Saturday, January 30, 2010
Gurmukh posts a beautiful weekly message on the Golden Bridge website. This week it is about courage and living from the heart. She also includes a meditation. Enjoy.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of ecstasy is an art exhibit I attended when I was about 16 weeks pregnant. The exhibit was called Ecstasy: In and About Altered States, and the art was supposed to replicate the experience of being on drugs. It was, to say the least, a trip. One of the first pieces I experienced (because that is the only word I can use) was a round yellow pod that looked like a small space craft. People were lined up to go in one at a time and sit on the black velvet stool in the center of it and stare at the walls, which were also black velvet and covered with rhinestones. Inside of the round, sparkling space, with no corners for reference, I quickly lost my sense of up from down. This odd feeling was enhanced by the bizarre audio clips that were being piped in from an old Zsa Zsa Gabor sci-fi film.
The exhibit also included paintings, short films, installations, sculptures of giant mushrooms, and lots more, but my favorite exhibit was one that I saw on the map but couldn't find in the museum. There was only a huge, blank wall where it was supposed to be. The wall separated the space between exhibits and on one end, there was a passageway to the next space. I asked a security guard where Exhibit #4 was and he said "right here." We were standing in that slim passageway and he pointed to the thick wall. "The wall moves,” he said. "It's on a motor. This gap will narrow and then get wider again. Just wait."
My friends and I wondered at the artistic value of a moving wall, and wondered if the guard was messing with us. So we watched the wall to see if we could detect any movement. We stood perfectly still, staring at the wall and the floor till our eyes blurred. Many people were coming in and out of the gap and some of them gave us funny looks and walked past. After several minutes we realized that the wall had indeed moved. We also realized that staring transfixed at a wall for 10 minutes was perhaps the funniest and most drug-like experience of the whole day.
Of course, that was one of the draws to the exhibit. I overheard lots of people talking about whether or not different exhibits were anything like their drug experiences. Since the strongest thing I have ever been on is Benadryl, I couldn't fully participate in any of these conversations. But if you consider the simplest definition of ecstasy (a trance-like state where an individual transcends or dissociates from normal consciousness) which is also generally the outcome of narcotics use, then there was one installation piece that did it for me.
It was the last exhibit. It was a dark black room, and on the way in, I was directed to grab a pillow. There was meditative music playing and the atmosphere was very calming. I sat on the cousin and stared at what looked like a large black planter box with many colored lights shining on it. From the box, smoke (or perhaps chalk dust) was rising and twisting and curling. If you have ever stared at smoke rising, you know how mesmerizing it can be. Add the slowly shifting colors of the lights and the peaceful music and I quickly entered a peaceful, beautiful trance. I was hardly aware of my body at all. I had gone inside and was thinking about my unborn child and contemplating things of a spiritual nature. I hadn't felt so at peace in months.
Of course, now that I am in hypnosis school (3rd week now) and am learning about the mind and how it works, I can see that putting that exhibit last was very strategic. After overloading all of our senses for several hours, this exhibit was like a hypnotic induction. They gave us a comfortable cushion and gave our overloaded conscious minds an escape, and my brain happily accepted it. As a result, I left feeling calm and peaceful and wondering when and how I would be able to experience that ecstasy again.
This is how my pregnancy journey began—with a craving for ecstasy, specifically, spiritual peace and oneness with creation. So I began searching for it any and everywhere.
Not long after that, I started practicing prenatal Kundalini Yoga and meditation and found that I could quickly and easily reach this peaceful state with the right preparation and tools. And I suddenly couldn't live without it.
Later, I took a Hypnobirthing class and learned self hypnosis, which is different in intent than meditation, but similar in that you are letting go of the conscious, critical mind. (More on hypnosis another day.)
Ecstasy as a religious concept has been around for ages. Religious ecstasy is defined as expanded spiritual awareness, visions or absolute euphoria (aka: a spiritual high, outpouring of spirit, etc.) It is also sometimes defined as including a stupefaction or immobility of the body while the soul contemplates divine things. Though we never use the word ecstasy in our religious dialog, there are examples of people in this paralyzed state of ecstasy all over in the scriptures. The first that come to mind are King Lamoni and Queen Lamoni who are presumed dead, but after a few days arise and start prophesying and telling of all the wondrous things they saw in visions. Many others had similar experiences, including Alma the younger, an entire multitude in Jacob 7, and Balaam, who is described as falling "into a trance" with his eyes open in Numbers 24.
There are also hundreds of others who don’t mention immobility of the body but describe their experience as being “carried away” by the Spirit in a vision or dream.
