Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Change #13 Sing Her Across the Thresholds of Birth

Dear Birth Peeps,

A few years ago I went to the hospital to visit a postpartum mom and stopped by labor and delivery to visit a midwife. We greeted each other in the hallway. I said, "Slow day? Nobody in labor today?" She looked surprised and said, "Every room is full!" I was genuinely confused. There were no birth sounds, no birth "songs. I listened again; except for the beeping of machines, it was as silent as the hospice ward my father-in-law spent time in. "How can this be?" And of course, every mother was medicated or had an epidural. The sound of her labor was clinical. Did the silence of that ward increase mothers' self-consciousness should she begin to make the primal sounds and "songs" of labor? Don't we all feel less self-conscious to sing and dance when everybody around us is doing it, loudly, badly, freely, and in-joy? Nobody wants to be the only one making a scene! Heaven forbid: we are conditioned to abide by the first lesson we learned in primary school.

So Change #13 may send waves of fantasy and resistance through birth peep-ville. If this takes off, it will probably change the very profit margin of the corporate birth world.

Have you heard about "Threshold Choirs?" This is a fairly new voluntary movement started by Kate Munger in the Bay area. It's a very simple idea. Two or three women form a local Threshold Choir chapter, they practice songs together every week, and sing to people who are struggling with illness or dying, often in hospice. Patients, their families, and the hospice nurses, respond positively to the singing. But then, people who work in hospice are already different, at the edge, and in a service-to-the-patient-(and their family)-mindset... so Threshold Choirs are welcomed there.

Threshold Choir members learn a range of songs so when they meet the patient, and feel into the mood in the room, their voices raised in song can meet that person at their Threshold, and assist by soothing or uplifting the recipients as each one crosses their psychic or physical threshold.

Threshold singing is a sacred gift, it is offered in humility, in absolute service to the one at the threshold. It is not an ego-driven "performance." Singers do not have to be "professional," or "trained." Singing may entrain all the scattered thoughts in the room, but the singers do not sing to bring about a particular mood change they believe would be best for the recipient(s). The Song is the Medicine, and they are the Instrument—when the Medicine is wanted.

Women in every stage of labor are crossing psychic and physical thresholds. So are their partners, and sometimes the staff. I can imagine birth threshold singing helping calm anxious, exhausted mothers in prodromal labor, perhaps allowing them to rest (or to allow medications to help them rest or ripen work better). Certainly, birth threshold songs might soothe and celebrate the mother/parents, still in birth shock, as she/they take the first psychic steps toward parenthood. What a lovely way to celebrate them.

What songs do you already know that could be Medicine for these Thresholds of Birth; in early labor; or postpartum? Perhaps repetitive chanting, non-English lyrics, spirituals, or lullabies? Please, write in your ideas so we can begin learning songs. Send in the lyrics, your sources where we can learn the melody.

What kind of music might help women cross the deep Thresholds in active labor, when they are deep in the trance of wordless-Laborland?


Layne Redmond is a musician, drum maker, and author of When the Drummers were Women. In her wonderful book she reminds us that drums were associated with fertility in ancient cultures, and that frame drums were associated with feminine sexual energy. Beating her drum connected her to the primal rhythms of life apparent in the sexual act. In ancient mythology, Goddess-priestsess’(Inanna, Hathor, Aphrodite, and Cybele) all played the frame drum to increase the energy of sexual attraction and the power of femininity. "In menstruation and birthing rites, certain drum rhythms caused the womb to contract, aiding the flow of menstrual blood or the birth of the child. A forceful beat of the dream could drive away evil spirits and purify a space where health and well-being could flourish."

Drumbeats send messages to the body, mind, and to others. In parts of rural Africa drumbeats may be used for long-distance communication, sending complex messages from village to village. When I hear the question (resistance) raised that singing or drumming for one mother might disturb another patient or doctor, I think it is equally possible that the music might also send a message of life, movement, joy to others, separated by walls, but sharing a similar journey in the hospital "village." But let's not let these individual possibilities stop us from dreaming a new dream; our dream must also include being sensitive to shared experience and finding solutions to problems as they arise.

