Archive for December, 2007

Reclaiming our birth rituals: Part I

My first attempt at a belly cast

“Beneath the clouds lives the Earth-Mother from whom is derived the Water of Life, who at her bosom feeds plants, animals and men”

– Algonquin legend

Ancient rock carving in Israel of a woman giving birthBack before I ever contemplated a career as a doula, I would see episodes of “A Baby Story” on TV and occasionally there would be a woman who would get a belly cast.  I kind of liked the idea but couldn’t figure out any good reason to ever have one myself – would I really hang a 3D image of my naked torso up on my bathroom wall? – so I never had one done.   But now I get it.

Aztec goddess giving birthThroughout history and culture, there have been rituals to celebrate a woman’s pregnancy and birth.  A woman’s ability to concieve and grow a new human being inside her womb was seen as nothing short of goddess-like.  Images and icons of a pregnant or birthing woman resurface over and over in ancient culture.

In fact, the iconish image of the Great Mother has stayed with virtually every human culture, right up to the present-day images of the Virgin Mary. Not only was the Great Mother seen to birth her own children, but also to have controlled the “birthing” of the the fruit of the harvest, of fertility, or of the bearer of the fruit of all things earthly.

Stone Age carving of Goddess of Luassel - traces of red ochre representing menstration and birth, still visible on her bodyArcheologists have uncovered hundreds of Stone Age sculptures, yet only five of these are male.  These women are big and strong – reminders to us that human survival would not be possible for those millions of years if women were seen as physically and mentally weak.  Most of these icons are rounded vessels, portraying large bellies, breasts and thighs, but very small or nonexistent extremities such as feet and heads.  A headless pregnant woman – did the ancients understand the art of losing one’s thoughts and becoming one with the birth?

Intentionally headless icon of fertility, South IndiaDid our ancestors worship the pregnant body?  What customs and rituals were attached to seeing a woman into motherhood?  I suspect much has been lost, but we do know of a few modern birth rituals from other countries (From “Birthing From Within”):

Egyptian goddess Isis breastfeeding her son, HorusIn the Philippine islands, it is customary to put a key (unlocking) and a comb (untangling) under the laboring woman’s pillow; the moultings from snakes or other animals may be used to make a belt for the parturient woman; a house ladder may be turned upside down, knives unsheathed, recently made furniture unnailed, recently sewn seams ripped open and drawers, trunks and cupboards unlocked.

In Delhi villages all knots of clothing, ropes and the woman’s hair are loosened to relieve the pain of contractions.

Mary breastfeeding JesusAlso in India, prolonged labor may be treated by placing a tightly furled flower beside the woman in the belief that as it unfurls so will a woman’s cervix dialate.

The Vietnamese refer to birth in terms reflecting this – “the bud opens and the flower blooms.”

The Maltese keep a flower in water in the delivery room saying that when the bud blooms the child will be born, and in the Philippine villages the midwife throws a handful of flowers at the woman in labor when she arrives at the house.

Note how each of these rituals involve images of opening and relaxation that can be used by the mother in visualization during her birth.  Note also how often these symbols are procured by a woman aiding another in childbirth.

So, what are our modern-day images and rituals surrounding pregnancy and childbirth?  And what are they teaching us?  Stay tuned for Part II…

On Safari

Daddy (to Mommy): I’m going to go return these movies real quick.

Siena (to Daddy): Where ya goin’?  Ya goin’ ta Africa?

Life’s been busy but I haven’t forgotten about you.  I actually just finished up my last certifying doula birth today – a five hour induction with a happy mom and baby.  All three of my births so far have been inductions, and all three have been under 6 hours.  I wonder if other doulas have the same experience of fast labors?  I know having a doula has been proven to speed up labor…crossing my fingers my track record will last…

I’ll be back to make a real post soon.

10 Things About Me

I’ve been tagged by Cheeky to do 8 things about me and by my first doula client to do 10 things about me (but I’ll keep her myspace page to myself for confidentiality reasons). So because there is nothing particularly interesting going on at my life at the moment and there is very little I haven’t shared with all of you about me (that I’m willing to share anyway), I’ll combine them and do the greater number – 10. Sound fair?

