Monday, April 25, 2011

Birth Story Medicine: Topic of Radio Interview on Wednesday

Dear Birth Peeps,
One way to change birth in our culture is to heal our birth stories, and bring awareness to how and where we tell them.

Join me and Marianne Perchlik, who is interviewing me about Birth Story Medicine, on April 27, Wednesday morning, 8:30 to 10:00 am EST on her show "The Quilting Hour."
Go to to find out about live streaming.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

#25 cont. Suitcase Full of Assumptions and Agreements

Hi Birth Peeps,
After the Child internalizes their Book of Rules and grows up, s/he leaves home to make their way in the world. They pack up their clothes, books, and whatnot -- and the invisible Book of Rules they learned or made up as little kids--and they continue to follow those Rules.

After the Call, there are several tasks that ideally need to be done before the Ordeal begins. I have not yet been inspired to paint images for those tasks. However, the next image that did come to me this week was a metaphorical Suitcase of Assumptions and Agreements, made and gathered in childhood, and carried through out life. Not only do we carry it about with every move, new relationship, and new job, but we also pass the Suitcase down to the next generation.

In a dream I had years ago, I saw my Great Grandmother being given an overstuffed leather suitcase on her wedding day, and I saw her pass it down to my Grandmother on her wedding day, and then to my mother on her wedding day. In the next dream-scene, I am sitting in the shade of an crab apple tree in one of my childhood homes, emptying out the suitcase, looking at all the agreements on scraps of paper...sorting them... keeping some and putting others in piles to return to my mother and my grandmothers (who gladly take them back from the grave).

From the dream I realized that we all preserve certain assumptions and "traditions" from our family of origin, and continue living them (because they are familiar or still work for us); others we do not keep.

So a few days ago the Suitcase of Rules wanted to be painted next the the descending ladder, and suddenly a few sheets of paper blew away in the wind. Clearly, the suitcase won't fit through the hole descending into the Ordeal Phase, the underworld of labor.

(By the way, the other day I was having an appointment with Alberto, my hairdresser, who is from Mexico. He was telling me about his dos tias (two aunties) who were parteras (midwives). He said they taught mothers that labor was an "underworld, and labor for women was battle so they had to be Warriors. Do you know what the battle is about?, he asked me. They believe the mother must go to the place between worlds to get her baby, sometimes there is a great battle for her to get the baby and bring it to the family...)

When a human being makes a hero's journey, whether it is through labor or illness... it is inevitable that one of the old agreements/assumptions will be taken, or broken. And this little death allows for the birth of a new agreement or belief.


Friday, April 22, 2011

#25 continued... Spider Woman's Drawing

Hi Birth Peeps,

We are going to go out of sequence. I've been working daily on the mandala painting, making the geometrical lines and shapes more exact, and many minor changes. Here's a photo of the whole mandala... in progress.

A few days ago I woke up and the muse said, "Put the Spider Woman Drawing above the bones." I got out of bed, made tea, and painted in my pajamas.

When I first saw the Spider Woman Drawing in a Through the Labyrinth by Herman Kern, it drew me in, even before I knew the story about it. My eye, and my finger wanted to trace it over and over. Here is the story (it's in the Labyrinth of Birth)--in case you haven't read it, I'll include it here:

"When death comes to the stone-age people of Malecula, an island in the South Pacific, the dead person's soul approaches the entrance to the underworld and finds it guarded by Le-Le-Lev, the Spider Woman. Le-Le-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 s/he has prepared for her/his "death," she/he will know how to draw it...and will then pass to the underworld where there is a beautiful lake (representing the Water of Life). If the person is not prepared, cannot complete the labyrinth... then Spider Woman will eat them.

I was very surprised when this wanted to be painted in... it is here for now, but it might be covered up. Tomorrow I will post yesterday's painting and story.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Change #26 Shining the Light of Truth on Hospital Classes: Tell the Truth #1

Good Morning Birth Peeps!

My muse has been directing the painting... out of order. Imagine that! I've asked for some direction today for the next section in sequence so all the birth peeps can follow logic, but you may have to follow my muse with me. Tomorrow we will continue the Hero's Journey.... Today let's begin a mini-series of "Tell the Truth" ideas to change birth in our culture.

