Wednesday, December 30, 2009
While you're there, make sure you check out her birth stories and some of Busca's other greatest hits (on the right side bar), such as Little Known Facts About Pitocin and Breastfed Baby Growth.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
“We are never the first in our family to wrestle with a problem, although it may feel that way…. Learning how other family members have handled their problems similar to our own down through the generations, is one of the most effective routes to lowering reactivity and heightening self-clarity."
I thought, “Yeah right? Who does this happen to? No one else in my family has been abandoned three months into a planned pregnancy.” I kept reading.
“If we do not know about our own family history, we are more likely to repeat past patterns or mindlessly rebel against them, without much clarity about who we really are, how we are similar to and different from other family members, and how we might best proceed in our own life.”
Since I was already passionate about genealogy and family history, I decided to test out this idea and have a look at my family tree to see if there were any single mothers that I had overlooked, and what, if anything, I could learn from them. To my great surprise, there were more than a few, and the details of their stories left me dumbfounded. For the purpose of brevity, I will share only two here.
The first was Ellen (my great-grandmother). She lived for a time in the Mormon Mexican colonies (that’s why I feel Mexican inside). She had four daughters with her husband, but after the fourth, he accused her of cheating on him. He said that Violet was not his child. With this announcement, he left her and moved back to the United States.
If pioneer stories bore you, this next story is much different. It is from my father’s side. My father was adopted by his step-father (I guess that means my grandmother was a single mom for a while, too), and I had been trying to track his real father’s line for some time. A few years before, I had already discovered the big surprise—I am (blonde little me) of slave ancestry (that’s why I have always felt black inside). But I will save that story for another time and cut to the single mother: Maria Johns, my third-great-grandmother.
I found her in an 1860 census in a small town in Western Pennsylvania. She was listed as a single, black woman living with her young daughter, who was listed as Mulatto. Her occupation was “washer woman” and she was listed as owning property.
If your hair isn’t already blown back, I’ll give you a few more details. Maria was born in
What this tells me about Maria Johns, is that she was awesome.
I found a few clues and rumors that Marie was a Quaker, which I believe, because the Quakers were in large number in that part of
After learning these stories about my ancestors, I felt much less alone. I felt connected to these powerful women and inspired by them. I looked to what both of them (and others I found) did in their time of trial and saw that those who turned to their family and their faith were the most successful. I knew I would be wise to do the same.
By meditating on these and other strong women in my life stream, I felt them draw nearer to me. They would help me and lift me up. When my daughter was born, I felt them all surrounding me—my mother, my grandmother, Ellen, Maria and many more I didn’t even know, but who knew me and knew my daughter.
This was just the beginning of my journey with my ancestors. Since then, with each major struggle in my life, I consult my family history to see what I can learn. The results continue to amaze and humble me.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
There are currently five other women who are contributing to this book. Some of them are bloggers and I have linked to their blogs, but I have also asked them to contribute guest posts, because their spiritual insights are totally unique and different than mine. I am so excited to "introduce" them, and to share their wisdom with you. So, in the next few days and weeks, look forward to some awesome posts.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Abortion is a sensitive topic everywhere, and so I hope to treat it sensitively in this book, but also not ignore it. Since the beginning, our faith has strongly affirmed the sanctity of life, and I also affirm it. The fact is, however, women who may read this have had abortions--either before they joined the church, during periods of inactivity, or for other reasons. My own mother had to have one when she found out she had an advanced stage of cancer. Heartbreaking--and even more so because of the taboo around talking about it.
I'm sure that being pregnant again after an abortion, even if it was years ago, can trigger all kinds of difficult emotions that you may have thought were behind you. I feel very strongly that there are more than a handful of women who need to read about what another woman went through and how she ultimately healed, emotionally and spiritually. If you have a story you are willing to share, I can make it anonymous, and I will be totally confidential. Someone else out there needs to know that they are not alone.
Sexual abuse is another heavy topic, but it affects birth in so many ways, because the sex organs that are the primary focus. Women who have had sexual trauma in their past may also find birth traumatic, or on the contrary, they may find it empowering and healing. What I'd like to focus on in this book is healing. I am looking for women willing to share their stories of how pregnancy and birth healed them from the scars of sexual abuse. I can also make your stories anonymous. I know it is difficult to write about these things, but writing (and then publishing) is also away of letting go.
