Friday, September 28, 2007

Who Made the Lamb?

Let me begin by saying, I do not really understand why this book was called Who Made the Lamb? Ah, well. Maybe such things are not for me to know. The subtitle is "A Journal of Childbirth" and it was written in the 60's by Charlotte Painter. This book was given away by a fellow midwifery advocate at the recent Retreat, which is how I came to have and read it (I finished it on Monday). I'm also confused why the back of the book claims that the book is an "exploration of natural childbirth," when the author actually has a scheduled cesarean after only minimal and halfhearted attempts to learn about natural childbirth (such as a taking a hospital class in which she quickly realizes that the instructor is really only preparing them to be "good girls" and follow their doctors' orders--classes of the type that I refer to as "hospital obedience classes").

A thoroughly still true and unfortunate truth quoted therein: "Tom [her husband] laughed at this idealism. 'You don't understand,' he said, 'Pregnancy is not regarded as a process of creation. It's a disease of the uterus.'"

How true this is--a disease of the uterus. This is absolutely how the medical system continues to view pregnancy (and birth is the excavation of the disease. This reminds me of our "friendly" neighborhood doctor testifying at the Capitol against the midwifery bill that pregnancy can be viewed as a foreign object in the body and therefore "babies are like tumors that need to be removed").

Being Perfect

In about 10 minutes (or even less) last Saturday afternoon I read Being Perfect by Anna Quindlen. It was a tiny little book that really would have been better suited to be a chapter in another book instead of a whole book by itself. In an effort to make it longer (I think), it had two page photo spreads right in the middle of every other page (including breaking a sentence in the middle--so you would have to turn two pages of a picture before you got to the rest of the sentence you were reading. Hmm. Interesting choice). This is another book sale reject, which is why I was reading it. Despite my criticisms, I did mark three pages!

"Perhaps someday we will be able to read something over which a real person has not sweated and sworn; perhaps we will find out precisely what the thing lacks that only effort can confer. Is it soul? Passion? Vivid reality? If I had to guess, I would say it would be all three."

About young people thinking about parenthood:

"You will convince yourself that you will be a better parent than your parents and their parents have been. But being a good parent is not generational, it is deeply personal, and it comes down to this: If you can bring to your children the self that you truly are as opposed to some will be able to teach them by example not to be terrorized by the narrow and parsimonious expectations of the world, a world that often likes to color within the lines when a spray of paint, a scribble of crayon, would be much more satisfying."

After something bad has happened or some failure:

"Sitting there, you will fall into the center of yourself. you will look for some core to sustain you. And if you have been perfect all your life and managed to meet all the expectations of your family, your friends, your community, your society, chances are excellent that there will be a black hole where that core ought to be."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Still Here

The afternoon of 9/22 I finally finished Still Here, by Ram Dass. My mom's book club read it and she passed it along to me. It was so-so. I had trouble getting into really and almost put it down without finishing it. It was very much a tale of his personal journey than about Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying as the subtitle purports. Parts were interesting, but I only marked one thing to quote, which is actually a quote of a quote (from Proust):

"Just think of how many projects, travels, love affairs, studies, it--our life--hides from us, made invisible by our laziness which, certain of a future, delays them incessantly. But let all this threaten to become impossible forever, how beautiful it would become again!...The cataclysm doesn't happen, we don't do any of it, because we find ourselves back in the heart of normal life, where negligence deadens desire. And yet we shouldn't need the cataclysm to love life today."

I think I'm actually pretty good at keeping this idea in sight--I think many people do not. I think being "unschooled" helped me develop this perspective and LIVE instead of vegging (like it seems so many do if no one is standing over them [teachers, bosses] cracking the whip to make them productive. I crack my own whip, thankyouverymuch ;-)

Back to Ram Dass. He is best known as the author of Be Here Now, which I have actually never read, though I repeat the title like a mantra when my brain is getting away with me and I'm becoming discouraged with whatever is going on in the moment (I repeat to myself "be here now" and it helps. It really helped during early days with new babies, which is where I first heard it. An LLL Leader suggested the phrase to me).

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Family Bed

A playgroup friend of mine lent me the 1975 edition of The Family Bed. It was a really quick read and I finished it this afternoon while nursing Z at naptime in the family bed. I know this book is an AP "classic" so it was fun to read if only for that reason. I'm struck by how much things have changed in terms of style of writing and book design in the last decade. the book isn't THAT old, but seems to "quaint"--it is something I can't quite put my finger on, but the style of sentences have this quaint edge to them (not to mention the type of type, etc.) Reminds me of seeing previews for movies made in the 80's (like the Princess Bride)--they seem so slow paced and old fashioned compared to the speeded up style of current films (which make you realize why people have ADHD, LOL!).

