Friday, December 28, 2012


I am offering three one-day 
in Albuquerque:
I January 12, II February 9, and III March 9 (10 am to 5 pm)

Here's the exciting learning agenda for DFW I:
  • Doula Work as Your Hero's Journey
  • How You Can Help Parents Experience Any Birth as a Hero's Journey
  • The Integrated Doula
  • Time to Heal Your Birth Story: When/if you have attended a birth where you didn't know what to do, or what you did didn't seem to work, and you want resolution: bring your story
  • An introduction to Solution-Focused Dialogue. A demonstration showing you how SFD creates amazing results in minutes! (This training will continue in DFW II and III).
This  workshop is for everyone who supports women/couples in labor: nurses, midwives, and doulas (new, experienced, regardless of where you received training or certification).

Register Now: Early Bird Registration only $95 for the day. Late Registration is $125.
Sign up for all three and get 10% off the Early Bird price, only $265 for all three.

Details and info:
Register here:

5.5 contact hours will be awarded by California Board of Nursing.

Hope to see you soon,


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Response to Daniell about the Birth Huntress

 Dear Danielle and Birth Peeps,
The study of the archetypal patterns of our lives, our behaviors, and of the world adds depth and new dimension to how we experience our lives, birth--and how we share the meaning of birth with others. One of our readers is really taking up the study, thinking about the Birth Huntress. Danielle wrote, and I promised her a response on the blog because I think my answer will speak to others, too. 

It is very easy to confuse the Huntress archetype with the Gatherer, the part of us that gathers up bits of information and opinions and birth plans.... the Gatherer has an external perspective, her attention is turned outward, and she gathers from others exclusively. In this model, the Birth Huntress turns her attention inward, she is not hunting for what she wants in the world "out there," rather she is stalking her own mind, her beliefs, her patterns. There is no "killing" involved; hunger is sated when we "know ourselves."

Danielle wrote:
"As with a Huntress (perhaps this is just my own notion of what it i to Hunt) you have to be prepared for the beast you are chasing down to turn on you. And, as wild as it sounds, does Birth not often turn on us and become the very thing we are running from? Does the next step, the next surrender, the next question-to-be-answered not terrify enough that it feels as if it will grab us by our necks and we will indeed die from it"

Just as in the animal world a predator can easily become prey, in the psychic-spiritual world of personal growth, we too are both predator or prey depending on how we have learned to perceive and respond to life circumstances. Sometimes when we are caught by surprise, we don’t have time to make a conscious “choice” and we respond unconsciously, from instinct or habit, which means we may behave either as prey, or as predator. When it feels like someone or something "out there" has "grabbed us by the neck and we may die from it," we are in the Victim, helpless Child part of us, and it is this urgency to "wake up" that awakens the Huntress to seek power, awareness, patience, truth, and new ways of being.

To the degree we are developing our Huntress awareness skills daily, during ordinary times, that is non-threatening times, we are more able to draw on those skills under duress. Under threat is not really the time to cultivate our Huntress and awareness skills; under threat we will do whatever we have already learned or been conditioned by, and act without thinking it through.

". . .you have to be prepared for the beast you are chasing down to turn on you. And, as wild as it sounds, does Birth not often turn on us and become the very thing we are running from?"

In your present thinking, Danielle and perhaps other readers, you may be thinking of the predator being exclusively “out there.” In the archetypal model I am presenting to you, the Huntress (predator) turns her attention inward to stalk her habit-mind, the inner-predator and prey of negative and limiting beliefs, defined by what she is telling herself about herself, about life, and about what the situation means about her. This archetypal inner-Huntress is not going to be hunted by “birth” but she might be “taken down” by what she is telling herself about herself, the moment, the circumstances.

Danielle, and readers… in this model, in your own life, prenatal preparation or postpartum inquiry, the seeker must ask herself,  "From What am I running? How do I know to run, rather than stalk, study, fight, pounce?"

“Birth” is a word that contains many meanings, both literal and metaphorical. In one dream “birth” might be a beast, it could be symbolized by a force of nature, for example a weather pattern, or a physiological process. In our work we strive to be very specific about what exactly it is that we are drawn to, and why; what exactly it is we are trying to avoid, and why; and what exactly we might be inclined to run from, and why?

“…birth turning on us…” In my way of thinking, birth is. Life is. It arises in us and we in it—without separation.  When we do fall into subject-object thinking and perceiving, we then perceive “birth” “out there” –but how we see it is still a mirror of how we “see” and what we believe--within. So when we think of “birthing turn on us,” we create a split, a subject-object, victim-perpetrator, hunted-hunter split… which activates primarily victim-prey-Child energies within us in which we try to outrun something bigger than us, something that is coming after us. In this state of mind, we are no longer co-creators, we are not participants in the creation and the solution.

