Sunday, November 27, 2011

#29 Meditative, Multi-Cultural Laborinths in Birth Rooms

Greetings Birth Peeps,

This is Thanksgiving weekend (in the US), and for me it was a particularly special, even magical and blessed one. All weekend I’ve wanted to reach out to each of you, Birth Peeps, to share my gratitude with you for our shared work together, even though I don’t know all of you (yet), I know we are drawn together by a shared dream.

Today I want to share a painting I’ve been working on. I began this painting with a goal to finish it in two weeks… because every painting I make seems to take four months. I worked each morning toward that goal. Two weeks later I had gotten no further than an under painting! I continued working. It is now at least two months out and, I am still tweaking!

This painting began with a story my friend and hairdresser, Alberto, told me about his tias (aunties) in Mexico who were parteras (midwives). They used to tell pregnant mothers that they were warriors because in labor they would have to go to the underworld and battle with underworld spirits who held their babies. Each mother alone had go there and battle with the spirits to free her baby and bring it back to this world, to its new family who was waiting for him or her.

Inspired by this birth warrior mythology I began this painting using acryclic paint. There are many symbols in this painting, but I will point out just a few. 

There are two worlds, an upper “natural world” and the labyrinth of birth, the underworld of labor, divided by a gold line. This gold line is how I draw contractions. Typically contractions have been depicted as hills (as shown on a fetal monitor), however, I found in labor that my attention went downward and deep within with each contraction—so I began drawing the contractions as downward dips. In this painting, at the peak of each contraction-dip, the mothers consciousness dips, trickles, pours, into the underworld…. then returns to her resting baseline.

You can see six “spirits” holding babies in Laborland, and a mother swimming out with a baby (top right of the labyrinth’s opening), and the Fire Keeper.
Last week I was frustrated because the colors in the labyrinth were flat, dull and dreary. I kept changing the colors over and over, still flat. Then about five nights ago I had a vivid dream that showed me what to do, which colors to use and how to add beads! I jumped out of bed, found my odd collection of beads, then mixed up the colors and went to work… a few hours later… Look, the labyrinth now is vibrant, expressing both the dark and light aspects of journeying in the underworld. I also added four shells and a gold pendant of Mary.

One of my visions of how I might help change birth in our culture is to make a series of beautiful multi-cultural, labyrinth meditation paintings (and eventually prints of those paintings) so that birth rooms everywhere will have LabOrinths for women to gaze upon, to trace with their eyes during contractions to help ease the pain and still the mind.

Perhaps like-minded Artists of the Spirit will join me in this endeavor.
In-Love, In-Gratitude,
and still tweaking this painting…


Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Dear Birth Peeps,
I have long been a fringe birth activist. I have been wanting to post "Occupy Birth" on this blog, but I don't feel I know enough or can remember all the statistics and arguments to make strong argument s as compelling as the activists we admire.  And, when I study the trends in obstetrics and midwifery, I easily fall prey to my Victim/Judge.  So, I watch from the sidelines and consider the arguments, I read, think, and wait... while I try to cultivate the Huntress/Warrior to carry my arguments and actions forward.

This morning I felt/heard a Call, it came one of our long-distance Birth Story Listening students, Shelley, who wrote a thoughtful post on our forum, and she shared a video with us that I want to pass on to Birth Peeps.

Here's the scoop: "Women are rallying for a December protest at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital in San Diego, which has the highest cesarean rate in the state of California. The larger purpose is to draw attention to the Cesarean epidemic issue/problem in our society. A doula and childbirth educator in the community put together this video clip to inform and inspire people to join in the movement. This video has been posted on FB, and it's going around like crazy."

This video is very well done and really fires you up. The message is simple and clear and a call to action. I would like to stand with the women at this rally in San Diego. I hope some of you will be there, or organize a similar gathering where you live.

I need to gestate my thoughts on hearing and changing the Collective Birth Story... but for now...
I wanted to pass this video on to all of you.


Monday, November 7, 2011


Dear Birth Peeps,

Several times I have heard of the following group “recognition” observance. It goes something like this. A group has gathered for birth storytelling or a birth movie, and a leader asks everyone who has had a cesarean to stand. The room is silent for a moment. The cesarean mothers sit. Then the moderator asks all the mothers who birthed normally to stand and applause breaks out.

Not wanting to assume I understand the meaning of this curious ritual,  I would like to ask each participant, “Who is observing silence or applauding?,” and “What message are they intending to send to cesarean mothers?” Then, I would ask the cesarean mothers what meaning they took from this?

I imagine the “moment of silence” could be out of respect for a "loss." I imagine that, depending on which Story Gate of Return each mother is in, different meanings might be drawn by each woman; perhaps there is a time having one’s grief and loss of a desired birth witnessed in silence feels just right. But, not every cesarean mother is (still) in grief about her birth experience; some may feel they should be applauded too for having done their best or having survived their Ordeal. I have long ago completed my work with my cesarean birth and no longer carry any grief about it, so if I were standing in that room, the silence would seem to me to be a projection of someone else’s loss or grief, not my own.

And the applause for those who birth naturally, normally, or vaginally… I just don’t get it. If you/they are fortunate to birth normally, I can understand gratitude, but applause?  I could also stand with this group, but "I" do not want or deserve applause for the Gift I was given; the opportunity to birth normally humbled me. I am especially disturbed by the juxtaposition of applauding one group, the Victors?, while asking the other group (?Victims) to stand in silence… should their heads be hung low?

We have a confusing double standard. I am learning about birth in undeveloped, occupied, or oppressed countries. Women may have to wait in agony for hours, begging for relief, drugs, surgery, even death. But help does not always come quickly if it comes at all. Some women do not survive the wait, their Ordeal. If they are “rescued” by visiting western medicine teams, we all sigh a sigh of relief for modern medicine reaching them. They might even be applauded for surviving, however they did it, by their village, by us.

I am confused by my own projections and where I draw a line in the Sand. But, I sit in my confused mind and enquire who is thinking these thoughts? Who wants to grieve? Who wants to applaud? Who is the ‘I’ that decides who should get a moment of silence and who should get applauded?


Friday, October 21, 2011


Good Morning Birth Peeps,
This morning I received a thoughtful email from Katherine who was wondering about how "Refusal of the Call" played into Answering our Calls during the childbearing year. The "Refusal of the Call" is an important and necessary part of the hero's journey, it is an inevitable part.

As I have explained, the Call to Love, to Remember Who we are and live our authentic life, is coming all the time. It is not One Call, but a steady stream of Invitations. Most of the time--using the analogy of our phone technology--we have our inner Ear turned off, turned outward to the world, or put on our "Call Waiting." Why is this? Think about it in relation to your own life. What would change, what would it mean about you IF you actually answered the Call from Love to Love in your ordinary life? The Ego and the Judge Voice within begin to chatter and keep you in your former place -- of safety, following some Rule... protecting your boundaries...

At some point, a Call gets through and when it does it excites our passion, it wakes us up. We have a new vision. At first all we can see is what we will "get."

But then when the striving to achieve the goal begins, we realize the price, the work, both inner and in the physical world it may and will take to even strive for the goal.... and it might all be in vain. We might not be able to achieve it anyway...

And then the Voices of Doubt, which is the inner Voice of the Judge whose job it is to keep us in our old place, not take too many risks, stay in line, and avoid failing (again)--begins talking us (the inner Child) down off the high mesa where we actually saw a new possibility. 

And this is the necessary part of the Call, the Refusal of the Call.

I have to return to the archetypal world of characters to explain this, it is how I understand it. It is the inner-Child who first hears the Call, who sees the new vision or remembers her purpose. It is the inner-Child, not the Adult archetype, that actually begins the hero's journey. It is through completing the arduous tasks of the journey that she becomes "more adult." With this in mind, it makes sense that the Child, at first excited when quickened by the Call--suddenly realizes, "Wait a minute! If I answer this Call, I will have to 'leave home,' What if I don't know enough? I am not ready. I need to study more first, get bigger, get a map..." Whatever it is... if the Child begins the journey without it, she may indeed be overcome, unprepared and fail in some way that she senses would be harmful.

So the Child hesitates; she Refuses the Call, at least for now. There is also a bit of the Love Warrior here ... foreseeing or overseeing Tasks of Preparation so this Child-Warrior will have a chance at succeeding.

