Monday, January 28, 2008

Interview with Bella, part two Birthing Ourselves

see also Bella's blog

Musemother: Pam England describes the woman giving birth or heroine’s journey as a “descent into the unconscious and the Dark Feminine”. Can you tell me what you think this means?

Bella: Pam England has a wonderful journal on Inanna’s descent which speaks to this, and I highly recommend it. She leads workshops on this as well. Though I cannot speak for her, I have learned much from her and have explored this aspect of birth and women’s ways of knowing through many avenues.

The Dark Feminine is that which is hidden in the shadows, those parts of self we have silenced or ignored. Our shadow sister may be aspects of self we find unattractive or unpresentable, and are likely those energies within us that do not fit with the image of ourselves that with which we are most comfortable. They are different for each woman. For one, it may be that she requires herself to be sweet and good and fears that part of herself which is angry or defiant or impatient. For another woman it may be her vulnerability that she has denied. She may be highly competent and efficient, capable of asserting herself and being in charge and she has submerged that part of herself that needs to lose control and come unhinged, that which is messy and wild. What makes the Dark Feminine dark is not what is found there in and of itself, but that it has been banished to the underworld and not been invited into our consciousness.

Giving birth is a descent. We abandon old ideas of ourselves and call upon all our resources. We find we must give up things, even those we cherished or thought of as requirements. The very nature of active labor and particularly what is called transition is a state of primal and unconscious work. There is a hormone haze that takes over and a woman is not using that part of her brain which can articulate or think things through. She is accessing the right side of the brain, where her knowing is more instinctual and she is following her body rather then directing it. For every woman there comes a time in her labor when she must cross a gate of great doubt. It may be in the beginning when contractions start and she feels terrified. It may be right before she pushes her baby out. It may be when she chooses to have a cesarean birth. But in this moment, she fears she cannot do what she needs to do. And yet, she does.

It is very often in this moment that she meets the Dark Feminine in herself and must call upon and welcome that which she has found unacceptable. So she finds herself moaning and crying and losing it. Or she finds herself using her voice and telling everyone to leave her alone even though she is not being “nice”. Her own inner judge was the one telling her she could not be these things. And yet, they are what is required to birth her baby. So she metaphorically dies to the old divided self and claims her shadow sister as part of her.

It is not good or bad. Such categories have dissolved. It is love in both its light and dark and the power of claiming herself and owning her full power. It is the work of our conscious self to harness our instincts, to integrate our many faces and to live with compassion and strength. And yet we cannot integrate that which remains hidden in darkness. Giving birth can invite us to descend, to meet our shadow sister and know her as our very selves.

Musemother: What rituals, if any, can help a woman prepare for her own heroine’s journey? And what role does her husband or partner play in all of this?

Bella: I share many different ideas for rituals in my classes. However, I cannot take credit for them. For a great starting place I recommend the book Birthing From Within along with The Keepsake Journal that accompanies it. Mother Rising by Cortland, Lucke and Miller Watelet is also a wonderful resource.

One thing I will note is that there is benefit in having ritual for the mother, the partner and for them together. The birthing mother’s partner, whether he be the father or another mother have their own experiences. Though not giving birth they are being birthed as new parents. They are more than “coaches”; they are parents engaging their own rite of passage. And ritual can offer a means for honoring this.

Ritual can be a catalyst for consciously engaging that which is beyond the realm of what we can know or really plan for. While some women choose to have more formal ceremony or ritual, anything can become a ritual when we bring our intention to it and mark the space as sacred.

Musemother: “ But to complete the heroine’s journey, the hero must answer the last Call. She must integrate the clarity and power she went into the journey to find. That is not enough—she must also bring it back to the world in a form so that it can be a gift to others. Perhaps it manifests as words, images, or some other way. What she has gained she must give to others.
Remember, the hero made the journey, not for herself, but for others.

From Birthing from Within, Pam England, her web site.