Anyway, I wasn't really an overall fan of the book (sort of like I am not of The Continuum Concept), though I enjoyed it and thought it was fun to finally read it. It had that syrupy or over-the-top edge that bothers me (and that makes me understand why AP parents are criticized as "self righteous" or "judgmental"). Also, as one of the Amazon reviewers noted: "makes you feel like a weirdo for co-sleeping!" The section about sex (or "marital relations" as she quaintly says) also really kind of squicked me out.

One of the closing thoughts in the book: "I used to feel greatly resentful toward those who told me, 'you'll change when you have children. Your life will change' I felt resentful because I felt threatened. Perhaps I felt threatened that another person was going to control me, change me. I liked the way things were. But children can be the greatest blessing that ever happened to an individual. When one has children one has a chance to grow in ways not otherwise possible. Let it not be said, therefore, 'You must grow. You must mature. You must not have children until you are ready.' For then we may wait forever. Rather, let it suffice to say, "Allow yourself to grow, to mature with your children."

I've said this before, but I do feel that whatever the hardships/difficulties/frustrations of having children, they have forced me to grow as a person in ways that I think I would never have done without them. I feel like mothering is part of my development as a person--without it, I would be somehow stunted (though maybe blissfully oblivious to that!), even though it is actually PAINFUL sometimes to grow and develop, it is so important and real.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter

I didn't end up having much time to write about this book, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, when I read it on 9/22. So, suffice to say it was very, very good. Really interesting. It is by Sue Monk Kidd, who wrote Secret Life of Bees. I accidentally stumbled across this one at the Columbia book sale last month. The subtitle of this book is "From Christian Tradition to Sacred Feminine." Anyway, I marked two quotes to share and that will have to do for my comments about this one:

"As a formed my critique, I came face to face with a system of social governance, a vast complex of patterns and attitudes within culture, religion, and family. The name of the system is patriarchy. It's important to emphasize that patriarchy is neither men nor the masculine principle; it is rather a system in which that principle has become distorted." (emphasis mine--something I've always wanted to explain, but couldn't quite. Basically, explaining how it is that one can be a feminist and not "hate men.")

Later, when discussing her reluctance to embrace the Father-God image of her church with a minister:

"He thought we should forgo recovering Divine Feminine images and move directly toward abstract, androgynous images; we should neuter the language and symbol of the Divine. He said we should use only the word God, not Father or he or his. 'But the word God does not register in us as neuter,' I said. 'Technically it may not imply any particular gender, but registers and functions in the mind is male.' As McFague says, androgynous terms only 'conceal androcentric and male assumptions behind the abstraction.' How many times had I heard someone say, "God is not male. He is spirit.'?

Side note: I think my beloved Wayne Dyer does a good job of using gender neutral language for the Divine that does not make me have a knee-jerk "down with patriarchy!" reaction.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Random Reads

Friday was my oldest baby's birthday--I can barely believe he is FOUR! We had a really fun party at the park after having spent a sort of stressful morning at home trying to bake the cake, cookies to decorate, etc. I overplanned a bit and should have probably chosen one activity instead of having "decorate your own cookie," paint a plaster Halloween magnet (I made the plaster things earlier), make a foamie Halloween guy, have a pinata, eat cake, open presents. It was a little much. L loved his Darth Vader costume and looked really cute in it. The helmet I got is really cool.

Anyway, I didn't blog on his birthday, so I'm breaking my "post only on Fridays" schedule and posting today instead. I know it is kind of weird to have *nothing* posted and then suddenly a big rash of posts all on one day, so I'm considering saving a bunch of "drafts" each Friday and then releasing them throughout the week, so that content is new more than just on Fridays....

This past week I read a variety of random books, mostly courtesy of the recent book sale I went to (and these were some non-sellers, so I read 'em).

Most recently, I finished The Coffin Quilt, historical, young adult fiction about the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys. I gobbled it down, but then after I stayed up way too late finishing it, I didn't actually like it very much. This is one reason why I don't read much fiction--I have no self control and gobble them up regardless of quality! The book is by Ann Rinaldi who also wrote Wolf by the Ears (historical fiction about the children of Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemmings). In a small bit of personal history, Wolf by the Ears was the first book I ever reviewed in my life. I was 15 and wrote a review of it for our short lived homeschooler publication "Prism."