We have all been energized and entrained by a drumbeat. Layne Redmond observed that, "Before the age of machines, in factory [and birth factory places], drums [and singing] linked people together, they measured the shared tempo of life, coordinated and energizing group effort. Since the Industrial Revolution, the grinding, discordant clang of … machinery destroyed the peaceable synchronization of natural rhythms and work."

I am suggesting that singing and drumming can help mothers find their own rhythm in labor and enter into the natural trance of Laborland. But, let’s also consider how singing or drumming would soothe and aid women who are birthing restrained, numbed, worried about their progress or well-being of their baby. Music could also be powerful Medicine for them as they cross their thresholds through labor, perhaps enhancing the drugs effectiveness as the mother relaxes and feels contained by rhythm of music.

Good Ideas Must Pass Through the Gate of Resistance

Let's go into the resistance that might come up in our own minds, or in the culture, when live music for birth thresholds is proposed. When we hear about how women in traditional cultures still hear drumming for them in labor, and how it helps them move their bodies to their own rhythm in labor.... perhaps we romanticize that bit of “National Geographic” news, or feel fleeting remorse that we don't have such a ritual, and then--we distance our selves from the idea, from our loss, and from our self-consciousness.

Perhaps we settle for a compromise, “I’ll bring a music CD,” and then further compromise, “… and wear headphones so it’s not too loud.” But women know the power of live music! We know it awakens the Divine Feminine in us. Live music is “alive,” and we are alive when we hear it and feel its vibration in our bones, and hips, and hair flying, and in our feet! Live music, not CDs, have always been used in rites of passage because it has the power to rock us and to entrain us.

Wouldn't it be great if every nurse, midwife, and doula had to learn to drum or sing as part of their holistic preparation to work with mothers in labor and postpartum. What if certification or re-certification required contact hours in music, singing, drumming? OUTRAGEOUS, I know! I can hear cries of resistance, "Has she gone mad? Are we supposed to go backwards? What if a mother doesn't want to be sung or drum across her threshold?" Alrighty then, we already know what to do, don't we? We can just sit there and watch the monitor and the clock and hope she “chooses” for the best.

And what if, worst-case scenario now, what if drumming and singing helped women and families (and staff) relax, and the rhythm made women move and go into trance... and the epidural rate fell... and this upset the corporate profit margins in obstetrics?
Hmmm... that would be a shame. Let's not upset this system.

For my American birth peeps, I wish you a happy holiday weekend.
For all of you, I hope you go out and hear, feel, and dance to live music… and write your fellow-peep revolutionaries here so we can get some tunes to start this change, change #13!


Monday, November 22, 2010

The Birth Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Dear Fellow Birth Changin'Peeps,
I was talking to an old friend yesterday, a midwife and birth activist, about this blog. I was telling her about the guidelines I set for myself. I told her I had to hold myself to my first "rule:" not to resist, blame, or try to change the dominant system directly. To see clearly: not to be naive or innocent while abiding by that rule. ...And how I question my own rule. Perhaps it will require "war."

When I was in college, I remember being fascinated how in ancient Greece, Greek gods, goddesses and the myths wasn't a "mythology" to that whole civilization, the myths were "real." What changed that? People stopped believing. When beliefs change, civilization changes. But, until then, when millions of people are conditioned to believe a certain logic, or to fear a certain consequence, then that conditioned belief becomes the current dream of the culture.

So, in denigrating and vilifying the medical mythology of evidence-based management, we must believe in its power. Resistance actually feed it. Individual and small group resistance often feels futile; especially when we discover the corporate machine is deaf and well-funded. Our purposes are crossed. Futility fuels the feeling of defeat.

When each of us dares to take action, small but pro-active steps that reflect what we do believe, then we feed the new dream of birth in our culture. When we stop believing we are hapless recipients under the thumb of medical corporations and insurance companies, when we are no longer afraid of being thought crazy or ostracized, what small thing will we dare to do differently, today.

