Friday, January 25, 2013

Mother, I lost it all, of the fear of the Lord I was given

I have to write about my blessingway because the baby is coming soon, but I’m still reeling with such euphoria that it’s hard to collect my thoughts! I want to say most of all that I am so grateful, so appreciative of even being able to have such a thing happen in my life and to experience connection in sisterhood this way. 

I had such a harrowing emotional journey the week before the blessingway. My primitive nesting instincts drove me back into the depths of my high school/middle school/college junk-memorabilia boxes and I actually managed to throw about half of it out (finally admitting to myself that it’s not really ever going to be fun to read over my notes with Amber about ____ and ____), but in order to get to the discard stage I had to actually look at all of it. It took a lot out of me, emotionally. There were some sweet memories that resurfaced, but I was also confronted with my own shallowness, my hypocrisy, horrible privileged things I wrote and thought, and the sad, sad truth that the journals I spent hours writing when I was younger contain very little of the real me, because I wasn’t able even “alone” in my journal, I had so many narratives in other voices that influenced me and I couldn’t admit any part of my shadow, of how desperately lonely and not tough at all I felt, so my voice isn’t my voice, and it’s painful to read affectations. I felt sorrow too for the lies I told myself and the guys I dated. I am so sorry for the way I used them to work out my own issues; better stated, for the way I infected them with my nameless fears and manipulated them into trying to convince me I was loveable instead of just owning my stuff. Telling them my heart was too heavy to lift and then letting them throw out their backs. Why didn’t I worry more about the heaviness in their hearts? I enacted vengeance upon them for the lessons I had in young women’s, for the way the foul guys in my high school talked about sex. It was so unfair and I am so sorry. I miss what those friendships could have been if I hadn’t been such a coward. I wish I could do it over again and do it right. Anyway, these boxes, they were sort of eating my soul and I went to my midwife appointment feeling so vulnerable and then I fell so hard on the ice on her porch, it was humiliating, and of course that jarred my broken pelvis into more horrific pain so that by the time work ended I couldn’t take a step without crumbling. I was so sad, so sad, I thought I would never feel okay again. I was so totally broken. Jonathan snoring felt more personal than ever, so I finally got up and trudged back to the boxes at about 3 am and worked until 7 AM. I was of course flooded with more woeful thoughts in those dismal hours. I found pictures of my father’s parents and marinated in the futility of it all…a cold heart, my own place in my childhood that maybe was never real at all, my lost youth and my lost loves and the eventual lost babyhood of my children, plus my eminent lost alone time with Chai. I grieved and suffered for the dense and self-absorbed person I have been, for how ugly I was when I was a young teenager. I’m glad now that I went so low, because somehow even after four hours of sleep, Chai patting my head was welcome and okay and when I opened my eyes again the sun had somehow come back out. And it was the day of my blessingway!

This experience, really it is too full and too bright for me to put into words. It was like a dream. It was what every single human being deserves and too few experience. Getting friends together for a party is thoughtful, making preparations for dinner and planning activities is thoughtful, but the insight, wisdom, and kindness that went into this particular celebration was magnificent. I know I’m going to be throwing superlatives out way too lavishly as I write about this, but what do I have other than my words? You all saw my tears. This is my heart. What I came away with most was that my dear friends had spoken my language, used my symbols to strengthen, support, and love me. I know that many of my friends who came to the blessingway didn’t know what to expect and perhaps even felt a little out of place or uncomfortable, but they focused on me and being there for me and put aside their insecurities and told me how much they loved me. 

