Archives

100 Things List!

As part of Leonie Dawson’s Amazing Year workbook, I wrote a list of 100 things to do in 2014.  My blog has been fairly quiet lately, but that doesn’t actually mean I have been! A lot of the energy previously used for blogging has been diverted into other exciting projects on my 100 Things list. 🙂 I finished my second free gift offering for newsletter subscribers at Brigid’s Grove (if you aren’t signed up yet, fill in your email on the right hand side of the screen at the BG website and you will receive the free book within 24 hours). This freebie is a 56 page book of earth-based poetry. Most of the poems were originally published on my other blog, but there are several released only in this book (so far).

May 2014 078We’re also offering a spring giveaway of one of our new healing hands pendants AND also a 10% off discount code for our etsy shop (2014SPRING10OFF).

May 2014 062

“…Medicine Woman reminds you

to sleep when you’re tired

to eat when you’re hungry

to drink when you’re thirsty

and to dance

just because.

Medicine Woman

let her bind up your wounds

apply balm to your soul

and hold you

against her shoulder

when you need to cry.

Medicine Woman

Earth healer

she’s ready to embrace you…”

via Amethyst Healing Hands Pendant by BrigidsGrove.

Even more exciting from a personal perspective is that I actually finished writing my thesis. Yes, after all my many days of joking, “Oops! I didn’t write my thesis today!” I suddenly really did write it. I had more done than I thought and all I needed was some class-free, focused writing time (my spring school session ended this past Saturday) to get it to a finished position. It might be a first draft if significant revisions are requested/needed (the format is somewhat non-traditional), but I’m hopeful it might be a last draft too! I’ve been working on my D.Min since 2011. I realized last year that I had almost the right credits to do an M.Div first (since my existing master’s degree is in social work instead, I had to take a LOT of M.Div classes as part of the D.Min program), I just had to add a thesis and a couple of classes to the work I’d already done. So, I call it a “pitstop,” because I don’t really need to do it and I’m actually working on something else, but…here I go! I also found out recently that I really only have three D.Min classes and my dissertation left. I’m giving it at least another year on the dissertation though. When I started the thesis idea, I had more like eight classes left, so it seemed like further away and “might as well.” After two partial starts and two different prospectuses submitted, I switched gears again and I actually used my Earthprayer book above as the basic frame or structure for the thesis. I’d been attempting to work with a 400-page document and then I realized it was way too much. The Earthprayer book had ended up being a distillation of some basic themes from my year in the woods experiment and I thought, “ah ha! I’ve accidentally been working on my thesis without knowing it!” I developed it with articles and essays and my theory and process of theapoesis and magically I produced 84 pages and 26,000 words! (My thesis handbook says it should be 80 pages and 25,000 words. Go, me!)

I also booked an official screening of the Red Tent Movie: Things We Don’t Talk About. It will be held in Rolla on August 2nd in conjunction with Rolla Birth Network’s annual MamaFest celebration and it is the first ever screening of this film in Missouri! Before I booked it, a friend surprised me with this lovely little Red Moon painting and said it was for me to use in my eventual Red Tent. I felt motivated after getting it and booked the screening the next morning.

May 2014 005After doing this and apparently feeling the freedom of being off of work for the next two weeks, I took advantage of a full moon special and somewhat impulsively decided to sign up for the Chrysalis Woman circle leader program! This was on my Leonie Dawson 100 Things list with a question mark. Now, it is a question mark no more because I signed up and paid…hope it was a good idea! I’ve only downloaded the manuals and listened to the first week’s materials so far, but I really like it. It feels very thorough and comprehensive and feels like a good value for the discounted price it was being offered for. I’m still a little surprised at myself that I did it though!

I read a post from Elisabeth Esther a few days ago about being all blogged out and I realized this feels true for me too. I’ve been diverting a lot of my writing AND creating energy this year into other projects that I feel really good about and my blog-time is simply falling lower and lower on my priority list.

