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Thesis Tidbits: Feminism, Midwifery, and Motherhood

“Feminism catches fire when it draws upon its inherent spirituality. When it does not, it is just one more form of politics, and politics never fed our deepest hungers.” –Carol Lee Flinders (in The Millionth Circle)

Yesterday, I spent several hours finishing a blog post for Feminism and Religion regarding empowered self-care (it won’t run until next  week). It is a primarily a personal narrative, rather than a political commentary, but as I was writing it, I learned about new legislation introduced in Missouri in an effort to effectively destroy the practice of independent midwifery here. I also have a friend whose family March 2014 082 member just experienced terribly abusive treatment during the immediate postpartum period. I typed feverishly away with an absolutely excruciating headache and a million things on my mind, primarily the very many injustices experienced by women during the childbearing year. I was also left wondering HOW we can truly take care of ourselves when legislators and health care workers actively take dramatic and even cruel steps to prevent us from doing so?

Another friend wrote a comprehensive blog post about this malpractice insurance legislation and the issues involved with it. Midwifery advocacy organizations have already introduced a perfectly appropriate piece of legislation this session and do not need the proposed bogus piece of legislation that offers nothing in the way of protection for Missouri midwifery consumers and instead simply serves to drive midwives out of practice:

…Fortunately, midwives in Missouri do offer a grievance process and adhere to the practice standards set by the certifying agency NARM (North American Registry of Midwives). While there is already a high degree of professional accountability practiced in Missouri, this is because the state professional organization (Missouri Midwives Association) believes it is important and necessary for the professional practice of midwifery and not because the state has directed midwives to do so.

The state of Missouri has continued to be uninterested in working with midwives and home birth families to improve and safeguard the practice of midwifery.

Is there a better option? YES! HB 1363

Instead of HB 2189, we would like to suggest directing legislators to support HB 1363. This is a comprehensive midwifery licensing bill which does provide a mechanism for oversight and responsible, regulated practice. It also addresses the issue of malpractice insurance by requiring midwives to have coverage under the same conditions as physicians. It would also require Medicaid reimbursement for families desiring the care of Certified Professional Midwives and home birth.

via Missouri Legislature Works Against Women, Families and Midwives….AGAIN. | Midwives, Doulas, Home Birth, OH MY!.

I also recently finished a class on ritual theory for my doctoral degree program. The text for the class was To Make and Make Again: Feminist Ritual Thealogy by Charlotte Caron. In it, I was repeatedly reminded that gathering with other women in a circle for ritual and ceremony is deeply important even though it might just look like people having fun or even being frivolous, it is actually a microcosm of the macrocosm—a miniature version of the world we’d like to see and that we want to make possible. Returning to Caron, she explains something similar: “Ritual change is symbolic change, but it can lead to direct action or to ideological change, so it can be an important element in strategizing for change. One way of causing change is to re-form or alter the system. This involves recognizing that we are part of the system and that the system is dependent on feedback from its parts to keep it in balance, which means that we have the capacity to change” (p. 209).

Ritual experience can lead to practical action: spiritual praxis. But, this action does not need to look the same for all women, nor does it always have to involve large structures of society or even sweeping societal change.

“It is important to recognize that not all women will choose to act in the large structures of society. While it is hoped that all women will act toward justice, still electoral politics, lobbying, and revising the economic system may not be the spheres in which some women exert their energy. Ritual actions, raising children to be just and caring people, living in just ways in intimate and community relationships, and modeling different patterns and values are political actions to change patriarchal ideology. The choices of what spheres to devote energy to are important to honor. The constraints of women’s lives—when they are disabled, when they are dealing with past traumas, when they are raising young children, and when they are doing the many other things expected of women in our society—mean that women need to make choices that will allow them to live with integrity and well-being.” (p. 211)

A number of options of action are possible. “What is important are women’s choices to act in concrete ways in every circumstance, to know our neighbors, to raise children to be caring people, to live as if justice exists, to be just in personal relationships, and to live in the community in ways that model the values of justice and well-being for women and all of creation.” (p. 211)

As a mother who works extensively with other mothers, I appreciated Caron’s acknowledgement that raising children is a feminist act with potential to create change as well. “Another strategy for change is through raising children to be just and caring people. A media image portrays feminists as being against motherhood—but in fact, feminists make the best mothers. They raise children aware of themselves and the world, of options and values, of what justice means and how to work toward it, and how to be self-critical and self-respecting” (p. 203-204). Caron also explains that “in a just society, women would be free to make whatever decisions they needed to, for however long they needed to, in relation to political action in the public and the private sphere. All people would participate in the decision-making, and women would be supported in their decisions rather than, as sometimes happens, made to feel guilty for not doing enough or not valued for what they do.”