Earlier, I also read The Power of a Penny. This was quick read of a short little inspirational book about the power of small things to make a real difference. I found a lot of it to be sort of trite or obvious and didn't learn anything new--it was not particularly creative or imaginative or fresh at all.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Real Meaning of Life

I have no minutes to post today (but it's Friday!), so I decided to post about a "lightweight" topic like this, LOL! ;-) I got a little book at the Columbia book sale last weekend called The Real Meaning of Life. It is basically a compilation of responses to the question, "what is the meaning of life?" posted online by a college student in 2005 (his question garnered tons of responses and he ended up writing a little book). It was interesting--responses seemed to range from nihilistic (only a few) to spiritual, but with a lot concentrated around either "happiness" and/or "service."

I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about weighty issues and analyzing life in detail, so I was struck by the quote:

"It is true that the unexamined life is not worth living, but it is equally true that the overexamined life is also not worth living." (emphasis mine.)

Okay, I'm editing this post on 9/22 to add one more quote:

"...We avoid it prolong it, and in most cases fear it, yet could we live without it [death]? Death begets time's omnipresent importance. Without death, life is meaningless....Life without death is tragedy. It's like playing poker and getting a royal flush every hand...would you keep playing the game? Or, better yet, what would motivate others to keep anteing up?"

I thought this was an interesting way of looking at it--kind of like the, "if we were never sad, would/could we recognize or appreciate happy?" thing. One requires the other.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Celebrating Pregnancy through Art

I'm excited to be presenting a session about Celebrating Pregnancy through Art at a retreat this weekend. During the session, I let each participant paint a pregnant woman figurine to keep (I make batches of plain white plaster ones up in advance). Anyway, I thought I'd share one of them here. This one is painted in my signature "placenta red" ;-) She has a labyrinth on her belly as a metaphor for birth compared to traditional linear, medical models of birth (such as bell curves and plastic dilation charts).

Related reading: Pam England's wonderful "LabOrinth"

Friday, September 7, 2007


I finished reading Misconceptions for the second time before our trip to Chicago. I had lots of thoughts, but no time to share them when I finished the book, so I'm back now editing this post today. (It was originally posted in tiny form on 8/10.)

This book has deep meaning for me, because I read in in my first weeks postpartum after the birth of my first baby. though I had been very prepared for birth and *thought* I was prepared for having a newborn, I felt like postpartum was a huge slap in the face and my adjustment was very difficult. The giving up, the laying down of self, the realization that my life was no longer about me anymore and never would be again, the anxieties and uncertainties, the glimpse of how irrevocably my life had changed. It was a rough time for me and I cried a lot (I also had to recover from an unexpected birth injury that left me feeling very fragile, weak, permanently wounded, and like an invalid). Anyway, at one of my postpartum checkups I saw a doctor that I had never seen before and she suggested I read Misconceptions. This was my first introduction to the world of "momoirs" and I was hooked for good. I voraciously devoured up any and all related books at the local library and wished I had known to read some of them *before* having the baby. So, reading this book again brought all that back for me--it is inextricably linked to my early memories of life with my first little baby and as a new mother. (and, as such, this will be an extremely long post!)

Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, & the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood, is Naomi Wolf's account of her first pregnancy and birth experience, her early months postpartum, and her subsequent research and study about pregnancy, birth, and mothering in our culture. This is primarily her personal narrative of her experiences, thoughts, feelings, and theories. The author feels fragile, weak, insubstantial, and invalid as a pregnant woman. In contrast, during my pregnancies, I felt strong, mighty, powerful, present, full, magic, substantial. I also felt potent and magic, as well as supported, cherished and honored. During my births, I felt triumphant and powerful (she felt abused, ignored, weak, defective, assaulted, and ruined with pain, anger, frustration, anger, shame, confusion, and neglect. She also ends up with two cesareans). I have to wonder how our emotional states during pregnancy and the types of caregivers and birth settings we each chose, contributed to our birth experiences? (A LOT, I'd wager!) This is a reason why I hope to design my birth classes around emotional preparation for birth (and motherhood) and not only the physiology of pregnancy and birth.

Interestingly, in postpartum, despite our dramatically our differing experiences of pregnancy and birth, our reactions become similar. In postpartum, i did feel week, wounded, dissolved, invalid, and fragile.

One favorite quote of many: "A woman is not a mother just because she has had a baby, a mother is not born when a baby is born; a mother is forged, made."

I like this concept--I do feel forged in the fires of motherhood! :-)

Another good one, when reflecting on an ordinary street scene and suddenly understanding the web of life and the universality of motherhood (even the squirrels!) : "We were all held, touched, interrelated, in an invisible net of incarnation. I would scarcely think of it ordinarily; yet for each creature I saw, someone, a mother, had given birth....Motherhood was the gate. It was something that had always been invisible to me before, or so unvalued as to be beneath noticing: the motheredness of the world."