I also read this post from The Minimalists:

It was Henry David Thoreau who famously said, “It is not enough to be busy. The question is: what are we busy about?” And if I were to append his quandary, I’d say, “It is not enough to be busy. The question is: what are we focused on?”

You see, there is a vast delta between being busy and being focused. The former involves the typical tropes of productivity—anything to keep our hands moving, to keep going, to keep the conveyer belt in motion. It is no coincidence that we refer to mundane tasks as “busywork.” Busywork works well for factories and robots and fascism, but not so great for anyone who’s attempting to do something meaningful with their waking hours.

Being focused, on the other hand, involves attention, awareness, and intentionality. In my case, people sometimes mistake my focused time for busyness. That’s because being completely focused apes many of the same surface characteristics as being busy: namely, the majority of my time is occupied.

via Not Busy, Focused | The Minimalists.

This helped me understand why I bristle I little bit when I am described as “busy” or people say that I’m “too busy,” or whatever little cracks people tend to make about being an “overachiever,” or whatever. While I sometimes feel too busy or overloaded or stretched too thin, etc. it doesn’t feel like busy work or “filling time,” it feels like being focused and enjoying lots of projects/being firmly and passionately devoted to quite a few things at once.

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

Thesis Tidbits: Birth as an Initiation

“We owe it both to our children and to the world, to conceive, birth and welcome our children with as much love and prayerfulness as possible.” –Jackie Singer (Birthrites)

“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.

I recently finished reading a short book called Return to the Great Mother, which is very specifically focused on giving birth as an initiatory event. It includes a variety of birthing women’s voices and experiences with accessing the energy and wisdom of the “great mother,” be it archetype, an inner resource, or one face of the Sacred. The author, Isa Gucciardi, writes:

Giving birth is one of a series of important initiations a woman may experience in her lifetime. Initiations are intimately tied https://www.sacredstream.org/components/com_virtuemart/shop_image/product/b0e92ae33095ca07867acb0a841a9f05.jpgwith change. They bring the initiate from one state of being into a new state of being. Initiations accomplish this task by putting the initiate through a series of experiences that challenge them in a particular way and bring them into new ways of being and of understanding. The initiate must meet these challenges and overcome any obstacles in order for the initiation to succeed in bringing about these changes.

Today, many people going through initiations and many people managing initiations do not have a clear understanding of the nature of the power and vulnerability that is at the heart of initiation. Initiates must render themselves vulnerable to initiatory processes in order for initiations to become complete, and the power in that vulnerability must be managed carefully and thoughtfully. Most importantly, for an initiation to be successful, that power and vulnerability must be safeguarded and dedicated to the initiate.

The process of meeting an obstacle and overcoming it in order to ultimately gain greater insight and power is described by Joseph Campbell as the “hero’s journey.” The “hero’s journey” is an initiatory experience. Every woman takes this journey when she gives birth and it can be the primary initiation a woman undergoes in the course of her life.

Often a woman encounters herself in an entirely new way during the process of giving birth. She may encounter the effect of traumas long buried, or she may encounter fear long denied. She may also discover power deep within herself that she had never imagined.

When the processes of birth are allowed to take their course, a woman with the proper care has the opportunity to come to terms with whatever may arise. In doing so, she may experience a shift into a new way of being or understanding. Yet, when the birth process is interrupted, or not properly held, the power of the initiation is often lost or distorted… (p. 10)

We know that women do not always have full and free choice when it comes to decisions about their birthing bodies and childbearing years…so, how does this impact the initiatory process? Isa writes:

In modern births, the power of the initiation of birth is often co-opted by doctors, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and hospitals. It is also co-opted by the fear of pain and the influence of friends and family. It is difficult for women to hold onto the power of the initiation of birth under these circumstances. The unfortunate implication here is that the subsequent initiations of women interrupted in this way will be affected by their inability to hold onto the power of their birthing process.

Based on the level of interruption of the birth initiation caused by unnecessary interventions in the birthing process today, it seems reasonable to suggest that many women experience incomplete initiations when giving birth…

(Personally, I would clarify that it is not that women are unable to hold onto the power of the birthing process, but rather that it is often systematically stripped from them.)

