Archives

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

 

The Goddess of Willendorf & Does My Uterus Make Me Look Fat?

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

IMG_0222

Replica on my birth altar.

I do not remember the first time I ever saw her, but I do know that I have loved the Goddess (Venus) of Willendorf sculpture for many, many years now. I consider her almost a personal “totem.” I do not see her as a literal representation of a particular deity (though when someone uses the phrase, “Great Goddess” or “Great Mother,” she’s the figure I see!), I see her more as honoring the female form. I love that she is so full-figured and not “perfect” or beautiful. I like that she is not pregnant (there is some disagreement about this and many people do describe her as pregnant) and what I like best is that she is complete unto herself. She is a complete form–not just a headless pregnant belly–I just LOVE her. She represents this deep, ancient power to me.

In a past assignment for one of D.Min classes, I wrote:

I have a strong emotional connection to the Paleolithic and Neolithic figures. I do not find that I feel as personally connected to Egyptian and Greek and Roman Goddess imagery, but the ancient figures really speak to something powerful within me. I have a sculpture of the Goddess of Willendorf at a central point on my altar. Sometimes I hold her and wonder and muse about who carved the original. I almost feel a thread that reaches out and continues to connect us to that nearly lost past—all the culture and society and how very much we don’t know about early human history. There is such a solid power to these early figures and to me they speak of the numinous, non-personified, Great Goddess.

I know ancient goddess figures are commonly described as “fertility figures” or as pregnant, but most of the early sculptures do not actually appear pregnant to me, they appear simply full-figured. One of the things I love about the Willendorf Goddess is her air of self-possession. She is complete unto herself. She may be a fertile figure, but she is not clearly pregnant and she does not have a baby in her arms, which indicates that her value was not exclusively in the maternal role. Early goddess figurines are usually portrayed alone, it is only later that we see the addition of the son/baby figure at the mother’s breast or in arms. The earliest figures seem independent of specifically maternal imagery, it is later that we begin to see Goddess defined in relationship to children or as exclusively maternal. I think this reflects a shift that women continue to struggle with today (in Goddess religion as well as personal life) with the mother role see as exhaustive or exclusive. In contemporary society, the only mainstream representation of the Goddess that manages to survive under public recognition is the Madonna and Child and here, not only has Goddess been completely subsumed by her offspring, but she is no longer even recognized as truly divine.

This image has been a potent affirmation for me many times in my life. One Mother’s Day, my then four-year-old son Lann found a IMG_0636little green aventurine Goddess of Willendorf at a local rock shop: “We have GOT to get this for Mom!” he told my husband and they surprised me with it that afternoon. It still makes me get a little teary to look at it, because it was such a beautiful moment of feeling seen by my little child.  When I found out I was pregnant for the third time, my husband surprised me with a beautiful, large Goddess of Willendorf pendant. I was holding onto that pendant during the ultrasound that told us that our third son no longer had a heartbeat and during my labor with my little non-living baby, I wore and held onto the pendant. It went with me to the emergency room and I could feel its solid, reassuring weight against my chest when dressed in just a hospital gown and receiving IV fluids as blood continued to come from me as my body said goodbye to my baby. I buried a goddess of willendorf bead with my baby’s body and put a matching one on his memorial necklace.

100_2269

Bead ready to go in with my baby.

On Mother’s Day the following year, right after finding out I was pregnant with my rainbow baby girl, my husband gave me a beautiful new Goddess of Willendorf ring. I was little scared to wear it, because what if she too, became a sad reminder of a pregnancy lost (I have only worn the pendant again a tiny handful of times since the miscarriage-birth experience, even though I took a lot of comfort in it during that time), but wear it I did up to and through the moment when I caught my sweet little living girl in my own grateful, be-ringed hands.

The website that he bought the ring from went down shortly after and I’d not ever seen another ring like it for sale. However, I signed up to become a retailer for Wellstone Jewelry in 2011. While on the phone making an order, I requested one of their Venus of Lespugue pendants. The woman on the phone told me, “we don’t sell very many of those. She seems to make people uncomfortable. In fact, we used to make a ring too. A venus of willendorf ring, but no one ever wanted her. I think because 1057she is ‘too fat’ and she makes people feel weird.” Oh my goodness, I replied, I think I have one of your rings! I emailed her a picture of my hand and sure enough, though discontinued now, I’d coincidentally gotten one of the last ones ever made. She said they could get the mold out of storage and make some more custom rings just for me. Since I’m a business genius (what? You said they never sold? Sign me up for a dozen!), I immediately said yes and she shipped me several beautiful Goddess of Willendorf rings, which I then sold to several friends. (I still have two left if anyone wants to buy one! I would wear them all if I had enough fingers. My favorite ring ever!)