I don't like to romanticize or over-simplify the real inner-work of the hero's journey. This Refusal is not a cop-out, it is not a failure in itself. This Refusal can be a process that takes a few days or weeks of "reconsidering" while weighing the risks and benefits and making a plan. Sometimes it looks like the would-be hero has fizzled altogether; before the hero can undertake her Vision or what she was born to do, she may need a decade of undoing old agreements or learning new tasks.

But now we return to our topic, Birth as a Hero's Journey. If our imaginary would-be hero is a pregnant woman, she doesn't have a decade to sort it out. She has a Vision, she hears a Call.... and there are mere months to Answer, to Prepare, to make the Descent Into Laborland.... 

This is our Question, Birth Peeps. This is Our Call.
How do we Mentor the initiates who hear a Call, how do we assist them through their Tasks of the Refusal so they don't miss this golden opportunity. Birth is a profound rite of passage, it only comes once or a few times in a life time. We also need to really look into WHY it is a profound rite of passage, and not let ourselves be lulled asleep with the comforting and familiar cliche phrase.

I am enjoying the emails I am receiving from those of you who are writing and living your Heart's Question. Those of you who have taken up the practice of the Heart's Question, or your Deepest Question, will Refuse your Call at least once if not a dozen times today. Good... use your Refusal to examine the Refusal. When you understand your own process of Refusal deeply, you will have the Wisdom and compassion to help the initiates who come your way to understand their own.

In-Love with my own Refusals,
I am,

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Your Call is an Invitation to Awaken the Love Warrior

Dear Birth Peeps,

When we prepare for birth as a hero’s journey, we begin with hearing our Call and answering this Call (whether we are aware of this or not). This Call—to act, to know, to do something you have not done before and that may even seem out of reach!--comes from Love itself; it is an Invitation to love yourself, to become your own Love Warrior. . . a Birth Warrior.

When I say the Call invokes you to act or to “do,” it is not necessarily to “do something” for the sake of achieving, let’s say, your fantasy fabulous birth or any other personal goal (although by Grace our actions may lead--or seem to contribute--to that desired result. This Call is answered from our Soul, not from our ego, not to Get something for ourselves. We are compelled to answer the Call, and in so doing, there is no attachment to outcome, there is no pride, no getting.  

It is about Doing What Needs to Be Done Next—and nothing extra. 

The Calls to Love and to Be and to remember who we are are coming to us all the time. The Call—to Love yourself, to bring your True Love to this moment of your life, to Be authentic—is coming to you as you read this blog, and again, with your next breath! We wee, but busy and important, humans often don’t tune into it because we are distracted in our hectic lives and world.

There are infinite ways to be called; the Invitation might come to you suddenly almost as an inner whisper in an unexpected moment, or in a dream, or one might be awakened by a call in the midst of the Ordeal of labor or while reading an article.

The Call is not about achieving, it is about your heart’s longing. 

Oriah Mountain Dreamer describes her own Call in her book, The Call, as “a long wail of my heart [that] opened to its own longing.” She goes on to say, “Our longing may be just the beginning, just a door into a deeper knowledge of what we are and why we are here, but it is a necessary beginning. We cannot go deeper into our lives or the world [or I interject, into our childbearing year as a hero] until the heart has had its say, until the heart has been heard.”

You have to Hear your Call before you can Answer it, that is, before you can Live the answer. 

Women are often directed to: “listen to your self,” or to “listen to your body.” This advice sounds sage, but! most modern women have never been taught to meditate, contemplate, to listen-in, or how to differentiate the feeling of intuition from the feeling of fear, or their own sense of danger that requires action from everyone else’s imagined fear.

Knowing your Heart’s Question is central to preparing for birth as a hero’s journey.

One way to tune into your Call is to tune into your heart’s longing. If that conditioned part of you says, “You can’t do that because….”, or “So-and-so will get mad if you do that…”, keep listening. . . Is this Voice of Doubt or caution coming from your Love Warrior or your Inner Child that wants to please and avoid getting in trouble or grounded!?

Listen deeply, earnestly, patiently. Feel … find your heart’s longing and intuition… Listen within for that one heartfelt Question that is tucked away. This step awakens your Huntress archetype.

Once you have it, write in on the wall of your heart, or on your bathroom mirror, and say it to yourself often during ordinary moments of every day—Don’t wait until you are meditating, or in a crisis, or in labor to remember your longing, your Question…

Ask yourself your Question during ordinary moments every day. Live the answer. 

Your Heart’s Question is a living question which means you are compelled to live the answer in any given moment—even this moment—not just in labor. There are no wordy, logical answers to this question—you will manifest the answer with your whole being in the way you breathe, walk, talk, and live. Living the answer to your deepest question will form new habits of thinking and responding--and cultivate the Birth Warrior in you.

A few Examples:
What does this moment need?
How am I opening to this moment?
How am I bringing my Love to this moment?
When I speak my truth, what do I say next?

Please, share your Heart's Question, your Living Question, here... to help inspire others. Maybe you have had a life-changing experience by taking up this practice... please inspire others with your story.



Thursday, September 29, 2011


My Dear Birth Peeps,
I have been away too long, and you have been patient. I thought of you all often, and missed you, and yet, the blogger needed time to reflect, rest, and write new material... but I am happy to be back and to continue our journey together as we compassionately change birth in our culture. We resume...I believe we are on change #27, a two-part entry.

PREGNANT WOMEN ARE CONSTANTLY BEING TOLD what to believe, fear, and do—after all “(acquired) knowledge is power”—and then they are told: “trust yourself!” The new initiate, trying to get it right, is clichéd with mixed messages.

When we have not yet lived a life-changing event, one that we anticipate living in the future (e.g., college, vacations, a wedding, childbirth), we can only idealize, dream, fantasize about the event from a place of innocence and trust. All children have done this. And so has every adult, at the beginning of a life-changing initiation, the initiate must begin in her archetypal Child, a natural place of Innocence and Trust. This is why when a woman is at the beginning of her first childbearing year, she is often in her archetypal Child, a place of Innocence and Trust--and why we must meet her there and listen to what she trusts and doesn't trust before we try to cliche her or lead her our way.

It is also a given that during the Ordeal (e.g., Ordeal refers to a trying event that may occur at any time during pregnancy, labor, or postpartum), she will lose some part of her innocence as the price for Wisdom—and “growing up.” We cannot keep our Cupcake of Innocence and have the Frosting of Wisdom, too! Did this blended metaphor work? You get the idea anyway.

And yet, there are many who do not understand this part of birth as a hero’s journey, who inadvertently encourage mothers to remain in innocence and vague trust. What exactly she should “trust” is up for grabs and will be determined by the one advising it. It might be an order to unconditionally trust her body, or trust in a benevolent Force to protect her, or trust the wisdom of some expert, or even to trust her own intuition—even though (she will soon find out) nobody else will trust or allow her to act upon!

For this reason, this cliché message to “trust” is often, or later becomes, confusing to the initiate.

When an initiate shares her Innocent Trust openly with others, she will invariably encounter one of two responses from: those who share or support her innocence and keep her dreaming sweetly, or from those who will dash or dismiss her innocence and trust in a misguided attempt to prepare her for the moment she loses her innocence. But neither sweet support nor jaded warnings serve to prepare the initiate to meet that moment that awaits her.

There is also the possibility the Seeking-initiate will encounter One Who Knows (i.e., one who has completed the journey, lost her own innocence and gained true wisdom and compassion)—one of YOU birth peeps!!

Or, she might be visiting this blog and take up a process that will help her genuinely prepare to meet the moment she loses her innocence during or after her Ordeal. There are countless ways to prepare the mind, heart, and soul for this moment, here is one:

Let’s lay the groundwork first with a little philosophical groundwork. Let’s think of the natural Innocence and Trust in something not yet lived as a “seed thought.” Within a seed is the full potential for a particular plant, tree, or fruit. But the seed must be watered often, even daily, and protected to allow for its full potential to be realized. Just planting a seed and “trusting it will grow on its own” does not ensure it will grow and later bear the fruit we need to sustain ourselves during the Ordeal.

The daily effort of watering the little “seed” of trust and inner-knowing with intentional practice throughout pregnancy matures and strengthens the gardener, too! The gardener becomes invested in, and “owns,” the plant. This is a very different experience and relationship from giving the gardener a full-grown tree that someone else grew and saying, “Here! Eat this fruit to sustain yourself in your upcoming Ordeal.”

