Friday, February 6, 2009

The Wisdom of Giving Birth

It got down to fourteen degrees in Tallahassee yesterday. Fourteen. This is not a temperature we here in North Florida are accustomed to. We are not comfortable with ice unless it comes from the freezer.
I know. Bitch, bitch, bitch.

I don't know why I'm feeling so bitchy. It's cold.
I feel completely unromanced lately.
The dogs are pooping all over the house because they don't want their little tushies to get cold. Wah-wah.
Mr. Moon is thundering down the road to start up a new business venture which is going to involve me, probably frying chicken wings in a vat of hot grease with sporting events blasting out of numerous televisions.
After two years of taking yoga (or is it one? I think it's two) my teacher still finds it necessary to remind us to hold in our abs to protect our backs at least a half dozen times an hour.
Did I say it's cold and that I'm feeling completely unromanced?
Yes. I did.

Anyway, it's Friday, here we are, and I need to run to Publix. When I discovered that Lily was pregnant, I ordered her three books which she absolutely has to have and they arrived yesterday. One of them, Spiritual Midwifery, I have definitely talked about before here. The other two, Ina May's Guide To Childbirth and Heart and Hands, are wonderful books and I am excited to give them to Lily to read because they have so much wisdom between their covers about pregnancy and childbirth but it is Spiritual Midwifery that I am most excited to give her. I still have my original copy which dates back to the middle ages (1978) and which is so well-thumbed and read and reread that the back cover is missing. It is a wonderful book and it not only plainly and frankly discribes the physiology of pregnancy and childbirth, but it talks a great deal about the emotional and spiritual changes a woman needs to experience in order to have a baby and become a mother.

Ina May Gaskin,

who wrote the book, believes quite strongly that the mind-body connection is terrifically important, especially during labor.
She has this to say about it:

Since mind and body are One, sometimes you can fix the mind by working on the body and you can fix the body by working on the mind.

She doesn't mean this in any hippie-dippie way, either. She's delivered thousands and thousands of babies and she knows what works and what doesn't work. She doesn't use hormones or forceps or drugs. She uses touch and steering the energy and helping the couple to connect on both the mind and body level to help make the birthing woman's body relax and open so that her baby can be born. I've met Ina May. I've heard her talk. And she is quite possibly one of the most pragmatic, direct-speaking people I've ever met. She takes being a midwife incredibly seriously and would never fool around with theories that don't work.

I have often wondered if the reason it always took me so long to have a baby is that I am so fearful of trust. Trust in myself, in my partner, in my own body and in the birthing process itself. I would not be surprised if this were not true. However, I will say this- going through labor without drugs but with the help of a caring and attentive midwife and with the help and love and support of my partner went a long way in helping me to resolve some of the trust issues in my life. As well as showing me just how strong and amazing my body is.
Not that I would advise anyone to have a baby just to do healing on themselves, but I do think it's common for women who go through childbirth undrugged to come out of the experience with a great deal more respect for themselves. It's just impossible not to.

So I'm going to take these books to Lily at work and I'm going to give them to her and I hope she reads them because just as her body is making incredible adjustments and tricky adaptations to create a new life, her mind is going to have to make some adjustments and adaptations to be a mother. And just flipping through Spiritual Midwifery has reminded me of some things that I need to be reminded of myself. Such as this one:

Don't complain. It makes things worse. If you usually complain, practice not doing it during pregnancy. It will build character.

And this:

Keep your sense of humor- it's a priceless gem which keeps you remembering where it's at. If you can't be a hero, you can at least be funny while being a chicken.

Frankly, I need to quit bitching and I need to keep my sense of humor and I need to read Spiritual Midwifery again, cover to cover, to help me help Lily through these next few months and during the birth of her baby.
And to remind me that the lessons learned giving birth and being a mother are lessons I still need to know because if there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that we continually give birth to ourselves over and over again, heart, mind, body, and soul.