Each of my children’s birth experience was an initiatory event for me, but in varying ways. With my first, it was the initiation to motherhood, the mystery and anticipation of giving birth. The crucible moment for me with him was actually my journey through the harrowing landscape of postpartum. With my second son, giving birth rapidly and with great intensity and power, the initiation felt like it was in letting go and hanging on for the ride—letting my mind stop and my body go. With my third birth, which was my first miscarriage, the initiation was in the physically grueling and bloody aftermath of his birth and then the broad, deep, unknown, transformative path of grief and change. I still feel as if this was one of the most powerfully initiatory experiences of my life. (And, I did have an encounter with one face of the great mother.) After Alaina’s birthday this week, I was talking to my husband about my memories of this last birth and telling him that I do not review the details of her birth with the same sense of power or initiation as the births of my other children. It doesn’t hold that same “touchstone” energy for me as the births of my boys—experiences that I continued to draw strength from as I went on into other events in my life. I don’t return to her birth for strength or courage the way I remember returning to the births of each of my sons. And, then I said it was because with her, the pregnancy was the initiation. The long, long, path of pregnancy after loss and all the fear and all the hope and all the strain of feeling the feelings and doing it anyway. Her birth itself was the moment of relief. The end of a trial, rather than the triumph or peak experience of the births of my first two babies. So, while of course I still carry powerful and potent memories of her birth as well, it was the journey of pregnancy that holds the talismans of initiation for me.

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).

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

I just finished a new sculpt for a medium sized version of our classic birth goddess pendant and Mark cast and finished some of them last night. I woke up this morning with a phrase from a past piece of poetry floating through my mind over and over:

Soft belly January 2014 088
no longer bearing children
I am pregnant with myself
ripe with potential,
possibility, power
I incubate my dreams
and give birth to my vision…

I also thought about what I hope to communicate to others through my sculptures and when I took the new pendant down to the woods with me, a little song emerged to go with her:

Birth mama
birth goddess

reaching out
to join the circle of mothers

feeling her way
finding her place
in the web of women

Birth mama January 2014 050
birth goddess

hold strong
hold steady

make way for baby
make way for baby

Body opens
heart opens
hands open to receive

Birth mama
birth goddess

she’s finding her way
she’s finding her way…

Disclosure: I received a complimentary digital copy of the book for review purposes.

Thesis Tidbits: Birth Mystery

“Women’s mysteries, the blood mysteries of the body, are not the same as the physical realities of menstruation, lactation, pregnancy, and menopause; for physiology to become mystery, a mystical affiliation must be made between a woman and the archetypal feminine. A woman must sense, know or imagine herself as Woman, as Goddess, as an embodiment of the feminine principle…Under patriarchy this connection has been suppressed; there are no words or rituals that celebrate the connection between a woman’s physiological initiations and spiritual meaning.”

–Jean Shinoda Bolen

“Birth, like love, is an energy and a process, happening within a relationship. Both unfold with their own timing, with a uniqueness that can never be anticipated, with a power that can never be controlled, but with an exquisite mystery to be appreciated.” –Elizabeth Noble

While the phrase “birth is a mystery” may sound illogical on the surface, since birth is a normal, physiological process experienced every day by thousands of women around the world, at an emotional and experiential level it rings very true. No matter how many children we birth or how much we ​know​ logically about birth, each birth unfolds in its own unique way with its own unique timing and its own unique lessons. Most births require the crossing of a threshold of some kind—possibly emotional, usually physical, often spiritual, perhaps all at once. In my reading of Nané Jordan’s thesis Birthdance, Earthdance as I collect my research and thoughts for my own dissertation, I particularly enjoyed this quote about the mystery of birth:

Birth really invites ​mystery​ into our lives if we can, or want to, receive that. Wound up into that ​mystery​ is personal and societal fear of death, which birth, as female shaman Vicki Noble has stand, stands at the doorway of. So much of medical birth practice is about diverting this ​mystery​ into knowable forms with time-tables, charts, clocks and interventions. Yet birth is older and wiser than our clocks and technological tricks. Every birth unfolds in its own way in its own time. Birth inherently asks a ​mystery​ of us, women in particular. This is a true gift of listening to it’s calling, allowing the ​mystery ​to be present and unfold in our lives as the new being emerges into our arms.