Certainly, during pregnancy we are in a position to receive more spiritual awareness and visions. In fact, there are almost a dozen pregnant women in the scriptures that we know or can infer had visions, angelic visitations, or increased spiritual awareness (Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah, Mary, Elisabeth, Hannah, Tamar—just to name a few). Some did not seem to be seeking out these kinds of experiences, but we presume were extremely righteous women, others sought out that expansion.
I believe that if we can draw close to the Lord and learn how to meditate and use the other tools that we have, like hypnosis or imagery, then achieving a state of transcendence, deep relaxation, extreme joy, or bliss or absolute euphoria can be every day occurrences. Not all day every day--but some of it. Perhaps you begin with 3 minutes of meditation a day and slowly work your way up to 30 minutes. Each day lengthening or deepening your practice in anticipation of birth--that peak physical, emotional and spiritual experience of unrestrained excitement when you meet your baby.
I just watched Orgasmic Birth for the first time tonight and something Elisabeth Davis CPM said struck me: She was saying that in addition to doing what is best for the baby, women should “take a step toward experiencing something that life hardly ever gives you. If you were told that you would have one of the most physically, emotionally, spiritually transcendent moments of your life, and here is the map to get there would you really say no?”
I like that she used the word transcendent, because that is what ecstasy is, when you transcend your body, your inhibitions, your fear. This is also what one experiences during orgasm (perhaps one of the reasons they chose that title for the film). Birth is (or can be) one of life’s peak ecstatic/transcendent experiences.
I got a birth story a few months ago from a woman named Valinda who had 9 children—which seems like a lot of experience with birth, but she said that it didn’t feel like very much experience at all. She compared it to a sport or activity you found thrilling—for me that would be surfing—then she said, imagine if you only got to do it 9 times in your life. Or only once. Imagine only having an orgasm 9 times.
To come back to drugs and their role in ecstasy, I found this in an encyclopedia summary:
"Various methods have been used to achieve ecstasy, which is a primary goal in most forms of religious mysticism. The most typical consists of four stages: (1) purgation (of bodily desire); (2) purification (of the will); (3) illumination (of the mind); and (4) unification (of one's being or will with the divine). Other methods are: dancing…or whirling dervishes…; the use of sedatives and stimulants..; and the use of certain drugs …and similar products…. Most mystics, both in the East and in the West, frown on the use of drugs because no permanent change in the personality (in the mystical sense) has been known to occur."
I would like to emphasize the last sentence. No permanent change in the personality has been known to occur. This is the biggest difference I have seen in mothers who intend to have a natural birth and prepare for it (even if it doesn't go as they planned) and women who don't prepare at all, counting on drugs to help them "transcend." The women who have sought ways to achieve transcendence on their own—whether through study, meditation, hypnosis, prayer, music, dancing, artistic expressions, or other means—are the ones whose hearts are more fully transformed and are most prepared for motherhood.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Fascinated, I tried to find out if there was a similar fancy name for someone who studies birth, particularly in its psychological, social and spiritual aspects, but came up with nothing. So I Googled "Greek God of birth" to see if I could perhaps come up with some epistemological basis for the word I planned to coin. I found a motherload of information. Oops. Did not intend that pun.
Her name is Ilithyia. She was believed to be the daughter of Hera, goddess of marriage. Depending on her mood she sometimes helped labor, and other times, especially if the maiden wasn't chaste, would make it more painful. She also has Roman counterparts. See below.
"EILEITHYIA (or Ilithyia) was the goddess of childbirthand labour pains. According to some there were two Eileithyiai, one who furthered birth and one who protracted the labour. Her name means "she who comes to aid" or "relieve" from the Greek word elêluthyia. Her Roman counterpart was Natio ("Birth") or Lucina ("Light bringer"). "
I love that her name means "she who comes to aid." I also like Lucina, because I love the image of light, especially with what we know about the Light of Christ in each of us.
So I am trying to decide, if I were to coin the word for the study of birthing (all I have to do is create a Wikipedia entry), what would I call it? Natologist could be too easy confused with the medical profession where it already exists with several different prefixes. Ilithyiologist sounds fancy. Lucinologist could be cool too, although it sort of sounds like hallucinologist--someone who studies hallucinogens--okay, not really I just made that one up.
Please, weigh in, or if you know of some word that exists already, let me know. I'm sure my 15 minute Google search was not exhaustive. Can't wait to hear your thoughts.