In connection with women being valued for what they actually do, Caron makes an interesting note about the visions women in her research hold for the future, for the possible:

“Interestingly, none of the visions described by women was based in self-fulfillment, in gaining personal power, or in one’s group having power and the expense of others. Instead, the interviewees talked about the elimination of social, economic, military, and other patriarchal problems, and about living in a world of valued individuals, healthy and diverse relationships, economic and environmental sustainability, equality for all, and shared decision-making and power” (p. 220).

Connected to these themes, one of my classic favorite quotes about women’s spirituality groups is this one:

“…Women’s spirituality groups can become birth centers for social change”

–Anne Rush in The Politics of Women’s Spirituality (p. 384)

March 2014 127

Talk Birth Wordwalls

In thePewter Birth Partners Sculpture Pendant (custom sculpture, hand cast, doula, midwife, birth art, birthing)
womb
we begin
enclosed
and safe
nurtured
by our
mother’s
body
soul
connected
to soul.

We are fed
and
encouraged
to
grow
to take
the
steps
to life
beyond
the womb.

–Linda Ervin quoted in To Make and Make Again: Feminist Ritual Thealogy by Charlotte Caron

A couple of days ago, my brother was home sick from work and sent me an email with two photos attached. He said he was sick and messing around with different things and made me two wordwalls using the most commonly used words on my blog. Not only that, but he made them into cool goddess shapes also! What fun. 🙂

goddess goddess1Aside from things like “posted” and “February,” I really got a kick out of seeing the words that were the biggest (meaning used most frequently in the last several weeks of my blog).

I am getting read for a new session of classes to begin as well as working feverishly on my own classwork. Today, I spent many hours working on my fourth paper for my Ritual Thealogy class. I realized I hadn’t made a post this week yet and it is already Wednesday and then as I closed To Make and Make Again, which was my text for this class, the little poem I opened with caught my eye in the Appendix of the book.

This past weekend I was in St. Louis where we had a booth for Brigid’s Grove at a women’s spirituality gathering. It was very successful! But, not a lot of time leftover for blogging!

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Thesis Tidbits: Mary Christmas

Mary Goddess with child Paola Suarez sm

Mary and Child painting by blogging friend Paola Suarez

“…When I say painless, please understand, I don’t mean you will not feel anything. What you will feel is a lot of pressure; you will feel the might of creation move through you…”

– Giuditta Tornetta in Painless Childbirth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

via Mary Christmas! Being Pregnant with God – PaganSquare.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 2013 041

Listen to the wise woman…

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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).

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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.

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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).
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    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:

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

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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?!

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

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

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

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What’s this…

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…I hear…big DRUMS!

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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…

Thesis Tidbits: Birth as a Shamanic Experience

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

When I was pregnant with my first baby, I read an article centered on the theme, “Birth as a Shamanic Experience.” I can no longer find August 2013 050the exact article (online or printed), but I distinctly remember my feeling upon reading it: I was entering into a mystery. Giving birth was big. Bigger than anything I’d ever done before and it went beyond the realm of a purely biological process and into something else. Like shamanic experiences, giving birth is often described as involving a sense of connection to the larger forces of the world as well as being in an altered state of consciousness or even a trance state. While shamanic experiences may involve “journeying” to other realms of reality, giving birth requires the most thoroughly embodied rootedness of being that I’ve ever experienced. It, too, is a journey, but it is a journey into one’s own deepest resources and strongest places. The sensation of being in a totally focused, state of trance and on a soul work mission is intense, defining, and pivotal.

Shamanic journeys may be embarked upon for the purpose of soul retrieval and I can’t help but think that this is the purpose of giving birth as well—the birthing woman travels into herself to bring forth the soul of her child.

“Birth is certainly messy and bloody. It is intense, fierce, fiery and loud, but not violent. It is bloody from shamanic transformation. Birth-blood is the primordial ocean of life that has sustained the child in utero; the giving of this blood in birth is the mother’s gift to her child. The flow of blood is the first sign, following the flow of waters, that signals that new life is on the way, just as it is the first sign of a young maiden’s initiation into a new life at her menarche. The blood of transformation is miraculous. In Spanish, the phrase ‘dar a la luz, to give birth, literally means ‘to give to the light’. Giving to the light — mothers giving birth are giving light to new life through blood. The messiness and bloodiness of birth are the gift of the Earth–elemental chaos coming into form.”

via Article: Birthing as Shamanic Experience.

In the aftermath of giving birth, particularly without medication, many women describe a sense of expansive oneness—with other women, with the earth, with the cycles and rhythms of life. People who become shamans, usually do so after events involving challenge and stress in which the shaman must navigate tough obstacles and confront fears. What is a laboring woman, but the original shaman—a “shemama” as Leslene della Madre would say —as she works through her fears and passes through them, emerging with strength.