My friends went to so much work and created a thoughtful, intimate experience that embodied all my symbols. It was like someone speaking to me in the private language of my soul. They created an altar which was a visual representation of all of the things that have helped me and inspired me during this pregnancy--they had little birds fleeing a cage, a mirror shaped like a sun that represented my affirmations about "January babies bringing the sunshine" and "be here now" (!) a dragon that represented being the "Mother of Dragons" (a game of thrones reference that really speaks to me) and a beautiful, thick old "book" that is really a box you can open, which represents my daughter being "unwritten" and the promise of her own story. I was told I could give her the box and let her fill it with her own treasures when she was ready.
Katie Rasmussen MADE this birthing goddess out of clay and painted it herself!  It's even more breathtaking in person (not the Seinfeld breathtaking, but really!)
Birds. Birds are hugely symbolic to me--of survival, flight, connection to the divine, hope. Laurel even remembered about the yellow bird and mentioned it while she was presenting the altar. 
It is known.

We started the blessingway by feasting (on homemade Cafe Rio!) and then created a circle where we wound yarn around our wrists as we introduced ourselves by telling stories about our maternal ancestors and then when we had all spoken we cut the yarn, and everyone will wear it to remind them of me and to send me their energy and good wishes until I have my baby. I LOVED LOVED LOVED the storytelling part of the blessingway because the women in the circle were so honest. I was blessed by the stories of the ancestors, blessed by their courage in giving voice to what they admire and what uplifts them as well as the traces of pain in those matriarchal lines. They told stories that inspired them (like their mother running around in the backyard with a white sheet, pretending to fly) but also alluded to their stories of pain. Some of them had mothers who rejected or abandoned them, and they talked about what they had learned from them and how they had struggled. Some didn't know their grandmothers and talked about old birth stories that were passed down by others. Almost everyone referenced birth and how the past had influenced them so directly. I loved to think of those women, in our season, in our place, with new bellies and new babies and what they must have thought of. It was such a beautiful, human experience. When it was my turn, I said I feel it's important to share those stories because that is how everyone begins, "mother, remember the blink of an eye when I breathed through your body?" And it is just the blink of an eye, but when it's you and your baby it means everything, when it's you and your mother, it means everything, and it's not ordinary, it's the most important, powerful thing in the world. I talked about how we need to tell the stories because as mothers we suffer for our children, and as daughters we suffer profoundly for our mothers, and it's something that connects us as women. 

During the introductions, my friend Rachel painted henna on my belly. We had a cool experience because the baby was moving so much--Rachel said that the design ended up much different than she had planned but she felt like the baby was drawing it with her. 

Putting on bindis--over our third eye chakra

 I was blessed by the quiet presence of every woman there while we did a brief guided meditation with Laura that encouraged us to become aware of what is holding us back in our lives. Afterwards we each took a pinch of herbs that represented the fear we had identified and took turns releasing those fears into a bowl of sea glass and salt (so beautiful, thanks to the immensely talented Katie!) We laughed about having PTSD over the exploding glass bowl last time.We had the choice to speak our fear out loud or not. Everyone was so much like themselves during this part, I felt honored by their genuineness. For me, what was weighing me down and holding me back was clear—my fear and worry over being evaluated negatively, that people will think poorly of me literally does hold me back from becoming who I really am and from loving as much as I should. 

After we released our fears, Katie gave me the blessingway necklace that she had created with the beads each woman in the circle had brought. It is such a brilliant, gorgeous, holy thing! Each piece of it is so precious to me because of the relationships and support it represents. It makes me feel like I have mattered in the world. I don’t think I have ever owned anything so sacred. Wendy explained that now each woman present would take a moment to come up and sit with me, talk to me and the baby, and explain why she had chosen the bead she had and give us any good wishes she had for the upcoming birth/life/journey. This is what healed my soul and filled me with hope. I was given so much love, the gift of seeing their tears, crying so hard as Melanie read the baby a list of “fun things to do with your mom.” It meant so much to me that several women told the story of Chai’s birth and how it impacted them. They expressed love for my boy and for my Jonathan. It meant so much, so much. My sister in law Aya spoke to my baby in Japanese. They talked about ways I have been kind, empathetic, and understanding, and expressed their hope that even though we won’t get along all the time, my daughter will be able to feel some of that from me. There was such confidence expressed in my ability to give my children goodness that I felt light rising from the darkest part of my heart, the part that feels resentful and wants to run away sometimes from the enormity of all of it, and I felt that I could do it, and I will, and it will be painful and joyful, and an adventure. I fell in love with my life again while all these women were speaking, the ghosts that rose out of those ancient boxes earlier in the week and tormented me fled. You can do so much good by just saying what is in your heart. I’m aware that I’m not super close with everyone who was there, others have known me long and had their frustrations and tensions with me, but that night everyone just reached out to me and gave me pure love. Thank you, thank you, you don’t know what it means to me. 

