see also http://beyondthemap.blogspot.com/ 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