In her classic book Shakti Woman, Vicki Noble describes giving birth as a central shamanic experience and perhaps the root of all shamanism:

“I believe I underwent an initiation of the most ancient variety, birth as a shamanic experience, the central act of female shamanism—the quintessential act that offers a woman a completed experience of facing and moving through her fears to the other side. It isn’t that birth is the only way for a woman to experience this initiation—many women climb mountains or face other kinds of physical endurance tests and also come through it reborn into their power. But biologically birth is a doorway, a given for most women on the planet. It is fundamental opportunity to become empowered. Most of us giving birth today do not have the full experience, which is co-opted and distorted beyond recognition, changed from an active process into something that is done to us, as if we don’t know how to do it ourselves. Reclaiming the right to birth in our own instinctual way is a shamanic act of courage that has unfortunately become as remote to us as our ability to fly through the night in the form of an owl or heal the sick with the power of the drum. It wouldn’t hurt if we began to think of our birthing and child rearing as central parts of our shamanic work…” (p. 223).

After explaining that the homebirth of her second son was her, “first initiation into the Goddess…even though at that time I didn’t consciously know of Her,” Monica Sjoo writing in an anthology of priestess essays called Voices of the Goddess, explains:

“The Birthing Woman is the original shaman. She brings the ancestral spirit being into this realm while risking her life doing so. No wonder that the most ancient temples were the sacred birth places and that the priestesses of the Mother were also midwives, healers, astrologers and guides to the souls of the dying. Women bridge the borderline realms between life and death and in the past have therefore always been the oracles, sibyls, mediums and wise women…

…the power of original creation thinking is connected to the power of mothering. Motherhood is ritually powerful and of great spiritual and occult competence because bearing, like bleeding, is a transformative magical act. It is the power of ritual magic, the power of thought or mind, that gives rise to biological organisms as well as to social organizations, cultures and transformations of all kinds…” (page unknown).

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I’m working on my thesis project on the subject of birth as a spiritual experience and this topic is part of it. You can read more about Birth as a Shamanic Experience in the blog post at Feminism and Religion from which this post is excerpted: Birth as a Shamanic Experience by Molly | Feminism and Religion.

Thesis Tidbits: Naming and Claiming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 2013 052

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

August 2013 017

Flowers released on the lake at sunset.

 

Birth as a Spiritual Experience (Thesis Project)

Here is your sacrament MR_089
Take. Eat. this is my body
this is real milk, thin, sweet, bluish,
which I give for the life of the world…
Here is your bread of life.
Here is the blood by which you live in me.”
–Robin Morgan (in Life Prayers, p. 148)

“…When I say painless, please understand, I don’t mean you will not feel anything. What you will feel is a lot of pressure; you will feel the might of creation move through you…” – Giuditta Tornetta in Painless Childbirth

“I am the holy mother; . . . She is not so far from me. And perhaps She is not so very distinct from me, either. I am her child, born in Her, living and moving in Her, perhaps at death to be birthed into yet some other new life, still living and having my being in Her. But while on this earth She and I share the act of creation, of being, and Motherhood.”Niki Whiting, “On Being a Holy Mother” in Whedon

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

In 2011, I started working on my doctoral degree in women’s spirituality/thealogy (Goddess studies). Before I even began my first class, I chose my dissertation subject: birth as a spiritual experience. I’ve been steadily plugging away on my coursework and somehow in the midst of everything else that I am responsible for, I’ve successfully completed 13 of my classes. I already have a (not related) master’s degree and this is why I was admitted straight into the doctoral program, even though I have to complete a lot of M.Div (master’s of divinity) level coursework as prerequisites to the actual doctoral classes. After I finished my most recent class and got my updated transcript, I finally actually noticed how many M.Div classes I’ve completed thus far on my journey and it occurred to me to email to inquire what it would take to finish an M.Div degree first. I had this sudden feeling of what a nice stepping stone or milestone experience it would be to finish something, since I know that I have a minimum of three more years remaining before I complete the D.Min! They wrote back quickly and let me know that with the completion of three courses in matriarchal myth (I’m halfway through the first right now), my almost-completed year-long class in Compassion (I’m in month 11), and The Role of the Priestess course (involving three ten-page papers), all of which are also part of my doctoral program, the only other thing required for successful completion of my M.Div would be a thesis (minimum of 70 pages).