We cannot assume that an initiate “has everything mature and ready within her at the beginning her Preparation or Ordeal. Telling a new mother, “Everything you need to know is already within you,” might misguide her to relax and do nothing during her Preparation Phase, when she should be taking action. Instead, she waits, trusting that this Knowing, this Oak Tree of Knowing, to magically sprout from the ungrounded acorn during the Ordeal. And this why so many mothers are in shock and feel lost, overwhelmed in and after labor.

Becoming pregnant does not automatically ensure a spontaneous awakening of intuition, knowing, and trust. The gestating-mother may have to do a little inner work and practice, take time to reflect, then take small, deliberate steps, even small risks, to try out and integrate her new knowing. Her success is dependent on daily attention to the practice, and often guidance and encouragement from a childbirth mentor or elder.

A NEW MOTHER NEEDS TO DO SOMETHING to water her newly sprouting mother-instincts, mother-voice, and nurture a genuine, deeply rooted, trust in herself and others. In this way we could say her initial pure innocent Child-trust is maturing as her baby grows in her. For her baby to grow she must feed her baby, not just trust her baby will magically grow, she must take action. By taking action, her Trust and Knowing is embodied, it is hers!, it is registered and rooted in her body, so that if and when her Innocence and Trust is shaken in labor, even if she is scared, she will not abandon herself.

In the Garden of Soul Change,
we are growing a new consciousness together!


Saturday, August 20, 2011


Dear Birth Peeps,
(BFW Facebook has just reached 8000 followers! We're going to celebrate: follow this!)

Before we can understand the Birth Warrior Story, we must first know the archetypal Warrior. Who is the Warrior? What are the characteristics of the Love Warrior, the Birth Warrior?
The archetypal “Warrior” is often misunderstood. I’ve noticed that the mere mention of the word “warrior” can trigger instant resistance if the listener’s mind conjures up preconceived, oversimplified, negative associations with “war” or a destructive male force (e.g., a Hollywood “Rambo-like” character). Instead of trying to understand the archetype, these people often try to (get me to) rename this archetype with something more tame, nice or and Disney-sweet.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who barely hear my introduction of the archetypal “Love” Warrior before they turn this powerful archetype (enamored by the word “love”) into saccharine jargon befitting an emotional “cheerleader” or “savior” greeting card character. In general, sappy idealism about anything invokes simplistic, absolute, or dogmatic thinking and behavior (manifested by the Innocent, Magical, Victim or Judge Child archetypes).

So far I’ve given you hints about what the Warrior is not.
What does it look like when our Warrior is active?

I am challenged to describe the rich complexity of the Warrior in a brief blog. I will do my best, but will probably leave a little confusion.

In traditional societies, warriors must first learn patience and “seeing” to track and Hunt. When mothers prepare physically and mentally for labor, they are activating and cultivating their Huntress-Warrior qualities so that in the "battle" of labor/postpartum challenges, they are ready to use their skills in response to situations that arise.

Rather than having an attachment to a preconceived plan, when we are in our Warrior, our moment-to-moment action is guided by a deepest Question, such as, “What does this moment need?” This Question keeps the Warrior awake, ever-looking to “see” what needs to happen next, and then she does it. She takes care of business in the world and household, and she takes care of (rather than abandon) her “inner Child.”
When the Warrior archetype (healthy adult ego) is absent or asleep, we must defer to the Child archetypes to try to do make “adult” decisions, have “adult” conversations, and take actions that a child or Child not equipped to do. For example, just as (most) children are conditioned not to question or defy authority to avoid consequences, when an adult is in one her Child archetypes, she also cannot ask a big, busy doctor hard questions. This is why so many informed parents who are in their Child archetype will meekly nod their heads and do whatever the doctor says is best. The Child archetype cannot questions, or challenge or defy authority. But, later, when she is back in one of her “adult” archetypes is back on the “job”, the parent will muse over what happened, “Wow, I fell under the spell during that visit. I didn’t ask the questions I knew to ask, and that I meant to ask.”

The Warrior is the part of us that sees what needs to be done, and does it, but does nothing extra. The Warrior acts. She is deliberate. Whereas Child archetypes (Innocent, Magical, Victim, Judge) wait for others (with more knowledge, skill, power) to know what to do, to tell them what to do, or to act on their behalf. The Child archetypes act from the past, from habit-mind, in order to achieve a particular desired future.
Child archetypes can be impulsive; they also tend to engage in over-planning and strategizing trying to: get it right, please others, and achieve the outcome that will make them belong, be loved, be praised. Later, they use the outcome and the reactions/approval/disapproval of others to determine whether they “did the right thing,” whether they are “good,” “strong,” “worthy,” etc. This then leads to second-guessing, promising to get it right in the future, and moving the individual further from self-love and self-acceptance. You may already be able to see how this might not be helpful during the childbearing year.
But a Warrior neither lives in the past, nor strives for a specific kind of future. The Warrior is immersed in the moment. Naturally she draws from Knowledge gained from her past, but this is different from following Rules and Promises and Plans made in the past. A Warrior would never take a rigid "Battle Plan" into battle and try to get everyone to play their part so she will have it her way.
When we are in our Warrior, we are “awake,” aware, decisive. We are flexible, spontaneous, creative, AND at the same time, we are focused, with direction and purpose.
Toltec Master Allan Hardman defines the Love Warrior as one who “lives passionately without attachment to outcome.” This idea of being passionate without attachment to outcome is very difficult to grasp and it requires discipline to embody! But, it is the defining quality of a Warrior and worth cultivating, especially during the childbearing year.

Another defining quality of the Warrior is one who “sees” what needs to be done next and acts, doing only what needs to be done and nothing extra (and, of course, without attachment to outcome).

Now you are beginning to see how, by the time the Storyteller becomes a Warrior, she has “no story”?

A woman cannot be a Birth Warrior before her labor; she cannot even be a Birth Warrior in the midst of the intensity of birth. She is not a Birth Warrior (nor does she have a Birth Warrior Story) because she birthed "normally" or without drugs, or got everything on her birth plan. I hope you are beginning to see that to become a full-blooded Warrior, every woman must complete the Return and integrate her experience on every level.

I am enjoying your responses and enthusiasm about the birth as hero's journey entries. We are almost finished ...


Monday, August 15, 2011

BHJ cont. Ninth Gate: Gate of the Elders and Love Warrior

AUGUST 12, 2011

Dear Birth Peeps,
The Ninth and final Story Gate is the Love Warrior Story, and like the First Gate—it is also a Gate of “no story.” I also call this Gate the Gate of the Elders.

In this mandala, you see this Gate represented by two symbols: (1) a buffalo and her calf, and (2) a group of Elders who, having followed the Red Path all the Way, have completed their hero’s journey and their destiny.

The Buffalo and her Calf
Native Americans of the plains were dependent on the buffalo. With its sacrifice, the buffalo’s body and blood fed them, its hide provided shelter and clothing, its sinew became thread and its bones became knives and needles to sew the hide. The buffalo sustained them and so they equated the buffalo with Spirit that gives and sustains life, and on which humans are dependent.
One evening a few years ago, an old Oglala Lakota, Delbert Charging Crow, knocked on the door of my office. He was a quiet man with long grey braids and a box. We had never met, he was walking through the neighborhood and wanted to show me his animal carvings. I invited him in. We sat in the teaching room and one by one, he carefully took out small fetishes he had carved; for each animal he told me a story.
There was a horse, an eagle, a goat I think, and a “turning bear.” “Turning bears” have their head and neck turned sharply to represent turning one’s life in a new direction, a more positive direction. On the animal’s backs were tied a bundle of beads, a small feather, sometimes sticks, and a tiny leather pouch of sage (spirit food).
All of the animals, with the exception of one, the Buffalo, had a bundle. I asked Charging Crow why Buffalo did not have anything tied to her back. He explained that Buffalo does not need to carry food for itself because the buffalo is “food” for humans. The buffalo sacrificed its life to feed us, so it represents Spirit.

