Saturday, April 3, 2010

Learning Lessons From the Past

As part of the book, The Gift of Giving Life, we plan to include a chapter about our legacy—specifically, our legacy in regards to pregnancy and birth. In my mind, this legacy logically starts with our Heavenly Mother, then Eve, and some other Biblical greats like Mary. After that, we plan to include information about our early LDS legacy, which will include much of the cool info that Heatherlady wrote up in her guest post, Midwifery as a Calling. If we continue moving through time this way, it naturally leads us to our own legacy—our ancestors, of whatever faith or origins, our mothers, and our own birth and personal history.

I have been thinking a lot about this more recent legacy (our mothers and us) and wondering what it is I am supposed to write about it. There is so much about our own stories that influences the way we birth. There is our own birth story--most of us tend to birth how we were born, whether we know it or not. There is our own history, such as sexual abuse, how past pregnancies and births went, and so much more.

Last Sunday in Relief Society we studied Elder L. Tom Perry's talk, The Past Way of Facing the Future. I think that the story of the early saints who built the Manti temple is fascinating. They knew nothing about building a roof, but they used their shipbuilding knowledge (they were immigrants from the Netherlands) to make a watertight roof. This is the kind of story that I love. It is a great example of how God gives us things to do that seem totally not congruent with our talents or abilities, but when we examine all that we know and have learned from or for other sources, we often find that we have the exact skills necessary--they just need to be turned upside down.

I wish I had a cool picture of the roof blueprints here.

The lady who taught our R.S. lesson is an older woman who likes to marvel about how things have changed. She gave this example:

“In 1916 every female over age 14 was a Beehive girl until she entered Relief Society. A Beehive girl had a possible 374 requirements to earn her individual award. Some of them were:
1. “Care successfully for a hive of bees for one season [and] know their habits.”
2. “Cover 25 miles on snowshoes on any six days.”
3. “During two weeks keep the house free from flies, or destroy at least 25 flies daily.”
4. “Without help or advice care for and harness a team at least five times [and] drive 50 miles during one season.”
5. “Clear sage-brush, etc., off of one-half acre of land.” (1)

She chuckled about how silly these things were, but I think, because we ran out of time, we missed the whole point of the lesson, which was, what we can learn and use today. While this list seems crazy to us 100 years later, it would be comparable to asking a girl to learn how to change a car tire, change her own oil, or participate in a 16-mile hike at girl’s camp (all of which I did as a young woman). All of the activities on this list from 1916 required intense commitment, physical stamina, and mental focus. These are the lessons that these women would need to draw on in the future when they had children and raised them.

It is the same for us. We have all learned lessons from the past that, whether you know it or not, have prepared you, or are preparing you, to birth and nurture children. Hiking for more than 12 hours and climbing the sheer face of a granite mountain when I was 15 years old certainly taught me about labor and delivery, though I didn’t know it at the time.

Just last year, I went back and climbed Half-Dome again, and the whole way, I found myself comparing it to labor. There was a point, right before I reached the top, where I felt I couldn’t do any more. I took a video diary of myself at that point and I look just like I did in labor. I even said to the camera, “this is like the point of every woman’s labor when she says, I can’t do this—and that is usually when she is crowning.” And sure enough, the top was in sight as I rounded the next bend.

Yes those are people climbing up the side...

Here's a close up.

I made it.

I still had to climb all the way back down. I made that, too. Though there were casualties. I lost two toenails which took about 9 months to grow back.

Another simple example of lessons learned from the past are the keep-up exercises we do in pregnancy yoga. We do an exercise with our arms for 3 minutes (like holding them out straight or flapping or rotating the wrists in a figure 8). Three minutes is a long time, and the sensation in the arms starts to feel very intense by the end. But by tuning into our breath or a mantra, we can get through them powerfully, even smiling. This gives the mind a "known" for power and grace through intense physical sensations. The lesson being, if you can do a 3-minute keep-up, you can do labor—because no surge, or contraction, will last longer than one minute.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are so many lessons from our past that we can draw upon during this critical time, and they are all just as unique as you are.

What is really cool, though, is that on the other side of this experience, after a woman has an empowering victorious birth, it then becomes her lesson for the future--because she now knows she can do anything. And you can! You are doing great things. Along my journey to birth this book, I have been connected to so many amazing women who, as I like to say, don’t take impossible for an answer.

I would love to collect and hear other examples of from of lessons you have learned from the past, or what you have been empowered to do since having that victorious birth.


1. Martha A. Tingey, Hand Book for the Bee-Hive Girls of the Y.L.M.I.A. (1916), 36–46.


  1. I would say the biggest lesson I learned from my pregnancies and births was to trust my intuition. That has helped throughout my motherhood.

  2. Giving birth was definitely a lesson for the future. It gave me the impetus to train for and run a half-marathon.

  3. That's interesting- my biggest inspiration during labor was also climbing a mountain (Mount Timp). If I could do that, I could do anything!
    Though really, the thing that made it all possible was the experience I got through my older sisters' collective 5 natural births. I never doubted, because I knew their stories, had their support, and their easy-birthing genes:)
    BTW, you don't know me, but I've also started up a NCB blog for my new pregnancy. if you have any interest. No worries if not.



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