What do you think the gift of childbirth that can be shared with others is? (from quote above)

Bella: The gift that each woman has to offer from her journey is unique. No birth is the same and so whatever it is a woman discovers in her process, it is her own offering, her wisdom and beauty, her gift.

If there is a gift of childbirth, beyond that of the unique gifts each woman possesses and offers, perhaps it is that it holds within it an offering of what it means to birth anything in this life, whether that be babies or words or paintings or relationships or new ways of understanding. We can learn from the quiet receptiveness of a pregnant woman, the gestation that takes place in darkness, in the womb. A woman may do certain things or abstain from certain things to encourage the life growing inside her. But she does not really grow it herself. All on its own it grows. In childbirth, much of the work involved is not in “doing” but in surrendering to what wants to be born from us. We follow more then lead. And yet this is not a helpless state, a powerless way of being. For life itself is coming through us.

As we look at other areas in our life, those things that are seeking to be born, we might learn from the hidden nature of life taking root, of the yielding required in childbirth, of the power in letting life do what it wants to do, which is be born and live.

Musemother: In each journaling class I have lead, we have a class where we share our birth stories. Some women relish telling every detail; some would rather forget. Is that part of the journey, the retelling?

Bella: Having a safe place in which to tell our birth stories is a part of the journey itself. It can be one of the ways we mark the Return or Ascent in our journeys. Women often recount the physical particulars of what happened and yet we also need a place to share our birth stories as the hero’s journey and awakening of the Mother, and to have them honored as such.
I lead Birthing From Within birth story workshops and circles. It is important here that all present are practicing deep listening. It is not a space in which we share advice or compare notes. It is also a space in which women are invited to share their own birth stories as a hero’s journey.

For some women, their birth was a joyous occasion and they are filled with gratitude and awe. Women often recount the physical particulars of what happened and yet we also need a place to share our birth stories as sacred. It is not casual, not about comparisons. It is not just about the events that happened, but her own story of descent and rebirth. She seeks to be honored as the returning birth warrior she is.

For some women, their birth story is painful and they fear revisiting that day. If their birth was traumatic, to re-tell it can unintentionally serve to re-traumatize. A woman who experienced birth trauma is as fully a birth warrior as she who speaks of her magical birth. Yet, to rush to this place can serve to discredit a woman’s loss. In these situations, women need a safe place in which to not just tell their story but to grieve. Simply rehashing what happened does not in and of itself heal. To have space in which feel feelings we could not feel because we were in the moment of survival can be a first step. I do not take this lightly.

In birth story circles, there is no commenting on her story. No questioning what she did or offering advice for how she might have done things different or how she should cope or heal. Being present for another’s pain can be uncomfortable for many. The impulse to calm or soothe is often more about the listener then the speaker. Most judgmental comments given to a woman who experienced birth trauma are not about her or her story at all, but rather the listener’s desire to assure herself that this would not happen to her, that she could control such events from taking place in her own life. So firstly, we must listen without rushing in to fill the silence or sorrow, without comparing it to our own experience or offering advice. Just being fully present is enough. When we go to this place the humanity and dignity emerge in all the stories. In the silence there is true connection.

Celebrating, honoring and grieving, and often times these all exist within a woman’s story, is powerful in its own right. There is also a gift we give to ourselves in the very way we tell our birth story. I invite women to tell their birth stories as a hero’s journey. The events are what they are. And yet, how were they experienced, and how does she honor her journey as that of a hero and warrior? Before beginning the time of sharing birth stories I set the space as sacred and invite them to ask themselves questions as they sit with their memory before beginning to speak. When did you first hear the Call? What did you have to give up to enter childbirth? At one moment did you feel like giving up and turning back? What did you do next? How did you know to do that? What part of yourself did you discover in birth that you did not know was there? What did you have to do that you did not know you would have to do in order to birth your baby? What moment in your birth were you brilliant and powerful? What do you know now that you did not know before?