By the time the Storyteller reaches her Ninth Gate she has been fed by many listeners, advised by authors, and inspired by poets and spirit. She has deconstructed and reconstructed her story, given it new meaning, and “digested” it. Finally, no longer identified with the story, it no longer needs to be told or healed.
From that moment on, the now “elder” Storyteller becomes a bit like the Buffalo. An Elder Storyteller-Storylistener never tells her whole story to anyone. She keeps in her heart, knowing what and when to share a specific bit of her story—as Medicine. She doesn’t tell her story, or even a part of it, to get something back from the listener (e.g., sympathy, advice, assurance, praise, bonding). She may draw from her story-experience, without having to refer directly to it; Story Medicine comes in the form of a mirroring, validation, metaphor, or myth.
The little calf wanted to be there to remind us that our children are little story-listeners learning through our stories. Casual stories, judgments, and gossip, inform the young how to eat, love, give birth, and parent in such a way they will belong to the “herd.”
Grandparents used to be storytellers; children learned through oral history, family stories, fairytales, and legends. Hearing a story told (and animated) is much different than a story read or acted out on television.
If a child knows even one elder-Buffalo Storyteller, she will be given buffalo-story food. Later, even though she must go through her own hero’s journey initiation and ordeal, and climb her way out of the underworld, she will forever embody the story Medicine of the Buffalo Storyteller(s) in her youth. This kind of story becomes part of her internal map and thinking; it ensures her spiritual survival.
. . .

It is not likely an initiate will arrive at the Ninth Gate soon after giving birth, even if all goes well. There is a misguided notion that women who birth normally are not traumatized, or that they automatically attain some kind of magical Knowledge and can now teach others the “secret.” I would disagree.
It can take a long while to get to the Ninth Gate; there are no short cuts. We cannot get to the Ninth Gate by merely re-affirming positive affirmations, or by declaring we “learned a lesson,” or by just “letting it [i.e., the negative memories] go.” It is a deep descent, a steep climb. As Sufi Master Irina Tweedie once told me, “You have to want this as badly as a drowning man wants air.
The Key that opens this Gate is not one our rational minds can come up with, and certainly, no one else has the Key to our Ninth Gate.

The Elders in the North. The figures are small and few in number. In the scheme of this painting, you might not even notice them. In my own search for Ones Who Know, they were not easy to find. They don’t boast about their Medicine. They mind their own business, watching and waiting patiently for the initiate-Storyteller to arrive. They do not go down after the initiate-Storyteller, but perhaps Call to her from time to time.
Imagine birth in our culture when the numbers of Storytellers who complete this journey increase. This will happen when we begin to participate in birth as a hero’s journey, when we learn how to tell and how to listen to birth stories. This will happen when elders share their Birth Story Medicine with the initiates.

Today I have explained the symbols. In the next posting I will explain this Story, the pitfalls and tasks of this final Gate.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Another Change: Teaching Parents to "Hunt" during Pregnancy

August 8, 2011
Dear Hungry Birth Peeps,
Nobody is always “one” archetype. No matter how much we want to identify with one particular role/archetype, we cannot say of ourselves “I AM ‘A Hunter’” (or I AM the Innocent Child, Magical, or Victim/Judge, etc). We cannot think of another as “one” particular archetype either, e.g., “She IS a Victim.” This is because within all of us is a cast of characters that come and go playing their parts depending on the situation, relationship, and our conditioning. If in a particular moment we are immersed in “hunting,” then, in that moment we are manifesting the essence of the Huntress; we are Huntress. But … in the next moment, if we tire of the hard work and want to give up… another archetypal energy may become active; in that moment we are Victim! And so it goes.

So, in any given moment, the Hunter/Huntress/Seeker essence is either active, dormant, or at best, still embryonic waiting for life experience and apprenticeship to bring it forth. For example, the Huntress is not yet awake or cultivated in a small child. Why? Because a young child or (an adult, who in a particular dependent moment, is in a Child archetype) is being “fed” or is waiting to fed by others, be it food for their body or the “food” of being told what to think, what to do or not do, or what to do next. So long as the child (or an adult who is in a Child archetype) is comfortable, secure, and being fed by others, there is no Call to Hunt. Hunting is for the Hungry…. and for those who have learned how to hunt.
Hunting does not come naturally to modern humans, it must be learned. Traditionally, youth apprenticed to learn the skills of Hunting. Pregnancy is an ideal time for new parents to apprentice with an elder Huntress or Hunter.
Traditionally, Hunters shared the bounty of the hunt with others; s/he fed the village, each member given according to their need and custom. The Hunt begins with personal hunger, but it ends with sharing the food with everyone; Hunters do not hoard the “food” for themselves. BIRTHING FROM WITHIN mentors are learning to Hunt themselves so that they can teach “hungry” new parents to hunt.
In BFW classes parents learn to stalk their own mind with mindful pain-coping practices, day by day, not leaving this skill to chance during the upcoming Hunt/Ordeal!
Are you beginning to appreciate the difference between teaching new parents to Hunt, versus the old model of teaching them a technique or a dogma, or giving them their answers. Once any of us "knows" and are assured, our hunger to know is sated and we become sleepy. We complain of being dominated by patriarchy, but this model of birth will not change with more information and knowledge served on different plates. It will not change until and unless childbirth teachers become mentors who know themselves had to hunt, who know how to Hunt, and who can teach this skill to the next initiates.

Coming up to the Last Gate! The Long Journey is almost over.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

BHJ: cont. Eighth Gate: HUNTRESS

Dear Birth Peeps

I’ve been away for a few weeks. . . hunting! I missed you. Today we meet again at the Eighth Story Gate: Gate of the Huntress. You can see the Huntress or Seeker standing before a golden Eagle who’s wings are spread. The Huntress is looking out, looking far and wide, to see patterns and the whole picture, to “see” and to understand her story in the context of her past and future, how it relates to stories from seven generations past, and within the context of birth in her culture. She has moved from her personal story to her story within a collective story.

What brings a story-teller to the Gate of the Huntress, the Story Hunter?

Hunger. A gnawing hunger to know Who she is, Who birthed?, and how her birth experience relates to her past, her future, and in general to the larger picture of birth in our culture. When she becomes Hungry for personal freedom, soul food, and “truth” she either starts learning to hunt or finds a mentor/elder/story-listener who knows how to hunt and “apprentices.”
As the story-teller approaches this Gate, her questions move away from “Why did this happen to me?” or “What should I have done differently?,” or “What should I do differently next time to prevent or avoid [fill in the blank]?”.

A new question, a deeper question, a soul-question, begins to form; it’s a question that no one “out there”, no book, no research, can answer for her. Hunger awakens the inner-Huntress and the story-teller begin to stalk her mind, her habit thinking, beliefs, her heart, her story. Finally, with her attention turned inward, with her Ear turned inward, she may begin to hear the answer within.
In due time, many story-tellers feel the pangs of hunger and begin to “seek,” but . . . if they don’t know how to “hunt,” or if they get distracted by life, or perhaps confuse “hunting” with gathering more information (a task of the Medical Gate), they never pass over this Threshold.
Not every story-teller makes it to, or through, this Gate. Many birth stories arrest, for years, even a lifetime, at one of the previous Gates. This happens because:

(1) The wounded story-teller either believes that the birth is now in the past and it’s time to move on, or, she turns her attention to gathering information for the do-over birth (either her own or every one else’s!!). Either way, she quits self-inquiry not knowing what delicious insights lie within reach and thus, settles into a previous Gate.

(2) The story-teller is proud as a peacock for making correct choices that brought about her desired birth experience; she is no longer in inquiry. She knows, therefore, her search and her journey are over.

(3) Our culture has few “elder birth story-listeners” who know the Gates, the tasks at the Gates, and the Medicine for story-tellers. In the absence of elders, the floundering half-initiated, who is trying to make it all the way “home” on her own after the Ordeal. . . often believes what she “knows” is all there is to know, and she quits searching or she meanders between the former Gates, losing her way.
Of course, with sustained self-inquiry, a story-teller could do this on her own. But without a birth story process, ritual, or story-listener, it may take more timeto get through the Eighth Gate. It took me eight years to get through this Gate—trying to figure it out on my own. Perhaps with One Who Knows, it could happen sooner.

Here’s why it matters: Culture, including our birth customs, in this generation and the next, is shaped and reinforced by stories and story-tellers. When the majority of birth story-tellers (I assume it is a majority, but who has counted!) are still in Gates 2 to 6 or 7, they are actively, though unwittingly, teaching and conditioning the next generation of parents and birth peeps from stories with “incomplete understanding.”