What does this have to do with my uterus making me look fat? Well, I’ve had the experience of wearing this ring and having another woman, a wonderful, peaceful, healer of a woman, laugh at it, like it was a joke ring. My mom sold a pottery sculpture version of the Willendorf to a man at our craft workshop and he laughed at her too saying, “this is hilarious.” Hilarious? Because she is fat, I guess? Several years ago, I read a post online titled Does My Uterus Make Me Look Fat? and I thought of my beloved Goddess of Willendorf, She of the Ample Uterus. While I can no longer locate the article itself and the post I had linked to in my drafts folder takes me to a re-direct site, I remember the article talking about how even pre-teen girls have a slight swell to their bellies. The author of the post was like, “duh, a flat belly IS NEVER POSSIBLE. THERE IS A UTERUS IN THERE.” When I read it, I thought about the jewelry woman’s comments about women not liking the goddess of willendorf ring because she is too fat. And, I saved a couple of quotes, the first two from the Our Bodies edition of Sage Woman magazine (Spring, 1996):

IMG_0243

Batik Goddess of Willendorf from a friend at my blessingway.

“…so it has been: women’s power has declined as woman’s belly has been violated and shamed…5,000 years of patriarchal culture has degraded belly, body, woman, the sacred feminine, the soul, the feminine sensibility in both women and men, native peoples, and nature–all in a single process of devaluation. Because our belly is the bodily site of feminine sensibility, our patriarchal culture marks the belly as a target of assault, through rape, unnecessary hysterectomies and Cesarians [sic], reproductive technology, legal restrictions on women’s authority in pregnancy and childbirth, and belly-belittling fashions, exercise regimens, and diet schemes…a culture that literally hates women’s guts…” –Lisa Sarasohn, The Goddess Ungirdled

“Our bodies are vessels of the sacred, not the homes of sinful urges. Our bodies create and sustain the sacred. And that sacredness does not equate with any artificial notion of bodily perfection. All of us are fit habitations for the divine, no matter what the diet doctors, fitness gurus, health good fanatics, New Age healers, and the fashion police try to force on us. If we don’t take our bodies into account in our expression of [our religion], then it becomes a mere shadow of itself. When we are fully present in our bodies [women’s religion] becomes a three-dimensional, vibrant, fully fleshed-out expression of the divine…” –DeAnna Alba in How to Flesh Our Your Magick

And, perhaps from the original Does My Uterus Make Me Look Fat article, I had this quote saved as well that addresses the “love your body,” rhetoric so often expressed, including, I suppose, in even the quote I chose to open this post:

“the fact that “love your body” rhetoric shifts the responsibility for body acceptance over to the individual, and away from communities, institutions, and power, is also problematic. individuals who do not love their bodies, who find their bodies difficult to love, are seen as being part of the problem. the underlying assumption is that if we all loved our bodies just as they are, our fat-shaming, beauty-policing culture would be different. if we don’t love our bodies, we are, in effect, perpetuating normative (read: impossible) beauty standards. if we don’t love our individual bodies, we are at fault for collectively continuing the oppressive and misogynistic culture. if you don’t love your body, you’re not trying hard enough to love it. in this framework, your body is still the paramount focus, and one way or another, you’re failing. it’s too close to the usual body-shaming, self-policing crap, albeit with a few quasi-feminist twists, for comfort.”

–saved from this post

March 2014 023
Even though I am a goddess sculptor myself, I have never been able to make my own version of the Goddess of Willendorf that satisfied me. I tried polymer clay, I tried pottery clay, I tried making my husband make one for me. None of them were right. Finally, just this month, my husband said, why don’t you make one, but using your own style? This was an ah ha moment for me and guess what, it worked! I successfully used the same technique and structure I use for all of my sculptures, but with a Willendorf-style-twist and I finally made my own sculpture that I’m really proud of. My husband made a mold and cast her in pewter and I’m wearing her right now. Her uterus might make her look fat, but to me, she is one of the most powerfully affirming images of womanhood I have ever encountered and there is nothing funny about her.

        “Your body is your own. This may seem obvious. But to inhabit your physical self fully, with no apology, is a true act of power.”

–Camille Maurine (Meditation Secrets for Women)

March 2014 022  March 2014 038

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

Birth Spiral Chakra Blessing

Birth spiralFebruary 2014 015.
Energy
feel it spin throughout your body.
Beginning in your core,
unfolding, unfolding, spiraling upward into a peak
and release
Every part of you opening
making space
making room
for this new little one.
Calling the child forth into your waiting arms
your waiting family
your waiting heart.
Enlivened
alive
fully engaged and embodied
in the current of labor.
It builds
it pulses
it rolls
it rocks
it peaks
it crests.
These waves of power.
They are you.
You are doing it.
You ARE it.
This is energy, this power, this unfolding might of creation.
It’s you.
Your body
your power
your birth
your baby.

February 2014 003

Let the sparkles of these chakra colors remind you to bring your whole self to your labor. To walk the spiral path, to dive in, to embrace, to unfold, and to become: Mother.

Root (red):

Where baby came into being and now will be welcomed. Source of creation. Gateway for baby and life.