On Sunday I had my favorite veggie crepe and salad breakfast at the Green Café with Tara, a critical-thinking friend who is also a doula. She was telling me about how during their first pregnancy, she and her husband signed up for childbirth classes at the hospital where they planned to birth, but for some reason that class canceled after the first two of six, and they were referred to complete the series with another teacher in another childbirth class in a hospital only 17 miles away.

One childbirth class is as good as another, right?
So they transferred classes, no questions asked.

Tara observed that the classes were only 17 miles apart, but they were worlds apart. The first hospital had a 17% cesarean rate, and the second had a 35% cesarean rate. Not surprisingly, this was also reflected in the two hospital’s classes, where not only were the teachers and curriculum “worlds apart,” but so were the attitudes and expectations of the parents. Parents in the second class (who had received prenatal care from, and who planned to birth at, the “high cesarean rate hospital,” seemed to have adopted that hospital’s attitudes. For example, when Tara announced to her first class that she was hoping to have a water birth in that hospital, the teacher and parents accepted and talked openly about this idea. But, when she introduced herself and her water birth plan at the second hospital class, one father said, “Water birth is gross,” and the teacher did not use this as an opportunity to talk about the benefits of option of water birth. Parents who form a class are not merely passive recipients of information in a medical birth culture, they are also unwitting “teachers” and participants in perpetuating it.

Although there are exceptions, for the most part, hospital childbirth classes don’t actually teach parents about childbirth. The only thing they teacher can teach is how to be a patient in the hospital-that-paid-them? Hospital classes don’t tend to teach parents about the wide-range of choices that are available nowadays—only the choices that are available in that hospital.

To be fair, some home birth classes and other methods of childbirth preparation can also be one-sided and omit conversations and preparation regarding certain aspects of medicalized birth in our culture, e.g., how to negotiate decision-making in the hospital (in case there is a transfer), or how to cope with pain, or how to give birth by cesarean.

So, today’s proposal for changing birth in our culture:

Tell the Truth. Don’t mislead parents. If classes don’t actually teach parents about “birth” from their perspective and offer practical information about a wide-range of options that are possible, then, don’t call the “childbirth classes.” So let’s all tell more of the truth now by calling hospital childbirth classes that teach about birth in that hospital what they really are: An Orientation to the Policies, Beliefs, and Attitudes of Birth in Our Hospital.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Answering the Call

Good Spring Morning to you, Birth Peeps!

I am often aware or tuned into a Call to action, and I know almost immediately when I am Refusing a Call... but I don't always know when I have said "yes" or what exactly I just said "yes" to! We always think in the beginning it is one thing, and it turns out to be something quite different. But if we knew what was ahead, we would have said a logical no. In retrospect we may be able to construct a story about "answering the Call" (or any other part of the hero's journey), but when we are living it, we are in the labyrinth of life and don't quite know where we are or how it all fits together.

The hero's journey and all the moving parts I am describing to you are not something you can figure out with certainty in your own life. This work is more subtle, ambiguous--it's not like hard science where things can be measured, analyzed and "proven." However, this model provides a framework for understanding Great Stories, certain fairy tales and myths, and your life.

We can make a lot of jokes about "Answering the Call," e.g., "Did 'I' agree to THIS?,' "Okay, I've changed my mind now, I want to reverse this Call!," and so on.

At some point we do take a "yes-step," sometimes it's an enthusiastic leap, (or perhaps Spirit or Fate shoves us) in the direction of our Calling. From that moment on, it seems as if all the forces about us and within us conspire to bring about events that help us incubate, gestate, or prepare for the desired new "birth" of self or a particular mission.

Here is a favorite quote of mine from The Soul's Code by James Hillman:

"There is m ore in a human life than our theories of it allow. Sooner or later something seems to call us onto a particular path. You may remember something... an urge out of nowhere, a fascination, a peculiar turn of events... This is what I must do, this is what I've got to have. This is who I am."