Why a birth initiate need a story-listener, One Who Knows, during her Return.
Imagine a child, abandoned suddenly in the wild. Alone and hungry. Very hungry. Every attempt to hunt fails because s/he doesn’t know the terrain, the habits of the prey, how to use the tools of hunting. But hunger persists, and so the young hunter keeps trying and learning, until finally (unless starvation wins out first) s/he understands in a grand way. . . and finally succeeds.
Ideally, in traditional cultures, youth were taken to the wild by an elder hunter and taught, in a systematic, holistic manner about the terrain, the habits of the prey, the tools of hunting, and an inner awareness of themselves as hunter in relationship to the prey and environment. Within a much shorter time the child gained skill and the risk of starvation in the process was minimal.
This is one of the models I am proposing to change birth in our culture.

Only a Huntress can teach another to hunt.
Hunting is not a theory, it’s not something you learn from a book. It is embodied knowledge, and it’s knowledge that is passed on. And this is what Virginia and I are offering in BFW Birth Story Listening course. We believe that when our culture has “trained” birth story-listeners, more mothers, fathers, and birth peeps will make it all the way “home.” When this happens, the personal and collective birth story in our culture will change.

Are you hungry for more?


Saturday, July 23, 2011

BWJ continues: SEVENTH GATE and the DRUMMER

Dear Birth Peeps.

Today you see the SEVENTH GATE, an ascending ladder, ascending toward personal freedom and a place that allows for far-seeing  (on the right half of the circle, you may recall, there is a descending ladder into  the unknown); a RED PATH, and a DRUMMER, calling the storyteller out of the underworld.

After the storyteller’s dialog between her wounded or prideful Victim and Judge has been heard deeply by herself (and possibly by a story-listener),  her mind,  exhausted and relieved, experiences a pause in  thinking and searching.  This blessed pause is often filled with a new question, her Heart's Question.

Until this point on her journey “home,” the earnestly seeking-storyteller was seeking  answers, approval, apology, or forgiveness from others. She has been gnawing on a moment in her story where she was caught in the polarity of right and wrong, fair and unfair, expectations and failure to achieve her expectations. Her ego could not begin to entertain the thought of letting go or “forgiving” herself or others for what happened or did not happen.

On one side of the revolving door are the first five Story Gates. If she steps out of the Sixth Gate on one side, she will keep telling the Medical. Relationship, or Social stories, or try to have no story, try to forget it.

If she steps out on the other side of the Sixth Gate, she steps toward the Seventh Gate where she will get a glimpse of that something new that she is seeking: the embracing, the "forgiving," the new story. 
I am trying to find the right name for this Gate.
Clearly the Victim Child and Judge Child  cannot forgive or find new words for her story. So something has to happen to allow the storyteller to step out of the revolving door story, some inner shift that allows a moment of "forgiveness." For some, forgiveness is a loaded word, so I hesitate to use it. And yet, for "forgiveness" to occur, there has to be a moment where the subject-object story dissolves (e.g., that Someone did something wrong To Me or If I had not done [x] this wouldn't have happened).  In this moment of openness or the absence of subject object, cause and effect, the ST has a glimpse of something new; she can see the humanness in herself an others.

When the subject object mindset is suspended, the storyteller can "forgive" or embrace the positive intention, or the fallibility in herself and all humans and systems. It is a profound clarity of acceptance. Not the acceptance of defeat, resignation, or saccharin spirituality. Something else.

After this glimpse, she is never the same again. Her story finds new words, often metaphor. Thus, the Poet.

After spinning around int the Revolving Gate, after a tiring battle with the ego, finally the storyteller climbs the ladder out of the underworld of her Story, rung by rung, she begins to see her story in new “light.” She is experiencing a lightness of being, a true change of heart.

What happens if the Storyteller does not pass through the Seventh Gate?
If she does pass through this Gate, a part of her will remain in the underworld. This is true whether her Descent is in birth, divorce, illness, or any injustice or hardship in childhood or life. She can always find the company of others who also suffered a similar Descent with whom to commiserate (incomplete) wounded stories.  But the fruit of personal freedom and true wisdom she earned through her Descent is not accessible to her until she passes through the Seventh Gate. One of the things she has to leave behind at this Gate is the old desire to "be right" and blame.

When does the Storyteller get through this Gate?
No one can Make someone be at, or pass through,  the Seventh Gate, no therapist, Birth Story Listener, or loved one can talk someone into forgiving or embracing what happened. The storyteller cannot make herself get there. Perhaps it is a moment of Grace after a long search for new meaning, even truth (if we can define truth). Her heart may long for this Gate, but her ego cannot pass through it.
   When a storyteller is seeking for a way out of the underworld and the revolving door, she may be more receptive to the solution-focused questions and the Medicine of metaphors and Great Stories.

* Remember, this is an organic process, it is not contrived or forced upon ourselves or another, especially not your trusted Story-Listener! If so, then it is the Judge doing the “encouraging,” not the Love Warrior, and we are back at the Sixth Gate of Shoulds and Shame.

Did you notice the white and yellow path has turned red? The red path represents the path with Heart, the way of the Love Warrior.


What Calls us to the Ordeal? What Calls us Home again?
Is it the ego or willpower?
Why do some people get stuck in the underworld of their Ordeal for a decade, a life-time? Why do others find their way “home?
Ponder these Questions with me.

In the myth of Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, a story from ancient Sumer… we are given an image, an idea. I will introduce you to the Warrior Queen in the midst of her Ordeal: Inanna is hanging on the Hook in the underworld. She is dying, she is in a great soulful transfiguration. Her feet cannot touch the ground, she cannot walk away from this. She is so far in the underworld, no one can hear her cries. A woman of power in the upperworld, she is now in need of Grace. In mythology, Warriors are often sent Allies; two Allies come, take her down and give her the Water of Life and the Food of Life. Inanna is a woman of power… and here she might be tempted to take up the power of the underworld, to rule the underworld. We all face this temptation.

This story is not only about Inanna, it is about human nature; it is about us! After a profound Ordeal, it is tempting to continue identifying with the trauma, the injustice, or the triumph. Living in the past, retelling the story, trapping others to respond in a certain way (pity, shared-anger, guilt, awe, etc,) or to engage in the “get even” or “get it right next time” games. Almost everybody has one Story thread still tethered to the underworld; keeping it tethered makes you feel safe (a reminder so you don’t do That Again!), or allows you a reason not to move forward…
So here the human being has a struggle. I do not call it a choice. I don’t think the human being “chooses” to stay in the underworld. In fact, I do not think she has a choice based on what she has experienced, learned up to that point. So how does she get out?

The Drummer might represent the Heartbeat of the Mother, comforting and calling us “home.” She might represent Ninshubur, Inanna’s maidservant who drummed around the temples of Sumer while finding help to bring Inanna back (another story, not for today!) As a woman (myself) who loves and trusts her independence a little too much, I love this part: Inanna, a woman of power required assistance to get “home.”
In this image…. You can see the Drumbeats represented by white dots penetrating the underworld, passing through all of the Gates of underworld… reaching the Ear… our inner-Ear. When we Hear the Mother’s Drumbeat we are compelled to keep moving our feet, to continue finding our way “home.”


Friday, July 22, 2011

Seventh Birth Story Gate:: the Poetress

Dear Birth Peeps,

Seventh Gate: The Poet

There is a time and place for everything. The Poet cannot be awakened in us, before it is our Time. If we try to “fake” it, our poems will be superficial, shallow, sound byte affirmations that sound good, but do not truly resonate in us.
When a birth story is told too linearly or objectively, the storyteller and story-listener may not tap into deeper feelings, images, bodily sensations and poetic metaphors that capture the heart of the story.

There is irony in this part of ascent homeward. While the woman is ascending out of her underworld, suddenly she finds herself in a private descent, turning her attention inward. Instead of looking to others to affirm, validate, approve, or explain her experience, she finally begins to listen deeply to her own Heart’s Questions and to her own counsel.

Almost parallel to the Poet is the solitary figure of a mother walking, carrying her infant on her back. She represents the storyteller's journey into new territory as she searches for her scattered story bones and bits. This she does even as she goes about caring for her baby and other activities of daily living.

Golden Paper
The folded stream of paper upon which the Poet writes is a continuation of the electronic fetal monitor paper.
Gold represents balance and the sun; the moon is associated with the Feminine, and the Sun with the Masculine. The woman returning home from a profoundly Feminine—almost wordless experience—is finding her words (often associated with the masculine energy) to describe—for herself—the meaning of what happened and what she now knows about herself.