WE are the dreamers and authors of the new birth culture that envisions a holistic vision of childbirth for parents and professionals. We have to know what we are dreaming, rather than wanting to change the dream of nameless someones in the tower of the soul-less corporate world. Our new dream is big, it also embraces the positive role that medical birth management plays, and knows (or is learning) when to embrace it wisely.

My old friend considered this, nodded, and reminded me, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." Yes, indeed!

It takes kindling a Fire, then steadily feeding that Fire, to dream a new dream, together. We are narrating a new collective birth mythology. This requires millions of us to re-wire old beliefs and conditioned reflexes, to face our private fears, and to do this work, not for ourselves, but for greater good.

Tomorrow, we will sing across a Threshold.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Change #12: Prepare Mothers and Fathers for Cesarean Birth

Dear Peeps,

One way to change the experience women have giving birth in our culture is to warmly, honestly prepare them for all kinds of birth in our culture. That includes cesarean birth.

Have you noticed how many times the mother who is in birth shock or shame after a cesarean is the mother who did not read or ask about it, because she truly believed it would not happen to her? (With the rising cesarean rate, even if it "shouldn't" happen to her, it might.)

If you were to ask her (or the father) what would have helped, she (or he) might say--"I wish I had known what to expect. It was such a shock."

We must not put the onus of holistic preparation on uniniated mothers or fathers, i.e., "if they don't ask, we won't talk about it." Mothers and fathers who are not prepared suffer terrible emotional shock, not from the surgery itself, but from their own innocence, cluelessness, self-judgment, and being so overwhelmed, that they disconnect to get through it.

Even when the tide of unnecessary cesareans turns back, some women will have cesareans. So, cesarean preparation must become part of holistic preparation. All mothers, fathers, other mothers and their birth partners need to be prepared to give birth-in-awareness by cesarean.

In the birth trauma work I do, story after story, is not about the cesarean itself, but the shock of not knowing what to expect, or what to do, or what it means about her as a mother. On the other hand, BFW mentors have often heard thanks from parents who, because of the sensitive role-play class on cesarean birth-in-awareness, were prepared and much less traumatized.

Parents who see midwives, doulas, and take classes--and hear not a word about what to do during cesarean birth--often feel betrayed. Oddly, not talking about cesarean preparation prenatally adds to their feeling of shame because the people they trusted (i.e., the people who 'trust birth') did not talk about it. Silence sends a meta-message something like, "cesareans are something that happens to unprepared, uncommitted women, or women who don't have protection from information and doulas."

When birth peeps (or even friends) talk, straighforwardly and warmly, about giving birth by cesarean in-awareness, we model acceptance and strength. If we have rapport with the parents, they embody our acceptance and strength. Think of this as an emotional homeopathic dose of Medicine against shame, withdrawal, the pervasive feeling of failure. And, if she does have a cesarean birth, she knows she has an ally in us: we dared to talk about it!

If you are one of the people she trusts (one of the people who 'trust birth') and you talked about giving birth by cesarean, even if you are not with her in the operating room, she knows you are "with her." She knows she can come talk to you later.

Not all birth peeps can talk about cesarean birth warmly and without bias. Some need to first go through a period of healing their own birth trauma or agreements against cesareans or cesarean parents. Then, it can be done.

There are many ways of teaching about cesarean. Some send tacit or overt messages of judgment, with reasons and ways to avoid cesarean at all costs. The positive intention is to scare or motivate a woman not to "choose" a cesarean, but in labor, we all know that "choice"and informed consent are nebulous,gray areas.

When I teach couples about cesarean birth, I feel it is a ceremony, an initiation into self-acceptance and envisioning themselves coping--even with an unwished-for cesarean. The teaching is about embracing oneself, not about avoiding and regretting.

