Monday, December 20, 2010

Where are the Birth "Grandmothers" and "Grandfathers"?

Dear Birth Peeps,
Let's continue with the cultivation of the birth "Grandmother" or "Grandfather" in our culture. Or perhaps we should begin with the "Missing Grandmother" report!

Elders (vs. Olders) emerge and thrive in consciousness and cultures where the young and the old are revered; where there is a purposeful relationship and interdependency between the young and the old. Why have our elders (birth elders) gone missing?

Let's face it: elders wear their long life experience, and their many trips to the underworld and back, in their wrinkles, on their "face map." However, in this culture, for decades, there has been a relentless marketing campaign that women should hide or alter their life face map; they should strive to remain "youthful."

In selling the proverbial "fountain of eternal youth" to generations of youth, the fashion/makeup/marketing/film industries have effectively blown up the relationship bridge between youth and elders. As women notice early signs of aging or their children leave the nest, instead of turning their intention inward to recapitulate their life and beliefs, or outward to begin sharing their wisdom, insight, and power with youth in need of mentoring, too many are preoccupied with striving to fit in, to not become invisible or marginalized.

An elder or a "Grandmother/Grandfather" is "One Who Knows." This kind of knowing is the "Know Thyself" kind of knowing. This knowing can only be had through living through ordeals, making many descents into the underworld, being a powerless witness as their beliefs and their "world" was dismembered--transformed--and put together in a new way. One Who Knows knows because she has learned (not from the unwished-for ordeals themselves, but) through a painstaking process of recapitulating those ordeals in order to internalized a soul-knowledge, a holistic viewpoint of life, and patience.

Olders tell worn-out old personal stories of wounding or conquest, or engage in mindless gossip. But elders are charged with telling Great Stories that heal, teach, and weave the listener back to her culture and to her purpose and place.

Where have the birth elders gone? We are living in a culture where young and old turn to the latest study and newest technology for guidance and entertainment. Our culture builds relationship with machines, technology, evidence-based stories (research is just another story) or being entertained--not with Grandmother Storytellers!

We are living in a time where many birth peeps start out in passionate service to birth work, inspired by a Calling. But without elders to harness that passion and slowly cultivate it to grow a strong inner container so the new birth peep can learn to hold the psychic power of birth, the hard work and unrealized dream of making a difference gradually morphs that passion into keeping a job or career security. Some birth peeps carry the activist/truth-telling torch for a while. In whatever role we begin our work, we begin by striving for an idealized outcome that is rarely realized. Year by year, we feel more and more frustrated, jaded, disillusioned, and burned-out.

In a sense, entering birth work is often an unexpected personal initiation. The Ordeal we undertake is never what we imagined; the very real disrobing and dismemberment of our ideals and efforts, is in fact our inner-initiation into the role birth-Grandmother. It is a gourmet "crock-pot" kind of initiation. To become a "Grandmother" one must slow cook in the cauldron until all the spices and juices have bubbled together; this can take decades! But modern people want everything to be microwave fast!

But, we do not know the way. We are like foreigners trekking in the Himalayas without an experienced sherpa who knows the way. Our culture misinforms us that when we teach parents or attend births we are serving, assessing, informing the parents, but there is little mention that while the mother is in a rite of passage, so is the new birth peep.

Without this understanding, too many good birth peeps, right in the middle of their own initiation--are overcome with futility, frustration, and powerlessness, and so, the need to do something new or more fun--wins out. Understandably, many "would-be Grandmothers" jump out of hot cauldron and go onto other ventures.

Their absence opens space for other "new initiates" to enter the work, to take up teaching because someone needs to do it and the elders have left. The youth take it up, doing the best they can, parroting what they learned but not what they "know." Without elders, youth are teaching youth before they are ripe and ready to teach.

What else can be done when so few stay long enough in the cauldron to become true elders.

I am speaking from my experience and point of view, it is not officially evidence-based fact. I myself almost quit birth work for the very reasons I have mentioned above. For a couple of years I went into a place of doubt and soul searching, asking myself, Would young people trust an older, menopausal, aging woman? I'm not so hip, I don't twitter... Customs and attitudes about birth are changing so fast--am I voice from the past that has no place in this birth culture? Maybe I should do something more fun....but then, fate put the lid on and I cooked a little longer in the cauldron. Now I embrace the new role I am growing into.