Sacrum (orange):

Where baby has sheltered within a cradle of bone. Pelvic bowl that rocks the child. Make way. February 2014 007

Solar Plexus (yellow):

Where you take deep breaths, carried on the waves, following your rhythm.

Heart (green):

Where your love bursts forth and you discover what it is like to be endless.

Throat (blue):

Where you roar your birth song. Welcome your baby with your voice, your cry of greeting. Your cry of triumph. Your cry of fulfillment.

 Brow (indigo):

Where you let your mind go, where you release, and give, and surrender to the creative, nameless, raw pulsing energy of birth.

Crown (violet):

Where you draw in the wisdom of the ancestors. The power of the Divine Feminine. The ocean of mother love that has gone before you and that surrounds you even now as you work.

Draw it in, draw it up, draw it down. And know, without a doubt, that you can do it. You can walk this path. You can rise to the occasion. You can respond with strength to whatever is asked of you. All the surprises, all the mystery, all the twists and turns and unexpected places. You carry the wisdom within you to let it flow.

February 2014 012

Rise for Justice

1497514_10153552346400442_1148387720_nOkay, so I knew I would enjoy The Vagina Monologues. How could I not, right?! Well, I did not expect to be SO blown away by the power, presence, and passion of my magnificent friends. They were incredible. Seriously incredible. It was an amazing show!  There were many powerful moments–some very funny, some sad, some horrifying. My friend, doula, and colleague did the piece on birth at the end and brought me to tears with her vibrance and passion. There was a moment in the middle where the teenage girl member of the cast read out some statistics on the One Billion women who are raped, abused, or assaulted. Each member of the cast began to rise in turn and as they did, their friends in the audience rose with them, until the whole theater was standing. We rose for justice.

I’ve mentioned several times that I came to birth work with a core foundation in feminism and social justice work, primarily in domestic violence. I remain firmly convinced that the way we treat women in the birthplace reflects an overall cultural attitude towards women in general. I believe that peace on earth begins with birth. I believe that we can change the world with the way we greet new babies and celebrate new mothers and see the deep, never-ending work of parenting our children. I believe in rising for justice and I keep vigil in my heart every day for women around the world.

In a stroke of coincidence that gave me chills, my independent study student who is working on a Breastfeeding and Ecofeminism course submitted her weekly reflections and in it she mentioned Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues, and One Billion Rising with no idea that I was going to the show this week. As I read her reflections, the connection between the personal and political was so tangible that I asked her if I could use her assignment as a guest post for my blog. Part of the reason I assigned the book Reweaving the World for this course was because of how it contextualizes the issues facing women so broadly and makes this undeniable connection between exploitation of the planet and exploitation of women’s bodies. While it might sometimes trigger a sense of hopelessness and distress, I think ultimately, the contextualization is empowering. The Vagina Monologues are based on the courage of women telling their stories and sharing their truths. Likewise, I appreciate Alea’s generosity and courage in sharing her reflections with my readers…

November 2013 061

Dancing for Change: A look inside a personal exploration of ecofeminism, sexuality, and social justice.

Guest post by Alea Scarff

I began reading The Politics of Breastfeeding which sparked a series of “hell, yes’s!” It also left me feeling inspired, excited and validated that I’m not the only one with these feelings and notions about women, breastfeeding, and the injustice I witness within this issue. Her kick-ass presentation of the truth among this profound cultural issue left me enlivened and ready for action sentence after sentence.

Then I read several pages of Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism. Yikes. This was heavy. I suddenly found myself caught between two worlds of inherent optimism excited for positive social change, and the deep dark issues of ecology and the longstanding reality of suffering and inequality of women on this planet. I felt my body overcome with anger. A feeling of helplessness ensued. I felt those women in third world countries starving and overheated, overworked and just trying to sustain the lives of their children on top of enduring mental, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. I felt all the children who suffer because of this. I felt all of the gender imposing rules children in the western world are conditioned by, thus tainting our hearts and souls with limitation and sharp edges surrounding who we are allowed to be in this society. All of the emotionally repressed men; all of the objectified, degraded women who have never known what it feels like to feel good in their bodies.

I began to feel my grandmother’s oppression she suffered from my grandfather in the 60s. The abandonment, the sexual abuse, the use and re-use of her as a resource and service for himself. I felt my mother’s experience of an emotionally abusive relationship, and finally my experience of sexual molestation as a child. Where was all of this coming from? A deep sadness came over me as I desperately tried to figure out my own issues with sexuality and my relationship to the world as I sat amongst strangers in this warm coffee shop. Was I angry about what happened to me? Was I angry at my partner? Past partners? Was I angry at the world? I really couldn’t identify where the anger came from, or where it was directed. I had to stop, refresh, and start over. Maybe this shit is too intense for me. Maybe I need to change my course of study.

No, no. You can’t run away. I realized I had been running from this issue my whole life and it’s finally time to recognize it. I stopped, took some deep breaths, did some yoga asanas to release the sticky tensions of injustice lurking in my joints throughout my body. Ok. Begin again.