In labor, and in the daily process of life, death, and rebirth, we cannot run from “birth” but we can try to avoid a certain, particular thing that, if it happened, we would feel we failed, or we were weak, or we were not a good mother… or whatever negative self-belief our habit-mind comes up with (btw, none of these beliefs are true). “Birth” as an experience, no matter how grizzly, does not take us down. What takes us down the downward spiral is our own mind, our own stories about ourselves, what we should have done, what others should have done—or not done, how this event/outcome should not have happened if only this, if that. We confuse planning to avoid it in the future with the Huntress, but in fact this is the scared Child trying to control her future.

Danielle wrote: "If we set out on our Hunt with the deepest respect for the thing we wish to consume, our own Birth, and realize it will lead us where we are meant to go, when it turns on us, we may be able to adjust in a different way.. To release our control to it and allow it to, instead, devour us. Radiantly and on the hallowed ground of our own path."

So now you see the Huntress is not an informed health consumer (that is the Gatherer archetype). Information, planning, and deep beliefs or respect do not “lead us where we are meant to go.” Maybe we are not "meant" to be anywhere in particular, maybe we can’t know how or why we wind up in a particular spot at a particular moment. This is one of the Great Mysteries. It seems we have some say in it, at least some of the time, but then there is this unexplainable force that leads us, stalls us, detours our intention… and then the unexpected happens.

The Huntress is awake, a master of awareness. Even so, being human, we are limited in how far we can see, hear, smell, and feel. Nonetheless, she neither “releases control,” nor is she “in control” of the situation or outcome…. Danielle observed, “When we realize that the Huntress. . . never knows the outcome of her Hunt, not on the veld or Discovery shows of wild animals, and not in birth or in life. Rather, she is ever-practicing sensing, awareness, responsiveness or deliberate patience.

The Huntress is not “devoured.” (That might be Victim… I’ll have to think on this.) However, when we are one with our environment and hunger, when subject and object merge in those rare moments of human bliss and clarity, the Hunter as a separate ego dissolves and becomes the activity of the hunt.  She so becomes the prey she hunts she anticipates the prey’s next move. Do you see and feel the difference?
Hunting is deliberate, quiet, patient. I cannot say to you, lightly, "Happy Hunting," because true hunting stills and calms the emotional waves within, and yet there is no stagnation. True hunting or stalking of habit mind is utterly dynamic. It can be done on a meditation pillow or in a busy airport.  I sincerely wish for each and everyone of you the call of the Huntress that you will become a Master of Awareness.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

First Living From Within (TM)

Hi Birth Peeps,
For two days I have been  in Santa Fe, New Mexico.... overlooking beautiful vistas with two lovely and bright  yoga teachers who are eager  to learn the Birthing From Within model Beyond Birth--and to learn about LIFE as a Hero's Journey! As those of you who have taken our workshops and are in our program already know.... Birth and Life as a Hero"s Journey is a multi-layered, rich, uplifting, healing, forward-moving model that guides your participation in, and your understanding of, your life (both your past and future). This model also helps us to understand how systems (work and family) and culture works, and how we can help in a small way towards building cohesive relationships and personal freedom with this model.

Over the years many people have told us we should take Birthing From Within into the world as Living From Within(TM)--so non-birth people could benefit from the philosophy and practices. Thanks to this invitation, and the exceptionally committed attention of DeAnna Alvarez and Peter Goodman, who will take this message into their lives and work, BFW has added another rung to her spiral of influence.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

#35 What We Can Do . . .

 Dear Birth Peeps,

Last week, I shared how chronic stress in the first trimester of pregnancy is associated with preterm labor and low birth weight babies. This week I continued to think about the problem of stress during pregnancy— and about practical solutions for decreasing stress for pregnant women living, working, driving in and being driven by— our culture. 

If we are going to motivate parents, employers, family members, and business owners for change and present a strong argument, we need to understand the autonomic nervous system and its role in health and in stress. If you are interested in reading an excellent paper presented by Roz Carroll in 2001, a registered body psychotherapist and trainer in London, explaining the autonomic nervous system, its function, how its imbalance affects health, and how body work can help, go to:

Briefly, I’ll explain the autonomic nervous system (ANS). There are two parts: the sympathetic (drive) and parasympathetic ("brake"/rest).
   The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) kicks in when you need to be focused, analytical, goal-oriented, fight/flight. When SNS is in play, the heart and respiratory rate and blood pressure increase, increased muscle tension, constriction of circulation, thoughts, feelings, breath, you are extroverted; body organs lack tone.
  When the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is in play, you are receptive, introspective, speak slower, “process-oriented and solution-focused. Everything flows better in the body: breath, thoughts, blood, and digestive juices. You can rest, recover, rejuvenate.