The telling of birth stories is one of the ways a woman can integrate her experience and find in its telling her mother self awakened. In inviting birth stories to be shared as warriors returning from battle, hero’s returning from their quest, we offer women the dignity of their experience and the power of claiming their birth as Mother. There are many places where a woman will be asked to recount the birth of her baby. We need to also have spaces in which to share our stories of birthing ourselves as we birthed our child.

to be continued with final part 3

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Interview with Bella Part 1

Listening to Body Wisdom, Birth as Transformation and Rite of Passage

Interview with Bella Hoskins, Doula and writer: Our conversation begins with the moment of childbirth but encompasses all three stages of initiation into the Feminine Mysteries: menarche, pregnancy and childbirth, and menopause. I am thrilled to have discovered Bella’s blog, and her work with Birthing from Within and Birth Story Circles. Bella’s is a doula, childbirth mentor, storyteller, myth maker and weaver of words. She has been supporting women in pregnancy, birth and postpartum for the past seven years, honored to bear witness to each woman's unfolding as she gives birth to herself as mother. See her blog at, web site:
Musemother: In a world where masculine principles of competition and success reign, it is hard for a modern woman who has spent her life preparing for a career to suddenly realize she wants to be a mother. And then have to deal with the lack of female companionship once she decides to stay at home with her baby. Our feminine life processes often seem foreign to us.
What knowledge are we missing about pregnancy and childbirth, apart from the medical knowledge we get in pre-natal classes?

Bella: In an energetic or archetypal sense, childbirth is the embodiment of the Feminine. And for some women, this can be a shift, an awakening of long buried parts of themselves. I do not view this as knowledge that is missing, as much as it is an innate knowing which may have became buried or disowned, forgotten or devalued. Childbirth and motherhood can then offer the opportunity for a re-awakening or reclaiming of that which has always been.

What every woman needs to know to give birth is unique to her. In her book Birthing From Within, Pam England speaks of this, that within each woman resides her deepest question. It is not something that can be found in a book or answered by a care provider, as it resides within the woman herself. Only she knows what she needs to give birth. Digging deep to unearth this question and then living with the question is the work of preparation, far more so then having all the answers.

In the end, we cannot truly know or be prepared for birth, at least not in the ways our culture has promised. There are things that cannot be learned but only lived. Preparation has more to do then with opening oneself to dwelling freely in the unknown than in attempting to manage and control outcome. Having life grow within our womb in which we cannot see, all of the letting go that comes with pregnancy, this shows us the way.

Musemother: I love to hear birth described as a ‘hero’s journey’. Joseph Campbell said this about motherhood and I firmly agree. Women face the greatest challenge in giving over their bodies to another life. Then the further sacrifice of putting another life’s needs ahead of their own for many years. Is that what the initiation into motherhood is? About the need for self-sacrifice?

Bella: The very nature of initiation is that it is not something to be known until you have arrived there. Still, we look to those who have been initiated and ask them what it is they know. Not so that we might get to avoid the process, but so that we will know we are not alone when our time comes.

And what is this initiation into motherhood? Self-sacrifice is part of it. As women our bodies are quite literally inhabited by another and this begins what will be a life long process of a giving of ourselves to and for our child. Though many paths can bring us here, mothering is one path in which we are asked to often set aside our own small wants and desires for the sake of another. And yet, I am hesitant to suggest or to feed the climate of dichotomy we live in, a combative relationship that pits mother against child. This is the perspective that says we can tend to our own needs or our child’s, but only one can win out. This has been the seed of much mother guilt and it is helpful to neither mother nor child.

To lose old ideas of self and even some things we once thought of as requirements, such as sleep or privacy any time we want or our notions of freedom, can be a difficult adjustment. And yet the path to surrendering our small selves is where we discover a new idea of freedom, which is freedom from living only to fulfill our own wants and desires, and finding ourselves in love or service. This is not the same as sacrifice that turns mothers into martyrs. If a mother “loses herself” in the name of giving to her child, abandoning her own needs as if they do not matter, then from where is she discovering the resources needed to listen and respond to her child, from what Source does she find the capacity to give?