Friday, January 22, 2010
In addition to Busca and Heatherlady, whom I have mentioned in previous posts, the three other women who are collaborating with me on this book are:
Rixa Freeze, also know as Dr. Freeze (she's a PhD). She writes the blog Stand and Deliver and is well known around certain birthing communities. There is so much good information on her blog, so I recommend just perusing through her tag list. But of particular interest might be her birth stories. She has two, Zari and Dio. Also, I have mentioned it before, but you may like her post about early LDS blessing rituals for childbirth. Rixa currently resides in the Midwest and also represents for Canada. (She is married to a Canadian.)
Katy Rawlins is mother of 3. She is a postpartum doula and starts midwifery school this summer. Her first and traumatic birth experience led to seek something better with the next and the next. She didn't stop there, though, she has lobbied for midwifery in the State Legislature of Idaho (with great success) and last year, Lamaze International named her the recipient of the 2009 Normal Birth Advocate Award. Go Katy. She currently has several blogs she is trying to combine and organize. When that happens, you'll see them in the blog roll and I will likely make her do some guest posts.
Beth Day is mother to two, a doula and Lamaze Certified Child Birth educator. She is also on the board of Birth Network National and has been their liaison with the Lamaze Institute for Normal Birth. She has also published several articles, including one about her birth story, in the Journal of Perinatal Education, the leading peer-reviewed journal specifically for childbirth educators. She also just started teaching prenatal yoga in the town where she lives. She currently resides in that part of the country known as The South.
There is plenty more I could say about all of these ladies, but I'm not sure where to begin. They are awesome and passionate and beautiful and smart women, but they are also just regular moms that deal with confounding toddler queries and grass stains. They are also spiritually sensitive and feel so much concern for their fellow sisters. I am honored to be working with each of them.
It has occurred to me that readers may want to know more about me and who I am, without having to read 60 blog posts. So I am working on putting together a post about my journey to start this project and also my birth story. I hope to finish it in the next week.
Thanks for reading and keep sending me your stories. I love them. I am still amazed at how each one is so completely unique.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
The story begins the day before the birth when the mother, Ati, went to see her doctor, who told her the due date was not till February 14. The couple decided to go to the temple the next night. Her labor started suddenly in the session and happened very quickly (it was a fourth baby). At the end of the session, they put her in a wheelchair and took her to a private waiting room off of the foyer. Sister Clayton, a temple worker, who had 8 of her own children and may grandchildren says she knew that she was already in transition when they brought her to the room.
When Sister ten Hoopen, who had had some training as a nurse 37 years before, arrived at the temple for the 7 p.m. session, she says the temple president had been praying her to come. (Apparently the phones were down and they couldn't call out.) When she got to the woman, the baby was already partially delivered. The mother delivered him mostly in the chair. Sister Teni, as she is called, turned the baby over, elicited the desired cry, and then they cut the woman's clothes away and laid her on some towels on the floor to wait for the delivery of the placenta. In Tonga, they have an important tradition of immediately burring the placenta in the hole in they earth, usually in the family's yard.
Sister Clayton made sure that the mother and baby got skin on skin suckling time (so important), and the paramedics arrived after it was all over. The baby was a boy and he weighed about 9 pounds. What a legacy to be able to say that you were born in the temple. I wonder what is in store for that little guy.
He is not the first baby that I have heard about born in a temple. Heatherlady told me of a story of a baby born in a small anteroom of the Salt Lake City temple during its dedication ceremony. We may include that story in the book, and we are hoping to talk to the mother of this miracle Tonga temple baby and get her side of the story for the book.
What a great, timely story. If we think of our bodies as temples, and pregnancy as building a temple for a new spirit, then bringing that new body (temple) into the world in such a sacred place makes sense. Of course, we can't all go to the temple to have our babies, but if you are yearning to birth in a sacred place, consider what we know about the home. Our prophets have taught us that "Only the home can compare with the temple in sacredness."
Home birth isn't for everyone, but it is an wonderful option for normal pregnancies. Of course, this decision is one you have to make with the Lord, and He knows what you and your baby need more than anything. Apparently, this baby needed to know that he was born at the house of the Lord.
I will post pictures as soon as I get permission.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Her baby is almost 9 months old and she has only just realized that she might have PPD and said it out loud to a few people. Part of the problem with depression, though, is that you don't have your regular motivation and seeking help can be daunting.
I can't think of another time where relief is more necessary. Most of the time when I head to Relief Society, I don't think about its purpose. The name is actually quite unique. Most churches call their similar organizations the Women's Auxiliary. Auxiliary means: reserve or supplementary. One of the less common definitions is: giving support, helpful. But there is no doubt about what an organization called the Relief Society is supposed to do.