Here are some practical things to do, and to encourage parents in their childbearing year to do, to re-balance their ANS:

1.   Everyday, “stop and smell the flowers.” Brief rest periods or mini-meditations throughout the day help to re-balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. Meditate on a favorite phrase, quote, or poem. Listen to an uplifting song. Discover a new relaxing hobby, such as handwork (knit a baby hat), paint or draw, learn to play a musical instrument, plant a tree or start a small herb garden and tend it daily.

2.  Yoga, walking, swimming, dancing, Qi Gong, massage and other body-work are all physical ways to get out of our "head" and into our bodies-- this can re-set our nervous system.

3.  Think positively. Be solution-focused, not problem-focused. Practice and express gratitude.

4.  Starting your day in peace and calm is a little seed for the day. Soon the seeds will accumulate and you may be waking and living in a garden of a calmer mindset. 

5.  Practice forgiveness, compassion, and patience with yourself and other humans. 

6.  Don’t compare yourself (or your pregnancy or birth) with others. Your experience is uniquely yours. Don't strive to "get it right", instead, do the best you can and embrace your imperfections.

7.  Eat well. Take your vitamins. Eat whole foods. Decrease processed junk food. Sit down at a table to eat; light a candle. Eat slowly, mindfully; taste your food. Perhaps eat breakfast in silence with your baby (no TV, radio, conversation, or reading).

7.  Organize your day to drive less, and leave five minutes earlier to decrease stress from fear of being late.

8.   Make a ritual out of bedtime so you can wind down before going to sleep. Have a warm cup of tea or milk and honey. Listen to music or white noise (rain/river sounds).  Light a candle, meditate, consciously release tension from head to toe. Sleep is essential for rejuvenating the body and rebalancing the nervous system.

9.  Decrease electromagnetic stress. Turn off computers, television; schedule quiet time each day where you turn off digital stress. Make sure you don’t have electric clocks, radios, computers near your head when you sleep.*

*Many of these ideas came from another excellent article on stress, health, and hair analysis: 

Here are some cultural hurdles to consider, because these "realities" will interfere with making this radical change a reality:

   Women in their first trimester are often "couch potatoes"--our bodies are telling us  we need naps and more sleep to nourish the parasympathetic nervous system and prenatal/fetal health... And yet there are no social mores to allow the exhausted new mother to do this without penalty in pay, hours being saved up for the baby postpartum, or losing a "grade" in school. 

   Our culture at large has not been informed or entrained to treat women in the first trimester (or at any time in pregnancy) more kindly. Because pregnancy is a healthy physiological even, she is expected to keep up with work, school, errands, social events... even when her body is telling her to rest.  

   When a partner/family can’t even tell she is pregnant yet, it’s easy for a partner, friend, boss, there may not be motivation to pick up the slack to ensure the groceries or household tasks got done, or the older kid(s) get picked up from school. So, the partner, family, and again everyone, needs to be educated to change our collective attitudes.

Let's be careful not to lay the burden on the mother, or to blame her if she can't make changes to reduce her stress. When new mothers learn about the importance of first trimester rest, meditation, and stress reduction they tell me they cannot really do what it would take to reduce their stress because they need to keep their job (or two jobs!), and they know or doubt their employer would give them a day off in the middle of the week and let them work on Saturday, or take a longer lunch break to rest. In addition, the U.S. does not give generous maternity/paternity leave; therefore, pregnant mothers hoard every hour of their sick time and vacation time to use after their baby is born. Even if they are stressed or sick, they often can’t afford to take a break during pregnancy.

Prenatal clinics are often over-booked; by the time a woman can get her first appointment, she may be at the end of, or even past, her first trimester. So even if a birth peep has this new information and could teach a mom a meditation technique, scheduling might not allow it.

When talking this over with Virginia Bobro, she pointed out that many women do not share with others or their employers that they are pregnant—in the first trimester. This means that even if we wanted to share the importance of this new research with our sisters, or an employer might have been open to supporting her, the opportunity might be lost.

As part of my recovery, and understanding the role stress played in my illness, I have taken up a daily practice of meditation and visualization to re-balance my ANS. It has made a tremendous difference in my well-being and my ability to concentrate and be creative. I highly recommend taking up even one small change every day. 