Fathers and other mothers experience cesarean birth from an entirely different perspective. They too need support and preparation; they too, can be traumatized by lack of preparation. If we don't tell them, they will be so overwhelmed by the surgery environment. This week I worked with a lovely couple who was unprepared for cesarean birth, but had one. The baby was born healthy, taken to the baby table for the baby dry and wrap ritual... then given to the father and escorted out of the room to the nursery. The mother never saw her baby. ... not until hours later in the recovery room. This father had no idea he could take it to his wife, the mother.... and help her see him, hold him, on the operating table. He was utterly overwhelmed and shepherded out of the operating room without a clue of the options. Their experience would be so different if ...if only.... they had been prepared for cesarean birth-in-awareness.

Some of you may already be doing this. And for some, it is so counter-intuitive, you can't imagine how to talk about cesarean birth without sounding like you are "approving" it or hypnotizing them to give birth by cesarean. These are important considerations. It can be done though. If you want to learn one way to do this, take an introduction to mentoring workshop, or contact Birthing From Within for a phone class.

There are many ways to change birth in our culture. It's not only about changing the medical protocols and rituals, but in preparing parents to birth in the culture they are actually birthing in, and not the one we wish they were birthing in.



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Change #11 Row Row Row Your Boat in the River of Life

Dear Birth Peeps,

From childhood, millions of young women and men, including most of our fellow birth peeps (and myself), WE as a culture, are thoroughly, completely pacified, numb, and hypnotized by the medical model's rituals and beliefs--even in our resistance to it, we are hypnotized by its power. From time to time, a little voice in the back of our minds, or in the media, screams out to wake us from this trance, but is the power of ritual and hypnotic language, another message, study, story (after all, repetition is the food for ritual and trance) is sent and the culture--that has been entrained to believe birth is safer with monitors and medical magic, or powerless to change the rituals of birth, falls back asleep again.

It's time for all us to really wake up. There is power in numbers, and there is power in repetition, repetition, repetition, and love. If we keep repeating new rituals of preparation, change will come.

Resisting and resenting the medical model is not the way--because resistance affirms the very trance we resist.

We must put our attention and intention into a new dream, one that arises in us, from us. WE must create-and repeat frequently--our own new rituals that reinforce our emerging dream and self-worth. As a culture of mothers and fathers and birth peeps, we are indeed numb and shaky, dependent, hypnotized like children who want to be safe and contained, want to get approval, and avoid conflict, disapproval, and above all: death. In every revolution, there is risk. There is a price to pay for real change. Like children, a few rebel--and are used as examples to keep the other children in line.

Real change comes from the bottom up. There is power in numbers. We cannot wait for the medical model, hospital administrators, or insurance companies to come to its senses. We cannot wait for another study to prove ...whatever it is we want to prove; evidenced-based practice is kind of convenient myth.

If we are paralyzed and believe ourselves to be dependent and powerless, we need to restore our spirit, muscles, and faith. We need to find our own way on the river of life, un-learn old beliefs, and learn new stories. A solitary river trip for six-weeks would be a great re-education for every pregnant couple and birth peep.

I'd like to tell you a story about a man who took such a trip in a canoe down the Mississippi. He was born in 1901 and contracted polio when he was 17. He was very sick for a while (the doctors thought he would die), then very weak, unable to walk. To renew his spirit and self worth, he arranged to take a solitary, six-week canoe ride down the Mississippi River--with $5 in his pocket. He had to be carried and placed in the boat when the trip began.

On the river, on his own, he discovered as do many people who live on the river, that the River provided everything he needed. He met people who lived on the river, enjoyed campfires and storytelling. Day by day he was learning. Rowing strengthened his muscles. At the end of the canoe trip, he had developed upper body strength, and was able to walk on his own with a cane. Equally important, he gained a new world view. What the river taught him he was to use the rest of his life.

This man is Milton Erickson, truly a wounded healer, the founder of his own unique style of hypnotherapy. Erickson is a legend, he died in 1980.

What are you thinking about right now?
What does the living metaphor of Milton Erikson's canoe trip say to you?

It speaks volumes to me. We need to initiate mothers, fathers, and birth peeps in a life-validating way. Not from books, research, resistance--but in the body, in nature, from stories on the river of life. Wouldn't it be crazy if childbirth classes became a life-adventure, learning survival skills, facing our fears and surviving. Learning metaphors about life, opening, change...from Nature.

