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,

1 comment:

Mama Zen said...

Thank you, both, for a wonderful interview!

Would you believe that I have never really holistically looked at birth through a Jungian framework? Maybe I was just too busy fearing Freud was right!

This is really an awesome piece!