To a more balanced life and more compassion for pregnant women and babies,



Thursday, August 9, 2012

Radical Change #35: Shift Focus of Early Prenatal Care: Teach Mothers to Reduce Stress to Reduce Preterm Labor and other problems

Hello Birth Peeps,
A growing number of studies are confirming there is truth in an old wives’ tale that says pregnant women should be protected from stress or a sudden shock to avoid premature labor (Ahhh, high fives to the power of observation by the old ones who did know!). 
     Most of us think we should help mothers reduce their stress and rest more in the third trimester, or after she develops symptoms such as early contractions or hypertension. But research is showing an ounce of prevention in the first trimester is worth pounds of cure in the third. 

 Recent research is showing a correlation between stress in the first trimester and early miscarriage, pre-term labor, low birth weight, and influences on the baby’s temperament.1 One in ten babies is born prematurely in the U.S., as we know, and have sympathy for these little babies who struggle with many health problems. If you could do something to reduce this suffering, you probably would… read on!

After the Northridge Earthquake in California, it was observed that women who were in their first trimester when it happened had shorter gestations than women who were in second or third trimester. Why would stress in the first trimester increase preterm labor and low birth weight?:   
When a pregnant woman perceives a stressor, her brain releases a hormone called CRH (corticotrophin-releasing hormone)—a hormone that signals the body to release other stress hormones (e.g. adrenalin and cortisol, among many others) needed to generate the complex fight-flight-freeze response. When the threat or stressor is resolved, the stress hormones return to baseline, and all is well.

Stress hormones cannot return to baseline whenever pressure and tension is unrelenting; when she is in a constant state of anxiety and worry because she doesn’t know what to do, or she believes there is “no back door,” no way out. Her stress might be related to work, or not having a job, not having enough money, racial discrimination, a pregnancy-related concern, among other stressors.

Persistently high levels of maternal stress hormones signal the baby’s placenta to increase production of CRH (as much as twenty times normal level), which cross the placental barrier and circulate in the mother’s blood. The developing baby is also stressed and begins producing its own stress hormones. 

Did you know that elevated CRH levels measured in the mother’s blood between 16 and 20 weeks gestation can predict whether she is likely to deliver prematurely (the risk is three times higher).2 Thus, CHR levels have been referred to as the “placenta clock.” 

Here's where it starts to get interesting because there is something we can do:
In addition to external stressors, the mother’s coping style also influences her level of CHR and stress hormones. It makes sense that when the mother reduces her stress by taking action toward solving the problem, stress hormones can return to baseline. 

   On the other hand, when she does not or cannot make a decision or take action on her behalf, the problem or "threat" (whether real or imagined) continues to loom over her. If her coping style is to disengage, to try to ignore the problem, or hope that someone or something “out there” will intervene on her behalf, she will probably have higher levels of CHR and stress hormones.3

We can’t hold this information or responsibility solely over mothers’ heads as another thing she “should” do (unless we want to risk increasing her stress and guilt). We know it is not possible for mothers in the first trimester, in this socially obtuse birth culture, to make this radical change on their own--independent of the support of their families, work place, birth attendants (who may "order" rest), and culture as a whole.

This important change, Change #35, will be realized when birth attendants collectively and radically shift their focus—from enrolling pregnant women in their first trimester in prenatal care primarily to gather a medical history, estimate the due date, and take lab tests—to using early prenatal visits to teach each mother how to assess and reduce stress, and how to rest. Again, we must stop thinking that there is nothing we can really do in the first trimester and call for "Early Prenatal Education" classes.

     How the Huntress Warrior Lowers Stress:  

Track your daily rhythm and level of stress.
Pay attention to what is happening around you and in you.
Ask yourself, “What needs to happen next?”
Dare to act deliberately and decisively.
Do what needs to be done, but nothing extra.
Don’t look back, second guess, or judge yourself;
just reassess the new moment
and do what needs to be done next—
without an attachment to outcome.

Stalk early signs of tension, dread, or stress,
notice when you start to feel pressured by daily hassles—
do something different—and lower stress early.