Please let me know if you have a story and are willing to share it. If you need support writing it, or would prefer to tell it on the phone and have me write it, we can do that, too.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
The babymoon, though less in practice, has a similar function. It is a seclusion, a removal from the world, and a time for a new family unit to bond. A child’s first 40 days in this world are very important. When I worked on the sheep ranch, I learned how important immediate secluded bonding time was for the sheep. If the mother’s didn’t get it, they were more likely to abandon or be inattentive to their lamb(s).
But what exactly is a babymoon and why is it important that it last 40 days?
As far as I can find, the term babymoon was first coined in 1996 by Sheila Kitzinger in her book The Year After Childbirth, but the concept has been around in different forms for eons. In the last few years, the travel industry has tried to change the meaning to: a trip one takes as a last hurrah before the baby comes. Don’t be confused. Traveling is not part of this kind of babymoon.
Probably the most well known reference to the 40 day postpartum babymoon is the 40 days of purification that Mary observed, as part of the Law of Moses, after giving birth to Jesus.
When it comes to the Law of Moses, I don’t usually think too much about the what and why because we don’t have to live it anymore—but this is interesting for many reasons. Heather has some great insights on this and why Mary needed to make a sin offering after giving birth (by bringing life she also brought death), but what I want to focus on is the idea of purification. When I looked up purification, it was synonymous with Sanctification and Hallow. When many of us think of purification today, we think of taking something dirty and making it clean—like tap water. But sanctification is the process of taking something ordinary and making it holy, hallowing it.
As we know, Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses. His Atonement made a sin offering no longer necessary. But the 40-day postpartum period is still uniquely bracketed in time because we bleed for 40 days after having a baby. So even though we don’t live the Law of Moses anymore, what is the significance of these 40 days?
40-day time periods occur in the scriptures many times. Here are just a few of the things that happen in 40 day periods:
- The Flood – Rained for 40 days and nights (Gen 7)
- Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days (Matt 4)
- Jesus taught his disciples for 40 days after his resurrection (Acts 1)
- Jonah gave Nineveh 40 days to repent (Jonah 3)
- Moses was on the mountain 40 days (Duet 9)
- The spies were in
Canaanfor 40 days (Numb 13-14)
What I found about the 40-day period in all of these references was that they were a period of purification/sanctification, and also a preparation and transition from one mission or role to to another. For example, Jesus fasted for 40 days right before He begins His ministry. It is also symbolic that He is led by the spirit into the wilderness to fast--separating Himself from the world. Then, at the end of His ministry, after His resurrection, He spends 40 days to prepare His apostles for when He will leave them. This also happens away from the world.
Of course, 40 years is also a recurring theme in the scriptures and if you are wondering if there is a connection, there is. 40 years is also a purification and denotes a generation. In Numbers 14:34, God speaks directly of a connection when he says that 40 days (that the spies were in Canaan) symbolized 40 years (that
Using days to symbolize larger units of time is interesting when you consider that normal pregnancy is about 40 weeks, and there are 40 days of bleeding afterward. I don't believe this is arbitrary. God is a master. And while bleeding for 40 days isn’t my favorite thing, I am convinced it is a blessing. It is a reminder, and a reason (excuse), to stay home, remove yourself from the world, bond and get to know your baby (and your spouse as a father) so that you can go forth into your new role with confidence and preparation.
So, how does one observe a babymoon? That is something individual, but I believe it is much like Sabbath observation. During my 40-day babymoon I didn’t work, didn’t go to any stores or events. (I bought everything online or sent willing friends and relatives who came to stay). I didn’t cook much (thanks R.S. sisters!). I didn’t even drive my car because dealing with a car seat and traffic was too much of the world for me. I took walks, lots of baths, had my favorite people over for short or long visits, figured out nursing, napped, read my scriptures and some good literary fiction while my little Bunny napped on my chest. I also kept the lights low and played soothing music. It was a veritable love nest.
I was very lucky to find the perfect pediatrician only 2 blocks away so we walked to her check up. I even got my hair dresser and my therapist to come to my house. (If you tell people it is your spiritual practice to observe 40 days at home they are surprisingly awesome about helping out).
I should mention that I also did not go to church for 40 days. For those who have never missed a Sunday, you can feel better knowing that Mary didn’t go to the sanctuary for 40 days either. While I believe that the sacrament is an essential part of the sanctification process, I also knew the reality of my situation. My daughter was awaited with as much anticipation as any celebrity baby, and I knew it would be too much for both of us. I also didn’t want any little kids breathing on her (things change when you have two, I know). In retrospect, I should have asked to have the sacrament brought to me, but I still had a hard time asking things of the priesthood—and none of them have figured out how to read minds like the sisters can. Next time I will.