 I don't even have words to describe what these moments were like. It was an absolutely sacred experience.  When they talked to the baby they put their hands on my belly, and she was moving and moving and I loved her so much and they said such beautiful, kind things, like I won't ever put her in a box, but that she will be free to become who she needs to be, and even though we might not always get along perfectly, they hoped she would feel some of my understanding and my validation that they said had helped them. They talked about how they can't wait to see her (Wendy said she couldn't wait to see the "girl Jon" with Jonny's lips and my ears) and that she would have a place in the circle. There were some things shared that are too personal for a blog, but trust me, I remember and my soul felt them. It made me feel absolutely amazing. I felt such joy in my existence. The thing is, that everyone deserves that, everyone deserves the people who love them to look them in the face and tell them what they mean to them, but we so rarely have moments like that. Maybe sometimes with family, sometimes with a lover, but not with a circle of women like that. I'm so grateful to everyone who was there, for every word, and also to those who were not present but wanted to be. 
Talking to my baby--I told her I don't know everything but that she can be herself and teach me about her, and I will let her fly. That she doesn't have to relive my history or heal my hurts, she will be enough, for herself. I told her about her good, kind, wise father and sweet older brother and that I'm excited for her to know them. I got lost in speaking with her, I felt so connected to her. 
My beautiful friends! I wish so much I had a picture of everyone who was there, but I'm glad to have these gorgeous pictures thanks to Cara Dahlquist. 

My blessingway necklace--is full of rose quartz, birds, birth goddesses, bright turquoise with flecks of shadow, safe places, wings for exploring the world. It is intuitive and lovely and I think it might actually be magic. 
 After everyone had spoken to me and mi hija, we took a short break for dessert and I got to choose a palette of colors for my birth art—there was an easel and canvas set up for everyone to paint on and create something together (it turned out amazing, I wish that I’d been paying more attention to who painted what! If you read this and remember what part you painted, please tell me, I would love to know!). 

It was also time for the pampering stage—everyone took turns rubbing my hands, feet and back and playing with my hair. I was dying. All I ever want is rubs, at any time, and it’s my sad lot that Jonny Strange (who really is idyllic in practically every way) tends to be a little noncommittal about rubs. It felt soooo good, especially since they were using Katie’s lotion (she is an archmage and makes her own!). It was an incomparably lovely sensory experience. During that time I got to visit a little with some of my friends, but not as much as I’d have liked….that’s the only sad thing about having so many people you’re obsessed with in one room at the same, you can’t talk to them all as much as they need to be talked to!