Eat well, eat mindfully, avoid fast food.
Organize your week to do fewer errands, less driving.
Greet the sun with a poem, a dance, or a meditation.
See the humor in life, laugh, watch funny movies.
Practice guided imagery, following your bliss,
yoga, tai chi, and take long walks in nature.
(excerpted from upcoming book, Birth as a Hero’s Journey copyright 2012 Pam England)


P.S.  Are you still wondering why stress in the second and third trimester is less problematic? Here’s another mini-physiology lesson:
CRH levels normally increase in the second trimester, and increase even more in the third, even when pregnancy is not particularly stressful. Ordinarily, this surge of CRH would stimulate an overproduction of stress hormones in the mother, but this does not happen because simultaneously her body begins producing large quantities of a CRH-binding protein that prevents CRH from being recognized or utilized by her body.4

 Citations and Resources:
1  Retrieved July 2012 from:, “Stress Management for Health Course: The Fight or Flight Response.” <<Johntel, no author given anywhere. Since these are facts and not creative material, let’s not spend a lot of time on permissions>>

3  Latendress, Gwen, Ruiz, Roberta J.  (2010). “Maternal Coping Style and Perceived Adequacy of Income Predict CRH Levels at 14–20 Weeks of Gestation”
4  Dewar, Gwen Pregnancy stress hormones: How a natural rise in hormone levels may benefit baby…and re-program mom’s brain Copyright © 2008 by Gwen Dewar
retrieved July 2012: www.

Hobel, Calvin, Goldstein, A. and Barrett, Emily S. “Psychosocial Stress and Pregnancy Outcome”
Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology. Volume 51, Number 2, 333–348 r 2008, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Change #34 The Birth Huntress-Gatherer

Good Morning  Birth Peeps,

I have been away but think of you often. I have tunnel vision right now for finishing the new book, Birth as a Hero's Journey: An Ancient Map for a Modern Birth. My muse is with me, putting fire under my feet--or my writing hand. Today there was a Conference Call on Birth as a Hero's Journey. 140 people came. Thank you... and if you missed the call, you can hear the recording at

Here is one idea presented on the call in the new book:

Drawing from the ancient, archetypal images of the "Huntress-Gatherer," we can develop a more sophisticated and meaningful approach to childbirth preparation.  Presently, our birth culture promotes the "Gatherer" archetype: parents and birth peeps are encouraged to gather lots of information, anecdotal stories, opinions,  statistics, and things we might need to carry with us to Laborland. It's easy to roam about carrying our big basket, filling it up and up, even trading bits while we visit and gather with other women or groups. We can fill our baskets fairly mindlessly as we talk and laugh and gossip, maybe not even notice what fell into our basket. It's easy to become very attached to what's in our basket, and not want to let bits go.

In line with the study of Masculine and Feminine energies and polarity, the Gatherer is in her feminine aspect. It's what women  do (or the feminine aspect of men, too), we gather, store, save bits and pieces that might come in handy in the future. When we are in our Gatherer, and we talk with others, we don't want single word answers, we want to get the whole scoop, the why, when, where, who details, the berries, the leaves and the roots... put them all in our basket... for future use. So this is the part of modern woman that responds to evidence-based preparation: this approach fills our baskets and we feel full and ready for the future.

What is missing in present-day preparation for the ordeals that may present during the childbearing year and the emergence of the new role as parent is the qualities and skills of the Huntress.

While the Gatherer gathers in groups as part of a social activity, the Huntress requires introspective attention, patience, deliberate focus and solitude to study patterns of thought and behavior in herself  and "out there."  A Huntress first must learn to hunt; for humans it is not innate but a skill that must be learned through discipline and from lots of trial and error, or more efficiently from an experienced hunter. Hunger for something in particular awakens the Huntress archetype-- but without the skills she will scare away her prey and remain hungry; she may even give herself away and become the prey!

Cultivating the Huntress develops the masculine aspects of herself. The Huntress has a kind of internal intelligence; a primal instinct and a sharp intuition; keen awareness of the space around her,; she notices small changes early and the habits of others (lest she become their prey); she conserves energy so that every act counts (rather than hit and miss, or reactive).  The Huntress is the Master of Awareness.

As you can see, this model does not preserve or promote magical, idealistic, rebellious, or outcome-focused birth preparation. It is designed to help the Child-Mother, Child-Father (or new Child-Birth Peep) "grow up" and develop adult thinking and skills that may be necessary to negotiate the uncertainties and Ordeal of labor and postpartum.

How do we develop both aspects of the Huntress-Gatherer in childbirth preparation? If one aspect is already strong in an initiate (or in your classes), how can you (the Mentor) help cultivate the less developed aspect so parents'  preparation is well-rounded before the Ordeal?

The first step is to study and know the Huntress-Gatherer within you. If one is undeveloped, make an effort to bring those qualities forward and see what happens in your life. Birthing From Within processes and classes are designed to do this... but it is important for each of us to explore the possibilities completely to become Masters of Awareness in our own lives.