"Babies...are sort of leaky little understudies for God. With each baby the human species gets the chance to break out of the self into the service of something so 'other' that the reasons for conditional love can give way to faith in unconditional love. ..with babies, we get the chance to take one manageable baby step on the long hard path of the saints...when I was pregnant I could suddenly see the good sense of worshiping God in the guise of a human baby...Like so many of the feelings of pregnancy and new motherhood, it was paradoxical: sometimes I felt the brightness and the darkness at the same time."

The author notes something that I was unaware of--apparently ACOG has recommended that routine continuous fetal monitoring be dropped from the standard of care for low-risk pregnant women and instead recommends intermittent FHT listening. (still, at least 85% of women giving birth in the US have continuous monitoring even though their own trade union [ACOG] does not recommend it? Weirdness!)

She also notes that no matter how it is perceived in society today, a cesarean is not a routine procedure, but is instead the equivalent of any other major organ surgery and suggested cesareans are more accurately termed "open uterine surgery" (most women don't know that their uterus is literally taken out of their body during repair).

Quoting a quote by Robbie Kahn, "the job market holds out an all-or-nothing prospect to new mothers: you can give your body and heart and lose much of your status, your money, your equality, and your income; or, you can keep your identity and your income--only if you abandon your baby all day long and try desperately to switch off the most powerful primal drive the human animal can feel."

Then, a classic quote (quoting another mother regarding taking care of little kids): "I sometimes feel I am getting pecked to death by ducks."

After some uncalled for digs at LLL, the author also makes a good point about the myth of "choice" regarding breastfeeding (specifically with regard to lack of supports for breastfeeding while working outside the home): " was unconscionable for our culture to insist that women 'choose' to leave their suckling babies abruptly at home in order simply to be available for paid work."

"We need to ask the question: what do mothers deserve if they are to mother well? We need to answer: Everything. Everything that is due them."

With regard to a Mother's Movement: "We also need this movement to kinds of civic spaces and social structures, bringing children closer to the work place and the world of adults, and bringing the engagement and world of adult economic activity closer to the hermetically-sealed world of mothers and small children. women should not have to choose between two such starkly exclusive worlds as 'work' and 'home with kids' as they now must, and children would benefit from the better, happier parenting this change would bring about."

Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety

Last week I finished reading Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety. I have lots and lots and lots to say about this book and started to write a post about it, but it got to be almost 1:30 a.m. and I went to bed instead. Now, this week I posted about the books I read since then and so again it goes unremarked. I need to get better about succinct summaries, because my pile of things to be blogged about is growing larger and larger and is starting to make me feel stressed instead of having fun! I will definitely edit this later to add my real comments about this book.

Okay, now it is 10/6 and this is still in my unblogged pile and I think I'm going to have to let go of writing about it. I'm mostly caught up otherwise and this is kind of hanging over my head, which is just plain silly! I will say that reading this book makes me feel like a "double agent" between the AP and non-AP worlds--while my heart lies in AP, my brain actually identifies with the author's criticisms and sometimes outright mockery of that style. I think my personality style and my tendency to be driven and ambitious might actually make me better suited to a work-out-of-the-home life, but my heart and biological connection compels me to be with my babies. The author articulates what I've felt, but haven't really been able to express--the need for something in between staying at home and working full time (basically, that working and mothering simultaneously is the most natural and fulfilling approach, but our society does not make that combination often feasible or comfortable):

"Which means that 'natural' motherhood today should know no conflict between providing for our children (i.e. 'working') and nurturing them (i.e. 'being a mom'). Both are part of our evolutionary heritage; both are equally 'child-centered' imperatives. What's 'unnatural' about motherhood today, if you follow Hrdy's line of thinking, is not that mothers work but rather that their 'striving for status' and their 'maternal emotions' have been compartmentalized. By putting the two in conflict--by insisting on the incompatibility of work and motherhood--our culture does violence to mothers, splitting them, unnaturally, within themselves...For they show that the so-called 'choices' most of us face in America--between more-than-full-time work or 24/7 on-duty motherhood--are, quite simply, unnatural. They amount to a kind of psychological castration: excessive work severs a mother from her need to be physically present in caring for her child, and excessive 'full-time' motherhood of the total-reality variety severs a mother not only from her ability to financially provide for her family but also from her adult sense of agency, as it sucks her so deeply down the infantile realm of her children."

This is what I'm talking about. There needs to be a third, realistic option (and not just for women. For men too. For families!). I have often expressed the desire to find a balance between mothering and "personing." I'm seeking a seamless integration of work and family life for both Mark and myself. An integration that makes true co-parenting possible, while still meeting the potent biological need of a baby for his mother and a mother's biological compulsion to be present with her baby. Why is the work world designed to ignore the existence of families?

Tao Te Ching

Stretched my horizons and flexed my philosophical/spiritual muscles this week by reading the Tao Te Ching. I read Stephen Mitchell's version, which is the one recommended by my beloved Wayne Dyer.

Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about other people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.
He who stands on tiptoe
doesn't stand firm.
He who rushes ahead
doesn't go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
He who defines himself
can't know who he really is.
He who has power of others
can't empower himself.
He who clings to his work
will create nothing that endures.

If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.

There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.

The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.


This week I read MotherMysteries. It was a little too Jungian analyst, exploration of archetypes, mythological for my taste--that style doesn't "click" well with me and I find it hard to get into books that are too heavy with Jung. Anyway, it was still somewhat interesting because I love just about all books about women's experiences of motherhood.

The book follows snippets of the author's experience of her three pregnancies and the "mothermysteries" she discovered through each one. Her third birth takes place at home and one week old they take the baby in to be circumcised. The circumcision is botched in that an artery is nicked and the baby bleeds copiously and has to be taken to the ER, etc. After he has stitches put in the artery, the mother sinks down to the floor of the ER to nurse and comfort him and later reflects on how she is "fascinated and a bit awed to recall the woman I became when my baby's life was in danger...the love a mother has for her baby, and her quintessential desire to protect that baby, carry her far beyond the reaches of neurotic concerns about other people's liking her, approving of her, social reputation, manners, persona..." As she reflects on her experiences and considers her "defense" of her baby, I can't wrap my mind around how she neglects to address (or, indeed, to even realize) that this whole experience was totally avoidable--the parents directly *caused* their baby the pain and distress and the complication and suffering in the ER by arranging to have an unnecessary surgical procedure performs on his innocent little body. She seems to perceive her role in the situation as someone mythologically "heroic" as she "held him to my heart and my breast and loved him all night long" instead of experiencing any regrets or changed opinions about having had the circumcision performed in the first place.

Some good quotes/observations from the rest of the book:

"I am always stunned when I hear a man exclaim in frustration, 'Why must women take things so personally!" If I don't experience my life personally, then what is the point of being a person? I cannot imagine going through life not taking things personally."

With regard to adjusting to life with a baby outside the womb: "I don't know how to do this mother and baby thing with our bodies separated...Why should a baby all of a sudden become so separate from his mother? This strikes me as a peculiar custom. not all cultures do this...I expect my agitation about being separate from my baby is not only neurotic fear but that there is some instictive base to it. I suspect that nature wants me to feel agitated when I am not with my baby, wants me to still be touching, holding, body to body with my baby."

On reflecting on the surrender of self required when mothering a baby: "I wonder whether it's harder for a woman who has been independent and had years of feeling in charge of her own life to surrender when she has a baby...Many women of my generation are educated and professionally accomplished. Psychologically, we have had the time and the space to develop a conscious, differentiated ego. We are used to knowing what we want and directing our lives to achieve our goals. When a woman who has lived this way becomes pregnant, she gets dragged back into the unconscious depths of nature, into a dreamy and passive field of energy, where she is a vessel for the creative forces of life. This is a hard fall for the ego, a difficult psychological death."

To this, I say, and how! I have shared the same sort of thoughts/reflections myself on multiple occasions.

"Childbirth is a rite of passage so intense physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, that most other events in a woman's life pale next to it. In our modern lives, there are few remaining rituals of initiation, few events that challenge a person's mettle down to the very core. Childbirth remains a primary initiatory rite for a woman."

Okay, almost done...a section about working I identified with:

"Something inside me needs to be worked. Something or someone inside me has ideas, likes to think and communicate in adult ways. There are parts of me, alive and active, that simply are not addressed in being a mother. It's not merely the desire to escape the infinite wheel of mothering. There are genuine energies that rise in me that want to be heard, exercised, evolved. The woman inside me who is driven, has ambitions and ideas, is frustrated being a mother."

This section goes on in meaningful ways, but I've spent too much time on this post already and so must stop here. What I always struggle with is the desire to combine work with mothering--not leave my baby to work, but also not leave my work in order to mother. Does that make sense? I want to do both at at the same time darn it! So far, I'm managing a delicate balance between mothering deeply while also fulfilling some of my restless work energy with volunteer work that I can handle with children (as well as some very small paid work engagements, that again, I can do while also taking care of the kids). This is an issue I really struggle with--my desire to "work" as well as to mother well and fully (which is work in its own right, of course).