"From the beginning—150 years ago—Relief Society has offered women ways to strengthen their own lives and ways to help them strengthen the lives of others. The others might be our own family, our neighbor, or the stranger who has come to our awareness. The ways sometimes come by assignment and often come from personal initiative. The needs are everywhere, and the key to our ability to meet them is Christ’s admonition that we love one another as he has loved us." - Aileen H. Clyde, “The Mission of Relief Society,” Ensign, May 1992, 92
We can't help our sisters, however, if we don't know what they need. Just because a woman keeps showing up to church after she has a baby does not mean that all is right in her world. We need to know the signs of PPD so that we can help spot them in others and in ourselves.
I have been impressed with the Ensign in the last few years for addressing some important issues that often get overlooked in regular church learning. For instance, in August of last year, they had an article on Postpartum Depression. I think it is worth a read for everyone, not just people who think they may have PPD. It has a spiritual perspective and emphasizes the need for support. In it is a list of symptoms, and suggestions on what family and friends can do to help someone with PPD. It does not give specific recommendations on care, except to say that professional help may be necessary. If you haven't noticed, this is a pattern in the church. They never tell you exactly what to do, they let people make choices by inspiration, according to their individual situation.
Since there is no one cause of Postpartum Depression, there is no one perfect solution for everyone, but I have done a little research to find out some of the causes and how different people cope and how different care providers help. When doing my research, I found many great resources from a fellow saint many of you have heard of. Marie Osmond wrote a book called Behind the Smile: My Journey Out of Postpartum Depression. The first half of the book is a bit of a memoir, and the second half is written by Dr. Judith Moore, an MD and osteopath, and it has tons of great resources. Here is an assimilation of some of my research.
Hormone therapy - After giving birth, all the hormones that were running amuck in a woman's body basically go kablowie. Sometimes one or two of the feel-good hormones gets dangerously low, which may be a partial cause for the depression. Stress hormones add insult to injury, and it is not uncommon for pregnancy to mess with your thyroid, too, which can be a cause of PPD. You can unlock the secret to all of these mysteries with some simple blood work and possibly a jar of pee and some saliva. Depending on what your labs say, there are many different forms of treatment, including vitamins and herbal remedies, homeopathic remedies, natural hormones, artificial hormones, thyroid medication, and others.There are many other causes and treatments for PPD. I haven't listed them all here, but I hope to convey that every situation is unique and that is why, as with anything important you should counsel with the Lord on what is right for your and your family. I hope we call all pay more attention to new (and second and 3rd and 4th time) mothers, ask about their moods (even months afterwards), and if you feel something isn't right with your sister, call in some relief.
Social support- poor social support is a risk factor for PPD. It is compounded if a woman has a strained or no relationship with her mother. It is in this category that the Relief Society is best equipped to help. Luckily, I had a friend who was well aware of my motherless state and knew it would be hard for me. She happened to be in charge of the widows family home evening group and one day brought up my situation to all the old ladies and every one of them decided that they were going to volunteer to be my baby's grandma. So in addition to her grandma in heaven, she had 7 grandmas in the ward. One of them who was very healthy and active even came over and spent the night about 10 times in the first few months after she was born. She got up with her and fed so that I could get some sleep when I desperately needed it.
Sleep - I'm suffering from insomnia right now, and let me tell you, exhaustion has a lot of the same symptoms as depression. I have been known to take a sleep aid or two, but I prefer Calm Forte, a natural remedy made my Hylands. If it is the baby keeping you up, get someone to give you a break. You can pump so your breasts don't get engorged and then your relief can give the baby a bottle.
Trauma Release- A history of a childhood abuse including emotional, physical and sexual are also risk factors for PPD (and any kind of depression). If you have been abused, childbirth (which can sometimes be traumatic) can trigger memories and depression. Working through these things can be painful, and you'll definitely need help from a therapist. Hypnosis can also help, and there are books that can help you heal yourself.
Good nutrition and exercise will cure a lot of problems, not just PPD. Of course, if you are sleep deprived or really depressed it is hard to drag yourself to the gym, but if you can, the endorphins may be just enough to get you through the day feeling good. And good exercise has tons of other benefits, including better sleep, better digestion, better sex (when you're interested), increased strength and ability to cope with stress.
Therapy and psychiatry- Sometimes just talking to someone is enough to lift a person out of despair. It may also help to have someone else to help you identify problems and come up with a plan to address them. Medication can also help. If your serotonin levels are too low, sometimes medication is the only way to get them back up to a normal level. Medication has side effects, though, that vary depending on the medication and the person. If you are nursing, there are some medications that are virtually untraceable in breast milk, however, no long term or in-depth studies have been done on the effects to moms and infants. I'll be the first to tell you, though, that if you feel right about it, there is no shame in medication. It's better than living as a zombie and not being able to care for your baby.