I can’t express to you how fast the 40 days passed. It was just the right amount of time, but I was so sad when it was over. When I got into the car to go to my 6-week check up and then to the grocery store, I felt the world closing in and sweeping us into a fast current that would only take us farther and farther from that place. I am so glad I took the opportunity, though. I healed quickly, and felt prepared when I did jump back in to the world with a baby.
I haven’t found any official surveys, so I’d like to conduct an unofficial one. Did you observe 40 days at home? How did you observe it? What was it like for you?
Sunday, December 13, 2009
God's wife or Heavenly Mother, known as Asherah, in ancient Hebrew has many different symbolic words, epitaphs, metaphors and such associated with her, such as Happiness, Blessedness, Sanctuary, Breasts-and-Womb, Fertility, and Lady Wisdom, but according to scholars and archaeologists the tree or sacred pole or stump of sacred tree, has been the way in which she was both worshiped and idolized.
When you look at our scripture cannon, there are so many trees: the Tree of Life (in the Garden as well as the one in Nephi's dream), the Tree of Knowledge, numerous olive tree references, fig trees, the sticks (wood) of Jesse and Judah, and many more.
When God commands Adam and Eve with regard to childbearing he says, "be fruitful," using the tree analogy. Trees are also a symbol of the earth in general. On Earth day we plant trees. We refer to the Earth in the feminine, as Mother Earth. In his article, Barney shows that the Hebrew translations of the Old Testament suggest that the Mother in Heaven was present and aided during the creation of the earth. Thus, the term Mother Earth feels even more appropriate. (p. 14)
Whether one goes in for scholarship or not, I think we can all appreciate the idea of having something to represent our Heavenly Mother. His article specifically denounces idol worship, but just as we use, hymns, art, and other things to edify us and remind us of Heavenly Father, Jesus, the prophets, and holy women in the scriptures, I think it totally appropriate and even necessary to have some way of honoring our Mother in Heaven.
One of his suggestions for how to honor her, which I think is appropriate at this time of year is to change our association with Christmas trees and think about Heavenly Mother as we are thinking about the birth of the son of God.
He also suggests that we can have art that represents Her and our love for her. I have a beautiful piece of art on my wall, by an artist named Jackie Brethen Lieshman. Her work is mixed media, photography and collage and this particular piece is of a tree. She photographed many trees and sewed and glued the different pieces of photography together to make this collage that all hinges from the trunk of one tree. It is one of the most precious things I own. I look at it every morning and think how blessed I am to have such a beautiful piece of art. Now it has even more meaning to me.
Another thing that I am thinking of is how after my daughter was born, I bought a tree and planted her placenta under it. I thought this was a lovely symbolic gesture of giving back to the earth and using the placenta, which nurtured her, to nurture the tree which would then bear fruit and nurture her again. I never thought of it, then, but it is also a way to symbolically honor the Heavenly Mother.
How has your understanding of the Heavenly Mother changed with pregnancy/motherhood, if at all? I'd like to hear about it.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Stephanie Coleman, mother of 6 kids, and now a midwife, has some interesting experiences that are worth reading:
Here is a great post about her daughter's recollection of being born (via c-section). It is amazing what kids remember, and a gift to her mother that she was able to articulate it just then.
Stephanie also had an intense experience when she was on the way to the hospital to give birth to her 5th baby. Stephanie is a great example of someone who was able, despite lots of stress and vulnerability, to make conscious choices about her care and rely on the Lord.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
When I put out my call to LDS filmmakers, I forgot to give a shout out to Mary Durnin Firth for the important work that she has done. As an adoptive mother, Mary always felt like people misunderstood birth mothers. She told me this many times.
Mary and her husband moved to Montana shortly after they adopted their son, and Mary started a Masters Degree in Fine Art at the University of Montana. When it came time to do her thesis, Mary tried to shoot some PSAs but nothing was working. I remember when they visited Los Angeles that summer to meet Jason's birth mother, Mary told me that what she really wanted to do was make a documentary on birth mothers, but she was afraid she couldn't do it well enough. "Whatever," I said. "Nothing else is working because this is what you need to do."
Mary's documentary, The Giving, now a four-time festival winner, is a brave and beautiful exploration of adoptive mothers and why they make the choices they make. She interviews six different women. Some were young, others were older. One women was married with two children when she decided to place her third child up for adoption. The film shatters any stereotype one might have of women who give up their babies.