We reconvened and the wood nymphs gave me a “nursing box” for Chai that everyone had contributed to—the idea is that it is full of special toys that he gets to play with while I am nursing the new baby, so he has something to entertain him, and hopefully that time can be positive and fun for him instead of lonely. I am so appreciative that they thought of my sweet boy. Wendy shared the story of the “elephant doulas/midwives” that Jenny had told us at Wendy & Laura’s blessingway. She had also written a really clever rebuttal to a repugnant article some of us had read on facebook, “7 Reasons I’m Glad I Have a Daughter,” inspired by Zoe and her adorable ways. Katie shared some thoughts about having sunshine in the bleak midwinter, which tied into her telling me so many months ago that “January babies bring the sunshine,” which became an affirmation for my entire pregnancy. She had also created a really beautiful book out of the same paper she used for the blessingway invitations and filled it with poems, songs and mantras about birthing.
 "Created in heat
Growing in Light
From the warm earth
And Lit from Within.
With her Sisters,
The Sun, Moon, and Stars
A body of Light
A body of Creation
A body of Earth
She radiates.
She twists, 
suspended in the glow.
She comes into flame.
Through the fire.
A Rush of Light
The truest heat
never cold or dimmed.
She illuminates
She shines
She comes into flame." --K.R
 Those of you who were there, you can’t know how much your words meant. That you could see so much light and power in me made me believe in my own life and in my ability to become the person I was meant to be, believe that I am more than equal to the task of this next adventure. I felt the way I should have felt, the way I wish every single woman on the planet could feel before taking a new step on the mother journey. I told someone right after everyone had presented their bead and spoken to me and the baby, when I was choosing the colors for the birth art, that I felt like I was glowing, like post-mortem Obi-Wan Kenobi. I felt like every part of my soul was alive and responsive and full of light and hope. You did that for me! What a gift! 
 These are my friends, the "wood nymphs" who planned and orchestrated the blessingway and I wanted to specially thank them--Katie made everything SO beautiful. She is truly gifted! From the rocks in the bowl to the birth goddess figure to the rose water to the gorgeous elephant necklace she created for me to the earrings to the yellow open vase she described wanting to get at Hobby Lobby to the poem she wrote for my baby to the lotion she made herself so that my friends could rub my hands and feet, she shared SO many of her talents and really put her heart into planning this!  
Wendy had some creative ideas that brought so much power to this ceremony. It was her idea to share the stories of our mothers, not just their names. Wendy is a powerful presence; she is simultaneously hilarious and also very brilliant and wise. She speaks with such confidence and sureness that I always remember everything she says.  
Laurel...Laurel is the friend of my heart! She was the one who "interviewed" me about my symbols and I couldn't believe how perfectly she chose the pieces for the altar--it was a visual representation of the feeling of being understood, which was miraculous. I looked at it and thought, "Oh, they get me!" What Laurel said to me during the blessingway is one of the highlights of that night and made me love her so much! I know I'm not even aware of all the work she really did, but I appreciate it! 
Laura impressed me so much with her confidence and graciousness that evening (she will know what I mean).  She talked about raising her boys to be “intactivists, lactivists, activists and feminists” and how she feels compelled to share her knowledge about birth with women in the community. She really has generated so much energy, passion, and healing in so many lives. I feel grateful to be a part of that and to have felt that energy in my life. I needed it, I can’t pretend it was any small thing, because I didn't have anyone except for the Lowe girls my first time around, and I would be so different without the support they gave me..
I tried to thank my friends who had organized the evening and I told them there was nothing I could say for what it did for me. Wendy said the only thing you can do is pay it forward...and she is right.  

 We closed our circle at the end with the statement, “this has been a powerful night,” and I want everyone who came and contributed to know that it was so true for me. I felt strength, hope, and healing during this experience that has stayed with me and imbued me with insight and energy. I could not be in a better place to birth my child and begin this new path. It is well with my soul!
Photo credit:

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly

Is this really happening? I’m almost 38 weeks pregnant! My baby is LOA! And I feel amazing! I’m like a snowball [cut out of the mountain without hands] tumbling downhill now that the holidays are over. I know the shape of the land is going to change so much over the next month or so and that this little bubble of equilibrium that we’re enjoying so much will pop and we’ll have to stumble around a little before we find steady footing again. So I want to record all the details before that happens and we shed this skin, walk out of this year’s Eden.