Jordan also lyrically describes her own journey deep into the heart of birth and the spiritual connection she found there:

…I was alone in myself with my baby. It was like the water guided me into a deepening trance of ‘open and give over mumma,’ by holding and relaxing me in her substance. I was a babe held in the womb of some Great Goddess, even as I held a babe in the waters of my own womb. And open I did. Instinctively mt hands were working with each sensation, palms up and open, hands out of the water and raised, like a salutation to the Goddess herself, ‘yes I feel your presence Mother as I am Mother now.” These actions were what came to me in the tub as I did what is known as ‘active labour.’ I would more describe it as a multidimensional dance of the universe, a meditation beyond meditations. I found myself hissssss-ing as each sensation built low down and then up along the sides of my womb. There was no mistaking this ssssssnake-like ssssssound that guided my body into birth, my palms stretching into an ancient salutation of forces greater than myself yet no bigger than myself…

I loved this depiction of ​forces greater than yet no bigger than myself​. I experienced this moment in birth as well. It reminds of a quote from an unknown writer: The power and intensity of your contractions cannot be stronger than you, because it is you. As others have written, ​I met myself in childbirth​ . And, I liked her. I’ve continued to learn from, draw upon, and reflect upon these birth experiences throughout my life to date (my oldest child is now ten).

“Birth is one of the most profound teaching experiences life offers. It touches us in the depths of our souls, the most private recesses of who we are. It requires that we respond with more creative energy, more conviction, more trust, than almost anything else we do. Birth requires an intensity that is rarely demanded by other experiences…And through it, we can learn more about ourselves, our strengths, our weaknesses, our relationship patterns, and our needs than through almost any other experience we will face in our life.” ~Nancy Wainer Cohen (Via: Peaceful Birth Project)

Have you met yourself in childbirth? What did you learn? How have you carried this forward into your own life?

 

Related past post: Birth Mystery | Talk Birth

Crossposted at Pagan Familes.

 

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

Thesis Tidbits: Exceptional Human Experiences

December 2013 032“Not every woman experiences unaided, natural childbirth, yet many women hope for it. To strive for birth as a peak experience—to withstand this ‘trial by fire’–a woman must learn what labor pain is and be prepared to accept and work with it. And she must also prepare for the unexpected.” –Karen Fisk

Women are as nervous and unsure of themselves as ever, and they need to learn to trust their bodies. Birthing is much more that eliminating pain. It is one of life’s peak experiences.” –-Elisabeth Bing

From Nane Jordan’s MA thesis, Earthdance, Birthdance, my attention was caught by a reference to Exceptional Human Experiences and whether birth qualifies as such:

I liked the idea of researching what are known as ‘Exceptional Human Experiences’ by Rhea A. White (1998). White does not mention birth in her discussion of what EHEs are, describing the importance of near-death experiences, mystical revelations, psychic and ‘wonderstruck’ sensations. I posit that women can access and experience ‘mystical’ states when giving birth. EHEs contribute to overall human development but in order to contribute they need to be spoken of and integrated as much as painful or traumatic experiences, not suppressed within a person’s life experience. The huge oversight of birth as an EHE speaks to our cultural denial of the revelatory aspects of women’s birth experiences (gestation and birth as perhaps the first ‘mystical’ revelation), and birth’s overall impact within the developmental lives of women…(p. 21-22)

I’ve previously referenced the idea of childbirth as a “flow experience” in this post:

In the textbook Childbirth Education: Practice, Research, & Theory the concept of birth as a peak, or “flow” experience is addressed several times:

The joy and personal growth that can result from successfully meeting challenging experiences has been described as ‘flow experiences’…such experiences are generally better understood in athletics than in childbirth because the public understands athletic events to be character building and an effort or a struggle that requires skill, practice, and concentration and is not without pain. As such, athletic accomplishments are widely recognized for both the product and process…Society focuses the celebration of birth almost totally on the product–the baby–and is rather neutral about the process as long as the mother emerges healthy.

via Childbirth and ‘Flow’ Experiences | Talk Birth.