As I’ve been working through my classes, I’ve felt a gradual shift in what I want to focus on for my dissertation, and I already decided to switch to writing about theapoetics and ecopsychology now, rather than strictly about birth. I was planning to mash my previous ideas about birth and a “thealogy of the body” into this new topic somehow, perhaps: theapoetics, ecopsychology, and embodied thealogy. Then, when I got the news about the option of writing a thesis and finishing my M.Div, it became clear to me: my thesis subject is birth as a spiritual experience! This allows me to use the ideas and information I’d already been collecting as dissertation “seeds” as a thesis instead and frees me up to explore and develop my more original ideas about theapoetics for my dissertation! (This is the primary subject of my other blog.) So…why post about this now? Well, one because I’m super excited about all this and just wanted to share and two, because I’d love to hear from readers about their experiences with birth as a spiritual experience! While I don’t have to do the kind of independent research for a thesis that I will be doing for my dissertation and while my focus is unabashedly situated within a feminist context and a thealogical orientation, I would love to be informed by a diverse chorus of voices regarding this topic so that the project becomes an interfaith dialog. Luckily for me I’ve already reviewed a series of relevant titles.

Now, I’d like to hear from you. What are your experiences with the spirituality of birth? Do you consider birth to be a spiritual experience? Did you have any spiritual revelations or encounters during your births or any other events along your reproductive timeline? (miscarriage, menstruation, lactation…) Did you draw upon spiritual coping measures or resources as you labored and gave birth? Did giving birth deepen, expand, or otherwise impact your sense of spirituality or your sense of yourself as a spiritual or religious person? Did any of your reproductive experiences open your understanding of spirituality in a way that you had not previously experienced or reveal beliefs or understandings not previously uncovered?

When I use the word “spiritual,” I mean a range of experiences from a humanistic sensation of being linked to women around the world from all times and spaces while giving birth, to a “generic” sense of feeling the “might of creation” move through you, to a sense of non-specifically-labeled powers of Life and Universe being spun into being through your body, to feeling like a “birth goddess” as you pushed out your baby, to more traditional religious expressions of praying during labor, or drawing upon scripture as a coping measure, or feeling that giving birth brought you closer to the God of your understanding/religion, or, indeed, meeting God/dess or Divinity during labor and birth).  I’m particularly interested in women’s embodied experiences of creation and whether or not your previous religious beliefs or spiritual understandings in life affirmed, acknowledged, or encouraged your body and bodily experience of giving birth as sacred and valuable as well as your own sense of yourself as spiritually connected or supported while giving birth. I would appreciate links to birth stories or articles that you found helpful, books you enjoyed or connected with, and comments relating to your own personal experiences with any of the comments or questions I have raised above. I would love to hear about your thoughts as they relate to:

  • Pregnancy IMG_0225
  • Labor
  • Birthing
  • Lactation
  • Miscarriage
  • Infertility
  • Menstruation
  • Reproductive Rights
  • Birth as a feminist or social justice issue…

 Thank you!

With these things said, I also want to mention that I’m planning to redirect a lot of my writing energy/time into this thesis project rather than to blog posts. I’m trying to come up with a blog posting schedule for myself, but in order to actually do this thing, I must acknowledge that I have to re-prioritize some things and that means writing for my blogs probably needs to slip down a couple of notches in terms of priority of focus.

Oh, and I also hope this thesis project will turn into a book of some kind as well! 🙂

“It is hard to find a female-based concept such as Shakti alive within Western spiritual traditions. Shakti could be viewed as an expression of goddess in the female body at the time of birth. I would say its flow / expression and outcome of love is hindered by unnecessary interventions at birth which divert such energy towards fear- based, masculine forms. The use of masculine, rescue-based healing forms such as cutting (Grahn, 1993) can be necessary and useful, yet such procedures are currently used at the cost of women’s autonomy in the birthing process (see Jordan on C-section, 2007), and define the parameters of what feminist thinker Mary Daly called patriarchal medicine (1978). Modern women are largely lost when it comes to giving birth, turning to medical authority figures to be told what to do. Daly pointed to the dangers of this appropriation for women’s personal and collective autonomy.

Birthing bodies resist, disrupt and threaten standard North American modernist investments in linear time, rationality, order, and objectivity. Birth disrupts the Judeo-Christian male image of God, even as He hides the reality of female creation and creativity. I hold that women giving birth act from a focal point of power within their respective cultures and locations, the power to generate and renew human life itself from within the female body. This power is more absolute in its human reality then any other culturally sanctioned act of replication and material production, or social construction. I speculate that how this female power is expressed, denied, or acknowledged by women and within the society around a birthing woman reflects the degree to which women can and may express themselves at large. As each soul makes the journey through her/his mother, re-centring human consciousness within the female-based reality of human birth causes transformation of patriarchal consciousness as a whole…” –Nane Jordan, Towards an Ontology of Women Giving Birth