Lo fisico: Weeks 30-35 or so were marked by some kind of pelvic disjointedness that was really painful, sometimes every step was excruciating, and made me feel elderly and feeble, but other than a slight twinge now and then it seems to have resolved itself. And hopefully whatever was going on was happening in preparation for baby to have an easy passage. Every few days my back will hurt and I’ll moan to Jonathan, “I’m such a pregnant Racher!” but most days I slip through feeling really normal, good energy, high spirits. Spry! It bothers me a little when people at work rush to do everything for me, even though I know they’re trying to be sweet. I’ve been having more practice surges than I did with Chai, but they’re not super frequent, maybe one a day. I’m 37 weeks and I’ve gained 20 lbs so far, which I’m also really happy about (and I didn’t start out heavier than last time). I had already gained 40 pounds by this point in my pregnancy with Chai. Last time toward the very end I remember feeling like an elephant seal, so swollen, and now I feel more like myself.  I feel lucky to feel as good as I do. I feel so lucky to have a partner who is so kind to me and tells me that he loves me and loves the way I look every time he sees me. It’s not a placating, “I’ll compliment her extra because she feels grotesque” kind of thing either, it’s more of a marveling at how incredible it is that I can grow another human being inside my body. We are both in awe that we get to experience this together. I feel like I really do have a beautiful body. I am so appreciative of how wise and functional it is, even though no one can call my intake choices heroic.   

Lo emocional: I don’t sleep perfectly but it’s my thoughts more than my body that keep me awake. I wake up around 5 or 6 in the morning and my mind just races. I play out the birth in my mind, I anticipate all those wild and wonderful feelings and I welcome them, whatever the universe has to teach me this time. I feel like I should be terrified, but lately all I feel is excited. I think pregnancy offers a peaceful measure of denial…like Allen said once, “When they’re out, they’re REALLY out.” I can have my hands on my expanding belly and feel my thumping, jumping, bumping raptor-child but I won’t believe it in the same way I will when I see her and hear that heart-wrenching bleating baby cry.

I was telling someone the other day that I don’t think I have a significant pre-birth intuition about my babies the way some people do. I love being so connected and sharing those months of secret pre-life, but I don’t “sense” things about their personality or future, I think of them sort of as mythical creatures and presents that I get to unwrap. (I guess that’s not completely true, I do have a feeling, maybe just from how calculated her movements seem, that this baby is very, very bright. But that’s written in her genetic material, have you met Jonny Strange?) I think I felt very fond of the idea of Chai before he was born, and I definitely had intense emotions when I met him, but it was getting to know him and caring for him over the next weeks and months that made me absolutely adore him. I am so eager and excited to have that experience again, to get to know this new person whose life will be entwined with ours (not enmeshed hopefully) forever.

 I’ve been able to alleviate a lot of my girl-terror (for now) through hard introspection, therapy and art and writing out my pain and absorbing wise words from friends. I’m grateful to everyone who has listened to me and especially those who have told me they think my baby is lucky to be with me because of my concerns. That means so much! It has helped to think of her as “unwritten” and remember that my job is to let her write her own story, not to scribble doom ahead on the pages. I’ve connected with a lot of symbols of hope for her that give me courage.

I am still worried about Chai feeling lost or dismayed. I look at my sleeping boy in the mornings and feel so sad for him. I acknowledge those sorrowful feelings, but then I paint over the sadness with images of him being delighted every time he sees a baby, remind myself he will have a place in my arms as long as he wants it, that I’m adding another ball to the easy juggling routine we’re used to (okay, or sixteen new balls) but I’m not abandoning him. I’ll get smart enough and strong enough to figure this out. I cling to all the comforting words and stories I’ve heard from others and I’m giving myself freedom to write a good story for us, too. We’ve been watching birth videos together and he pays rapt attention and gets really excited pointing out the baby at the end. I showed him the unedited footage of his own birth and kept telling him how happy I was that he was born and how much I loved him. I think, I hope, that he does feel loved. He’s still so little and so innocent.

Planes futuros: Last week we had our home visit from our midwife! Doug and Emily helped me beautify my house beforehand and we made some changes that helped give our living space some good energy. (That sounded so dorky, but all the tech piling up and some particularly oppressive furniture was giving me EMOTIONAL varicosites ). My midwife is a lovely person. It was so fun talking about plans to pick up the birthing tub (it’s a trough this time instead of a kiddy pool) and going over details of my hopes and fears for the birth and how I want to be supported. My biggest hope for the actual physiological process is being able to go super slow during crowning and pushing and really listen to my body instead of forcing the baby down. (I know that’s totally easy to say while I’m not in the moment, but I still think I can do it!) Last time, I thought tearing was no big deal because it seemed to happen so often and no one really talked about it. I didn’t make any effort to stop it from happening. That part of recovery was tough for me and giving my body more time might be really hard for a few minutes but if I can save myself a couple of months of anguish later it will be totally worth it.