I would say that the initiation into motherhood is what we see in all such rites of passage: the death of the old self so a new self may be reborn. In giving birth and becoming a mother a woman will lose the self she once was and knew and assumed was “me”. Practical life becomes rearranged and there is a new orientation. Her daily life will become quite different then it was before. And yet, it is more. Giving birth offers the opportunity to awaken as mothers to our child and ourselves. It is not just that we will now sacrifice for our child, but that we now we know we have what it takes to make such sacrifices. When a woman has seen the lengths to which she will go to birth her baby and care for him/her, she discovers within herself the capacity to offer this same love to herself. When a woman has descended and embraced her shadow sister, when she has found within herself “She who knows what to do when she does not know what to do”, she arises not as martyr but fierce warrior. She brings this warrior love to her child, herself and the world.

Musemother: How can we understand giving birth as one of the 3 ‘initiations’ or transformations that women experience from menarche to menopause? Is it helpful for women to understand this deeper significance to giving birth?

Bella: What each of these rites share, beyond the biology of changing hormones, is that they are an entrance into a new self. They all require that we lose what we once were in order to fully enter into what we will become. A girl getting her first period has lost something of her childhood as she moves toward becoming a woman. This is a cause for celebration and it also involves a loss of innocence. They come together, the life cycle found in each initiation. When a woman gives birth she must release who she once was in order to birth her mother self. This is the same even if one has other children. Now, she will no longer be the mother of one, but the mother of two, or many. And the loss is mingled in with the new life.
When a woman begins menopause and enters her power as a crone, she is leaving behind her ability to give birth to children, and it symbolizes the loss of youth and fertility in many ways as well. And yet, she is now free for other creative ventures, for creating and bearing life in ways a young mother cannot, as she is busy with the work of mothering young children. (Many great writers wrote their masterpieces in menopause.) Again, the old self dies so the new might be begin.

The other similarity between these three initiations is that though marked by events, they are very much a process. Seeing it as such can be helpful for a woman in understanding the deeper significance of birth.

Menarche, motherhood and menopause are each their own labyrinth. There is a crossing the threshold that begins the journey. This could be seen as getting your first period, giving birth, or the absence of your period. We often stop here, assuming that this is all there is. When really, menarche is a beginning and it is a process of moving from childhood to young womanhood. Giving birth may place your baby in your arms and yet we become mothers not in one moment or event or day.
Menopause, even when sudden through something such as a hysterectomy, is a passage of the waning of hormones and the internal shifts that accompany this experience. We say a woman is going through menopause or that an adolescent is going through puberty. We acknowledge it as a transition, a transformation marked by an event that in reality must unfold over time. There is wisdom here for mothers. There are the weeks of pregnancy which is a process, and so too is becoming a mother a process, a journey we are walking as though walking a labyrinth.

When walking a labyrinth, one cannot often see where she is going. There are turns and curves and though the center can often be seen, we do not know exactly how we will get there. So we do what we can, which is always enough, and that is take one step after another. Only one step at a time. You may feel you are close to the center, only to realize the path is taking you back out to the perimeter again. One step at a time. You cannot get lost. You may feel confused or unsure. But unlike a maze, there are no dead ends. So you take one step at a time. Arriving at the center of the labyrinth marks the completion of something. You are now most definitely not a child but a young woman. You are now not pregnant but a mother.
You are now not going through menopause but a crone. And then we walk back out and must circle and wind back through the labyrinth. This is when we are integrating that which has taken place within us. We are bringing what we learned and weaving it into our story, creating a life from our transformation. After giving birth, this is when we learn how to be mothers and discover our new mother self in relation to the rest of our life. This is the Return of the hero’s journey.
to be continued
thanks for dropping by,

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

mothers and daughters

I was at the osteopathy's yesterday; my daughter had an appointment but didn't feel well (with her period) so I went in her stead. My neck and shoulders badly needed realignment.

After a wonderful treatment, deep rebalancing of everything in my head and neck, down to the bottom of my spine, we had a talk about K's period pain.