Birthing From Within has been teaching this model, as it is being developed, since 2007. Our lawyers just applied for registered trademark. A new website will be up soon.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Change #33 Annual Red Tent Story Retreat

Hi Birth Peeps,

Birthing From Within’s Red Tent is unique. Our first Red Tent was held in Taos, New Mexico about a decade ago. Right from the start, the idea was to create a conference-retreat exclusively for our certified mentors, one that not only provided advanced training but also offered personal and spiritual growth. Typically in childbirth organizations, annual conferences offer lectures about a wide range of birth-related topics; registration is open to all aspiring and certified members. However, as I gained experience as a birth professional, I personally wanted something more from birth conferences—something that really helped me mature professionally in a holistic way, beyond informing me.
So when our first BFW childbirth mentors and doulas became certified—and also wanted something more—the idea of having a special retreat for personal and professional growth, exclusively for certified childbirth mentors, was conceived. Around that time Anita Diamont’s book, The Red Tent (1998), was published, so we named our retreat the “Red Tent.”
Because of the popularity of the book, there are lots of “Red Tent” gatherings across the country. There are Red Tents for healing, for women’s groups, for sharing life stories, and some specifically for telling birth stories. Our Red Tent centers around storytelling, too, but in a very unique way: We do not share personal birth stories. Rather, we learn Great Stories, myths, or folk tales that map the hero’s journey or convey a teaching to the listeners.
In past Red Tents, one Great Story was told, then throughout the retreat, mentors continued to explore its deeper meaning in break-out sessions, birth art projects, and story ceremonies, finding relevance both in their own lives and as it might apply to parents in the childbearing year.
Our Red Tent retreats are still intimate; about 20 women came this year to beautiful Synergia Ranch near Santa Fe. We enjoy meeting up with old friends we’ve met at previous trainings. Meal times and hikes are a time of joyful sharing of mentoring creativity and birth politics from around the world. Experienced mentors learn from and teach one another advanced mentoring techniques and share case studies.

BFW's  Red Tent May 2012 theme was inspired by the novel Damascus Nights by Rafik Schami (2011).  Thus, we modified our former theme: instead of presenting just one Great Story, we invited seven mentors to tell seven stories.Here’s a little background:
In his book, Damascus Nights, Schami weaves a delightful tale of Salim, an old storyteller, who is visited one morning by none other than his Story Fairy, who, until that fateful visit, he never even knew existed! She tells him that it is she, who, for sixty years, "breathed life into his dusty, wooden words and mad them grow into a magical tree of tales" and that it is she who picked up the thread when he forgot where he was in a story. But now she is old and gray and wants to retire. And when she does, she warns him, he will lose his voice. She knows he is not ready to retire as a storyteller. So, she tells him she has asked the Fairy King for a favor, which he granted—with the following conditions: 
From this moment on, he has only 21 words left to speak before he becomes mute. If, in three months time, Salim receives seven gifts, he will be given a new, younger, story fairy and his voice will be restored; he will go on telling stories. Sure enough, 21 words later, Salim the storyteller goes mute.
Salim has seven good friends who try to help. They gift him everything they can think of from seven great meals, to seven great wines, to seven trips.... Time was running out. Finally they decide to each tell a story to Salim-- a Gift of Seven Stories-- And with the seventh story, Salim is granted a new Story Fairy and he begins to tell stories again.

At our Red Tent this year, seven Certified BFW Mentors told seven fabulous stories. (And not one of them was a birth story!—and yet every one of the stories could be Medicine for mothers during their childbearing year.) 

Carolina Quintana from Guadalajara, Mexico told a story she created about Mariposa (Butterfly) and described an amazing butterfly mandala process she has developed for pregnant women; Erika Primozich from Colorado told the sacred story of White Buffalo Calf Woman; Guina Bixler from Atlanta, Georgia, led us in a clay art process; Rachael Adair from California told the Celtic story of Cerridwen; Monique Paris from Hawaii told the story of Seal Skin, Soul Skin; Leticia, also from Guadalajara, shared a gift of Rebozo; and Virginia Beall from Idaho told the Lakota story, Jumping Mouse. (During our Mandala Painting workshop just before the Red Tent,  Stephanie Rayburn, a Bear mentor from Colorado, told us the story of The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams). Her rendition was so moving, you could have heard a pin drop… that is before we had to pass the tissue box.

In truth there were more than seven stories told. Because within every story is a story, and within every mandala is a story, whether it was a personal journey or a Great Story, we were gifted with seven times seven stories! Five of our storytellers made a Story Mandala representing the story they were planning to tell. . . so we also had a journey-image of the story—which we had watched emerge slowly by the hand of the storyteller. This was doubly rich for both story-listeners and storytellers.

(This is Erika, a BFW Mentor and Advisor, who told us the story of White Buffalo Calf Woman, with her finished mandala. Erika had never told a Great Story or painted before--so this Red Tent was a milestone in her personal and professional journey--and an inspiration to us all.)