I want to reiterate that what the Call was really all about may become more apparent years later. When I think back on my cesarean surgery/birth experience as a hero's journey now, I had no idea at the time what I was being Called to. My uninitiated, youthful, egotistical mind was certain I was making "informed choices" and that the desired birth I had "chosen" for myself was my Call, so of course I leaped and said yes. Now I tend to think that when it is Love Calling us to Love, true self-Love,, Love will use events in our lives to wake us up to the healing we took birth for. To get that healing often requires a great shock, loss, wounding...It isn't always as pretty as the "Secret" makes it sound... although there is a thread of truth in everything.

Living the hero's journey is an ambiguous and multi-layered. Our Western minds want to make it rigid, linear, pin it down... but it can't be (unless you are writing a fairytale or biography and the events have to follow a sequence to make sense).

So the question often comes up around birth as a hero's journey. How do you know if you are experiencing this or did experience it? Let's continue the journey, and later you can decide for yourself. Here's a hint: the Hero's Journey doesn't have anything to do with having the birth you want(ed), birthing normally or having/not having interventions, it's not about not taking drugs... this is all about something that can't be charted in your birth records. It is the inner journey of birth. We'll continue next week. Hope you have a lovely weekend.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Refusal of the Call

Good Morning Birth Peeps,

The Call inevitably calls us away from “home,” that is, away from at least one aspect of what we were raised to believe, or what our family and friends would approve of, who we think we are, and away from what has been comfortable for us in the past. If we were not “called away” we would still be doing what we have always done and believed… and while this is part of the mundane life we all must live to get on in the world… if we are still “at home,” we are not actively in a hero’s journey.

Part of the hero’s journey must include Refusal of the Call. Naturally, this Call to “leave home” is disturbing or even alarming, and thus invokes the necessary “Refusal of the Call.” This is when we begin to feel nostalgia for our roots; we rationalize and argue for common sense ; and we weigh “what will people think” against taking the risk to follow our soul’s longing. In “Refusal,” we hesitate to speak or act in response to the call—and are almost compelled to revert to old, familiar patterns of behaving.

Why Refuse the Call to Love? Because leaving home activates the human’s biggest fear: abandonment, loss of approval, being alone, or being blamed if the journey “doesn’t turn out well.” On some level we know that undertaking this journey will change us at a core level, and therefore our relationships, and this is a kind of psychic/social “death.” We fear death, even physical, social, and psychic little deaths.

And because we don’t always feel ready, worthy, prepared enough to answer the Call to something new. It may be wise to wait, to grow spiritual strength, to gain information or skills that will insure our ability to endure and Return from the Ordeal.

Consider times in your life when you Heard the Call and Refused the Call. How did you know to wait rather than leap impulsively into the adventure? What, or who, would you have had to leave behind? During the Refusal, what happened?

Everything is exactly as it should be, the only way it could be in this moment. If it is time to wait and grow Soul and skills, then do this wholeheartedly.

Tomorrow, we will consider Answering the Call.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Hearing the Call

Dear Birth Peeps,
Today’s mandala painting update…. The fallopian flower hangs over the ovary represented by a life force in orbit with a golden egg bursting forth. The baby is falling into its world and life from a spinning galaxy representing Spirit…. which is also sending the archetypal Call into the Ear.

In her eloquent poem, The Call, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, she begins:
“I have heard it all my life, a voice calling
a name I recognized as my own.”

The would-be hero is Called to make the journey “home,” to Love. There are three mini-phases of the Call: Hearing the Call, Refusing the Call, and Answering the Call. Today we will consider from where the Call comes and on Hearing the Call.
“Sometimes it comes as a soft-bellied whisper.
Sometimes it holds an edge of urgency. But always it says:
Wake up my love. You are walking asleep. There’s no safety in that!”
--Oriah Mountain Dreamer

From where does the Call come? The Call comes from Love--to Love; Love is constantly, relentlessly calling to us. We often fail to hear the Call over the chatter of our ego-monkey-mind; that's okay, it is persistent. Eventually we tune in to hear the Call that is whispered or the one that is embodied in a burning feeling that we must do something, know something, go somewhere—even when it is irrational. The Call may come in the form of a word spoken or written by another, through illness, accidents, accidental meetings, or dreams.