I am sharing this, not as a biographical note about me--but because I feel some of you who are reading this will identify with this and may be able to reconsider a decision or a self-image or self-doubt.

As Virginia and I lead workshops, everywhere we go we see newly-Called "daughters of birth work" slipping into their tepid cauldrons. We want to give them tools, stories, and processes that will support them when the heat gets turned up and the lid gets put on! We meet women who are experienced and wise Grandmothers in birth, but who do not know their worth--and are not sought out enough by youth (who are conditioned to turn to the "new" thing). It is my hope that the seasoned women in birth will not be marginalized, but utilized; we need your patient, far-seeing, wisdom, more now than ever.

Let us envision becoming "Grandmothers," doing our personal work while focusing on changing the world "out there." In due time, a generation of Birth "Grandmothers" will be revered, sought after, and trusted.


Monday, December 13, 2010


Good Monday Morning Birth Peeps,

In Change #14, we considered the importance of, and the absence of, rituals and ceremonies to mark thresholds for birth peeps and parents. Which brings us to the next logical call for Change: to call forth our elders, "Grandmothers" and "Grandfathers" to do what only they can do: patiently instruct through the telling of cultural and mythical stories, and to preserve and perform the deep essence of rituals that guide the youth across thresholds they might hesitate to cross on their own.

Bill Plotkin is one of the great visionaries and authors of our time, and founder of the Animus Valley Institute. Plotkin spent at least three decades developing his eight-stage soulcentric model of being human. In his book, Nature and the Human Soul, he addresses the “indigenous process by which a human child grows into soul-initiated adult.”

In cultures that utilize the wisdom, extra time, and patience, of its older members to initiate its youth, there is a Bridge by which youth can cross over into adulthood. Not just any older person can build that bridge, as Michael Meade, storyteller, mythologist, and author of a new book, Fate and Destiny, points out. Meade makes a blatant and humorous distinction between elders and “olders.” He says most people just get old and become “olders.” All of us become older without effort. Few become elders.

So what happens to a culture—a birth culture—with few elders? Just look! It becomes a culture populated by adults who are trapped in eternal victim, rebel, or princess-adolescence, following ego-centric whims, security-seeking, risk-age- and death-avoiding, depressed, and numb (either naturally or by medication). A culture without elders becomes a culture of eternal adolescence because when it was time to “leave home” and to leave adolescent identity, there was no elder or death-embracing/death-defying tasks or ritual to allow the child-adolescent to “die” --and to be “born” as an adult.

“Every step of leaving becomes a step of arriving,” Plotkin observes, “As you separate from your former society-centered identity, you claim more of your nature-and-soul-centered identity.”

What does an elder look like? Plotkin captures the essence of the elder, the “Grandmother”/”Grandfather”:
A genuine elder possesses a good deal of wildness, perhaps more than any adult, adolescent or child. Our human wildness is our spontaneity, our untamed vivacity, our innocent presence, our resistance to oppression, our rule-transcending vivacity and self-reliance that societal convention can never contain. We are designed to grow deeper into that wildness as we mature, not to recede from it. When we live soul-centrically, immersed in a lifelong dance with the mysteries of nature and psyche, our wildness flourishes.”

If you are young or not yet an elder, commit yourself to knowing thyself, to completing the tasks of each stage of life. Prepare yourself to become an elder, not just older. They are waiting for you!

If you know an authentic elder-mentor, and you are willing, please share your experience here. It is helpful for us to cherish and to remember how elders can touch us and make a life-long impression.

In Love,

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

#14 continued: Learning How to Initiate Birth Peeps

Dear Birth Peeps,

We may need to start a new blog thread in 2011 for Rituals, Retreats, and Ceremonies for Birth Peeps--so that we can fully explore the potential of this much-needed change. We need an ongoing dialogue to fully understand what is needed, and to begin to deliberately and mindfully experiment to find out what would work in our culture--and then to do lots more of it. Perhaps in a decade or two, this idea of "initiating birth peeps" will have deep roots and bear fruit. It is not a change that can come quickly, or easily. This is because in the West we have not been raised to understand, expect,participate or lead, rituals and ceremonies for education/career transitions in life.

We must acknowledge that the holistic education of a Birth Peep must include personal and spiritual growth, and not merely the accumulation of facts, the demonstration of skills, or the passing of a certification/licensing exam.

