Sunday, January 12, 2014

In Memory of Siobhan McKay

I have been so grateful recently for my in-person and online community of friends, doulas and other birth workers.

There are many concerns about social media, and obviously many of them are valid.  But when things like Facebook and blogs are used for the purpose of outreach with healing intent, their value becomes overwhelmingly clear.

It is astonishingly helpful in times of confusion to be able to type in a question to my online doula sisterhood and receive not only valuable information, but also loving support in the form of little hearts, smiley faces, and kind words.  This builds up my confidence and gives me strength to be a source of peace and comfort for my clients in a real way.  We are nourished by the kindness of others.  And when nourished, we give from a grounded place.

When I was seriously ill last year, I received prayers, kind words, gifts, cards, and the receiving of a massive outpouring of love, a huge percentage of that from my online community (and friends of people in that community) that it is no wonder I healed up so well.  These days, when I see a doula sister asking for support in any form, be it good energy sent, information, or talking her off a ledge, I do my best to jump in, knowing personally how deeply these gestures have touched my own life.  I try to use this gift of social media we have with the highest intent.  Most of the time, anyway.

I want to share a story that has touched me deeply.  My dear doula sister who lives in Toronto named Nicole McKay, lost her six year old daughter Siobhan suddenly on January 9th.  Siobhan had not been feeling well early in the morning, and before the day came to an end, she had left this Earthside home.

Needless to say, being a mother and a doula who deals regularly with parents and children, this story has touched me deeply.

Nicole and her husband, Siobhan's father James have expressed how it is the support that is getting them through.  In the end, it is all about community, the folks we know and the ones we don't, for we are all part of the much larger sense of community social media has to offer.  And for this right now, I am grateful.

I never met Siobhan personally, but from what I have been told and what I have seen reflected in the eyes of her mother, she was an exceptionally beautiful little soul, funny and wise.  Her favourite colours were pink and purple.  She loved to dance.  She was clearly here for big things.  When she was born prematurely, Nicole and James were told she would not survive.  She had many challenges, but overcame them fiercely and not only survived, but thrived wholly.  Though she left this world so young, the belief that she was here for great things holds fast for me nonetheless.  "Great" doesn't always mean big intentional acts of fame.  It is about how much love you bring out of people.

As I look around at the beautiful responses from people online, my heart is incredibly moved.  I like to believe that the love being poured from so many hearts in so many forms is a reflection to Nicole and James of their daughter's light.  I like to think that in some mysterious way we can't explain, the essence of Siobhan's sweetness  is working through us, making sure her mom, dad, and brother are held up during this dark time of loss and despair, bringing about massive waves of compassion and Grace from all over the globe in her memory.   For a teeny little girl to crack open people's hearts for all this love to pour forth so palpably speaks of the Great-ness of her spirit.  I feel her everywhere, a little ballerina on her star journey, but still very connected to us.

In this time of immeasurable loss, the best way to honour Siobhan is to take care of her precious family.  If I may humbly ask that if you read this, you take a small moment to send them a little love.  Light a candle.  Say a prayer if that is your wish, or envision their healing.  These things seem nebulous and ethereal, but if there were any small chance it could work to bring about even an inch of healing and comfort for Siobhan's family, it is worth a minute of your time.

On Monday, January 13th a lot of people will be wearing pink and purple in honour of Siobhan.  This standing together in respect and compassion is something I will participate in.  I also take time every day to think of her family and envision them healing, surrounded and permeated by all the love we pour forth for them collectively, inspired by their sweet daughter.

 I am a doula, who knows well the hardships my family can suffer if I cannot work.  There is no sane way Nicole can attend births right now as she grieves this unspeakable loss.  As a doula trainer who has had the pleasure of spending an intensive week with Nicole, I feel I know what Nicole's heart is made out of, and let me tell you, it is good.  I have never heard an unkindness come out of this woman.  How much she gives to others in her work as a doula and La Leche League Leader, is something to behold.  She works tirelessly to see babies into the world, providing loving attention to the creation of a peaceful environment for mothers, fathers, and babies to become a family within.  Nicole and her husband James are amazing parents, and are focusing right now on supporting their young son Cayden while he grieves the loss of his older sister.

If it feels right to you, my friend Renee Mercuri  has set up a page that enables us to contribute to Nicole and Jame's finances in this difficult time so they may focus on grieving and healing without the extra worry of lost income.