We often think of the Call as a call to action or a profession, for example, “I was called to be a doula,” “I suddenly had an overwhelming desire to be a mother,” or “I had a vivid dream I was birthing without hands.”
These Calls wake us up to use our work and life (as a mother, partner, professional) to realize the truth of who we are, to loving ourselves, to taking another step on the hero’s journey.

When you think of birth as a hero’s journey, what are the varied expressions of the Call? What is it you were, or are called to, as a mother? As a birth peep? (Hint: this Call is more about you, not a mission statement to change or heal others. In the hero’s journey, you are using birth work to grow your soul!) What is Calling you?

Hear Your Call,


Monday, April 11, 2011

First Phase of Preparation for the Hero's Journey

Dear Birth Peeps,
I am home from the ICAN Conference in St. Louis where over 250 passionate women (and a few men and lots of cute babies) gathered to learn about cesareans from many experts in the field. This was a well-organized, warm, gathering--and I learned a lot, met up with old friends, and made many new friends, too. Some are joining Birth Peeps. Welcome!

I'll say more about ICAN and cesarean prevention and healing soon, but let's continue with Change #23. Almost the first thing I did when I returned from St. Louis was change into my painting clothes and get out the brushes. My easel is broken, so I painted with the canvas on the floor. (Today my son, Lucien, came over and helped me glue the crack in the easel so tomorrow, I should be working in an "optimal painting position!"

The Hero's Journey is divided into three phases: Preparation, Ordeal and Return. I like to further divide the Preparation Phase into Unconscious Preparation and Conscious Preparation. The symbolic Ear in the upper right-hand corner of the painting, along the line that divides the Unconsc and Consc phases of Preparation in this mandala, represents the archetypal Call... The Call which invokes the Conscious Preparation Phase. (More on this later this week or next.)

When we are wee, innocent, magical-thinking, dreamy children.... we are rapidly, often passively, learning so many skills and lessons that will potentially serve and limit us during our adult life. These "lessons" are represented by the small notches along the rim of the mandala circle. There are millions of these moments!

We aren't learning these skills with any intention or foreknowledge that they will help us through an Ordeal twenty or thirty years or longer down the can't even think that far ahead! And yet, these social, mental, and physical skills will one day play a part.

We try to avoid unnecessary trauma for children, and yet sometimes a trauma in childhood plays a positive role in activating skills and personality characteristics that will later be helpful in an Ordeal. It's not that we "needed" the trauma, but being resourceful humans, we may source some strength from it.

When we were children, adults consciously and unconsciously taught us about being human, and how to fit in and function in our culture... in whatever way they understood it and learned it from the humans who taught them!

Pre-verbal children learn through verbal and non-verbal messages. And, because they don't censor what they see and hear, they see and hear EVERYTHING.... As soon as they have language, little humans begin naming everything, and they ask adults about the meaning of everything or they give their own meaning to the life around them and in them; that's why as soon as humans have learned enough language to tell stories, they become perpetual storytellers--ever narrating their life.

The task of seven year-old children (+/- a few years) is to learn Rules and to MAKE RULES. They want to know the Rules for games and for being human; they tend to follow rules, and they insist others to follow rules!

While everyday life is going on, e.g., ordinary conversations at mealtimes, facial expressions,special events, bedtime storytelling.... children ever-observing the world around them, listening, sitting in the car, playing at the feet of adults, watching tv, reading books....are making and reinforcing Rules that give their world order, keep them safe, tell them how to fit in or withdraw...

Some of these Rules they learned from the adults around them. If a Child is frequently given food when she says she is hungry, she makes an assumption about a number of things: food, asking and receiving, and security. This predictable relationship with food and her adult caretaker shapes many Rules and expectations around other relationships. Children generalize. If their primary caretakers are loving, that is their whole world and what they expect of others. And the inverse is equally true. If a Child is hungry and asks for food, and none is given, or the adult blames the Child... then the Child begins to tell herself a certain story and makes Rules to survive another way.

Rules and beliefs are tethered to emotion, memory, and longing. And some of the Rules the child makes up because they don't know the Rule, or the Rule they were given doesn't fit...