Since I am doing research around the spiritual aspects of menstruation and menopause, I'm reading up on what affects PMS and period pain, but I don't have any periods now myself. I do know that there can be structural causes, and the osteopath has helped K in the past with reducing the cramping from 3 days to one. There are also energy causes.

6 months later, she's due for another treatment. And maybe there is stuck energy from generations past affecting her. There has been some sexual abuse in our family tree, and sometimes healing one generation can affect future and past generations - releasing energy from whichever chakra it's swirling in.

So I'm going to look into this. The osteo said, K is not allowing herself much pleasure in life (and me neither). She said, you both have the 'duty' thing down pat, but what about having fun and relaxing? Perhaps you can't tell K to do yoga or meditate (not cool at her age, cause mommy does it) but you can bring more 'pleasure' into life in other ways. She also said, if you heal yourself, the energy between you will shift, and things will improve for her too.

that is a hopeful thought, and alongside my prayers for her not to grow up a tense uptight person, it's what I intend to look into,

Friday, January 04, 2008

New year's update

We have never been buried in so much snow! Even in what to some of you looks like the 'far North', and to some others looks like the 'south', we have been having skimpy winters past 10 years. I have never seen my back yard this overflowing with snow, the hedge with a huge white beard and icicles.

My holidays went by too fast. Started with a musicians bash - old and young - jamming the night away and a potluck feast. Thanks Sylvie and Andre. Then a fancy Christmas Eve supper in the Laurentians with friends and kids. Christmas Day supper with family (in-laws). Next day left on the all night train to Bonaventure with the whole group of out-laws including nieces nephews and their prospective girl/boyfriends (23 of us in all). Sleeping Car full of our joyful boisterous noise, some really good scotch and a few bottles of Pinot Noir smuggled aboard. 3 days later, we staggered back on the train in Bonaventure (Gaspe) for another all night train ride, this one a bit more subdued after feasting and music and late night in-house bistro parties.

Sigh, it is a lovely family, my husband has brought me into. And the musician and singer in me loves to stay up late and sing all night.

But I hit the wall or the Waterloo of holiday low spirits in Ottawa, after we spent 2 days with my family.... can't keep up with it like my younger self could. (But then my younger self was very young - from age 19-28 I was a tee-totalling vegeterian, mostly celibate).

Anyhoo, I'm back to my books, (received the whole list of books I circled in the Book Section of the G&M my gawd) and today, luxuriously spent two hours with A Woman's Quest and Blood Bread & Roses.

You'll be hearing more about these two books on my menopause blog or wisdom for women. Cause it is the most heartening discovery of all, to know that we can actually prepare for menopause. We can use the allies of stillness, softness, serenity and surrender to get closer to our own reality.

I always wondered what intuition was, and most of the time I think I have a knack for it. But sadly, most of the time I am moving too fast to pay attention, pushing myself forward, belting my own back with push strive get going don't rest keep moving kind of messages. Ignoring the sad little voice that says, wait a minute, what about my rhythm, my pacing, my needs? You know that the hardest thing for a woman to do is go pee when she has to? there is always something else to finish first. Multi-tasking is dangerous in menopause, there are bones to break, muscles to twist, but I insist on multitudinous activities - can't cross the kitchen without one more thing in my hand to put away, in spite of sore shoulders I still carry in two heavy bags from the car, instead of making 2 trips.

So, slowing down is a challenge. But when you know the rewards - it's so gratifying, to find your hunches are right, and you stay put and things come to you when you need them. The phone rings, your appointment has been cancelled (that was one too many things in your day) or the delivery has been rescheduled till Monday (yes! I can stay in and finish reading that article).

being a stay-at-home mom and part-time teacher of workshops, it's easy for me to put it off til tomorrow, that 'reading' I do for my own learning, to prepare a future class, that doesn't have a due date, or the lecture for September that seems so far away.

But today, now, this afternoon, I am going to give myself another hour and sit in the comfy chair. The birds have been fed, I dug a snow path to the feeder, I walked the dog, I did the groceries, I fixed the phone, I made lunch for the kids....and now, back to the books.

warm fuzzies,