A storyteller needs a story-listener: Linda, Rachael, Guina, Monique, Donna
After telling her story, the Storyteller would invite the story-listeners to reflect on the meaning it held for them personally, as a mentor, or as Medicine for parents during the childbearing year. The sharings were as delicious as the story.
 Storytelling is an integral part of the lost art of mentoring. Storytelling was the original form of teaching. A Great Story, a hero-journey myth or folk tale, is "indirect" or ambiguous, which means that every story-listener can draw from the story unique meaning or Medicine that speaks to where she is on her journey. And, each time the story-listener hears the same story, she will draw still yet new meaning because she is hearing it with new ears on a new place in her journey. 

During a Great Story-telling, the story-listener identifies with one of the characters or a particular event in the story; it is in this emotionally- or imagination-charged identification that something within the listener begins to stir. She begins to feel instead of think, she remembers who she is, or she envisions a new solution or possibility. Oddly because a Great Story is not a personal birth story or a story about birth directly, the Medicine is even more potent and has a "slow-release" effect. In labor, when a woman's rational mind recedes to the background, her imaginal right-brain becomes more accessible.  It is then, that she may recall and  begin to draw strength from the images she made while hearing a Great Story during her childbirth preparation. A Great Story becomes an "inner map" guiding her--not toward striving for  a particular outcome (which is more typical of direct stories or birth stories)--but more importantly, into her infinite wealth of unconscious resources and creativity and self-awareness.

BFW Childbirth Mentors know this to be true, because women returning from birth testify to the power of a Great Story, and how, in the throes of labor, they recalled the hero in the hero's journey story and found inspiration or a different kind of knowing.

This is why BFW believes that Awakening the Storyteller in Midwives and Doulas and Mentors will change birth in our culture. When we change the stories we tell and the stories we hear, birth in our culture will change. The most powerful teachers are the Story and the Storytellers.

This was one birth event and Red Tent no one wanted to end. Before it was over, the consensus was to make at least one change: instead of having our Red Tent Story Retreat every other year, we should have it every year.

We will continue... and I hope you will join us in the future.


Thursday, May 24, 2012


 Dear Birth Peeps,

Birthing From Within just offered a special (and AMAZING) All Mentor Conference (exclusively for our mentors from beginners to certified). The theme was Myths, Mentoring, and Mandalas. We gathered at Synergia Ranch near Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Our colorful conference began Friday evening with a brief power point presentation showing a variety of mandalas and an introduction to sacred geometry. About half of the women had previous experience painting with acrylics, so I offered a mini-lesson in how to paint and layer with acrylic.

Sweet Dreams: Finally, before going to sleep after a long day of travel, everyone was invited to invoke a “mandala dream.” Mandalas and symbolic art arise from dream-like states of reverie, or that in-between place just before falling asleep or when we are waking.  When we try to paint from our ego-mind, we paint what we already know or what we have already seen. The best part of creation and painting is the unexpected aha-moments that come with new and sudden associations between two familiar ideas. That is true learning. Those moments are the joy of creation, creativity, and daring to paint. So off we went… to our cozy little rooms. We left paper and pencil on our bedside tables to catch the dream images. At breakfast we shared our new dreams and were soon in the art room laying out designs and under-paintings.

Mandala means “circle” in Sanskrit. A mandala may be composed of circles, squares, upward and downward triangles, and/or star shapes. Alternating and “telescoping” squares and circles, in decreasing diameter, leads the viewer’s eye inward toward the center—and out, or around the border.

In geometric mandalas, the center, is marked by a small black dot, a “bindu.” Bindu represents the "seed" of life, the universal creative potential; it represents the duality of all that is unmanifest made manifest. One of the first tasks in creating a mandala (that is built on sacred geometry) is to mark the center of the mandala and build from there. The center can also be marked by a sacred figure, symbol, bead, or milagro.

There are story mandalas, meditation mandalas, and what I experience as “spontaneous” mandalas. Carl Jung made a series of spontaneous, process-oriented, mandalas during a phase in his life (see the Red Book), and many of us made this type, too.

I began making story mandalas as a “map” on the wall when I was telling complex hero journey myths or fairytales. Instead of using words, little drawings represented key segments, characters, or moments in the story. Last year I made an intricate hero journey mandala which was featured on this blog. This piece is also a meditation mandala because, by focusing on one area or symbol, the viewer can take an inward journey.

Why are childbirth mentors interested in making mandalas? Designing, painting, and beading a mandala is an uplifting meditation and journey inward. Hanging our mandala in our teaching or interviewing space creates a certain mood for us and the parents we work with. Parents enjoy looking into a mandala—taking a journey through all the colors, symbols, or little illustrations.