So I went back to my childhood, with my deepest memories of the frequent encounters of gender inequality. My mother, to this day, credits me for bringing to light her own femininity and capturing her attention to the inequalities of men and women. Something that went unnoticed until I came along, however she still was not interested in changing the ways of the world to the extent I was. She had her own social change she was working on. It was entrenched in art and consciousness. Luckily, I picked up on this, and found my own desire for changing the world through consciousness. Consciousness through equality for women. How could anyone else NOT be outraged by the fact that 8 out of 10 songs on the radio were sung by men? As a twelve year old, I began writing letters to radio stations. I couldn’t understand how no one seemed to care about this absurd injustice constantly happening on the radio. Something so simple yet so powerful as radio permeated our culture – and no one seemed to notice. There were a plethora of female musicians that I favored at this age. How could I not hear them on the radio? On top of an array of social issues such as this, I always HATED those older men who would make random, confusing, degrading comments to me for others’ and their own amusement. What the hell was up with that?

I began reading an interview with Eve Ensler, the creator of The Vagina Monologues and the global women’s campaign, One Billion Rising. The figures quoted from the UN in this interview left me in a deeper outrage. One billion women on the planet today are beaten or sexually assaulted. I reflected on an article I had read earlier that week, as well about how to talk with your children about their private parts and to help prevent them from being sexually abused. The article stated that one in five girls are sexually molested and one in six boys are. I never identified with the label “sexually molested” nor did I want to admit I was affected by this, but just in the last few years when I looked at the definition, I realized, even my few small inappropriate experiences are considered just that, and they have, in fact, affected me.

I had to take a few days off. This all needed to settle inside and I had to figure out what to do with it. I spent days pondering, how do I continue to explore this crucial subject and maintain a positive outlook? How do I channel this anger into solutions for helping others? How can I continue researching and hold my strength and goddess energy as a female role model, an inspiration for my two little boys, my partner, men and women, and the planet?

This is a tall aspiration I set for myself, I realize. I suppose this is simply what I aspire to be.

I began speaking with my mother about my sexuality from a young age and my exploration of it now. It was both comforting and disheartening to discover my mother had similar inappropriate sexual experiences as a child that I endured, as well as finding she’s still on her journey of understanding this taboo topic herself, female sexuality. Perhaps a running thread in my family of women? Or is this prevalent everywhere? Why is no one talking about it? Even after being so close with my mother, and being able to talk about anything for as long as I can remember, it took some courage to bring up this subject with her. Regardless, I am so glad I did.

I began to read again. I decided I had to begin with an open heart and mind, as I swim right through the obstacles of understanding the depths and spaces of the world of women and the planet. There is a lot to be grateful for, and a lot that needs changing. Positive reflection throughout this journey can only bring more light. Letting go and forgiving my past experiences, and the oppression the women I know and love have endured, I take a step into a new beginning. I can move forward continuing to understand my path of my sexuality growing up, and what this means for me now. I feel I’ve got a long way to go, and I can sense a gap of mystery and unknown feelings sitting somewhere inside. But I’m ready to embrace and heal whatever decides to reveal itself.

I am now in the process of releasing fear and letting go. Letting go of being afraid to speak up and stand up for what’s right; of being viewed as a bitch, uptight, or simply being exposed. We as women need to start somewhere within this realm in order to ignite change. Rather than accepting these old cultural paradigms and letting them continue to thrive within this patriarchal society, it’s time to change this tired, destructive trend. As Ensler quotes in a recent interview with Deccan Aitkenhead for The Guardian, “We have one in three women on the planet being raped or beaten…We’ve all learned to be so well behaved and polite. We should be hysterical.”

Ensler launched One Billion Rising which, on Valentine’s Day in 2013 brought close to one billion women out on the streets to protest against violence towards women. Ensler’s goal is to have one billion gather on February 14th outside buildings that represent justice – police stations, courthouses, and government offices – and dance. That’s it. Where and how they dance is up to them; each is organized at a local level. In this, I found tremendous uplifting relief.

Through this personal revelation, I’ve decided to remain free – and not restrained by anger or resentment of injustice. I simply cannot move forward or flourish from that space. We must find liberation through the endurance, triumph and the celebration of womanhood. Simply. This is the only way to encourage and create change. I must release the tensions that like to creep up and burrow inside my joints and muscles. I no longer will walk around carrying this stuff – I’d rather be dancing than dwelling. This is the only way I will find my way to living up to my goddess vibration of inspiration for social change for my two little boys, my partner, women and men, and the planet collectively.

Next year on Valentine’s Day, I think I will be dancing.

“But when you suddenly understand that violence against women is the methodology that sustains patriarchy, then you suddenly get that we’re in this together. Women across the world are in this together.” –Eve Ensler

 

Birthrites: Birth as a Rite of Passage

“Woman-to-woman help through the rites of passage that are important in every birth has significance not only for the individuals directly bellypictureinvolved, but for the whole community. The task in which the women are engaged is political. It forms the warp and weft of society.” –Sheila Kitzinger (Rediscovering Birth)

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

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

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

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

Some collected quotes from past posts on this theme…

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

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

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

via Birth as a Rite of Passage | Talk Birth.