Every Rule serves a purpose: They tell us how to get love, be loveable, safe, and belong. And there are Don't Rules, Never do...Rules, and Always do...Rules. Rules often sound Absolute, but many Absolute Rules have a hidden Exception that only the Rule-Maker knows--(and this is what makes us so complicated and unpredictable at times).

In the painting, I depict the Child earnestly, eagerly, and attentively learning and writing down all the Rules he and she are learning. The little girl is proud that she has learned the Rules and knows what to do to be loved, to belong, and to get it right.

Later we will revisit how Rules play a crucial part in the Ordeal and Return. But this is enough for now.



Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Fallopian Flower and Baby

#25 continued....

Dear Birth Peeps,

As I write you this morning, my bags are packed and I am preparing to fly to the ICAN Conference in St. Louis where I am giving a talk on essentially the Return portion of the hero's journey. During her Return, the would be-hero (she's not a hero until she completes the Return) must pass through the nine birth story Gates. Or she will will remain in the "underworld" of birth--where she will have plenty of company in our culture! More on that later.

Today I wanted to take my readers from the beginning, so you can understand the profound possibilities in seeing birth as a hero's journey. And so, in my mandala, we begin in the North. (This is still the it develops, I'll return to this image...) You see a "Fallopian Flower" and her ripe egg/seed, and a baby falling toward the circle, which represents the world, her world, her life, the beginning of her journey.

An innocent human being is born into a world, a culture, a family, a religion, a certain kind of diet, and millions of beliefs, assumptions, Rules... and the Child begins to learn. At first the learning is unconscious, then when language and reason develops, the child becomes conscious of what s/he is learning. But, learning is always unconscious, the conscious mind just realizes or articulates what has been learned.

That's all I have time for today, we will continue....


Monday, April 4, 2011

Change # 25 Envision the Childbearing Year as a Hero's Journey

Dear Birth Peeps,
Last week I showed you the beginning of a 36" x 36" acrylic painting of a mandala I am making depicting birth as a hero's journey. I hope you will enjoy learning more about birth as a hero's journey as you follow the painting.

I started out with an idea of what I wanted this mandala to express, and how I wanted it to be same or different from the first HJ mandala I made a few years ago. I often paint at the crack of dawn for an hour or so, and again before I go to bed. Friday night I began painting around 10:30 and was surprised to discover when I was washing my brushes that it was 3 am!

Now a few weeks into the painting, it is beginning to "speak" to me. Sometimes I have a dream that guides the next image that gets painted on the canvas; I dream a brush painting a symbol or line--and that is how I know what to do next. Before I begin each session, I stand before her and ask her how she is, what does she want next? Then I follow... For example, last night when I asked, she said, "The Gates are all closed... you need to open them."

"What! I'll have to repaint three Gates, and I like them!..."
She insisted... and told me what color to use to rub them out and so, I begin again.

Other times my muse comes through a chance phrase in a book or a conversation with a friend. On Saturday I had breakfast with a friend, Joseph, who is a scholar and poet. He was telling me about Judson Jerome, author of The Poet and The Poem.... when Joseph said, "the poet Names things..." I saw clearly in my mind the Poet in my painting, and where she must be. I could not wait to get back to the easel to scrumble in a place for her....

Mandala is a synonym for sacred space or enclosure, a space created for a ritual or in this case, a rite of passage journey. In Sanskrit mandala means circle or round object. The circle represents the womb, sun, moon, eternity, and the Masculine principle. The square represents the Feminine principle, the four elements, stability. There is a dynamic relationship between circles and squares.

You can see the yin/yang symbol in the large circle representing dynamic movement in the hero's journey; the spots in the two halves of the yin yang symbol remind us that masculine and feminine energies are interdependent. Presently the yin/yang colors are too contrasted--a new softer color is needed.

This photo brings you up to Friday...We will continue tomorrow.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Change #24 Teach Youth about the History & Evolution of Birth in Our Culture

Dear Birth Peeps,
On Friday I was a guest speaker at a charter high school in Santa Fe where my eldest son, Sky, is a history teacher. The kids in three of his classes got a kick out of having their teacher's "mom" be his guest speaker! I shared a few colorful and key highlights of childbirth and medical history with the students, and answered questions about birth in our culture.