Another crazy thought from Pam, in Albuquerque, on the Rio Grande.
Radical change is what is needed. Not smoldering, petty resistance. Let's keep thinking, talking, daring to really feel again... and all the while, remember to embrace it all, including the medical model.

Remember that how you dream the medical model arises in your mind, not "out there." When we can embrace it without being in a trance, then we have real power to "choose."

Row Row Row Your Boat.
Life is but a Dream.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Change #10 Create Healing, Harmonious Space

Dear Birth Peeps,

Once Mullah was riding a donkey and the animal left the main path and started traveling the wrong way. One of the Mullah’s friends passed by and inquired where he was going. “I do not know,” said Mullah. “I’m going to the same place as this donkey.”

And that is exactly the energetic experience of expectant and new mothers (and fathers) who embody the mystery of life and birth--who might begin with the intention of celebrating their pregnancy and motherhood, and even birthing normally—but upon entering the chaotic, cluttered, often metallic environment of the medical clinic, they unconsciously begin following the donkey.

When we enter a space, the “space” enters us. Ambiance in clinical settings are an underestimated factor in our well-being, in our feeling welcome, perhaps even in our wanting to return to the space.

Years ago I worked in a public health clinic. It was a maze of long, winding hallways leading to cul-de-sacs of waiting rooms leading to examining rooms. But it was the blood draw room that sent me on a query about the messages clinic space sends patients, and also, whose space is it anyway (the patients or the birth peeps)?

Every inch of the walls of the little lab room was plastered with magazine cut outs of actor Tom Selleck (starred in Magnum PI); it seems the middle-aged lab tech was in a delayed adolescent crisis. The rest of the clinic was clean but drab; the cinder block walls were a uniform drab beige color. Old metal framed chairs lined in up in rows; a television in the corner blared. “Health” posters on the wall warned of dangers in pregnancy and oddly… promoted birth control. Women carrying life, about to give life, came to sit for hours on end, in this lifeless place.

My deepest question became, “Whose space is this anyway?” The state owns and maintains it, employees come to work in it, custodians keep it clean and in repair, parents visit it as patients. Probably many people think the space is cluttered, clinically “sterile,” even run down—wishing someone else would spruce it up. No one owns the clinic or takes ownership of its feng shui, yet everyone in the space is shaped by it.

Feng shui brings the environment, and the people in it, into harmony.
Atmospheric ch’i molds human ch’i. Ch’i must flow smoothly and near a person
to improve his [or her] ch’i. It must be balanced in yin and yang.
If the current is too strong or too weak,
it can have negative effects.”
—Sarah Rossbach,
Parabola, Summer 1993

I decided to make the corner clinic where I worked beautiful. I got permission to paint murals on a few of the walls. I brought paints from home. On one dingy cinder block wall I painted a big red healing momma bear carrying medicine and feathers on her back. On another wall I painted a sweet mother and baby. We hung a few plants. Immediately parents and co-workers noticed and smiled when they entered this space.

There is endless talk about changing the medical model of birth. How to do it? Can it be done? What can each of us do today, this week, that won’t involve a lot of red tape in the labyrinth of bureaucracy? What can each of us do for under $10, and little free time, that will make a big difference?

In the bureaucracy of corporations renovations cost thousands and millions of dollars, and there is miles of red tape to get it done. So we, the little people at the bottom, wait for someone else to initiate it and do it. Change #10 requires you to "think small:" the smallest change can make a difference.

If you work in a public space, make an effort to spend a few minutes each day reducing clutter, restoring order, and adding a touch of beauty.

Add a single living flower, a spray of aromatherapy, a beautiful picture on the wall.

Play soothing or happy music.

Notice messages sent by “teaching” posters or other images on the wall; make a change if you want to send another message.