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

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

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

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

December 2013 009

Talk Books: My Kitchen Cure

“If it comes from a plant, EAT It. If t is made in one, DON’T.” –Mee Tracy McCormick

How interesting can a book about cooking natural foods be? Very, if written by Mee Tracy McCormick! I have several autoimmune disorders and I have quite a few friends with autoimmune disorders as well, so when My Kitchen Cure came to my attention as being written by an autoimmune cooking expert, my interest was piqued. However, when the book arrived, I thought, “what was I thinking?! I don’t have time to read a cookbook. I have a birth blog!” Then, I started reading, and found to my surprise that I couldn’t put it down. Mee Tracy’s story is really riveting and her writing voice is down-to-earth, straightfoward, and just plain funny (be prepared for quite a few references to “shadoobie” and the ideal consistency thereof!).

The first section of the book is a page turner that reads like a novel. We learn about the author’s hereditary experience with Crohn’s disease and her progressive, painful decline from this disease. This section of the book is sprinkled with stories about her travels and experiences living in other countries as well as on her farm and cattle ranch in Nashville, TN. Mee Tracy experiences a turning point in which she decides she is unwilling to continue turning herself over to conventional medical treatment and possibly not survive to see her children grow up, and sets out to cure herself with food. She transforms her own kitchen habits and diet and slowly, slowly heals her body and transforms her life. The final half of the book is full of Real Food recipes designed to heal autoimmune disorders. Many are raw, many are vegan, many are gluten and dairy free, and all are specifically chosen to be nourishing and healing to depleted, stressed  bodies. Even the recipes are written in a light, conversational way that makes them actually fun to read. They are also very inspirational and my own shopping list quickly grew to include things like kombu, arrowroot powder, and plenty of raw cashews. I’m seriously going to try some of this stuff, shawty! 😉

Apparently 55 million people in the US experience an autoimmune disease. Part of the cure can be found in our own kitchens, and Mee Tracy McCormick’s book is on hand to help us get started.

Here’s one of the simple, yummy sounding recipes that I’m totally making as soon as my raw cashews get here!

Sour Cream Queso

2 cups cashews
1 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 TB nutritional yeast (if avoiding yeast products, use 1/2 ts of white miso instead)
1 TB salt

Blend in a blender at high-speed until completely smooth!

My Kitchen Cure is available on Amazon.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes. Opinions expressed are my own and I have no other relationship with or obligation to the author or company.

Talk Books: Sweetening the Pill

I haven’t actually read this book yet, or even obtained a copy, but I am intrigued enough by the promo spot that I’m doing a short blog post about it anyway! I’ve struggled with the question of birth control for some time. I took the pill for about six years and then after having my first baby in 2003 and going on the minipill, I had the sudden “epiphany” that if I was so committed to natural birth and breastfeeding and natural living and trusting my body, why the heck was I okay with filling said body full of hormones?! (The same epiphany, but including cloth diapers, led me to start using cloth moon pads rather than disposable as well. Never looked back!) We started using natural family planning instead (really, the Billings method) and it has been excellent for nine years—no “accidents” and more babies exactly when we decided we wanted them. And, no side effects, no money, and no hormones. Now that our family size feels complete, I find myself struggling with whether or not NFP will continue be “enough” until natural infertility takes over. NFP was fine when an accidental pregnancy was an acceptable option. At this point, an unexpected pregnancy would still be an acceptable option, however fast-forwarding the clock, I really, really, really, do not want to be someone who ends up having her first unexpected pregnancy at age 45 or something! I also do not want to engage in any permanent body-modification efforts (for either myself or my husband) when my own fertility will be up in the next 15 years or so (but body modification is forever!). So, I feel very optionless at this point…Anyway, on to the book I haven’t read. Here’s the promo copy I got that piqued my interest!

SWEETENING THE PILL OR HOW WE GOT HOOKED ON HORMONAL BIRTH CONTROL by Holly Grigg-Spall
Book Description: Millions of healthy women take a powerful medication every day from their mid-teens to menopause – the Pill – but few know how this drug works or the potential side effects. Contrary to cultural myth, the birth control pill impacts on every organ and function of the body, and yet most women do not even think of it as a drug. Depression, anxiety, paranoia, rage, panic attacks – just a few of the effects of the Pill on half of the over 80% of women who pop these tablets during their lifetimes.When the Pill was released, it was thought that women would not submit to taking a medication each day when they were not sick. Now the Pill is making women sick.However, there are a growing number of women looking for non-hormonal alternatives for preventing pregnancy. In a bid to spark a backlash against hormonal contraceptives, this book asks: Why can’t we criticize the Pill?