There are many reasons and ways to experience ceremony. In general, Western people tend to think of ceremonies as "celebrations." Most of us have no training or tradition in creating ritual and ceremony, so we are experimenting--and this is a start. We like to keep things fun, light, and safe--so we set a date and place and invite people to come, including the "guest of honor." And then events, the "ceremony," the beading or singing....unfolds. Like being invited to a wedding where we "watch"...

It will not be enough to throw the Birth Peep graduate a party in which a novel ceremony is done "for" her or him. In traditional and wise cultures (now disappearing from the earth), the initiate had to fully participate in preparation for her/his ceremony. They were guided by "One Who Knows" (an elder), often put in seclusion, fasting, and had tasks to complete. Traditionally, a Great Story was told as "map," and preparation included risk, near death risk... so that the initiate's old self would die allowing a new self to be born. The preparation was itself a soulful journey, taking the initiate away from an old life, perhaps healing the wounds of the training itself, toward new understanding and self-knowledge.

We don't know how to do this anymore. We can't imitate it or we might cause literal loss of life as happened in Colorado with the "warrior" sweat lodge. We must learn it. Let us acknowledge that we are pilgrims on our own journey of preparation.

This Change is not everyone's Call. If it is yours, you must undergo patient preparation and training in order to plant these Seeds of Healing.

In-Respect, and in-Hope for Change,
I am,

Monday, December 6, 2010

#14 continued: Rituals for Entering, Immersion, & Return from Birth Peep Training

When I speak to birth peeps who are immersed in-training, or who have recently graduated, I am moved by the tears I see well up in their eyes, how their faces flush or they hold their breath as if to contain the hurt, the disappointment, as they describe the training and how utterly exhausted, drained, and confused it left them. “The training was not what I thought or hoped it would be,” many lament. And then they quickly talk about the next step: getting a job or starting a practice.

“Wait,” I think (sometimes aloud, sometimes) to myself, “You are still in the underworld. You, and everyone returning from the underworld, needs to go through a guided process of integration and healing before you attempt to lead or heal others.

Losing one’s innocence is part of the hero’s journey--but perhaps they did not expect to have their hopes and enthusiasm dampened so soon. Not realizing how common this is, many think there is something inherently wrong with them, a flaw in their character or commitment. So they try to put their broken spirit behind them and dive into orientation, into work…

Prisoners, soldiers, and students look forward to their release/graduation date. But when that long awaited day comes and they suddenly “return” to society or to a new job, they often suffer from culture shock. They have been living in one world, and without a transition process, they enter another where people do not know where they have been, or what they have lived through or are living. It is isolating. The tacit message is to put the past behind you and move on. And yet we are inevitably tethered to our past and to the stories we tell ourselves about our past. Most of us long for meaningful recognition and integration time when leaving one world or role in life—before beginning another.

Other than a form letter of acceptance or a graduation party, presently our birth peep schools offer few soulful rituals or personal retreats for birth peeps entering training or transitioning to the work place. Change #14 is not an easy change or a "quick fix." Still it needs to happen.

If you know someone who is entering, immersed in, or returning from, birth peep training, if you can't create a retreat for them, consider offering them a little Water of Life (spiritual Food) or the Food of Life (physical plane support).

Perhaps it will be one of our birth peep readers Call to begin creating Birth Peep Transition Retreats.

In-Austin today, In-Love,

Thursday, December 2, 2010

#14 continued: Nurturing & Mentoring Our Birth Peeps

Good Morning Birth Peeps,
Today we continue considering Change #14. It is a fundamental change that must begin if birth in our culture is to truly heal and change. Otherwise we can only continue to rearrange the furniture in house built on a cracked foundation with a leaky roof.

The One that answers the Call to the work, training, or Ordeal, is not yet “the healer” or the “hero.” Rather it is the Child part of us that answers “yes.” The Innocent, Magical, Rebellious Child in us does have (and must have, in order to undertake the Ordeal of training,) a romantic notion of “the difference she’ll make,” how she will “save” others from the trauma she lived through, or whatever it is. In many cases, perhaps all cases, it is the wounded part of us in search of our own healing and understanding that undertakes the hero’s journey (in the name of helping or saving others). During our training, we also call on the Adaptive Child part of us because that part makes a “good student,” who gets all the assignments done, checks off the lists, gets our evaluations in…. almost on time anyway.