It's cold. I need to put on a sweater and remember it will warm up.
I'm feeling unromanced. I need to ask for what I need.
The dogs are pooping all over the house. I need to clean it up.
My husband is starting a new business venture. I need to help him and learn to fry chicken wings if that's the sort of help he needs.
I need to hold my abs in to protect my back.

I need to take these books to Lily because she and Jason need to read them. They're going to have a baby. And there's more to having a baby than being hooked up to electronic monitors and being put on an IV drip and letting medical personnel have their way with you. Even if something arises wherein Lily needs to go to the hospital to have her baby, every bit of information and knowledge she has in her back pocket will help as she gives birth to her baby, as she gives birth to herself as a mother and to Jason as a father.
As she gives birth to me as a grandmother.
That's a lot of responsibility for one woman, but Lily is strong. She can do it. She may not know it yet, but she can.
And she will. With the help of Jason and the midwife and hopefully, me, in whatever capacity she wants me to help her. I am starting by giving her these books and it feels like a sacred honor to do so.
Handing over the wisdom and knowledge that got me through four pregnancies and labors where I was a brave, funny little chicken and sometimes complained and sometimes lost my sense of humor but I tried and I somehow managed to birth the four strong children I have today.
Which all reminds me that really, I have nothing to complain about.

Nothing at all.


  1. May and I think dad should call the bar the Glen Den. He could hang a few heads on the walls.

  2. Mama, from the moment you pushed me out into this world, I have been shown over and over what true strength, trust, and love is. So much so that I haven't even had to think about it, if that makes any sense. Oh, plus a good sense of humor, you certainly have shown us that.

    It's getting warmer, so enjoy the pretty day!

  3. If I had a kind and decent mother like you, I would have welcomed her into the process of birthing my children. But since I don't have that, I chose what I call the 'cow in the swamp' method of birth. Like our cattle, I went off alone to give birth, (though I chose the hospital, not the swamp)and reappeared with my offspring afterwards. Not a word to anyone, I let them all think I went to work as usual.
    Your daughter is lucky, no 'cow in the swamp' techniques will be needed. I envy that.

  4. DTG- Last night he was jokingly referring to it as The Big Rack. Or...Nice Rack.
    I will gladly donate a few deer heads...

    HoneyLuna- You are so precious. Thank-you.

    Rachel- You were ALL alone? Oh my God. That is so wrong. Next time- call me.

  5. I'm hoping there is a next time, and planning to hold you to that!

  6. Congrats to Mama and Gran Mama.
    My wife had both our boys at the birth center. I love me some midwifers!
    Good luck. It's a shame the baby won't be spoiled by his "Gran's".
    Good luck with the Juke joint too.

  7. I only wish I were reading books like that :) I want a baby so badly...and yes, I am I wont be getting one anytime soon.

    I am glad about your impending arrival though, and am so happy there will be a new little one for you to cuddle!

  8. Dearest Mary, How I enjoyed this post! And I dearly remember your well worn 1978 Spiritual Midwifery book, which you also turned me onto. And of course - greatest gift of all - was your amazing energy at the birthing of my beautiful baby, who'll be 22 next month. Love you! You certainly inspired me and changed me for the better!

  9. HWB- I know you love the midwives. Midwives are the best.
    And thanks for the congratulations.

    Rachel- The traveling doula?

    Ample- Thank-you.

    SJ- Your time will come.

    Paula- That day remains in my memory as one the best days of my life. You were a consummate baby-haver! I was SO honored to be there. Twenty-two years ago. How is this possible?

  10. I love love love Ina May. I still mourn for my lost homebirths--even though I understand I had a serious medical condition and my midwife opted out for good reason. I still wish...

    My midwife stayed on as my doula. Every birthing woman should have one of those.

  11. Lora- I know without a doubt how lucky I was to have the births that I did. Truly, they were the highpoints of my life.


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