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The Great Birth (of the Universe)

I love it when someone writes with passion, heart, depth, and poetry about natural and scientific phenomena and as such greatly enjoyed an essay by Brian Swimme in the book Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminist Philosophy. As an educator and a homeschooling mother (as well as a former homeschooler myself), I also appreciated his telling observation that (formal) education is a major cause of the “lobotomy” of which he writes: “…by the time they are done training us as leaders for our major institutions, we have only a sliver of our original minds still operative. What sliver is left? …the sliver chiseled to perfection for controlling, for distancing, for calculating, and for dominating. The rest has been sacrificed in the surgery of patriarchal initiation” (p. 16).

Since most children spend 12 years minimum steeped in this educational culture, is it any wonder that we find ourselves in our current social and political conditions? This surgery of which Swimme speaks leads to a mechanical conception of the operations, functioning, and majesty of the universe, meant to be analyzed rather than marveled over.

Rather than a Big Bang, the birth of the universe is much more aptly described in terms of a Big Birth: “Not bombs, not explosions, not abhorrence…a birthing moment, the Great Birth. To miss the reality of birth in these scientific facts is to miss everything. It is to sit at the heavily laden table and starve. For here is a great moment in human consciousness. Now for the first time in all of human history we have empirical and theoretical evidence of a reality that has been celebrated by primal people for millennia…the mathematics of this initial, singularity of space/time are not enough. We require song and festival and chanting and ritual and every manner of art so that we can establish an original and felt relationship with the universe…our universe is quite clearly a great swelling birthing event, but why was this hidden from the very discoverers of the primeval birth? The further truth of the universe was closed to them, because central regions of the mind were closed…I am sensitive to the charge that poetry [like this] is just an ‘addendum’–that what are real are the empirical facts, while the rest is commentary. On the contrary, what is true is that this universe is a stupendous birth process, an engendering reality…” (p. 19).

This is the kind of theapoetics that makes me swoon! What would our world, our culture, the way in which we give birth, and the way in which women are treated look like if we grew up with a Great Birth rather than a Big Bang?

Swimme continues: “From a single fireball the galaxies and stars were all woven. Out of a single molten planet the hummingbirds and pterodactyls and gray whales were all woven. What could be more obvious than this all-pervasive fact of cosmic and terrestrial weaving? Our of a single group of microorganisms, the Krebs cycle was woven, the convoluted human brain was woven, the Pali Canon was woven, all part of the radiant tapestry of being. Show us this weaving? Why, it is impossible to point to anything that does not show it, for this creative, interlacing energy envelops us entirely. Our lives in truth are nothing less than a further unfurling of this primordial ordering activity…Women are beings who know from the inside out what it is like to weave the Earth into a new human being” (p. 21, emphasis mine).

So, if the patriarchal initiation of modern education doesn’t do the job, what should we teach our children? “We will teach our children at a young age the central truth of everything: that this universe has been weaving itself into a world of beauty for 15 billion years, that everything has been waiting for their arrival, for they have a crucial if unknown role to play in this great epic of being. We will teach that their destinies and the destinies of the oak trees and all the peoples of Earth are wrapped together. That the same creativity suffusing the universe suffuses all of us, too, and that together we as a community of beings will fashion something as stupendous as the galaxies” (p. 22).

I believe this is ecofeminism in practice.

Changing Visions

I’ve been moving in this direction for quite some time— really probably since my miscarriage-birth experience in late 2009—but I’ve decided that it is officially time for me to take a break from actively teaching birth classes. When I first started teaching in 2005, I envisioned having classes with 5-6 couples at a time. I quickly realized that the area didn’t really support that client volume–at least not with clients with similar due dates and similar interests in natural birth. I never intended to teach general/generic childbirth education, but focused on designing my classes for women planning for physiological, low-intervention (“natural” or unmedicated) births. I never apologized for that emphasis and my focus is what distinguished me from the locally available hospital-based classes that were free of charge. It became clear to me that my niche was in personalized, private, one-on-one birth education and I spent years delighting in the close relationships formed by working privately with couples rather than in a group. During these years I did teach some group classes as the opportunity and occasion arose and they were not as fulfilling or enriching for me as the one-on-one sessions. I think the pregnant women really benefit from the camaraderie of interacting with other pregnant women, but my relationship with the fathers-to-be and with the couple as a unit is nothing like it is when the couple is on their own with me.

Losing my spark

I also realized that I felt most satisfied and like I was making a genuine contribution/difference if I had clients during every month of the year. I set this intention for myself in 2007 and was able to meet my goal for the subsequent years. After I started teaching college classes, however, I found that I used up a lot of my teaching energy in the college classroom and that birth classes started to feel like more of a drain on my resources than a joy. I also realized that they were not very economically sensible and I became frustrated with having to pack up all my supplies and haul them to town with me each time I needed to teach. Having a new baby fanned the flames of my spirit for birth education again and I found that the spark that had been wavering since Noah died had re-ignited somewhat. However, the damage as it were, was done, in that teaching privately no longer made sense to me from a financial standpoint nor did it make sense from a maternal standpoint—I didn’t want to leave my baby behind to go teach class and I also found that in taking her with me, my attention was splintered and my clients didn’t necessarily get the best from me. Now that she is big enough to leave with my husband while I teach, I find myself “maxed out” with my college teaching schedule (which is only one night a week—who knows how I’d feel if it was more!) and other interests and the thought of trying to work in a series of private birth classes seems like a hurdle that I do not wish to struggle with. I coped for a while by trying to host the classes in my home (which is out-of-town), but that presents its own set of challenges. And, when I am home, I want to be home, not preparing birth class handouts or trying to shuffle the kids off to my parents’ house so that clients can come in for class. I love to be at home. I love where I live. As I wrote on Facebook recently, it is my soul place here.