Carol Downer of Women’s Health in Women’s Hands makes a really important that our feminist health commitment to birth control access may blind us to the actual poor health impacts of the Pill:

“We discovered in the ’70s that the personal is political. Holly Grigg-Spall starts with her and other women’s personal experiences with the Pill, then thoughtfully and thoroughly considers it scientifically, medically and philosophically to discover the political truth of the Pill. She shares strategies for finding new ways to control our fertility while regaining control of our destiny. Grigg-Spall’s careful study on the Pill’s effect on women’s health is long, long overdue. We are so busy fighting to keep hormonal birth control available that we don’t want to question what it is doing to our health and our lives. After reading this book, we can never see the Pill in the same way again.”

Comments and resources welcome! 🙂

Tuesday Tidbits: Postpartum Mamas

As Americans, we are under the impression that new moms are ‘Superwomen’ & can return to life as it was before baby. We must remember to celebrate this new mother and emulate the other cultures that honor new mothers by caring for them, supporting them, & placing value on the magnificent transformation she is going through. This is the greatest gift we can give to new mothers & newborns…–Darla Burns (via Tuesday Tidbits: Postpartum Mothering)

“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

The United States are not known for their postpartum care practices. Many women are left caught completely off guard by the postpartum recovery experience and dogged by the nagging self-expectation to do and be it all and that to be a “good mother” means bouncing back, not needing help, and loving every minute of it.

This country is one of the only utterly lacking in a culture of postpartum care. Some version of the lie-in is still prevalent all over Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and particular parts of Europe; in these places, where women have found the postpartum regimens of their own mothers and grandmothers slightly outdated, they’ve revised them. The U.S. seems only to understand pregnancy as a distinct and fragile state. For the expectant, we issue reams of proscriptions—more than can reasonably be followed. We tell them what to eat and what not to eat. We ask that they visit the doctor regularly and that they not do any strenuous activity. We give them our seats on the bus. Finally, once they’ve actually undergone the physical trauma of it, their bodies thoroughly depleted, we beckon them most immediately to rejoin the rest of us. One New York mother summed up her recent postpartum experience this way: “You’re not hemorrhaging? OK, peace, see you later…”

…“A culturally accepted postpartum period sends a powerful message that’s not being sent in this country,” said Dr. Margaret Howard, the director of the Day Hospital for Postpartum Depression in Providence, Rhode Island. “American mothers internalize the prevailing attitude—‘I should be able to handle this myself; women have babies every day’—and if they’re not up and functioning, they feel like there’s something wrong with them.”

via Why Are America’s Postpartum Practices So Rough On New Mothers? – The Daily Beast.

Via First the Egg, I then read this powerful reflection prompted by the article above:

In the piece, one woman mentions that women are literally still bleeding, long after they’re expected to “bounce back” and reclaim their old lives and be totally self-sufficient. Our bodies haven’t finished healing, and we’re supposed to look and act as though nothing even happened here, it’s all good. It’s all just the same as it was.

Secretly, I’ve been the slightest bit ashamed of all the help I’ve needed.

via Eat the Damn Cake » bleeding time.

I also read this raw, honest, and touching look at the “betrayal” experienced by women who enter into the mystery of birth expecting a blissed out, earth mother, orgasmic birth experience:

…But inside my head, I could not believe what was happening. How painful it was. How terrifying. I felt helpless. And degraded and humiliated by there being witnesses. And at the same time, I felt so, so alone. I remember at one point saying, completely out of my mind, “I don’t understand why no one is doing anything to help me! Please help me!” Della reminded me that what I was feeling was the baby coming. That I was doing just what I was supposed to, having the baby, right then….

via Mutha Magazine » S. LYNN ALDERMAN’S Ugliest, Beautiful Moment (Or, Fuck Ina May).

And, that made me think of my own thoughts about birth regret and how we may hide it from the pregnant woman we perceive as vulnerable in her beautiful, fleeting state as Pregnant Woman:

I’ve come to realize that just as each woman has moments of triumph in birth, almost every woman, even those with the most blissful birth stories to share, have birth regrets of some kind of another. And, we may often look at subsequent births as an opportunity to “fix” whatever it was that went “wrong” with the birth that came before it. While it may seem to some that most mother swap “horror stories” more often than tales of exhilaration, I’ve noticed that those who are particularly passionate about birth, may withhold or hurry past their own birth regret moments, perhaps out of a desire not to tarnish the blissful birth image, a desire not to lose crunchy points, or a desire not to contribute to the climate of doubt already potently swirling around pregnant women…

via Birth Regrets? | Talk Birth.

Which then made me think about the women who know...

Where are the witches, midwives

and friends

August 2013 011

Circle of women sculptures as gifts for my women’s group. Yes, there’s a crack—“the world cracks everyone”—but that is how the light gets in…

to belly dance and chant

while I deliver

to hold me and breathe with me

as I push

to touch me and comfort me

as I cry?

Where are the womyn who know

what it’s like

to give birth?

via Where are the women who know? | Talk Birth.