1) I have always loved Christmas. In college, I used to start listening to Christmas music in September. Because it was a “ber” month (you know, SeptemBER, OctoBER, NovemBER, and DecemBER) it seemed okay to dust off the holiday albums on labor day. Although I’ll admit to sneaking a listen or two in August as well. In my “old age” I’m not that much of a nut anymore, though. At least about Christmas music.

2) I really fretted over our Christmas tree this year after our old pre-lit one wasn’t so pre-lit anymore (only one strand still worked). Plastic or real? Which is the most environmental choice? Plastic trees you can re-use and you aren’t killing anything. Real can be bought locally and often organically (not around here of course) and aren’t made from petroleum-based plastics (PVC is evil!) and don’t contain lead (yikes). But the hubster is mildly allergic to real Christmas trees, or anything living for that matter. We entertained the idea of trying out a potted live Christmas tree then planting it in the yard, but how many douglas firs or nobles do we want in our yard over the years, in a desert environment no less? In the end we opted for a fake one, but I bought LED Christmas lights so I could feel a little bit better about it.

3) I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately. I’m chalking it up to NyQuil withdrawals. Hence why I’m up today at 5 in the morning after tossing about in bed until about midnight.

4) My SIL is at this hot springs turned hippy commune retreat/spa this weekend, probably meditating, doing yoga, reading ancient texts and walking around half-clothed, and I’m jealous. We’re talking about planning a trip there together soon. It will probably be the closest thing I’ll come to staying in an ashram.

5) Lately I have been having a few random “I want to have another baby” twinges. Nothing major. I probably wouldn’t even notice them except I know I can’t birth another child, because I don’t have a uterus anymore – It is probably just a bit of mourning the loss of it. But the reality of having a little baby in the house and being outnumbered by my children does not sound like something I want to tackle. Weird. I think most of it is just wanting to give birth again, and do it a little differently than my other two births (which, all in all, were really great, rewarding experiences, truly). I have all this knowledge now and wish I could put it to personal use. Sometimes it stinks to know too much- it sort of downplays the really great feelings I had at both births just because I’d make a few changes if I could.

6) I pee a lot. There are times it is almost a ritual – for instance I have to go pee almost every time I stand up. Or before I get into the shower. Or when I am leaving or coming home from somewhere. Or before I go to bed or when I wake up in the morning. It doesn’t matter if I peed 5 minutes ago – I still have to pee each time I do any of these things. OCD perhaps?

7) I don’t like to be touched when I am eating. I’m like a hungry dog munching on my vittles – I just eat much. More. Slowly.

8) I’m going to confess to going through the drive through lane a handful of times in recent months. If that wasn’t a sign of my depressive episode, I don’t know what was. Very unlike me. Also all exercise has stopped. These two things coupled with Halloween candy and Thanksgiving gluttony has resulted in my jeans not fitting so well. I’m counting the days until I feel up to starting to exercise again, but I’m not entirely sure what my new regime will look like. Usually I’m a walker but the cold air aggravates my lungs in the winter months until I get a cold. Good Christmas idea for me: a gym membership (with childcare vouchers thrown in).

9) I have not bought a single, solitary Christmas gift. I’ve been sick, people! Mostly I do all my Christmas shopping online. It turns out that it is probably just as environmentalist to do so. Yea. I really do not like shopping at all – let alone during the crowded holiday season. Besides at the online places it is so easy to compare prices, features, read reviews – what’s not to like?

10) I “speak” a limited amount of sign language. I have a deaf brother-in-law and picked up some of it from him. But I’m really slow, and my hands start making weird shapes that don’t mean anything, or start throwing in random letters that don’t belong in a word. So mainly BIL just reads my lips and ignores my hands unless absolutely necessary for comprehension. However I do have fantasies that my limited sign language might come in handy at a birth eventually…


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