Two Snakes 
When I was in Peru, I visited a small hidden cave. The entrance to the ancient cave had been known to the ancients who painted, on either side of the cave’s opening, two snakes; a black one and a white one. Snakes often get a bad rap nowadays; the mere mention of snakes elicits a squeamish response. But the ancients made positive associates between the attributes of snakes and human psyche. Snakes shed their skin after they grow. When the Poet writes and speaks from her belly and heart, she too is shedding a former story for a new one that has been growing in her.
Two Ducks
“Getting our ducks all in a row” needed to be painted in the Preparation Quadrant of this mandala. That’s what novice initiates try to do and to maintain during their Descent. After the shattering and during the Return, we try to get those scattered ducks back in a row. We want things to go back to “the way they used to be.”

Ha! After an initiation, after the old self dies and the new self is born, things will never be and can never be the way they “used to be.” Hence, you can see two squawking Ducks in close proximity to the Sixth Gate!

* * *

If you want to be a Birth Story Listener and healer, become comfortable with solitude. You must be able to carry your own Deepest Question into new territory. Only then can you reach your yet unspoken Words, your personal myth and "poetry," and be able to write and speak your own truth on Golden Paper.

If you want to see the images better, click on them They should open. I look forward to your comments and responses.

In-Love & Solitude,



Thursday, July 21, 2011


Dear Birth Peeps,
It's a long journey back! Let's continue crawling out of the underworld and watching the Story and Storyteller evolve.

The initiate has arrived at the Sixth Story Gate, the Gate positioned at the dividing line between the underworld and the upper world, between the undigested, chaotic material of the Ordeal and soon will begin to reap the benefits of the integration work well underway… This is the Revolving Door of the Victim and Judge.

When do we arrive at this Gate during the Return? In some way we could say we visit this Gate Daily, maybe several times a day! For this is the Gate of the archetypal Victim-Judge. These characters or voices are part of everyone’s makeup, so you will quickly recognize them.

The Victim says, “It’s not my fault,” or “There’s nothing I can do about it (it’s someone else’s fault).” She tries and tries to get it right, but doesn’t quite; she feels helpless and powerless to get her needs met.

The Judge is pictured carrying his "Book of Rules," he likes to tells us we should be different, or should have done it differently, or what to do to get it right next time. He is telling us to do more, be more, try harder. The Judge tells you you should be like someone else (and ironically, that someone else’s Judge is telling him/her they should be like you!) Allan said another name for the Judge is Liar because it is impossible to be someone else, and it’s not true that to be good or loveable that you have to “get it right.”

Try this: Listen in on your mind-chatter: First your Victim will try to explain why you can’t do something, or why it’s someone else's fault… Then, your Judge will answer, telling you what you could’ve or should’ve done, or what you must do—next time. Keep listening: Your Victim will answer the Judge, the Judge will should the Victim. And round and round they go…. Thus the Revolving Door!

This same conversation happens between people too, and it happens between birth storyteller and birth story listener or childbirth “teacher,” i.e., anybody who is advising a parent anytime, about anything, during the childbearing year. In this case both storyteller and story-listener go round and round in the Revolving Door, and both leave feeling “that did not go well,” or “she just doesn’t get it.”

I learned about the power of the ongoing dialog between the Victim-Judge when I studied the Toltec work with don Allan Hardman (in 2004). And after learning about this Revolving Door in my own mind, it began to change how I listened to stories, and how I taught others to listen to stories.

You will notice the Wolf Eyes behind and above the Revolving Door. Wolf Eyes represents the third potential voice, the archetypal Love Warrior. The Love Warrior (LW) does not enter the Revolving Door. Rather, LW continues to talk to both the Victim and Judge (part of the pantheon of Child archetypes) until, upon being heard, they can get ouyt of the Revolving Door and take the next step on the Journey.

* * *
You will notice a seated Greek figure holding a staff, and a dog, in the mandala frame gate. This is ASCLEPIUS who represents divine healing and healing through dream invocation. As legend has it, Asclepius was born by cesarean, at the last minute, when his mother was placed on the pyre. At the Sixth Gate and Seventh Gate, the storyteller is preparing to “dream a new dream” of her birth experience.

Asclepius is typically sculpted/pictured holding a staff wrapped with a single serpent. What do the staff and serpent symbolize? From Edelstein and Edlestein’s scholarly book and collection, Asclepius, the symbol is explained:

“Those who avail themselves of medical science undergo a process similar to the serpent in that they, as it were, grow young again after illness and slough off old age.” The Serpent here represents a sign of “attention,” because attention is required in medical treatment and healing. The Staff represents the same, and also that the Greek physician’s life was a long journey of healing… he walked far and wide to heal.

Sometimes Asclepius is shown with a Dog. I considered painting a “hunting dog” as a symbol for the hero’s journey, but I decided to paint an Aussie. Aussie’s are herders; we must herd our thoughts on this journey, or perhaps as elders/storylistener's we can help herd wondering initiates to make sure they are heading home to personal freedom after their Ordeal. (My “best friend,” Gracey, is a beautiful Aussie. I painted her in this mandala.)

Later in 50 Ways to Change Birth in Our Culture, we will catch up to Asclepius again as we explore a model of a healing sanctuary I am thinking about.

This week, Rahel, who was on Skype in the Birth Story Listening course, saw the painting and realized that it is bigger than she had imagined. It is 36" x 36", and the image I sent to you today is about 6" high.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Dear Birth Peeps,

The Medical Birth Story is the dominant birth story in our culture.  It is considered the most valid story and therefore is the most validated story. It’s the story of medical diagnosis and management peers ask new mothers to tell. It’s the story elicited by birth peeps during an intake interview for prenatal care; the briefer the better. (“Just the facts m’am, nothing but the facts.”) Women are prepared to participate in the hospital birth culture through medical research (which is another medical birth story) and anecdotes in books, classes, lectures, internet, and television.


When telling their story at this Gate, the storyteller can be emotionally charged, detached, or objective, using medical jargon to justify, explain, or debate their labor “management.” When a birth story is emotionally traumatic, the storyteller can become attached to the meaning she has given the story and to herself because it happened to her. As a result, many get stuck at this Gate, which means that this version becomes their final version. If a woman never progresses beyond the Fifth Story Gate, something will always be missing for her.  If she stops here she may never know a deeper, more spiritual meaning—or story--that is waiting up ahead.


What is the Medicine for this Gate?

A coherent birth story is comprised of lots of moments strung together in a certain order. At first “what happened” in a mother’s mind is fragmented and not in sequential order. The endorphin haze of labor clouds her linear memory.  One clue that she is approaching the Fifth Gate is when she begins to ask others who were witnessed the labor what happened, when, and why?”

Her story before this gate can be likened to beading a necklace on a string. Before the knot is tied, the beads can slip off the string and scatter.  At the Fifth Gate your tasks are to gather up the beads and string the story beads together into chronological order.

 It may be difficult for others to hear the storyteller struggle to find missing pieces, sort them out, and put the bits together again. A storyteller should not be rushed through this Gate or offered advice for a do-over birth; it does not help heal to vilify the medical model.  



Sunday, July 17, 2011


Dear Birth Peeps,

If you saw my Nine Birth Story slide show a few months ago at ICAN or Doula Care, you would have seen a Butterfly Gate. You can probably follow the logic of the former butterfly symbol: we are like the flitting butterfly landing here and there when we tell our birth story, partially and quickly, to strangers, acquaintances, friends. The Butterfly Gate is no more: one day the Muse took my brush, wiped out the Butterfly, and I waited for another order. . . Late one night . . . the new Fourth Gate appeared in the symbol of ripples of Teacups to represent the Social Birth Story.

Check it out! Teacups… in ripples… giving us the feeling of a rock skipping over the top of a lake. The Social Birth Story begins to emerge immediately after birth with the first phone call or visitor; it is a brief story used to share the highlights. It is also used for bonding, story-swapping, bragging, and “competition” between women. When we begin to pay attention, we begin to notice that the Social Story is far from fixed! What is emphasized or left out, as well as the emotional meaning, changes a little each time it is told depending on who is listening. That’s why the symbolic Teacups are different colors, shapes, and sizes.

The “ripples” around the Teacups are speckled with dots. Sometimes the colors on either side match (to represent rapport and being heard by the story-listener), and sometimes the colored dots don’t match (to represent a lack of being understood). Not being heard, understood, or validated, while telling our story in those early weeks and months can be hurtful, and cause secondary trauma.