And, about birth as a peak experience in my own life in this one:

Birth is (or can be) a “peak experience” for women (and families). I want all women to have a chance to experience that. I certainly do not want her to feel diminished, unworthy, inferior or lacking if birth is not a peak experience in her life, but I also want all women to certainly be given a reasonable opportunity to let birth unfold in all its power and be treated respectfully and humanely by those around her—regardless of what is going on or the eventual outcome.

I love birth and cherish my memories of my sons’ births and consider them to be some of the most transformative, empowering, and significant single days in my life—peak experiences, powerful memories—and I also feel that birth matters as a distinct (and relatively rare) occurrence in a woman life. I believe birth has inherent value and worth on its own terms.

via Birth, Motherhood, & Meaning | Talk Birth.

What do you think? Was a birth a peak experience for you? Does birth belong on the list of potential exceptional human experiences? What do you know of birth’s potential to be a mystical experience?

Talk Books: Cut, Stapled, and Mended

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Roanna Rosewood’s memoir, Cut, Stapled, and Mended. After it arrived I actually wondered if I should have agreed to review it, because I have so many things to read, things to think about, and interests that are calling me—do I really need to read a memoir about someone’s cesareans? I’ve already read so many books about birth, do I really want to read another one? Well…the answer was YES, I did need to read it. After I finished the book, I felt almost speechless at how deeply it had touched me. This book was a surprise all the way through, from the opening Orgasmic Amazon Queen sex scene, to a session with a psychic healer who tapped in to Roanna’s past life abdominal wound, to her dogged quest to open herself to her own feminine wisdom, to her birth experiences—all soul-shattering in their own way—this book touched me profoundly. I was shocked to find myself with tears in my eyes at many different points and eventually truly unable to put it down.

Orgasmic Amazon Queen notwithstanding, Roanna comes across as a practical and down-to-earth narrator, who in her quest to understand herself, her body, her inner wisdom, and her birth experiences, makes a decidedly not down-to-earth personal journey through a variety of healing modalities and nontraditional experiences and perspectives. I really loved the balance she struck between the spiritual and metaphysical experiences she describes and the nitty-gritty reality of doing this thing, giving birth. In a perfect example of what I mean, she writes:

You think I would run out of poop but I don’t. It’s endless poop.

My ego, having (literally) had enough of this shit, quits. It gets up and walks right out the door. What is left of me poops in the tub. Looking down, I say, ‘ewwwww.’ I say it as if it wasn’t me who just shat in the tub. I say it as if I just happened to come across poop in my bath one day. ‘Ewwww’ or not, I’m never getting out of the tub ever again. If this tub were full of nothing but shit mud, I would still stay right here (p. 144).

And, just a few pages later, the experience I already quoted in my earlier post:

Only then does the Divine come, taking my body as her own. I am no longer alone. There is no fear…I experience completeness. I find religion. Infinity is tangible. Generations of children, their dreams, passions, defeats and glories—they all pass through me, converging here, between my thighs… (p. 146-147).

via Thesis Tidbits: Cut, Stapled, and Mended | Talk Birth

Despite planning homebirths, Roanna experiences two cesareans and her journey towards VBAC is an arduous one:

Deep inside, I feel the screams of birth echoing off the sides of my skull. Softer and softer they fade, becoming a faint whisper, then disappearing completely.

I open my mouth. ‘Please,’ I whisper-scream-beg-cry, ‘please come back.’

She does not.

I am, once again, mortal. (p. 155)

While I would likely proceed with some degree of caution if reading this memoir as a pregnant first-time mom, there is much to be learned from Roanna’s experiences. Her narrative is rich, deep, compelling, scary, dramatic, poignant, and powerful. I highly recommend it!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.

Crossposted at Citizens for Midwifery.