Of all the childbirth workshops I’ve ever been to, this one was the most joyful and peaceful. Throughout the day, mentors worked side by side, sharing rulers, brushes, and stories, watching one another’s images build and build, and hearing insights. Painting tips and techniques were shared as we went. On breaks, we shared how we used creativity in our own lives and workplace… deep friendships were forged.

More to come,
With love,

Pam and Virginia

Monday, April 9, 2012

#31: ?

Hello Everyone,
Today while I was searching for the new study on the link between obesity and autism, I found a link from BBC's "Witness." They interviewed JANET BALASKAS, who, in 1982, was (in her own words), "just a mother and childbirth teacher in north London." She had never given a speech but found herself speaking to a group of 6,000 people, mostly mothers and fathers (and babies too).  Balaskas announced and organized this march in London for the right to birth normally, and through a groundswell of consumer-interest (the internet, let alone social media, was not around yet!), 6,000 parents gathered to demand the right to birth normally. The protesters carried signs with messages such as: "SQUAT FOR YOUR RIGHTS" and "STAND UP FOR YOUR RIGHTS." Janet invited Dr. Michel Odent, author of many books on birth, and he came to support them! Fortunately, a rock band offered the free use of a stage and sound system.

JANET BALASKAS, now a well-known author and founder of Active Birth (1990/1992) and birth activist, is an amazing woman.  She has a beautiful, peaceful Active Birth  Centre in north London (Virginia Bobro and I have both enjoyed giving talks and workshops at the Active Birth Centre when we were in London).

What inspired Janet to organize a march in 1982 was that women were literally being "forced" to birth on their backs. Janet went to the library to inform herself on other positions women could labor/birth in, and she discovered that, until the 16th century, women gave birth standing, squatting, and kneeling--there were no illustrations of women lying on their backs. She also learned (it was new news back then!) that when mothers lie on their backs, the pelvic diameter decreased and blood supply to the fetus decreased.

When Janet became pregnant, she sought out a midwife for a home birth. At the time her midwives had not seen a woman give birth upright, but they were willing to go with this; Janet did birth at home. She had four children.

When Janet first taught women "Active Birth" and upright birth positions, it was revolutionary. "Active Birth" was banned in the hospital.  One doctor referred to active birth as "animalistic behavior." Through persistence, the idea of birthing upright, or in whatever position the woman desires, has become more "accepted." Even so, recently I was speaking with a mother who was still surprised to learn she could give birth without lying on her back!

In 1982, women were actively learning about their bodies, the midwifery model, and wanting autonomy. It was an exciting time to be a midwife and a mother. It was parent-driven change that brought 6,000 parents in London together to demand the right to birth normally in hospitals.

That is impressive, inspiring; I wish I could have been there! In a way, even if I missed the march, I feel some of Janet Balaskas' frustration today, in 2012. Yesterday I spoke with Virginia Bobro (co-owner of Birthing From Within) who  imagined someone arriving in a time capsule in London and telling everyone at the march for natural birth, "Hey, this is a great turn out! You are probably envisioning a really conscious birth culture thirty years from now. But, I just came back from 2012, and I'm sorry to report, most women are still birthing on their backs... but for different reasons." (e.g. the incredible rise in inductions, epidurals, and cesareans, as well as (still!)  birth attendants' preference for the mother to be in the bed when she is pushing).

There are new questions to ask, now in 2012:
(1) How many mothers in Western hospitals (who are not being induced or are confined to bed because of an epidural) are really encouraged or "allowed" to stand and birth, or get on hands-and-knees, or squat on the bed or on a blanket on the floor?
(2) How many mothers who ARE "allowed" to get up and walk in labor are told to get in bed during pushing and birthing?
(3) How many mothers are "demanding" the right to give birth naturally?

I ask myself: Would even 1,000 parents come together today to Occupy Birth and demand midwifery care or natural birth or protest routine monitoring, inductions, or high cesarean rates?  The passivity among the majority of parents is deafening and confusing. Something has happened. It's not all about the medical model; some hospitals do offer parents midwifery care and many more options than before, this is true. It's also about the collective attitudes of mothers; some midwives tell me that many parents do not desire, value, or demand natural birth.

When I tried to think of a title for this post, #31 of 50 Ways to Change Birth in Our Culture, I stumped myself.  Is the problem within the medical model or within the parents' vision of birth? Can parents organize a march to motivate parents?

Here are two links:

To hear the interview on BBC's "Witness" with Janet Balaskas:

To learn more about the Active Birth Centre in north London: