Welcome to the Birth Mystics podcast. What is a birth mystic, anyway? Doulas Katie and Stephanie define it as a person who pursues contemplation, surrender, and truth in order to understand birth beyond the intellect. Think ”birth nerds” but with a little more depth and spirituality. Here we talk birth through the lens of mythology, philosophy, poetry, and more.
Wednesday Dec 28, 2022
Wednesday Dec 28, 2022
What are the formative birth stories of your life? This is an important question to ask yourself as you prepare to give birth. You may think about the birth stories of your closest friends, family members, ancestors, and even media portrayals of birth. These stories influence and affect you, some in positive ways, some in not so positive ways. One kind of formative birth story that gets overlooked is the creation story. We are only as good as our creation story allows us to be. Yes, creation stories show us where we came from, but they can also show us where we're headed. They embody the full spectrum of human potential—what is the fullest measure of my creation and how can I rise to that?
Stephanie was raised in the paradigm of Western Christianity and was brought up with the story of Adam and Eve. As an adult she has studied many other creation stories, including evolution, and has made peace between these seemingly contradictory stories. Eve particularly was the most prominent female icon that she had been encouraged to emulate. There were so few female role models provided scripturally or historically, so Eve really stood out! But even though Eve was so revered, paradoxically she is punished for the choice she made. Why punish her for doing something good? If she was so righteous, why does she disobey God's command? Stephanie was determined to figure her out.
Other areas of interest were happening in Stephanie's life, including yoga teacher training which opened up the topic of Kundalini Shakti—the mystical feminine power represented as a serpent. It felt like a contradiction to the snake represented in the garden as Satan or evil. How does Eve get caught in the middle of these two interpretations? Was she tempted by the Devil or deeply in tune with her internal feminine power? Until Stephanie could crack this mystery she felt limited in her potential.
Stumbling upon the myth of Lilith shed profound light. The Midrash says that Adam had another wife named Lilith before Eve came alone. Lilith and Eve lived in the garden quite happily until the day that Lilith desired more equality in their relationship. Lilith sometimes asked to be on top when they made love but Adam refused. Over time, Lilith was done trying. She called out the forbidden name of God, causing her to grow wings and fly out of the garden. This angered Adam who also called out to God demanding help. God sent seraphim to chase after Lilith who then punished her. She was cursed to become a succubus who would seduce men in their sleep and prey upon newborn babies.
You can look up artwork and depictions of the Adam and Eve story and likely come upon a serpent with the face of a woman. This is where Lilith comes into play. The myth continues by saying that Lilith came to Eve in the form of a serpent, mentoring her to partake of the fruit. This was when things began to resolve in Stephanie's mind. We have been taught to spurn the serpent, when all along the serpent is actually our feminine power! And what if Lilith and Eve are not two women, but one. What if they have been separated out from one another. Eve represents the acceptable woman: long suffering, patient, kind, loving, supportive, and obedient. Lilith represents the demonic woman, or the succubus, but really only seeking equality with her partner, having sexual desire, emancipated, free-thinking, and independent. One was good, one was bad. But the serpent heals this rift. How ironic that we've been encouraged to be like one of the biggest rebels of scripture! Eve is a badass! Especially when she's merged back together with her Lilith counterpart!
Let's take a minute and list some qualities that we learn from these two archetypes and how it translates into the birth space.
Eve qualities: innocence, obedience, hard-working, responsible, commitment, dutiful, pre-pubescent, non-sexual, good girl, nice, etc. How can this serve us in the birth space? Preparing very thoroughly for birth, a high capacity to persevere and endure, grounded and committed to seeing it through, saying "YES," and obedience to self.
Lilith: flaming red hair, curves and sex appeal, wrapped in a snake, naughty, bad girl, rebelliousness, wanting equality, etc. How can this serve us in the birth space? Firing a bad provider, not putting up with abuse, determined self-advocacy, saying "NO," being loud and making noise, and embracing the animalistic.
Now here's a homework assignment for you! On a blank piece of paper create three columns with Eve, Lilith, and the Serpent at the top of each one. Take the time to write out your own qualities of each archetype. Then, google search these images and compare and contrast their visual representations. Observe their movement and body language. Bring it all together in how they can play an important role in your birth space.
For more information on Stephanie's work, visit bhavabirth.com
Wednesday Dec 14, 2022
Wednesday Dec 14, 2022
Today we are diving into the land of fantasy. Katie was hugely influenced in her childhood by Avatar the Last Airbender. It's a story centered around the four elements: fire, water, wind, and earth. There is also a side world connected to it called the Spirit World full of entities that possess different powers or abilities. In the beginning of the creation of the physical realm many powerful spirits chose to give up their mortality in order to create the Earth. The two we are discussing today are Tui and La representing the Moon and the ocean. They created a secret place in the North where they lived as two fish and were guarded by the Water Nation. They represent the necessary push and pull of life. We see this everywhere in nature.
Stephanie talks about centripetal and centrifugal forces, where one pushes and one pulls, and yet when they work together we are held in orbit. Without the push and pull we couldn't exist. And the balance is so delicate! How have we not flown wildly out of orbit? What keeps this balance? Some other examples in nature:
The symbiosis of trees exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen
Bodily cycles that involve contracting and expanding: breath, circulatory system, musculature, etc.
Birth itself is a beautiful example. Consider the uterus and how it is designed to be a contract and expand organ. When you're pregnant, the mass of the uterus muscle is down toward the cervix which helps maintain the placenta and keep the baby in its place. During labor that muscle migrates or ripples, through each contraction, up toward the top. This process thins, effaces, and dilates the cervix making birth possible. This top-heavy uterus also applies downward pressure on the baby to aid in the delivery process.
Labor is typified by push and pull, both physically and emotionally. The word contraction speaks exactly to the physiology of what's happening. Sometimes we swap that term for "expansion," and yet the uterus is actually contracting during a contraction. We can reclaim the term and hold it more neutrally, or infuse it with power, rather than stigmatizing it as painful. However, in between contractions is when the softening occurs. Labor is the marriage of work and rest. Emotionally, you will have times have confidence and strength and exertion, and times of receiving, needing, and doubt. This is both good and natural.
Katie speaks the importance of this balance, to not try to push, push, push our way through birth or life. We are more conditioned to being strong than we are to being soft and vulnerable. Stephanie mentions how the phrase "empowered birth" too often implies "I didn't need any interventions" or "I was quiet and internal." But it can look like so many different things! You can ask for help, require interventions, and have things entirely against what you had planned AND it can still be empowering based on your balance of the push and pull. Let us have reverence for the complex and delicate process of birth, to release expectations and self-judgement. Psychology and science are starting to ask how our emotional and mental well-being interact with our physical well-being. For so long in our culture these areas were disconnected. We're starting to understand that all the different aspects of who we are are interconnected.
Consider the process of birth, how the baby, in a way, takes two steps forward and one step back—a distinct forward and back. And though this can feel like a set back, it is a mercy! Every time the baby descends blood flows into those tissues. This prepares the body! Without that back and forth we would see much more damage to the body. Your body is wise. It's protecitng you and your baby at all times in the best way that it can.
Katie shares about a doula that was supporting a client in labor. In the middle of pushing, the Mom asked everyone to step out so she could rest. Everyone honored her wishes and allowed her to sleep for about 20 minutes. Then the providers came back in and she pushed her baby out in one push! How beautiful that there was a visceral work and rest, even within the pushing stage!
Within the natural birth community it's often posed that all medical interventions are bad. That has its own danger. There are absolutely times that these interventions are supportive, necessary, and life-saving! Having expert guides along your birthing journey is not dismissive of your body's wisdom. You can have both kinds of expertise—internal and external. It's not one or the other, my body knows everything or doctors know everything.
One way to find a balance between these two extremes is through the question, "Is this intervention being done to me or being utilized for me?" This is the difference between victimization and empowerment. It invites choice and intention, ensuring that YOU are choosing rather than being acted upon. And also looking at your mindset and cultivating resilience by letting go of rigid expectations. Birth trauma can happen through abuse and also from plans changing or expectations being dashed. Non-judgement invites true empowerment in the birth space. It surpasses outcomes, methods, or labels (VBAC, hypno-birth, home birth, etc.). Birth is an experience. It's a process. That is all that is asked of us.
Balance is not defined by ease or lack of difficulty. In reality, balance is resilience. The moon and the ocean. The push and the pull. When we are unwilling to engage in the uncomfortableness of life, our own resistance creates pain. The only way we can thrive and prosper is through balance, the change of seasons, the light and dark, the give and take. How boring would life be without that pattern of high and low. Consider the echocardiogram that show us a visual of life—it's a rise and fall, rise and fall, over and over again. Flatlining is death.
Whatever you birth was or whatever it will be, there will be bitter and sweet. But what is the story you're telling yourself about that birth? How can you process through it. What parts of that story are true and not true? Through that processing, you can find balance.
For more information about Katie's work, please visit freyabirth.com.
Wednesday Nov 30, 2022
Wednesday Nov 30, 2022
Kora, the Maiden, loved to explore the Earth and all its beauty. One day in her wanderings she encountered strange shadows that haunted her steps. In her wisdom, she knew she could help them and prepared for a journey into the underworld. She made her descent, causing the Earth to contract in grief, bringing death, decay, and winter. When Kora arrived, she met each shadow one by one, preparing them for rebirth in the physical realm. When it was time to return, she made her way back to the surface of the Earth and saw its barren state. She wept in grief, taking upon herself the name Persephone, the bringer of destruction. And yet, her tears began to flow over the parched Earth, bringing about spring and summer in their zenith. She was filled with hope coupled with newborn responsibility, assuming her role as Mother and Keeper of the Earth. She knew she couldn't abandon the Earth again. But as she went about her work, she once again encountered the shadows. This was very conflicting. What could she do? If she went to the underworld again, the Earth would retreat back into winter. But she also knew that it was her duty to help the shadows. Despite the unknown, she once again descended into the realm of shadows. Just as before, she anointed each shadow until they had all been met. She then returned, found the Earth just as she expected she would—in harsh winter. Her tears once again flowed, seeing spring and summer once again return. That was the moment she became Demeter, the Mother of Earth and Keeper of the Seasons. She now embodied the spirit and vision of the Maiden Kora, the creative responsibility of the Mother Persephone, and now the wisdom of the seasons of the Crone Demeter. For ever after, Demeter cared for the above and the below in their proper season, maintaining balance and order.
This is Stephanie's personal retelling of this ancient myth. There is strong evidence to support the idea that the well known Greek version was not the original myth. Many patriarchies absorbed and adapted myths through their lens. In the Greek version Demeter and Zeus copulate and give birth to Persephone. Persephone is the ultimate victim, abducted by Hades, raped, and taken to the underworld. Demeter pleads with Zeus to save their daughter. Zeus, looking out for his "bro" Hades decides not to punish him so much as to compromise and placate his angry wife. So Persephone—who is never consulted in any of this to ask what SHE wants—is bounced around in a split custody deal. Whenever she is down with Hades in the underworld, Demeter goes into grief and winter comes upon the Earth. Whenever she returns to the surface, Demeter rejoices and brings spring and summer.
What a disempowering story! All of the women are pawns in the hands of all-powerful, amoral, male gods. None of the actions they take are intentional or empowering. Everything happens to them and against their will. It feels only fitting that we creatively imagine a more matriarchal telling of this myth that honors the feminine journey. This version merges three key archetypes or phases of a life journey into one: Kora, Persephone, and Demeter. This is the Goddess Trinity of ancient Crete which has profound modern day application.
One clarification: patriarchy does not mean "men in power" but rather oppressive power in a top down hierarchy. Just as matriarchy does not mean "women in power" but rather a system of governance that is family led in a down up community model.
Let's explore these archetypes. The Maiden represents youthfulness, anticipation of life, naivete, playfulness, new beginnings, virginity (in its original meaning), hope, exploration. Like Kora, in the myth, there is a clear transition from Maiden into Mother, where she must learn to explore her shadow side and step into a life of commitment and responsibility.
The Mother represents realized life, the fruits of creation, responsibility, patience, nurturing, discipline, commitment. Like Persephone, there is a transition from Mother into Crone, learning how to live in balance with the seasons and learning what is enough for now. Mothers often feel that they keep the world in orbit and it gets harder and harder to take breaks and give ourselves deep self-care. We start to believe that we can never take a break because the whole world will fall apart. And here's the thing, it might. But just as Persephone learned, it's not about controlling the mess, but expecting the mess and learning how work within it. Shadow work is not a one and done but rather a layering down.
The Crone represents death, dissolution, recycling, wisdom, transforming, rest before rebirth, seasonal living, shadow work. Demeter embodies all of the archetypes. She has not forsaken the Maiden and Mother. Yes, there is a death, but there is also a resurrection. Kora as we knew Kora does not exist. But Kora-Persephone was born as a new unit. It's as if there is a wiser and more mature version that can grow with us into our new phase. Motherhood is informed by her "reborn" Maiden. What are the creative ways that she weaves into your Mother tapestry? What is the "both/and" within these roles? How can we embody spontaneity and responsibility? The Crone is the one season of our lives that we get to view life through the lens of all three archetypes, which is the source of her deep wisdom.
The Maiden is sold as the most relevant, sexually attractive, and worth living for. Motherhood is looked down upon and dreaded. But the Crone is by far the scapegoat. The witch. The hag. She is everything we hate and despise. We don't want to grow old, have wrinkles, grey hair, warts, saggy skin, or sexual irrelevance. But the Goddess Trinity gives us a rich template for living, allowing us to see inherent value and worth in each phase of our lives.
The menstrual cycle is a mini-version of these archetypes. We get to explore our Maiden/Spring post-Menstruation phase. We get to relish in the harvest of our efforts in the Mother/Summer ovulatory phase. We get to wrap things up, put down balls that we've been juggling, and prepare for rest during our Crone/Autumn + Winter phase. So often our frustration and dislike of our periods is a reflection of our deep imbalance and resistance to living in harmony with the seasons. We have trained ourselves to run from the shadows. To hide from winter. To be scared of the darkness. So when our cycle pulls us into it anyway, we feel victimized.
We can also weave these archetypes into the analogy of a tree. Think of the Maiden as a young sapling: full of potential planted into the fresh earth. After a few winters she's been toughened up. She has several new rings on her trunk. She is moving into Motherhood phase, producing fruits for all to enjoy. Then, visualize some of the archetypal trees we've grown up with: Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas, or the Ents from Lord of the Rings. She's the Crone! And after she's fallen and you can count the rings on her stump, you can bet that the Maiden is right there in the center, surrounded by the Mother, and embodied by the Crone. All three are there!
As you embark on the birth path, you are transitioning from Maiden to Mother, even if it's your second, fifth, or tenth baby. You deserve to be celebrated, honored, and supported for that transition! Part of that process is grieving the Maiden. Letting her go in the way that you knew her while trusting that she will be born anew and her presence in your life will make you a better, happier, and more fulfilled Mother.
To learn more about Stephanie's work, please visit: bhavabirth.com
Wednesday Nov 09, 2022
Wednesday Nov 09, 2022
You birth like you live. So how do you live? If you're really willing to ponder that simple question, you can go pretty deep. This is not meant to make you feel guilt, shame, or self-judgement. It's simply a reflection of who you are right now. Instead of just plunging into what society has told you is a good birth, this is about curating birth to your specific wants and needs, even if it doesn't look like anyone else's. Birth is a mirror that reflects back at us to help us grow.
How do you live in connection with pain, stress, and intensity? Think about how you respond to a strained ankle, a hard workout, menstrual cramps, or sickness. How do you cope? What brings comfort? Katie benefits from hot and cold contrasts, like baths, compresses, ice packs, rice bags, etc. She needs solitude and quiet, huddled in her room covered with blankets where she can sleep it off. In contrast, her sister would throw herself onto the couch in the middle of the living room in a "whoa is me" demeanor. She needs more attention and to be catered to. This is her nature and what helps her cope. They are so different, and both valid. Think of stress—how does it manifest in your life? You may get irritable, touched out, shut down, panicky, or emotional. What steps do you take to de-escalate? Typically when you come into your birth space you will want the same types of comfort and coping tools and de-escalation steps.
How do you live in relation to each of your senses—which of your senses are more sensitive than others? Think about your senses of touch, sight, sound, taste, and smell. What triggers these senses and what pacifies them? How can you set yourself up for success in the birth space knowing this about yourself? Sometimes you may think to yourself, "I didn't cope very well," if you were messy, loud, triggered, or intense. But is there a bad way to cope in the birth space? Coping is coping no matter how you did it.
How do you live in connection with your body? Do you have a good understanding of your bodily sensations, movements, and feelings? Do you respect your body? What is your relationship like? Katie used to try to control her body with her brain, forcing it do or not do what she deemed okay. Birth has helped heal her relationship with her body. Stephanie felt really checked out from her body, almost like it were No Man's Land. She was ignorant of her anatomy, despite being sexually active and having given birth. She didn't know what the vulva, clitoris, or cervix were, or how many orifices she had. As she came to know her body on a first-name basis, her body went from No Man's Land to Homeland--it aided her experience of embodiment. Body shame hugely affects us in the birth space. Most of us are very self-conscious about the more unpleasant sides of the human body. Our body is quite actively pushing out all sorts of fluids and smells in the process of pushing the baby out--blood, amniotic fluid, discharge, poop, farts, burps, throw up, etc. It's important to see this as a natural part of the birth process. And yet, if you are grossed out by these things, that's helpful self-awareness. You can move forward exactly as you are and take steps to safeguard yourself at whatever level you choose. And you can hold an openness to learning more about yourself and growing incrementally.
How do you live in relation to self advocacy? Think about how you are in standing up for yourself or honestly assessing your own needs and ensuring those needs get met? What steps can I take to help me better advocate for myself if I know it's challenging? How can I move away from people-pleasing and into self-advocacy. Be mindful in how you pick your birth team that you can communicate these needs with ahead of time and ask them to support you in the process of self-advocacy.
Each birth is a beautiful mirror. It will show you deeper layers of who you are. You may learn some things that aren't fun to learn, but it's important. We can get to the point where we're not beating ourselves up about these issues, but saying "this is no longer serving me." We can use it simply as information to help us grow. All of your birth preparation actually carries into parenthood. Birth skills are also life skills. You can birth like you live but you can also live like you birth. Everything you experience in birth can be the wind that carries you into empowered parenting.
For more information about Katie's work, please visit freyabirth.com.
References from this episode:
Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Full quote: “When we call a place by its name, it is transformed from wilderness to homeland.”
Wednesday Oct 26, 2022
Wednesday Oct 26, 2022
Stephanie and Katie engage in a composite dialogue that demonstrates the unrest and confusion women can feel when their Mama Bear ferocity wakes up during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Oftentimes these sweet, pleasant, docile women are deeply shaken by their rage and volatility, particularly when it's directed toward those they love most.
Where Katie's previous episode "Princess and the People Pleaser" addressed what it means to be a woman in the birth space and breaking down stereotypes, this episode looks more specifically at the postpartum experience and the place for anger and rage and how those emotions are an important part of being a mother.
Katie shares her Mama Bear awakening story, which she felt was more gradual. She never felt like she fit the mold of what society expected of a woman. Plus, she is the oldest of seven children and had already tested those "mothering" qualities within herself. But her Mama Bear really revved up during pregnancy as she learned to navigate day to day health choices--she felt very protective of her unborn child and wanted to make the best possible choices on the baby's behalf. As a mother a lot of Mama Bear energy comes out in protecting her children's health and wellness. Anger and ferocity does come out occasionally, particularly in her doula work. Big Mama Bear rage can come out after a birth if she encountered cultural issues, couple dynamics, or a client's loss of autonomy.
Stephanie shares her Mama Bear awakening story who relates to Katie in feeling like a Tom Boy who didn't fit the feminine mold. Once she hit puberty, things got confusing as huge emotions opened up. She always felt a very strong fire in her belly her whole life that she believes is her Mama Bear energy. But, when she started to call upon that fire in order to cope in a challenging childhood environment with an emotionally and verbally abusive father, she felt a lot of shame for being so "unfeminine." She was sassy, disrespectful, combative, and subordinate in order to keep her head above water. Once she left the house and went to college she tried to suppress that Mama Bear side of her out of shame and a desire to be more feminine. When she got married and had her first baby--she couldn't hold her back anymore. So much rage and grief was unleashed during her postpartum.
So often new mother's are so broken and ashamed of their own bigness. They feel that they are the worst mothers. Who becomes a mom, has a baby, and is suddenly screaming and exploding with wrath at her newborn or toddler or spouse? It so often leads to self-deprecation. Stephanie seeks to validate their desire to be a good mother and to not scream at their undeserving loved ones. AND, she equally seeks to validate the anger itself. Anger is actually not the problem but rather how it's being directed.
Katie points out that men, in our society, are often told that anger is the only appropriate emotion to feel, and yet for women it's bad. And women are supposed to feel soft and gentle and kind and men are ashamed to feel those ways. Stephanie teaches some basic concepts of what emotions are--that none of them are good or bad, but neutral. Emotions are messengers, and we don't shoot the messenger for delivering unpleasant news. Every emotion plays an important role for us, especially in the birth space. Emotions are energy that want to be in motion, not stuffed down or suppressed. Suppressed emotions turn into an internal atomic bomb that is uncontrollable and wildly disproportionate. Many of us tell ourselves that feeling sadness, anger, or grief is weakness, but really it's humanity--it's an integral part of being human. Some emotions are heavy and others are light.
We have been lied to that it is unfeminine to be angry or rageful. That keeps women small. That is the suppression of women. Anger is the only emotion strong enough to get you to change something. The second part of anger is to move us toward protection of someone we love. Mama Bear uses her fierceness in protection of those she loves. If you have been conditioned to keep her locked up in hibernation your whole life and she's awake now, it's not uncommon for her to be attacking the very ones she intends to protect. That's because she's hungry and angry. She's been ignored and pushed aside. That anger is your self-love that you have suppressed your whole life. That self-love is exploding out of you. Sometimes it takes the immense burden of caring for an infant in order for that Mama Bear to finally lash out and break out of her chains. But she is the voice of your wanting life to be fulfilling and something more. That is beautiful and sometimes scary but not something to suppress.
If you are willing, make that first courageous step to say: "Hello, anger. You get to be here. I'm not going to push you away anymore. I'm not going to self-deprecate. Hello, anger." Say this with me: I will be heard. I will be seen. I will get my needs met. I will fiercely protect those I love. I will embrace my power. And this power is holy, good, and necessary.
To learn more about Stephanie's work, visit bhavabirth.com and follow her on Instagram @bhava_birth.
Wednesday Oct 12, 2022
Wednesday Oct 12, 2022
Katie reimagines the fairytale of the Princess and the Pea. A lonely prince is looking for his perfect bride to be his princess. When a disheveled looking woman shows up on their doorstep, the Queen comes up with a brilliant plan to determine if she is truly a princess or not. She stacks many mattresses on top of one another and places a single pea in between two of them. She concludes that if this woman is truly worthy of her son's hand then she will notice the pea. And, of course, when she awakens and is asked how she slept, the woman complains about the uncomfortable lump in her bed. This impresses the Queen and the Prince and Princess marry.
The moral is supposed to be: you can't judge a book by it's cover. But it seems to more readily speak to our expectations of an ideal woman and what that means. What are some of the peas in our lives? The bars and standards by which we judge ourselves? What does a pea in the mattresses have anything to do with her character? Why such an arbitrary test?
One message is that you cannot be worthy of love or be considered a princess if you're disheveled. You have to look the part. Think about how much our bodies change during pregnancy and birth. We feel unlovable if we gain weight, change shape, acquire stretch marks, or lose our firm breasts and tummy.
Another message is about our demeanor and being nice, calm, accommodating, pleasant, cooperative, and helpful. Birth often takes us out of these stereotypes and asks us to embody a more wild and unpredictable state of being. So many women may perceive their births to be "bad" if they acted like a "bad girl"—yelling, swearing, roaring, screaming, etc.
People pleasing is something women have been conditioned for. This has led Katie to give her clients a "get out of jail free" card that gets them off the hook for being the peacemaker in the birth space. She tries to give them upfront permission to not people please when they're in labor. They are not responsible for everyone else's experience. There is no behavior that will send them to "bad person jail." Everything goes during birth: animal sounds, primal sounds, sexual sounds, body sounds…there's room for all of it.
Stephanie shares an experience with one of her doula clients who roared through her contractions in a powerful and impressive way. Though it was entirely normal for Stephanie, it was very off-putting to the client. In between contractions the client would express embarrassment and shame over the sounds she was making, to the point that she almost didn't want her birth videographer to record her labor. She was so caught off guard by her own bigness.
Sometimes in the natural birth community there is an undercurrent that says if you're prepared for birth, and fully educated, then your birth will be calm. And peaceful. And quiet. It's fundamentally not okay to tell women that they're effectiveness in preparation will be determined by how loud or quiet they are. This culture is not helpful. And if you're expecting to have that big, euphoric, blissful moment when delivering your baby, consider that euphoria is typically a result of intensity. What if in those moments when you "lost control" and your quiet birth turned loud and wild is part of the process of effective birth?
We yearn to give you all permission, for those of you preparing to give birth, to hold no judgement for your own bigness. Allow birth to deepen your relationship with yourself, to level up, and to shift your mindset. There's a reclamation that has to happen, albeit gradually. We have to practice it over and over again. It takes patience. Every birth brings a new awakening. We can always ask "Is this belief serving me? What do I want? What are my desires and preferences?" These can help us move out of people pleaser mode and into self-actualization. Too often it's us women that move first to give or to compromise. But the wild woman heightens our needs and teaches us to put ourselves first in birth.
Katie tells about a client that was very educated and logical. She had had a smooth and fast first birth. Katie urged her not to be in denial when labor begins since she had a history of fast birth. So when labor began Katie came right away and sensed a lot of momentum. Katie encouraged them to call the midwife, and she came immediately when they called her. At one point the client started crawling to the bathroom clued Katie into this sense that baby was very close. The midwife arrived, she got in the tub, and had the baby! Sometimes the body knows things that the mind doesn't.
Our brains are only one part of who we are. Our hearts are brains all their own, as is the gut. There is actual cognition within the gut that informs and impels us. They have their own connection to memory, emotions, and the nervous system. We can learn to tune into all three of these and take action based upon their aligned signals. There are always three different ways we can connect with ourselves and prepare for birth. Preparing mentally, alone, is not enough. How are we preparing emotionally and intuitively? We are likely least connected to our guts. Evidence based birth facts are helpful, and its good to understand the general trends, but it's more important to know what's best for you and your situation even if it goes against that evidence or trend. This is where gut-wisdom trumps all. It has its own evidence—it is evident to me how to move forward.
In Stephanie's birth classes they frame this conversation in the context of brainwaves (Western) and consciousness (Eastern). There are ways that we can prepare on each level, and you'll find that each level plays an important role in your birth. Beta brainwaves are typically helpful in early labor—they help us get the checklist done and feel prepared. We just don't want to stay in Beta brainwaves as labor progresses—we want to get out of heads and into our bodies.
To learn more about Katie's work, please visit freyabirth.com
Wednesday Sep 28, 2022
Wednesday Sep 28, 2022
And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of Children.
And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Kahlil Gibran, "On Children" from The Prophet (Knopf, 1923)
Stephanie draws from the wisdom of Kahlil Gibran's, "On Children," for exploring our instinct to control birth (and everything), and even better, how to move beyond it. Control is an illusion and a concept that we deal with in every area of life. Birth is teaching us to let go from the get go. It's a powerful microcosm of what the parenting journey is going to bring about. We have nine months to basically learn how to let go, and if we don't figure it out in the birth space it sets us up for a harder time letting go as a parent. We really see this play out in the third trimester. We can feel like we're at the end of our rope—sore, uncomfortable, losing sleep, emotional, fatigued, poor mental health, low self-esteem, and so much more. This is when the illusion of control becomes very, very enticing and why we're so susceptible and vulnerable to suggestion at that time.
On one side of a spectrum we're dealing with an over-medicalized birth control illusion—we can end your waiting game! Just come on in, we'll insert these chemicals, insert these tools, insert these IVs, etc. and get that baby here! Now, medically indicated induction is a different topic entirely. Routine and non-medically indicated induction, however, is problematic and feeds the illusion of control for both providers and parents—human nature loves being able to plan, schedule, and remove the guessing game. Now the standard length of a birth has changed. It used to be that 42 weeks was considered normal and standard. Now, when a birther hits 39 weeks she feels immense pressure and has fear tactics thrown at her. So often we are basing induction off of estimated due dates. Experienced IBCLCs can often tell by the oral development of a baby whether or not they are truly to term. They often observe babies are much "younger" than their ultrasounds or EDDs predicted.
If we continue with the illusion that we can control birth, it will carry into parenthood, believing that we can control our children and adults that they will become. Parents can only provide opportunities and foster the environment, but they can't make them "become."
On the other side of the spectrum there is a more subtle or passive illusion of control that is found in the over-idealized side of birth. It sounds like—I don't want any interventions, I won't give birth at a hospital, it HAS to be vaginal, I will NOT have another c-section, etc. All of these are forms of control. Now, there are things within your control—what you eat, your posture, your mindset, your birth team, and many others. A really big one that's within your control? Your response. Your attitude. Your mindset. Like we learn from 7 Habits, though you cannot control the stimulus, you can control the response. Most births are a unique combination of "idyllic" and "medical." Rarely is it all one or the other.
Is it possible that the baby is also playing a role in the nature of their birth? It's an open-ended question. You can't prove or disprove how much the baby is involved, but it's certainly worth looking at because of how it can shift your mindset. Let's enter the "what if" realm. Sometimes, with the gift of hindsight, you can look back at the births of your children and see some of their personality revealed? Their births can also be an expression of their life path. What if the way that your child came to this earth holds significant meaning for them? We often try to own the birth story as MINE, but isn't it also theirs, as well? Really good stories are not perfect stories, but messy, even broken. Like the lotus flowers blooming from the muddy pond. Sometimes we need to get out of the way of our babies' birth stories from being written.
Learning the details of your own birth story is a potentially big opportunity for seeing these connections. You may see how your birth story and your personality and/or life lessons are deeply interconnected.
As the wise wizard Gandolf once said, with a slight alteration of words, "A baby is never late. He arrives precisely when he means to."
References from this episode:
7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
If you'd like to learn more about Stephanie's work please visit www.bhavabirth.com
Wednesday Sep 14, 2022
Wednesday Sep 14, 2022
Katie guides us through a discussion about the power of presence and what that can do for your birth. Living in the present moment is one of the greatest gifts birth can give you. Mindfulness is the ability to be in this moment without allowing distractions to pull you out of that focus. You can imagine your thoughts as a river that can sometimes sweep us up into its current. Mindfulness teaches us to pull ourselves above the water in order to observe and watch it pass, helping us realize that we are not our thoughts. There is an important aspect of non-judgment in that process.
One birth doula client that Katie worked with was having a hard time and often asking when she could start pushing, or how many contractions she was going to have to go through. She still did it. She had a fine birth experience. So it doesn't mean that not being mindful during birth will make everything terrible and horrible. Sometimes the shifts are subtle.
If you do the math, generally speaking, every 3 minutes you'll have a 1 minute contraction, then it's about 15 minutes per hour of contraction for every 45 minutes of calm. Mindfulness can help you embrace that 45 minutes of calm instead of holding onto the contraction that already happened or the contraction that's coming. Your brain doesn't know the difference between what is real and what is imagined, so if you're focusing on the pain of that previous contraction, your brain thinks it's still happening and your physiological response will be the same as if it were.
We often learn in our youth and society that having big emotions is not okay. You're either sent away or shushed or shamed. Learning how to sit with your big emotions is one of the biggest and best things you could do to prepare for birth. Mindfulness is a wonderful tool for doing just that.
Stephanie speaks about the Beginner's Mind. For example, you're eating an avocado. Hold it. Touch it. Smell it. Eventually take a bite and let it sit on your tongue for a moment or two. Chew it. Swallow it. And realize that you've never, ever had that avocado before. It is the only one of its kind. Can you approach it with curiosity? Meeting it without the label and preconceived ideas. How can you apply that to birth?
We're so often stuck in our heads that we don't experience so much of life—the food we eat, the people we love, the places we go. Birth is a powerful opportunity to bring us very, very present. It brings us into our bodies and activates our senses. Katie can still close her eyes and conjure up those same feelings and bodily memories of her births because of how embodied she was.
Katie speaks about how mindfulness can be pivotal in helping you through the last few weeks of pregnancy when you're so tired and tempted to be induced without medical indication. Any form of natural induction that you can try, Katie tried it—spicy burgers, sex, raspberry leaf tea, curb walking, and more. Even so, her baby didn't come until 10 days after the due date. It can be helpful not to announce an exact due date to friends and family so that they don't inadvertently put pressure you in those final weeks. You can consciously choose to be more vague—we're due in the spring or we're due Mid-May. Find ways to be joyful, to be in your body, to celebrate this last stage. Everything is about to change. How can you more fully engage in those moments?
Stephanie remembers her obsessions with infant mile-markers with her first baby. She couldn't wait for her daughter to grow up and learn the next new thing, to the point that she didn't fully enjoy each moment. By the time she had her fourth baby, she learned to slow down and savor her little baby and not want him to grow up too fast.
Curiosity is a key component of mindfulness. It's not rose-colored glasses. It's not having a critical eye. It's just being open and full of wonder with each new experience. Children are naturally mindful. Stephanie shares a memory of taking a walk with her son. He kept stopping and getting distracted. At one point, Stephanie was scolding him until she realized that he was smelling a rose. She stopped in her tracks. Why would a mother ever tell her son to stop stopping to smell the roses? He didn't have the problem—Stephanie did. So she chose to meet him there in the place of wonder instead of trying to pull him into her way of living.
Mindfulness doesn't make everything blissful. Instead it can help you learn how to cope during the difficult times and how to be fully engaged in the most pleasant of times. Consider postpartum and all of the strange and sometimes scary thoughts that can pop into our minds. Instead of identifying as those thoughts, we can instead see that our brain is trying to cope, is sleep-deprived, and you're under a great deal of stress. You can create distance between YOU and your thoughts—they do not define you. The thoughts are actually neutral, and it's what we do or the actions we take that matter. Non-attachment helps us let go of extreme thinking and invite possibilities.
Sources Cited: the poem "Living in the Now" by Vanessa Hughes
If you'd like to learn more please visit www.freyabirth.com
Thursday Sep 01, 2022
Thursday Sep 01, 2022
You've likely been taught that birth (and life) is a lot like a maze—having to make the "right" choices in order to achieve a "good" birth. But what if there's another template for giving birth (and living) that removes those vocabulary words entirely and sets you up for peace, clarity, and empowerment?
The whole point of a maze is to find the way out, typically as quickly as possible. And yet, it's designed to frustrate and mislead you, with seemingly endless crossroads. Decision-making looks like "right or left" which quickly devolves into "right or wrong." You know you've taken a wrong turn if you hit a dead-end and have to back-track. That's typically what leads to anxiety, depression, and self-criticism. Sometimes you blame yourself, other times you blame the maze, or maybe even other circumstances. You get stuck in the "if only" game, wishing you could go back to that crossroads and make a different choice that would yield different results. Much of birth (and life) trauma happens here.
The goal of a labyrinth is quite different. Instead of trying to "escape" or "get out" you're seeking to go deeper and deeper into the heart and center. There is only one path, and so the decision-making changes. Instead of asking "right or wrong" you're asked—will I keep going? Just because there's one path, that doesn't mean it's all going to be smooth, perfect, beautiful, and ideal. It's not that that ONE path is ALL right—it's a fusion of everything. It's prickly, soft, light, dark, heavy, quiet, loud, smooth all mixed into one. Instead of asking us to "choose the right," labyrinths teach us to "choose the ripe," like a succulent fruit falling from the vine. When you choose that ripened fruit, the path unfolds before you. You can proclaim, "This is the choice that I made. So be it." That is the path.
If you don't want to give birth in a maze you can choose different rules. Consider an example. During labor, the nurse suggests breaking your waters. Is this a "right or wrong" scenario? Start by checking in with your brain—seek information, statistics, facts. Then, check in with your unique situation—where am I at, what is my body needing, how are things progressing? Then, check in with your feelings and intuition—how does this option feel? Ask for time and carve out privacy in that decision-making process. In that quiet, alone space you make a choice and then inform your provider. Now, once you've gone through that process, are you guaranteed a perfect outcome? Ugh. Unfortunately, no. Even after all your hard work and trusting your intuition. So this is where the mind-work comes in. Living in a labyrinthine way is not a guarantee of getting what you want, but rather teaching you a different way of responding to what happens. It gives you permission to say, "I did all I could do. I made a choice based on the information I had in the moment. I felt really good about it at the time." You own that. In a labyrinth, there's no such thing as moving backward. Even if that choice to break waters somehow spiraled into an emergency c-section, you will be very tempted to regret your choice. Instead of betraying yourself every time you make a choice and it doesn't play out the way you'd like—instead you honor your past self. You offer her compassion and grace. AND, you can still learn from those choices.
Labyrinths can be found in many different ancient cultures: Christian, Pagan, Native American, and Greek mythology to name a few. In the Christian tradition you can find labyrinths on the floors of cathedrals to represent the journey to the Holy Land. You can walk or finger-trace a labyrinth to make any kind of journey in your life, and certainly birth is one of those. It will play with your idea of progress, because labyrinths are not linear but circular. Instead of trying to make a plan and go from point A to point B in a straight line, labyrinths teach you to circle in and away, to move closer and then wind out, and circuitously make your way to the center. It teaches us to cherish the journey itself and not to fixate too strongly on the destination.
References from this episode:
Labyrinth of Birth, by Pam England
If you'd like to learn more about Stephanie's work, please visit www.bhavabirth.com
Wednesday Aug 17, 2022
Wednesday Aug 17, 2022
Inanna was a queen and priestess and she felt a call to descend into the underworld. She prepared by gathering everything she needed. Inanna made her descent, but at every gate something was demanded of her to give up, which she did. She gave up a scepter, a breastplate, bangles, her necklace…and finally, her robe—enabling her to cross the final threshold at her most vulnerable and powerful.
Katie speaks about rites of passage that are too often under-celebrated, such as menarche, motherhood, and more. She talks about how all of these significant rites of passage have a distinct threshold over which we cross, and the more we do so intentionally the smoother that crossing will be. How we prepare for birth often evolves, where it's less about "the stuff" and more about the support. Like Inanna, there will be parts of you that will be shed and surrendered, and not because they weren't useful but because they fulfilled their purpose. The work we do prenatally is building up "me" and the work of birth is stripping "me" down.
No matter the journey, there will be threshold moments—some of them very hard—that will reduce you to "nakedness" or deep vulnerability. There is potential that lies there for our whole lives. Within birth itself there is a threshold known as Transition. That is when you are experiencing the most softening, opening, and releasing in preparation for expulsion of the baby. Adrenaline often shows up here, sweating, flushing, over-heating, etc. This is often a distinct shift, both physically and mentally. You may start to encounter your self-limiting beliefs: I can't do this, I can't keep going, this is too much, I can't go on. How big have you allowed yourself to be? Transition takes you beyond that limit. That can feel terrifying. It can also feel wild, intense, and powerful. Some often feel ashamed of how they may have acted in those moments, if they were "too loud" or "too wild" or "too big." Wouldn't it be amazing if we instead celebrated and marveled at that burgeoning side of ourselves?
Katie and Stephanie have a discussion on voice in the labor room. Sometimes we hold subconscious or conscious expectations about how loud or quiet we want to be during labor. On one hand, we may be afraid of sounding animalistic or wild, or on the other we may shy away from sounding too sexual with moans and groans. That can result in a desire for a "silent" birth, where you restrict your noises and voice, but this restriction can flow downstream and also closes your cervix. And partners? You can show up for your loved one during labor by validating their sounds and normalizing whatever comes out of their mouth (or any other orifice for that matter).
We invite you to share your transition stories with us!
References from this episode:
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Untamed, by Glennon Doyle
If you'd like to learn more please visit www.freyabirth.com
Katie has 3 children and each of their births has had a tremendous influence on her life, leading her on the path to realizing her passion for empowering mothers on their own journeys. She loves reading, especially books related to pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Give her a book, a warm cup of tea, fuzzy socks, and a cuddly blanket and she is a happy camper. Her own motherhood journey took place in Stuttgart Germany. Her first birth was a challenge, one which she was unprepared to meet and it was not easy. She walked away feeling disappointed in her body but happy to be a mother. Those difficulties motivated her to make some changes. The next time she was pregnant, she took a birth preparation course and gained some tools for labor. She rocked that birth and it was truly transformative. She walked away feeling powerful and strong. This experience inspired her to become a birth worker and help women put their feet on the path to a powerful, positive birth.
Stephanie is passionate about her work as certified yoga teacher, doula, childbirth educator, and personal mentor. Stephanie is the founder of Bhava Birth, a yoga and meditation-based childbirth education course. She believes that birth is a spiritual right of passage and a profound opportunity for personal growth. Her speciality is merging Eastern wisdom with Western research in an effective multidisciplinary approach. Above all else in the birth experience, Stephanie values sovereignty, consent, and whole-body attunement.
Stephanie loves to travel, write, spend time in nature, have deep one-on-one conversations, and avoid crowded places. Her happy place involves wool socks, a hot beverage, a cozy sweater, and something to write on. Her introverted nature brings a sense of calm and depth with her wherever she goes. Stephanie is married to Nicolas, an intuitive deep tissue massage therapist, personal development coach, and Tai Chi instructor. Together they're raising four awesome children in beautiful Provo, Utah.