The women share their feelings from the moment they found out, to the decision to place their child, signing papers (the most heart-rending chapter), and life afterward. There is one scene that I can't forget where a birth mother tells about the birth of her daughter. Her husband decided not to be there so the adoptive mother was her support person. When they put the baby girl on her chest, the adoptive mother throws her arms around both of them and the three of them are frozen there in this amazing lovely moment that I think captures what the film is really trying to say about adoption.
The Giving is an incredibly emotional documentary that shows the amount of love and selflessness and maturity it takes to be a birth mother. I recommend it not only to anyone who might be thinking of adopting, placing for adoption, or is adopted, but to all mothers and young women.
You can also buy it on Amazon.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
I was reading the Proclamation on the Family today and am in awe of how well it is written. It is short and succinct, yet covers everything. It is specific and leaves no room for misinterpretations. I can only describe some of the word choices as perfect. For example, the word “entitled” in paragraph seven. Normally I dislike this word, but in this case (“children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony”), it is the only correct word. Deserve wouldn’t work.
There is one line, however, that I always thought was repetitive. Let me set it up for you: In paragraph four, it says “…God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are only to be employed between a man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.”
The next paragraph say:
“We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed.”
I always thought this was a repeat of the chastity admonishment, but I notice now that it being in its own paragraph is significant. On closer study, it is apparent that “the means by which mortal life is created” includes pregnancy and birth.
I am amazed that this sentence that has been in front of me all this time. Heavenly Father is affirming
Heavenly Father is affirmingthat the process of gestation and birth are divinely appointed--that we were created in the image of a Heavenly Mother, who has done it herself, and has blessed it.
I have always thought of procreation, and therefore sex, as our one divine power—hence the reason Satan has attacked it so hard, and not subtly. Sex is money nowadays. It is commercial, recreational, fun, and anything but sacred. Now I see that pregnancy and birth are and extension of that divine power, and their sacred nature is being attacked/undermined in more subtle ways. The spiritual, sacred nature of the gestation and birth process has been slowly pushed into the background in favor of a more scientific, medical or mechanical focus. There are almost no books at the mainstream bookstore that speak in-depth about the spiritual journey of pregnancy. Even with the knowledge we have as Latter-Day-Saints about the divine nature of women and motherhood, when it comes to pregnancy and birth, many sisters are still floundering.
Seeing the de-sanctification of birth as a tool of the adversary shocked me a little, and put a new urgency on this project. I am not in favor of bashing all modern American maternity care, because I believe there are exceptions to everything, but it is, to put it precisely, a disaster—especially when compared to other countries. Reaffirming the sacred nature of pregnancy and birth is a slow, grassroots effort that I have often heard compared to missionary work. And after reading the last line of the Proclamation I am at it with a new zeal.
So spread the word: Our physical bodies were created after the image of our Heavenly Mother, and the process of pregnancy and birth ("the means by which mortal life is created") are divinely appointed. Amazing.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
I have thought about this over the years as I have sat slogging through the middle of a book. And I have come to this realization: There is what happens, and there is the story of what happens. This is true of everything, and especially pregnancy and birth. There is what happens, and there is the story of what happens.
When we tell a story, we leave all the boring bits out. (Day 89 I got a pedicure and went to the grocery store.) We skip all the in-between time. This is just part of good storytelling, and I'm not suggesting that we change it, but recently, I have been thinking about in-between time in a new way. I was reading the story of Joseph who was sold into Egypt. Most of you know the story:
Potipher's wife accuses him and he is thrown in jail, then he interprets the butler's and baker's dreams, the Butler later puts in a good word for him with the king, and Joseph becomes 2nd in command in Egypt.As I was reading, I was surprised to find that the Butler did not remember to put in the good word for Joseph for two years. I can't imagine how long two years must feel in prison. And yet I skipped over it in just a word.
I am sure that at some point during his imprisonment, Joseph must have thought it might never end. If it were me in prison, I would have quoted Elder Oak's talk "Good, Better, Best" and told the Lord that I could do His work so much better outside of prison. But we don't hear anything more about these two years, just as we don't know much about all the years between when Joseph Smith learned about the gold plates and when he actually received them.
Even though we skip over these in-between times, I'd like to propose that waiting is not wasted time. The times that seem to be inactive, monotonous, or otherwise boring bits that we will leave out of the final story, are actually profoundly active. We can't fully understand how much we are being molded or prepared when we are deep in it, but looking back, I often see how I needed each day--or each prayer, each temple visit, each episode of family home evening, etc--piled upon the one before, to get me where I needed to be. In the case of pregnancy, this is true both physically--we need all those days to get to a full term pregnancy--and spiritually. Elder Bednar uses the example of brushstrokes on a painting. Individually they are uninteresting, maybe even a mess, but from far away, all that spiritual preparation is turning us into something much better. A masterpiece?