If you would like to leave a loving message of condolence or light a virtual candle, you can visit Siobhan's online memorial site.

Love, Light, and Blessings,

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Shadow, Trauma, and Love: A Doula's Path to Healing

Being a doula is an amazing job.  We are frequently exposed to and bathed in the healing light of massively transformative love as new parents, quivering from the shock of birth, reach for the fruit of their hard work, taking the new life they’ve worked so hard for into their arms and into their hearts.  Ah, to be witness to such things is good for one’s soul.

But there is a darker side that doulas with a reasonable amount of experience have come to witness as well.  Instead of seeing a joy filled moment, sometimes we are exposed to something violent and shocking.  It doesn’t happen often, but on occasion there are instances that etch into our memories like a bad dream.  This is when someone enters the space who has lost all sense (or someone who has never had it) of what birth represents to families and to humanity as a whole: a sacred rite of passage, a peak experience, the expansion of the heart with Love.  Though not always the case, in my experience this has happened with primary caregivers (either doctors or midwives).   It occurs when you hear or see something that seems completely incongruent with how the energy of birth should be held for the birthing woman, her partner (if there is a partner), and the baby/ies.  I’m not talking about the odd off the cuff comments, or the harried health care provider seeming rushed and disconnected, or the typical projected opinions.  I feel those are things we encounter from people in our everyday lives, and while challenging, they don’t “ruin” a birth or our experience of birth as a doula.    What I am speaking of are those moments, and most of you doulas know it, when your heart recognizes before your mind does that abuse is occurring. 

When trauma unfolds before us, it is a healthy response for part of us to disassociate in order to protect our psyches from the reality of the situation at hand.  There have been a small handful of times in my life as a doula I have witnessed my clients disassociate. Not because their birth was dramatic and things took a turn way off from what they had hoped for (that’s a different story), but because someone treated them with pointed malice, disdain, disrespect, and vicious manipulation at the most vulnerable time in their lives.  I will not go into the stories.  I am still working out my own responses to some of the things I have seen.  It is not only the parents who find themselves in a position to heal from this kind of inflicted trauma, but you too, Doula.

So Doulas, what have you done in these situations when something that is undeniably abuse occurs before your eyes?  My first reaction is often to justify it.  I cannot believe it is happening, so my mind tries to make it right somehow so I can cope.  I try to make excuses, “Oh, this caregiver must have their reasons,” or “They are really good people, just having a bad day.”  Very quickly, though, my heart, which is the best gage for what a violation is, realizes what’s going down.  My next response is quick, violent rage.  I find myself wanting to lash out verbally and physically to the perpetrator of the shocking, destructive behaviour.  What goes through my head is, “I am supposed to advocate.  I am supposed to protect.  I am supposed to hold the space for a peaceful birth experience!”  But standing in the reality of violence, you quickly realize that you can feel completely powerless to do anything effective.  To feel helpless to defend your client and save them from this nightmare is one of the very worst things one can experience as a doula. 

Why can you not defend?  For one, when I have tried to advocate in these situations, even in the gentlest, most non-combative way I know how, I have been met with screams of “Shut up!!!!”  When someone is on an Ego rampage, any attempts at reasoning will fail.  Besides, who are you?  You’re “just the pesky doula.”  It isn’t our job to argue, anyway.  So our typical responses, which may be to not even address the caregiver but ask the client, for example, what HER thoughts are on the matter at hand, will be met with rage.  To add any fuel to the fire may cause further damage to this already desperate situation.  This can hurt your client, and it can get you unfairly banned from working in that hospital again.  Yes, that’s right, just for standing up for what’s right.  You will be accused of medically interfering, even though that would be the furthest thing from your intention. That is a risk you may want to take, and if you do, bless you.  This is not a risk I want to take because the implications are too big.  The reality is that doula work overall will be lost, and if we can’t be there, many others in the future will not benefit from the care we provide. The relay-ing of the story by the caregiver who caused the damage will likely include a gross misrepresentation of what we were doing.  That’s the way Ego rolls.  Whose “word” wins?  Not ours.

By now, if you’ve never experienced this before, you’re wondering what the hell you’ve signed on for as a doula.  How, in this day and age, can we be so pushed into a corner with our inexpressible Truth, that the risk of speaking it from our hearts will destroy our careers and rob future clients of the beauty of our work as most know it to be?