The Social Story is not just “social” chit chat, it is an underestimated, powerful force in creating the collective story of birth. Because it is a story told quickly, often to half-listening listeners who are swapping their own stories… all listeners potentially leave with their own meaning, inferences, even distortions… then pass them on to others, like the rippling rock creating endless waves in the collective story of birth in our culture.


Saturday, July 16, 2011


HI Birth Peeps,
You have arrived at Story Gate Three!

Fairly soon after the birth, the mother-storyteller* begins to approach the THIRD GATE: RELATIONSHIPS. She is examining who was there, who wasn’t; who showed up in unexpected ways; who, if anyone, abandoned her. She may be examining the change in her relationship with her own mother, family, husband/partner, friends, birth peeps, the new baby or older children, other mothers, and most importantly—to herself.

This Gate is heart-shaped, an ambiguous symbol, which means you might see a heart that opens or … a broken heart. The outlines of women- and men-figures represent any relationship… not just the couple-relationship.

Sometimes when we share birth stories, we want to tell and we want to know, what happened medically, interventions, outcome… but we often overlook the importance of the more subtle sub-story of various relationships before, during, and after the birth.

In recent years when listening to birth trauma stories, I began experimenting with trying to “name” the trauma source; I thought it might be interesting to be able to document the incidence of birth trauma related to particular interventions or complications. I expected the traumas would be “caused by” the “epidural,” “cesarean,” or “breastfeeding problems.” As I listened more deeply, I was very surprised to realize that the most frequent “cause” of birth trauma was related to relationship. It would be easy to overlook this because the events and dramas of labor, i.e., induction, long labor, cesarean, etc., overshadow the subtle story of relationship.

In our Birth Story Listening online course, you will learn more about what to listen for and how to respond in a way that may help the mother pass through this Gate with understanding.


*I am referring to the mother as storyteller for simplicity sake in the main body of the blog, however, the storyteller could be the father/partner or birth peep.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Dear Birth Peeps,
One of the ways each of us can change birth in our culture is to listen deeply to birth stories, to understand and embrace the postpartum journey through a mother's story. Let's continue.

Within the day or two of giving birth, most mothers are chatting circles-around,or gushing through, their second birth story Gate, the GATE OF RELIEF AND GRATITUDE. This is usually a short, repeating, litany of praise for anyone and everyone who helped in anyway; it is probably fueled by endorphins and adrenalin, as well as genuine and overwhelming relief and joy. In addition, in the early weeks of postpartum, a new mother is falling in love with her baby; her
attention is naturally directed toward learning to care for her baby, getting enough sleep, and hosting a flurry of visitors. There isn’t time for reflection, yet.

For many years I used to be confused when a woman—who had just endured a terrible labor ordeal, often with excessive interventions —would be gushing gratitude and giving fruit baskets. Did I miss something? Why isn’t she traumatized, asking questions, blaming or more upset?!

Unfortunately, hospitals collect patient evaluation surveys from parents while they are still in this Gate of Relief and Gratitude! So administrators pat themselves on a job well done, verified by “patient satisfaction.” I wonder if the survey were given (or given again) three to six months later, if the satisfaction ratings would be the same. I think this timing on the part of administration is probably a combination of not being aware of how the evaluations (i.e., birth story) might/would change over time and convenience: get the paperwork done quickly.

But then weeks, months, or years later, when this mother had time to reflect on what she lived through, she would begin to put the fragmented pieces together, learn more about birth, and question what happened. It was then that her story would spontaneously change, at a time she had the time or emotional reserves to sort it out.

Any Second Gate stories to share? If you were to draw your second birth story Gate, what would it look like?


Thursday, July 14, 2011

BHJ: The Return Begins, FIRST GATE

Dear Birth Peeps,
There is more that could be said about the Ordeal, but finally, it is time to begin exploring the third phase of the hero’s journey: the Hero’s Return, the Ascent. During the next week I will be explaining some of the tasks of the Return… focusing on the evolution and the resolution of the would-be hero’s (no she is not yet a hero!) Story about her Ordeal.
There is never just one birth story because the birth story evolves, organically, over time. After years of listening deeply to birth stories I observed an almost predictable order of appearance, I began to categorize “types” of stories—there are nine—and began to think of each of the nine stories as rungs of a ladder, a ladder the hero must climb all the way out of the underworld. Follow me as we climb out of the underworld on the story ladder. (Tonight is the first time I’ve ever used the ladder metaphor, it just came to me! Until tonight I’ve referred to the nine stories as Gates, in reference to the myth of Inanna who must pass through Seven Gates to enter and exit the underworld.)

First Gate

It was difficult to conjure up a symbol or an image for the First Gate, the No Story Gate. But finally this image came to me: An infant being cradled in a hand; the infant represents both the baby and the newly-born parents. Because this story arises in the deep underworld—within minutes or hours of giving birth—where everything is falling apart, the symbol is painted in dots with a swirl of dots, like steam from a hot drink, to represent the feeling of just being without a story.
In the hours surrounding giving birth, a mother is immersed in living the birth. It is not yet a story: there is no timeline, there are no words, there is no audience to hear the story.
Other people witnessing the birth, or visiting shortly after, do have words, opinions, and a story about her labor, birth, or baby. They begin to tell their story of her birth to her, and around her, and their story inevitably colors what her story will become.

But in those first hours, the mother and father are still spinning, stunned open in love or stunned by the intensity of what they have lived… they haven’t formed a story yet.

Above the First Gate you see TWO LITTLE EAGLE CHICKS IN A NEST.
There is a common belief that by giving birth, mothers and fathers instantly become full-fledged parents; that parenting is predominantly instinctive. For most humans this is not true; parenting is more than just caring for the baby, it’s also involves a complex and profound social, psychic and spiritual transformation.
When a child is born, the parents are also newly born; we could say that (archetypally-speaking) the new parent is a Child-Mother or a Child-Father.
The eaglets represent the Child-Mother and Child-Father. The eaglets, who will one day be great hunters, for now must be fed eagle food to survive and grow their wings. Might the same be true for newborn parents? For parents to make it all the way out of their underworld of labor, and to complete their initiation and the transition to parenthood —they also need to be fed “eagle food,” the Food of Life and the Water of Life by their village. It takes patience and time to grow parent-wings.

In-Love on the Ladder!

Monday, July 11, 2011

BHJ continues: Shaman-artist and Spider Woman Labyrinth

Dear Birth Peeps,
It has been easier for me to paint than write of late, so the painting has progressed. This week you will see many new images. Thank you for your patience.

Yesterday I showed the mandala painting to my friend Alberto (for the first time). We exchanged few words as Alberto looked long at the painting, taking in all the details. Later he said that this painting was not meant to “hang in a gallery. It is a power piece… for healing.”

Yes, it is meant to invoke a turning in of the mind, a healing; it is meant to be a psychic map. Even the painter’s mind is turned inward and taken on a daily journey.

Some years ago I happened upon an exhibit (at the Albuquerque Art Museum) of about four to six intricate pen and ink drawings by an African shaman. If memory serves me correctly, the shaman-artist would sit with a patient and patiently draw an incredibly elaborate, detailed drawing for hours; judging by the detail, it seemed a drawing might take days… The shaman’s “medicine drawing” was a wildly labyrinthine visual journey, including many intricate “Celtic-like” knots, and what drew me in to the drawing were the almost hidden little faces and tiny figures. I wondered who were these characters throughout the drawing? Were they spirits or ancestors peering out from within the loops or little windows and caves? What were they doing? Perhaps they were trapping, taking, healing whatever illness had taken over the patient’s body and mind.
I sensed how healing and calming the presence of an artist-shaman, who was absorbed in his/her own drawing trance, might be to a patient watching the drawing emerge.

One of the Tasks of the Ordeal is to confront Change, Death, and to anticipate and prepare for "Rebirth," i.e., one's new role as mother or father, all the changes that follow giving birth. The Great Myths, rituals and initiations are rooted in reenacting the inevitable tragedy, fear of, and Mystery of Life and Death.

Part of how we can change birth in our culture is to dare to prepare parents for this inevitable confrontation and change within themselves, perhaps within their relationship as they transition from being a "couple" to being parents.

In my new book, The Labyrinth of Birth, page 81, I describe Spider Woman's Drawing in the Sand. It is partially visible in today's image...