If we, as a culture, are to truly begin mentoring and initiating our Birth Peeps, we must understand deeply that every Birth Peep (and parent) begins this initiation-journey in her Child, and if she is mentored and guided to do her personal work, she has a chance of completing a (holistic) course in her Huntress-Love Warrior--and beginning her service to parents from a more intact, whole, centered place--not in her wounded, orphaned, exhausted, rebellious Child.

Consider that in our birth culture, many of our Birth Peeps (from doulas to doctors) complete training and immediately enter their professional work in a state of double wounding (the unhealed wounding that Called them plus the unhealed wounding from a course that demanded much of them but did not guide their personal growth). Because of the emotional, physical, and psychic demands of working in hospitals and clinics—which in the West rarely has any Mercy or personal growth support program in place for its worker-bees--it is almost certain that the already tender inner-Child of the new birth peep is destined to experience a triple wounding.

In the West, Birth Peep training is top heavy: we value, and therefore focus primarily on, “evidence-based” material, techniques, performance evaluations and outcomes, and being objective (i.e., impersonal, professional, in-service to the client or corporation—but not in-service to ourselves).

And yet, the real work in birth is holistic. The real work requires heart, soul, ego-strength, and a personal recapitulation (self-awareness) process to evolve spiritually and emotionally with the work, and not be perpetually exhausted, wounded, and slowly dismembered by it.

The image I want to leave you with today is this:
For birth to really change in our culture, Birth Peep training, certification and/or re-certification must welcome the Child and deliberately nurture, grow, and mature the Huntress-Warrior-Healer. The "Ones Who Know"(i.e., the Sage Fools who have made the Return themselves) must answer the Call to "heal the healers," not only in training but throughout the Birth Peep’s career.

Tomorrow we will continue Change #14


Copyright © December 2010, Pam England. This material cannot be reproduced without written permission.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Change #14 Birth Peep Training as Initiation & Hero's Journey (1)

Change #14 We Must See the Training of the Birth Peep
as a profound Initiation and the Hero’s Journey

Dear Birth Peeps,
If you were fortunate enough to be trained by kind mentors in a safe and supportive environment that nurtured you through every phase and fumble of your training, consider yourself extremely blessed—your experience is rare—but it has given you an insight and gift that you can share with us as we tackle another change our birth culture is in dire need of.

If you are one of the many who felt broken by your training and perhaps, you feel a part of you is still in that underworld, it is my hope that this week’s letters will be a sliver of light to help you find your way “home.” As we join together, and complete our Return from the underworld of our training-initiation, then, and only then, can we truly be the Ones Who Know, and who can guide other initiates into, through, and all the way “home” from a training process that is in fact a hero’s journey.

There is so much to say about this subject, it may take me several posts to convey it. Rather than attempt to condense it, and trivialize this, I will take my time. I look forward to your responses as we move through Change #14.

First a brief review of the hero’s journey so we can share language and ideas. In general the hero’s journey has three phases, (1) The Call and Preparation, (2) the Ordeal, and (3) the Return. It could be said that your whole life is this journey, and that within our lives we may be blessed to undertake several hero’s journeys through education, relationship, career, and illness.

When someone is drawn to birth work we could say, and often do say, they were “called.” It is not a “job” that kind of “falls in your lap,” you are called to it, you are compelled to choose, and re-choose, it. Don’t think of this Call in a romantic sense, but rather as a soul-calling—it is “soul work.”
What calls the initiate to birth work? Usually it is a tangible event in our life that awakens an interest in birth work, or in a particular aspect of birth work. Some philosophers say it is work we “agreed to do before we were born.” So, at some point we say “yes” to this Call, and off we go!

In Love,
(copyright(C)2010 Pam England)

Recording Songs of Healing and Opening: an idea

Dear Birth Peeps,
I am deeply moved by your responses this week. As I read each response, I could hear the songs--and imagined hearing them if I were weary in labor... I could feel the peace, the power, the healing.... and each one, each of you, opened my heart this morning.

Love Warriors "act," that is what distinguishes the archetypal Warrior from the Dreamer or the Victim who wishes things were different. Let us consider making a grass roots recording of the songs you mentioned, and maybe include the stories you shared along with them. I would like to make this available as a download... and maybe we could allow the download to "grow" as more people sing and contribute.

It is not a new idea. Maybe just put in the collective underworld for a while.
Thank you,