I also told my midwife that I don’t want any cervical checks unless I request them. I have witnessed what a poor predictor they are of actual progress in labor; they are intrusive and can be immensely discouraging. I didn’t have more than four in my labor with Chai, but each time it was awful to have to get on my back and it threw me off my rhythm. I probably will ask to be checked at some point (I don’t think I’ll be able to help myself) but I’m hoping to get pretty far into active labor before doing so. I love that I get to choose whether or not I get checked and that it will be only a person that I selected and trust performing them, if I do decide I want to get them. It feels good to know that my provider cares about my bodily autonomy and respects my feelings.  

We talked about who I have invited to the birth and what everyone’s role will be, what our plans are for Chai. (Chai is not coming to the birth. If it happens at night I’ll just leave him sleeping; my brother has agreed to watch him otherwise and take him off the premises. I like the idea of having him present, but I know he would be a distraction for me. I want to see him immediately when I’m done, though!)

 I really want to create an affirming environment. I told her that one of the most important things is that I don’t want people to feel sorry for me or make comments about how hard it is. Birthing Chai was the most consuming, exhausting physical experience of my life and it was HARD, but it was so good. I remember being there and surging away and thinking that if I spoke the words “This is hard,” “I can’t do this,” “It hurts so much,” etc that absolutely nothing would change, no one would step in and do it for me, but that I would feel weaker and let self-pity creep in and that my resolve would deteriorate. So even when it was extremely intense and part of me was wondering how much longer, I said, “I can do this! I know I can do this!” and thanked the people around me for their kindness and loving support. They kept telling me “perfect” and “you’re doing beautifully” and “you’ve got this” and in the middle of that inner tsunami it felt so good to be affirmed like that. I felt like I was winning. I told my midwife that and she beamed. She told me the story of another of her clients who decided she was going to express her love for the people in the room every time she had a really difficult surge. So it would come and she would start telling her husband and doula how much she loved them, and the more she did that, the more peaceful she felt and even though labor got more intense, her endorphins were surging too and she was able to stay in control. I thought that was lovely—it might seem cheesy, but our minds are so powerful and our thoughts are so connected to what our bodies are experiencing, it makes sense that expressing love would create a different sensation than being angry or trying to “run away” from what the body was doing.

Some people have asked me if I’m doing hypnobirthing again. Technically yes, but we weren’t able to take a full class this time because of the timing of the holidays and of the birth of our instructor’s own baby. I wish we had been able to, and I wish I had been able to practice more. I’ve listened to the  scripts a couple of times, but I can’t really get in any kind of zone when Chai is awake and if I do it at night I just pass out and don’t really work at it. We took a refresher course the other night and I was obsessed with it. Laura went over the breathing again and most of the time was focused on teaching the birth support how to attend to the mother, but we did a fear release that really spoke to me. (It was so fun to have Jonny, Doug, Emily, Mary, and Laurel all there with me too!) I’m hopeful that where not having practiced as much might be detrimental to me, having more experience than last time will help compensate. And really, it was the doulas and my husband that made all the difference to me last time, and I am so, so unbelievably lucky to have most of them back for round 2 (plus some other rockstar support). I can’t wait for that! My friends, my sisters, I’m so grateful to you for willingly and happily coming to travail by my side. I love you so much. I am looking forward to my blessingway on the 18th, and after that baby can come anytime [before Katie leaves for Iceland please bless]!!!! 
32 Weeks, before the snow came.

34 Weeks at the Pace "Night in Bethlehem" Christmas party. We were supposed to be shepherds but secretly we were Dothraki. Don't tell!

36 Weeks, right after New Years
Sometimes, just being in Ogden makes me do this in pictures.