"When death comes to the stone-age people on Malecula, an island in the South Pacific, the dead person's soul approaches the entrance to the underworld and finds it guarded by Le-Lev-Lev, the Spider Woman. Le-Lev-Lev draws a single unbroken line in the sand, then erases half of it. The dead person's soul has to complete the drawing to be allowed to enter. If she (or he) cannot complete the drawing, she will be eaten by Spider Woman. If the lines are successfully drawn, the dead are allowed to enter the underworld where there is a beautiful lake representing the Water of Life."

Initiation involves preparing for and experiencing symbolic death and rebirth. This initiation myth and ritual of the Malecula points to conscious Preparation for Change, for Death (death of a belief, expectation, how the relationship was, and sometimes death of the baby, or the mother, or a loved one during the time of birth). In this mature way of holistic preparation, the initiate learns the pattern of Spider Woman's labyrinth before death or the trial comes.

Birth attendants are trained and trained to know what to do when the unwished-for happens in birth. Even if a birth attendant has not encountered a certain complication before her training is complete, her role-playing, tests, and conversations about that possibility have allowed her to memorize the path she would take should the emergency arise. So when this complication arises, like the half-drawn labyrinth in the sand, a well-prepared birth peep can do her part, she can complete the other half of the drawing.

In a similar way, parents deserve to be prepared before their Ordeal, so they have a clue how to "complete their drawing in the sand."

How is this done? This is the Task of the new Elders, Birth Peeps and birth mentors, to figure this out.


PS... You can order a copy of the beautiful Labyrinth of Birth book from our online store. This makes a wonderful gift for anyone you know who is about to give birth, and any birth peep who wants to learn how to teach this process to parents.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

BHJ: The Ambiguous Gatekeeper Within

Greetings Birth Peeps!
Last week I told you we would take another look at the Gatekeeper, the Guardian of the Threshold. It has taken me longer than usual to compose this posting, partly because I am possessed by the Gatekeeper of my Kidney, and everything takes longer these days. Tonight, I had a window of clarity and am eager to write you.

GATEKEEPERS are ambiguous, archetypal figures in myths, fairytales, and most importantly within our psyche. A Gatekeeper might be represented as masculine or feminine, human (e.g., Bidu in the myth of Inanna) or animal (e.g., Cerberus, the three-headed dog in the myth of Psyche). It may be protective, benevolent, or fiendish, and ultimately has the power to turn away the journeyer who is not ready to pass, or let through the one who is.

Meeting the Gatekeeper at a Threshold represents a psychic confrontation with an unconscious force that has previously held us back; it represents the embodied, almost ritual, experience of a mini-death, a mini-initiation.
You do not have an ordinary conversation with the Gatekeeper; the Gatekeeper is not your pal and will not be swayed by small talk and bargaining. The Gatekeeper must be given Something—something symbolic and specific, something hard to come by—that represents Knowledge, Sacrifice, and Readiness. This exchange is the Key that allows the journeyer to pass, e.g., the small cake Psyche gave Cerberus.
Or, perhaps as in the story of Inanna’s Descent, the Gatekeeper, Bidu, “takes” Something from Inanna--without bargaining and without her permission—not once, but seven times! At no Gate does Inanna ever “get it” and willingly “give up” her attachment to her identity, power, protections, and treasures. She believes she can have it all because she “believes” she is special, the master of her destiny, and uniquely deserving. Power and time have confused Inanna; she has misidentified what she knows and what she does with who she is. So, each time Something valued is seized, Inanna’s sense of self and the order of things is deeply confronted, and she shouts, “What is this? Give it back, that is mine, that is me…!
Each time Inanna is further disrobed and walks away from a Gate, she must inquire, “Who am I without my ‘crown of beliefs’?,” “Who am I without my birth plan [being followed or honored]?” It is only when things fall apart and we are confronted by the illusion of “choice” that we find out who we really are.

As the initiate, the would-be hero, travels deeper into the Unknown, into the Ordeal, she will pass several, Seven, thresholds. Seven represents hardship, endurance, and determination.
In modern day birth as a hero’s journey, an essential part of the would-be hero’s preparation includes gathering up seven Things and Beliefs she believe will protect her in the Unknown of Labor. On some level, mothers, fathers, and birth peeps all must do this.
When the Child, the would-be hero, Prepares for her Ordeal—for her long-awaited Day—part of that preparation involves daydreaming, creating an “intention,” a do-able fantasy of how it is, will be, or should be; this is how the “birth plan” fits in. This fantasy, imagining, role-playing is part of the Preparation.
We cannot try to be superior to other hapless would-be hero's (who planned and brought all their stuff and ideals only to lose them) by not gathering our seven Things and Beliefs of Protection. Even having that thought, that self-important strategy, to outsmart the Way is the gathering of at least one prideful Belief… “I” am so clear and fearless, “I” do not need to bring along any intentions or secret hopes, or beads, or anything.” Hmpf.
If there is a "plan" to not have any such “plan” that means there is still a bargaining “I,” an identification with “I,” and an idea of what it means to be a good enough, smart enough, strong enough, loveable enough “I.”
Can you see that the power of the hero’s journey is here… in the “disrobing” of our illusions and masks at these Thresholds?

Can you see that the Thresholds we are talking about here are not built by the institution in a place “out there?” No! These illusive Thresholds are constructed, and maintained, by our own minds.
We have all spent time, often years, being “locked out,” left out, waiting at a Gate for the Gate to open, for someone to open it, waiting until we knew enough, made more money, until the time was right … and then one day, in a moment of Clarity… we laugh to realize that all along it was a Gateless Gate, it was open all along. We laugh and weep: the cosmic joke is on us. Then the inquiry begins: What kept us from passing through? Something “out there?” No! The mind. The heart.
This week the soul elves and Gates began to float between the two worlds, naturally blending into the background as layers of dots appeared…but the Question Marks remain, the Deep Questions are still being asked, whispered…..

And with a genuine change of mind, a change of heart, suddenly the Gate does not open, it literally disappears. There is no leap across the Threshold, it’s just that the illusion of a separation disappears and we are of new mind, of new knowing, new stature, role, or service in society.

Some people think of the underworld as dark, cold, cruel, or punishing (and they don’t want to go there, not in their imagination, not even with me in this painting), but I do not find it so. In the underworld/ innerworld our sense of perception heightens and priorities shift. When things are not as they seem, when we play a game where we are blindfolded, suddenly we hear more acutely—not only with our ears but with our body, too. The rare light in the underworld allows some things that had been in the foreground of our plans to fade into the shadows while mysteriously illuminating, enlarging, and making to sparkle small things and moments that would go unnoticed in our hectic, have-it-our- way lives. In the altered state of Laborland and other underworld journeys, time changes, the future is out of reach, and we cannot mentally or physically function at full speed. Suddenly, cracked open, we want to, and we must, see and to hear deeply, take in and savor the moment whether it is one called bliss or one …. completely and digest each bit slowly. Here we see and feel what we overlook in our ego-driven, full-speed-ahead lives.
I was thinking about all this when I covered parts of the underworld in dots the same color as the “underpainting”—so you could see the object or figure, but if you look closely, it is all held together by separate dots.

If we look only at our problems, our inner world dissolves; if we look only at the world, it begins to dissolve. If we want to create art, we have to stitch together the
inner world and the outer world.” –Robert Bly

OUR TASK, BIRTH PEEPS, is to prepare women and men for birth in our culture. This taks is unique and complex; both parents and professionals desperately need soulful preparation and initiation by those who have done their work, who have been scattered and mended, who know Great Stories and who have come to know their own hearts and stories during their own Return. There is a great need for mature childbirth mentors and birth story-listeners who can simultaneously embrace and present the physical/medicalized worlds of birth and, at the same time be immersed in, and grounded by, a rich inner world.

A personal note about the process of painting in the last two weeks: When I began this mandala painting, I was not well, but I was not yet immersed in the “underworld” (or my inner-world) of uncertainty. Before last week, I had been feeling that the underworld figures, colors, symbols, and images in the Ordeal phase were initially flat and too rational. In recent weeks, inspired by a new descent into my own health/medical underworld, I am sourcing from my immediate experience and painting more authentically, not so much from what I know but what I am feeling into.

In-Love, in Celebration of your Personal Freedom,

2 Bly, Robert (1986). The Winged Life. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books. Pp. 3-5.