If you don’t have an office, but you travel to appointments: create a small, simple ritual for creating harmonious space for the session. By doing this little ritual every time you make a visit, the recipient and you shift into a new space—together.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reminder: Labyrinth Booksigning at Ark in Santa Fe Thursday

Hi Santa Fe Birth Peeps,
Please help me get the word out and remind parents and birth peeps that I am giving a talk and booksigning for the Labyrinth of Birth on Thursday, November 11th, from 4-6 pm at the Ark Bookstore in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Hope to see you there.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Change #9 Dream Incubation and Healing for Birth Peeps

Hello Birth Peeps,
Welcome new Peeps, and thank you for your responses to this idea. Let's continue.

I am inspired by ancient Greeks (500 BCE to 300 CE) who turned to "dream incubation" for healing. First the "patient" had to try to heal him/herself using traditional medical and herbal cures of the time. If a healing was not obtained this way, then they could go to an Asclepieion Temple. Asclepius was a healer who was diefied; he is also known as a god of healing.

When the patient went to the temple, they first spent time unwinding from their ordinary life and travel, and prepared for their dream incubation. Through bodywork, hot tubs, psychotherapy, special food or fasting, theatre, music--all in a setting of beauty--they underwent a symbolic purification and cleansing in preparation for their dream-healing.

When ready, in the evening a priest trained in dream healing, wearing white robes, would take the patient to his or her cell or abaton, a private room with a couch for sleeping. The patient would hear hymns being sung, the air had a light scent of incense... and the priest gave special instructions to prepare the patient to receive a dream...a dream to show the way to sacred healing, a communion with the gods to which the patient was now receptive.

In the morning, the priest would come and hear the dream. There are many many recorded stories of dreams and healings during this time, throughout the Mediterranean, Europe and the Near East. Treating the body mind in healing, and engaging the patient in their own healing, went out of favor as patriarchal medicine took hold.

In my dream, I see a return to this wisdom. I see a great need for our birth people to have a place to heal, to renew their body, mind, soul and their dedication to birth work. This can be done. It is time to do it. I am preparing to help revive dream incubation by going through training myself. I trust many of you are eager to help, to come, to dream a new dream.

In Love,


Friday, November 5, 2010

Acknowledging the Wounded Healer

Good Morning Birth Peeps,
I am spending this week in Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico in a "bear cave" with seven international "bears," otherwise known as advanced mentors (from Spain, Canada, US, South Africa and Puerto Rico!). These wonderful women, committed to changing birth in our culture) have come far to enrich their skills in childbirth mentoring. Working (and relaxing) in the serene and beautiful setting of Ghost Ranch takes us out of our ordinary setting, therefore out of our ordinary mind, and helps us reach inward and expand outward in our personal lives and professional work.

Being in the extraordinary place of beauty awakened in me the dream of creating Healing Retreats for Birth Peeps.

Women and men who work in birth give a lot, day after day, year after year. After receiving formal training, most professional conferences are geared toward informing the birth peep in the latest research or technique so they can better serve the mother/family during the childbearing year. The focus tends to be outward: serving, protecting, and healing the mother and family.

Birth work is not ordinary work. While it can be rewarding it can also be psychically draining and emotionally "wounding. After months and years birth work takes a toll; as birth peeps accumulate unprocessed grief, guilt, frustration or powerlessness, s/he begins to move further away from an initial intention (to heal) and deeper into despair, control, and negative assumptions about themselves, birth, and parents.
Who is healing, and nurturing, our birth peeps?
How can (or do) "wounded," burnt out, birth peeps serve expected parents?
What needs to happen next?

In the model of Birth as a Hero's Journey, one of the most powerful archetypes is the wounded, shattered, dismembered, hard-working, determined, but lost, person...who may yet become, but is not yet, a hero in her own myth or live. This person--like so many birth peeps who answered a Call to serve women/families during the childbearing year--started out eager, enthusiastic, full of hope.... and gate by gate, birth by birth, year by year, she/he lost her innocence, trust, and dream.

We cannot expect to change birth in our culture by solely focusing on parents--trying to empower them through information and resistance, or by healing "their" birth wounds--without also healing our own.

Change #9 coming soon, not only to this blog, but to our culture: I hope!