So, for those who are feeling impatient or mired in blah days, I offer one of my favorite quotes from Rilke. I have substituted "artist" with "divine pregnant woman."
"Being a [divine pregnant woman] means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn't force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient. Who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast."And this from Alma:
"But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life." Alma 32:41.
Love and light,
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
My other work, besides spiritual childbirth educator and mother, is as president of a boutique personal history service. We have been writing memoirs for private clients for almost 8 years, and I had always toyed with the idea of doing a film component, but never did because I didn't want to do anything second rate, and had no experience in film making. Then, almost two years ago now, I was looking for a new salesperson, and in that process met a girl who was so excited about the idea of personal documentaries that she convinced me that I should do it and she'd help me sell it.
Once I decided to do it, everything started to work like it was pre-arranged. This was during the writer's strike (remember that? None of your shows were on), and I live in Los Angeles, so a lot of editors and cinematographers were out of work and were desperately, humbly taking projects for a lot less than normal. When I interviewed editors and cameramen, I told them flat out that I didn't know what I was doing, but I wanted to do it well. Because I was so open and not a poser (like a lot of people around here) they were eager to share their knowledge. I thought it would be impossible to choose an editor without knowing much about editing, but God sent me clear (comically clear--I'll write about that another time) revelation on who to pick, and it was an ideal match. My editor then helped me find a great cinematographer, who taught me all about lighting and a whole lot more.
Over the next few months, working hands-on making our sample documentary, I basically got a free film school education. Okay it wasn't free, because I invested a lot of time and money. But the greatest thing about this whole experience was that I felt so invigorated and alive and inspired every step of the way. Deep down I have always wanted to make documentary films, but I always thought it was something that wouldn't ever happen. Also, living in Los Angeles with all the "Hollywood spirit" as I call it, can sometimes be annoying, so I always tried to distance myself from all the wanna-be filmmakers and screenwriters. But suddenly I was making documentaries (simple, one subject, hour-long--think A&E or Biography channel), and I was a natural at it. I am by no means an expert, but I learned that with a great team, and no fear, I can do great things. If you want to see a sample chapter, there are two here.
When we finished the sample film we started the trial and error process of marketing our personal documentary service to high-wealth people and families. (Sadly, I had to choose between making an affordable product and making a professional, broadcast quality product. I chose the latter.) Anyway, to cut to the end of this story, after a lot of frustrating and hard work, nothing big happened. Then the economy tanked. Then I had a family crisis. Then things got busy in other areas of business/life and I stopped trying to market it.
For some time I have been wondering why God inspired me to do all that if it was not to make me and my company rich while we did his will by preserving family legacies and turning the hearts of the children to their fathers. I just couldn't understand it.
This last week as I was sitting in the temple thinking about The Business of Being Born, What Babies Want, and a few other documentaries I had watched again that week, I felt an urgent need to call LDS filmmakers to make more films like these--films that will affect women, mothers and families in good ways. I kept thinking, someone should do something. Then came the feeling, you should do something. This surprised me at first, but then I said, A-ha. That is why.
The someone-should-do-something feeling is what first inspired me to write this book. And now, though I don't exactly know what it looks like yet, I know that there needs to be a film counterpart to this book. In fact, while meditating on the direction of this book over 2 years ago, I got the clear revelation that there ought to be a DVD and/or CD to go with it. I took it in, but I also sort of laughed (this was before I got all the above mentioned film schooling) and said, Okay God, we'll see how that happens.
I don't know why I am constantly amazed at how he works things out, or that he can see far ahead of me? He is God after all.
So there you have it. As I said, I have no script or concrete vision of it yet, but I am putting it out there that this is what I will be working on as soon as I finish the book (pray for March), and I am looking for an executive producer (a person to fund the project), a producer, cinematographer, editors (Tracy if you are reading this, I want you!), an accountant, assistant, babysitter, and a whole slew of other people to help out. If you are a filmmaker or other just want to be helpful in some way, please contact me.
I also felt inspired to put the Donate button on the left, so that individual people can donate to the film. Anyone who donates more than $50 will get a credit in the film as an associate producer or co-producer. I made the dollar amount for credit very low because I think it would be awesome to have tons and tons of associate producers rolling up the screen (slowly of course) so that people see that this is a project that is a result of not just a few passionate people.
I will keep everyone posted about how this progresses.