Childbirth will be one of the great rites of passage in many of these youths lives, and yet they are not prepared to understand birth in a cultural context, or any context—until they are in their third trimester! We all know that “passive” childbirth education begins long before a woman/couple becomes pregnant—and too often that education is rendered from television and birth stories which may entertain or arouse emotionally-charged imagery—but may not challenge youth to think about childbirth in a broad context of history and culture.

History courses usually focus on politically and economically relevant events such as wars, inventions, revolutions, but rarely touch on how “mundane,” peripheral events, such as birth and medicine, were influenced by, and influential in, those events.

I prepared a brief power point presentation with images of ancient and modern birth, and interesting characters such as Ignaz Semmelweis (who is famous for observing the difference in death rates between doctors’ and midwives’ patients in a Vienna hospital and made the connection between childbed fever and germs being introduced from unwashed hands—because doctors came from autopsies to births without washing their hands in the good ol’ days), William Smellie (who in the mid-1700’s went to births in drag to make the ladies feel more comfortable with a man in their birth room) and Mary Breckinridge and the midwives on horse back in rural Kentucky....(How did the midwives arriving at home births on horseback with just a pair of scissors and herbs in saddle bags achieve remarkable results in home births in the late 1920’s? They had no drugs, no IV’s (not invented until late 1930’s), no drugs to induce labor or kill pain, no forceps or means of performing cesareans—and yet no mothers died and the neonatal mortality rate dropped dramatically after the midwives came, and remained well below the national (hospital) averages. They taught mothers good prenatal nutrition, and they did not interfere with the natural process

I actually had a few learning moment of my own while presenting. In 1600, an English physician, Chamberlin invented forceps. In that era, many children were orphaned and poor, and made their living in factories. There were no child labor laws, and children were exploited; they worked long hours in dark factories and had little food—which affected normal bone development causing rickets. Rickets contracted the pelvic opening; women with rickets had more difficulty birthing normally. It would be three more centuries before there was anesthesia, antibiotics, IVs, suture, or surgical skill to perform safe cesareans. So Chamberlin must have seen women suffer and die, and he invented a way to intervene—the only way he could think of at the time.

For almost four decades, I have been stuck in an absolute, unyielding belief that Chamberlin and his invention, forceps, were barbaric. This is because I was a very young nurse and midwife when I first saw forceps used; I did not have a historical perspective—until Friday. In a singular moment in the high school classroom I felt a wave of understanding and compassion expand my understanding (which is not to say that forceps should not be used with caution and skill).

In one of Sky’s classes he showed his students a very cool video of an “animated” line graph that showed when the average of death rates in various countries increased from the turn of the century to present. From 1900 to 1940, life expectancy was about the same everywhere (30-40 years). Around the mid-1940’s, the life span in developed countries began to rise rapidly, by 1950, it was 68 years!

What happened in the 1940’s?
Penicillin was discovered in 1929 but not developed into a pharmaceutical until the early 1940’s; other antibiotics followed. IV’s were invented in 1935, and improved and made available after 1940. Those two changes alone saved many lives on the battlefield and in hospitals. These important contributions simultaneously coincided with the ongoing campaign to eradicate midwifery and move birth to the hospitals. But it was not the “hospital” or the absence of midwifery that made birth safer: it was primarily attributed to antibiotics, IV’s and blood transfusions.

The students were completely present and asked great questions from a place of innocence and wisdom. Every class raised the questions: Why are there so many cesareans?, Why did they bottle feed babies?, How could they think that formula was better for the baby than what mothers' own bodies made?, Why did they give mothers Scopolamine? (Why indeed?!), and What about home birth?

I wanted to show you photos of Sky and I in his classroom... but the student photographer took blurry photos (maybe it’s my camera because a lot of my photos turn out the same way!). Nonetheless, the image of these youth considering the history of childbirth will be remembered by me and, I imagine, all of the students as well.

Please, find an opportunity to teach youth about the history and evolution of childbirth in our culture.

Good Night,