own postpartum thoughts, experiences, and feelings and they are grouped under the appropriate category on my blog here.

I also want to share a picture of my new mother-of-four goddess pendant! This pendant, too, has been part of my personal emotional preparation to integrate the new baby into my maternal identity. It took a long time for us to get the cast right for this sculpt and I’m so happy to have it to wear now.

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 The Sacred Pregnancy online retreat training experience was a very positive one. Lots of personal benefit as well as professional development! I’m so glad I decided to go for it!
August 2014 070Past posts in this series:

Sacred Pregnancy Week 1, Part 1: Sacred Space

Sacred Pregnancy, Week 1, Part 2: Connecting

Sacred Pregnancy Week 3, Part 1: Fears & Forgiveness

Sacred Pregnancy Week 3, Part 2: Empowerment and Self-Care