Remember, there is always hope. In my darkest hours, I have always found comfort in D&C 121. I like to read these words from God as if he is speaking them directly to me:
"My [daughter], peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands." (D&C 121: 7-9)
I would love to hear from anyone who has any experience with PPD (yourself or a friend).
Saturday, January 9, 2010
“Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean; cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to they bed early that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated." (D&C 88:124)
What I almost skipped over, until alarm bells went off in my head, is the line sandwiched in the middle that says: “cease to find fault one with another.” This doesn’t seem to have much to do with our physical health, but I figured if it is in the middle of this verse, it was no accident. So I meditated on it and I have come to the conclusion that finding fault one with another does, in fact, affect our health and others' health (even if we don't speak the words out loud).
My acupuncturist once told me that people in verbally abusive relationships were sick twice as often. I'm sure there is a study on this because I have read it elsewhere, but I don't have it for you at the moment. I do have something else though:
When I was pregnant I discovered a book called the Hidden Messages in Water. Masaru Emoto, a Japanese scientist did experiments on water by speaking different words to it, playing music, showing the water pictures, etc. He then froze and photographed the crystals that the water formed. The water that was spoken words of love and gratitude formed breathtakingly beautiful crystals. The water that was called bad names, exposed to heavy metal music, or shown disturbing images would not even form a crystal—the images looked like deformed blobs. And, interestingly, the deformed water was then prayed over or blessed and when refrozen and rephotographed, it formed beautiful crystals again.
He said all kinds of things to the water but he determined that the most beautiful crystals formed from the combination of love and gratitude.
This is a powerful visual testament to the effect that words have on our constitution, which is anywhere from 70-90% water, depending on your age. Babies in the womb start out almost 100% water.
Learning this during pregnancy was important to my journey. I made more conscious decisions about who I was around, the movies I watched, and I was even more aware of the looks that strangers gave me on the street. I smiled more, so people would smile back. I didn't want any negativity directed at me or my unborn child. My mantra during pregnancy was "Thank you body. Thank you baby. I love you baby." I know that my body and my baby were as healthy as they were because of this love and gratitude.
What are your experiences with this?
I just found this post from CJane about how positive words, thoughts and prayers saved her pregnancy. Check it out and please share your experiences with me.
Friday, January 8, 2010
Saturday, January 2, 2010
I spent this New Years Eve at the Guru Ram Das Ashram in Los Angeles and rang in the New Year chanting and meditating. I love participating in celebrations with other people of faith because it teaches me so much about how God loves all of his people and I love to see how they honor and worship him. The Sikhs are a family-centered religion, like ours, and I had several pregnancy and birth related experiences that I thought I would share. Here are some of my thoughts and observations from that night.
In the front of the Ashram, on an altar, under a beautiful canopy was The Guru-- their sacred book of scripture. I contains the words of the gurus (founders of the Sikh religion) as well as words from saints of other religions. It was a huge book that covered the whole alter when open and as everyone entered or left the ashram, they bowed and paid their respects to the Guru. They treat it and care for it as a living guru, and this was plain in the love I could see that each person had for that sacred text. It made me think that we could pay more respect to our own really amazing and sacred body of scripture.
People were coming in and out all night, and one family came in with a small baby and the mother put her baby down next to the alter so that should get all the way down on her knees an pay her respects. At first, it looked like she was placing her baby before the altar and I couldn't help but think of Mary.
After we did the chant for 1000 days and another for prosperity, a few different members of the Sikh community filled up the rest of the night by leading us in song. They played guitar, an accordion, and hand drums.
One of the women who sang, mentioned that New Years Eve happened to be the 120th day of her daughter's pregnancy. In the Sikh Dharma, they believe that the soul enters the body on the 120th day of pregnancy. And so on that day the whole community welcomes the soul. So, to welcome her granddaughter's spirit, we sang a song called Puta Mata Kee Asees, which is a mother's prayer for her child. It was a lovely thing to see everyone singing and praising God for the for this new child and it made me think of other welcoming rituals. It is also part of the Sikh tradition to spend the first 40 days of the child's life at home in peace and quiet and only receive visits from family.
I love learning about the spiritual practices of other faiths surrounding birth, so you may look forward to future blog posts about it. Also, if you have any experience with spiritual birth traditions, please share with me. I can't get enough of it.
Happy New Year again! May 2010 be filled with love and light.