Thinking about that reminded me of the chant we sang around the fire at the festival I just returned from on Sunday night:

Dance in a circle of women,

Make a web of my life,

Hold me as I spiral and spin,

Make a web of my life…

via Goddess Chants – Dance in a Circle of Women by Marie Summerwood.

May all pregnant women and tender postpartum mamas dance in a circle of women!

I’d hoped to have time to post a festival recap and some lessons learned, but other responsibilities take precedence at least for today, so I’ll leave you with one of the pictures my sister-in-law took on a misty morning, sunrise stroll around the lake and another that I took in the Temple at the festival:

Sept 2013 090

Sept 2013 036

See also:

Postpartum Survival Tips

Timeless Days: More Postpartum Planning

Mothers Matter–Creating a Postpartum Plan

Planning for Postpartum

Some reminders for postpartum mamas & those who love them

Birthing the Mother-Writer (or: Playing My Music, or: Postpartum Feelings, Part 1)

Postpartum Thoughts/Feelings, Part 2

Postpartum Feelings, Part 3

What to tell a mother-to-be about the realities of mothering…

Listen to the wise woman…

20120928-123955.jpg

Mini mamapriestess sculpture I made to take with me for my medicine bundle.

Last summer after I finished my priestess certification and I’d been facilitating women’s retreats for two years, I got a wild idea to go to a womanspirit or goddess festival of some kind. I did a google search and found one that sounded great—the Gaea Goddess Gathering–and it was happening in just two weeks. Imagine my surprise to then look at the bottom of the screen and see that it was located only a five-hour drive from me, just over the border into Kansas. I decided it was “meant to be.” My mom and a friend signed up with me (and Alaina) and we packed up my van and went! The night before we left on our adventure, I sat down at the kitchen table and felt a knife-like stinging pain on the back of my leg. I’d accidentally sat on a European giant hornet (these are not regular hornets, they are literally giant hornets about two inches long).

20120928-123138.jpg

Sting before I left.

Though it became hot and swollen and terribly painful, we set forth anyway. I asked for input on Facebook and did google research and started putting benadryl cream on it, even though I usually go with home remedies over medical-model remedies. It got worse and worse, eventually running from my hip to my knee and wrapped around my entire leg so
that two thirds of my thigh was sting-area and the difference in size between my legs was noticeable through clothing. During the festival, as I watched myself get worse and worse and people kept making remarks about needing epi-pens and maybe I should go to the hospital, I decided to dispense with the benadryl and listen to the wise women instead. My friend found plantain and made me a poultice. The cook gave me baking soda that I applied in a paste. I went to a ceremony that involved a healing ritual with sound and a priestess in a tent beat a drum over me as I lay there on my stomach. After a little Reiki healing, she then leaned very, very close to my ear and said quietly, “are you taking good enough care of yourself? You give and give and it is time to receive. You need to be taken care of too.” And, I cried.

20120928-123203.jpg

Sting after arriving. I didn’t take any pictures of it at the worst. It got about twice as bad as this. Every time I thought it could not possible get worse, it got twice as bad!

I came out of the tent and laid on a bench and women I didn’t know came and put their hands on my back and made me tinctures of strange plants they found in the herb garden and I drank it even though it almost made me gag. Another woman I didn’t know rubbed my back and though I couldn’t even see her face, she leaned close to my ear and said, “sometimes life stings you. Your friends, your family, being a parent, taking care of your children. It stings sometimes. Things people say without meaning to sting you. You’re sensitive, Sometimes it stings a lot and you worry that you’re not good enough. I see you with your baby. You are such a good mother.” And, I cried again, lying there on bench in the middle of nowhere with my dress pulled up and my red, sore, swollen, horrible thigh covered with a poultice of mysterious weeds, surrounded by women I didn’t know, but who were caring for me. And, I got better. By the time I got home, the sting was almost totally healed.

As soon as I returned home, I made a list, intending to develop it into a blog post about everything I’d learned at this gathering of women. The list languished in my drafts folder and the wheel of the year continued to turn and now it is September again and next week, some friends and I will be hopping back in my van and heading back to the GGG for this year’s festival. I decided the blog post will never get “developed” into the post I had intended, but that I can still share my list anyway. I also realized that I have been reluctant to post it here for fear of being too “weird” and alienating readers. But, Talk Birth is like a buffet, you can take what works for you and leave the rest! 😉 I’m also writing now because I’m going to go ahead and give myself a week off from blogging and I wanted to post some sort of explanation as to why. I’m going to focus on getting ready for the festival (I’m selling jewelry while there too!) and hanging out with my family (and, oh yeah, grading all the papers that are due this Sunday night!).

So, what did I learn at the GGG?