Give points

As I am wont to do, I once again find myself looking around my life and schedule trying to find “give points” that allow me the life-work-passion-rest balance that best nourishes me, my family, my spirit, and my home life. This time, I find the give point is teaching face-to-face classes. It is hard to let go. I’ve worked on building this for years. I love the work. I have fear that what if someone else “takes over.” I have fear that I’ve “wasted” all of this training and effort. I have fear that I won’t be able to start again if I quit. However, as I’ve noted before, I’m very black-and-white when it comes to my responsibilities. I can either do something or STOP doing something. It doesn’t work for me to wait for things or “come back to it later” or “take a break for now.” I’m either doing it or I’m quitting. And, I always feel the need to “officially” decree this—I can’t just let things slide, or neglect them, I need to officially make the break or split from the task or responsibility. I have accepted that this is how I work and how I feel about tasks and while it is not true of everyone it IS true of me and I need to work with what I know of myself in this way. So, as of today, I am not planning to accept any new clients for the remainder of the year and I’m updating my business side of this site accordingly. I find it so interesting that the blog side of my site is where I have really developed a following and created relationships, and reach women’s lives around the world, even though I originally started it just to provide information for my few little clients here in rural Missouri. Birth writing is my other niche, the one that I feel like continuing to develop. As I’ve written before, I realized several years ago that writing this blog and my other articles is a legitimate form of “doing” childbirth education as well and perhaps actually has more impact than in-person classes (though, in-person classes are not replaceable in terms of the relational aspect).

New directions

Since 2009, I’ve also felt “called” to develop my other birth interests such as birth art facilitation, prenatal yoga, prenatal fitness, childbirth educator trainings, writing books, and pregnancy/birth retreats as well as my interest in women’s spirituality, women’s retreats, and women’s rituals in general. I feel like my interests in helping other women are deepening, maturing, and evolving from these roots in birth work. I think making this official break with my former means of birth education opens up the space in my life and my heart to develop those other areas of my interest and perhaps what I return to offer will be “bigger” and of more value to women and to my community.

When I applied to my doctoral program I had to write an extensive application letter responding to a variety of questions about my interest in the program. To me, applying to (and now participating in) this program represents an integration of something I feel with my mind, heart, and spirit. My whole being. As I wrote in my application, in women’s spirituality I glimpse the multifaceted totality of women’s lives and I long to reach out and serve the whole woman.I wish to extend my range of passion to include the full woman’s life cycle, rather than focus on the maternal aspect of the wheel of life as I have done for some time. I want to create rituals that nourish, to plan ceremonies that honor, to facilitate workshops that uncover, to write articles that inform, and to teach classes that inspire the women in my personal life, my community, and the world.

I also responded to this question:

Who/what inspires you?

I long to speak out the intense inspiration that comes to me from the lives of strong women.” –Ruth Benedict

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

I am most inspired by the everyday women surrounding me in this world. Brave, strong, vibrant, wild, intelligent, complicated women. Women who are also sometimes frightened, depressed, discouraged, hurt, angry, petty, or jealous. Real, multifaceted, dynamic women. Women who keep putting one foot in the front of the other and continue picking themselves back up again when the need arises.

I am also inspired by women from the past who worked for social justice and women’s rights—women who lived consciously and deliberately and with devoted intention to making the world a better place. Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton. Women who have studied and written about feminist spirituality—such as Carol Christ, Hallie Ingleheart, Patricia Mongahan, and Barbara Ardinger–are also a source of inspiration. As a mother, I find additional inspiration in the self-care encouraging writings of Jennifer Louden and Renée Trudeau.

My children have provided a powerful source of inspiration and motivation. I wish to model for them a life lived as a complete, fully developed human being. After birthing three sons, I gave birth to a daughter in January, 2011. I always envisioned having daughters and felt well-prepared to raise a “kick-ass” girl. Having sons first presented me with a different type of inspiration (and, to me, a deeper challenge)—to raise healthy men. Men who treat women well and who are balanced, confident, loving, compassionate people. I came to think of myself as a mother of sons exclusively and was very surprised to actually have a girl as my last child. When I found out she was a girl, my sense of “like carries like/like creates like” was very potent and my current need to participate in the creation of a world in which she can bloom to her fullest is very strong.

My own inner fire inspires me—my drive to make a difference and to live well and wisely my one wild and precious life. Good conversations, time alone with my journal, time alone outdoors sitting on a big rock, and simple time in the shower provides additional fuel for this inner fire.

I have both a scholar’s heart and a heart for service. I wish to live so that my life becomes a living, embodied prayer for social change and to do work that is both spiritually based and woman affirming.

It is time for me to move forward with this expanded vision for what I’d like to offer to the world…