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.



  1. I have felt for a long time that I am moving quickly toward that grandmother in me. I am older than most of the doulas and cb educators in my area and so I bring a different energy to the child birth culture here and I bring my whole self. I bring my young innocent mama, my lost and frightened and my found and forming self. All of the things I bring to each emerging new family. How blessed am I?

  2. This is interesting to me, because one, I have pretty much quit mentoring in the way that I was when I first got trained years ago (constant group classes and doula clients) and now I am simply writing on my blog (while I raise babies), I was so burnt out and needed a break to process. I also tell myself that I have the rest of my life to do mentoring work, I can do other things sometimes if I want. I really look forward to the days when my children have left my nest and I fully dive into my Grandmother energy and focus more on mentoring young mothers.