  • I have a lot to learn
  • Likewise, I know more than I give myself credit for—I am both more skilled than I may think and less skilled than I’d like to be.
  • I want to be more confident
  • I need to always remember to look for a wise woman when I need help. And, that allowing myself to be cared for by strangers is a surprisingly powerful experience.
  • I am much more quickly judgmental than I realized or like to admit—I judge the book by its cover and assess “worth” by appearance more often than I thought and I disappointed myself with that. I learned that ALL women have hidden gifts and I was surprised over and over again what people had to offer, that their appearance might not have suggested.
  • My body knows how to heal (I’ve learned this before, also from a bug)
  • It was great to have just one-on-one time with Alaina. She just wants to be with me. I didn’t have to cook/do laundry or anything else. I just toted her around which is exactly what she needs/wants (*note from this year: she still wants exactly this and I’m looking forward to giving it to her).
  • My mom is incredibly creatively gifted. And, I’m lucky to be around so many creative women in my own community. They have awesome gifts!
  • I don’t need to do everything—other people have their own talents and I don’t have to “do it all,” all of the time.
  • But by the same token, I don’t have to be good at everything and it is still okay to do things and be bad at them, but still try. (However, it also good to let other people have their specialties/share their gifts. I don’t have to do it all.)
  • I can be open to receive.
  • I can be a singer! Perform in a group! Feel awesome!
    20120928-123214.jpg

    Once this started, I knew I’d made the right choice to come after all!

  • Ditto drummer!
  • Explanation of the two points above which also connect to the one about not having to do everything and yet it also being okay to try. One of the sessions at the festival was the “GGG Soul Singers.” One of the women taught a large group of us several cool songs. During the special dinner that night, we got up together with sound equipment and everything and performed our songs. Everyone was yelling and cheering and clapping and it was great. So much fun! I’m a terrible singer, I know that, but that night I felt like I was amazing. And, I learned that being terrible at something doesn’t mean you can’t do it anyway and enjoy yourself. I’m looking forward to doing this again this year! At this festival I was captivated by these massive community drums the women had. Large enough to be played by four or even more women at once, I absolutely loved them. Even though I didn’t know what I was doing, I tried, and discovered I could indeed do it. I could drum and sing and keep up with the group. When I got home, I decided I must have a drum like this and spent way too much money and ordered one online. And, even though I’m tone-deaf and “non-musical,” I can play it. And, I’m still amazing, whether I really am or not!
  • I felt both more and less competent—related to knowing a lot and yet having a lot to learn, I discovered that I’m a pretty good ceremonialist, a lot better than I’d given myself credit for, but that some other people are way better than me (and others are not. What matters is trying).
    20120928-123806.jpg

    Intense stairs from the dining hall and lodging to the “ridge” where ceremonies took place. Navigating these was NO FUN with that sting on my leg! But, isn’t tiny Alaina cute setting off on her own and heading on up?!

  • I was acknowledged/recognized as priestess/clergy to my own circle of women and it felt very good to be seen in that way. I’m trying to be/offer/bring something to the local area that still feels tender and vulnerable in myself. I lack some confidence. Want to build it! And, yet, I do it anyway. I’m brave! Maybe I’m not as skilled or musical or awesome as I could be, but I’m pretty darn good and…at least I TRY!
  • Want family to be clear priority. Family harmony is a top goal. I want to make sure to give them my good stuff too! Don’t save my passion and enthusiasm for “others” only!

When I got home from this festival, I was so inspired that I planned and facilitated a pretty great nighttime, firelit “sagewoman” ceremony in a teepee (with drumming on my new community drum) for the wise women of my own community. As a ritualist/ceremonialist, I learned from the GGG-experience that ambiance really, really matters in offering a cool ritual.

Since last year, I’ve developed my ceremonialist skills even further and last month received an additional supplemental ordination from the American Priestess Council. I’m almost three years into my D.Min program, I’ve taken advanced coursework in ritual design as well as pastoral counseling, liturgy, the role of the priestess, ethics, history, and so forth. At this time last year, I was struggling with whether or not it was “okay” for me to own the Priestess identity I felt “called” into and at the GGG I was seen and heard into this identity particularly by my friend and also by my mom. It turns out it is okay for me to serve others as a Priestess and to claim that title with authenticity even though I’m not as perfect and amazing as I feel like I should be (I’m also a blogger for SageWoman magazine and I’m currently working on a post called who does she think SHE is, that is about exactly this tension).

Some more pictures:

20120928-123107.jpg

Henna feet! From the woman who did this for me, I learned the phrase: “sparkles are my favorite color.”

20120928-123044.jpg

Medicine bundle! This was the best class ever. The woman brought piles and piles of random and awesome stuff and it was all free to choose what you wanted for your bundle. How cool is this face?!

20120928-123839.jpg

She also had simple clay goddesses for us to paint and attach as well as we could.

20120928-123121.jpg

Pensive little Lainey looking back thoughtfully at the stairs up which she just journeyed.

20120928-123746.jpg

Back home demo’ing a beautiful sarong gifted to my by my seeing friend!

20120928-123817.jpg

What’s this…

20120928-123825.jpg

…I hear…big DRUMS!

20120928-123850.jpg

When I got home, I was inspired to make some new sculptures and Mark cut a lovely gemstone and made a pendant.

Here I go again! I wonder what lessons await me this year…