As above, so below.  It is important to put your experience into perspective.  The truth, and even most medical caregivers will admit this freely, is that in our current mainstream birth culture, there is a GROSS imbalance between the birthing woman’s own power, ability, intuition, hopes, dreams, and wishes and Medicine’s seek to control this unpredictable situation, this “disaster waiting to happen” that is birth.  We all know statistically that all these protocols designed to keep women and babies safe are prone to causing more problems than they prevent.  They are problems, yes, that can be mitigated by more application of birth technology, but problems all the same.  The family’s experience of birth to some caregivers has been deemed to be not only very low on the check list of “delivery” protocol, but in fact a matter of much disdain, as if whether or not a family has a “nice experience” (regardless of whatever comes up) is a matter for the privileged and the spoiled.  Herein lies the wound. So it makes sense that as you go about your own business doula-ing with your loving supportive heart, this truth of the implications of this imbalance will be played out to you in the form of birth story.
Every once in a while you will see an extreme example of the dangerous results of this imbalance, embodied in the form of raging Ego that has forgotten its original noble intention: to work in partnership with a woman to keep birth safe for her and her baby.  In balance, we have the potential for empowered, thrilled, safe births. We CAN have the best of both worlds.  The possibility is there. Out of balance, we see the very things we as doulas seek to help our clients avoid: lasting birth trauma (physical and emotional), postpartum depression, feelings of being a bad mother, worries about bonding, maternal guilt,  and loss of faith in one’s body.  These feelings are exacerbated, not healed, by a society whose message, subtle or otherwise is, “But you had a healthy baby and you’re alive, so stop whining.”  These negative stories generate fear, Medicine responds to that fear with amping up control, and soon we are off into stratospheres of terror, losing the essence of what birth means to a family as part of their important tribal story, as a legacy to their future generations.

So let’s go back to that place again where we talked about you, Doula, standing in the proverbial corner with your Truth in your throat, powerless to express it.   What is your Truth?  Why are you here?  I know what mine is.  A very wise and beloved man asked me to remember when I found myself in this heinous situation and was caught up in feelings of powerlessness to ask myself these three things.  “What do you stand for?”  I stand for peace.  I stand for love.  I stand for truth. Wherever it can be eked out, this is the very reason I embarked upon this path of a doula.  “Who do you stand for?”  I stand for the mothers, fathers, and babies who need and deserve to have their births infused with love and peace, a witness to their important family narrative.  “Who do you stand with?”  I stand with those whose intent is to see birth be safe AND peace-filled, no matter how the birth actually unfolds. 
If you notice, there is no asking of, “Who do you stand against?”  To do so is to further division.  And it is the division between control/empowerment, Ego/Truth, us/them that has created this situation of violence in the first place.  So where on earth do we find our power to carry out our original intent of bringing love and peace into the vortex of a nightmare?

Embody the shift in energy you wish to see.  This may sound hokey and weak to some, but I can assure you, this is the most powerful tool at your disposal in a situation such as this.  If you stand for love and peace, step into that role with everything you’ve got.  Drop the knife of divisive thinking and remember that there is a place in the heart of everyone in that room who at one point had noble intentions.  Even if not, it is still important that this child be born into an environment of love, into hands that are as peaceful as they can be.  So, for now, put down all of your reactions, just put them down, and focus on bringing peace into the room for the family.  For the healing of he/she who is caught in the violence of their ego.  This doesn’t mean just shutting up and putting up.  It means ACTIVELY centering yourself, opening up your heart, and channeling love into that room with every breath.  You will be amazed at what you might see happen or the accounts you hear afterwards.  You will be amazed at how you shift from feeling powerless judgment to a sense of doing something good.  Do you have control over the family being unscathed?  No.  But can you lessen the violence in the moment?  You can try.  It’s all you’ve got.  You can at least not fuel it further. It doesn’t guarantee results.  But you did something good. The greatest acts of loving kindness and generosity are being able to love even when you think there is nothing there left to love.   You do what can, remembering “What do I stand for?  Who do I stand for?”  “Who do I stand with?” while being unattached to the results.   You never know how they will translate.  And that’s okay.

Doula, after you have done that work and you return home to rest, you will have your own process.  As a doula teacher, I have witnessed some of my students be traumatized by some of their experiences.  It has taken me a long time to figure out how to help them deal with it, as I was still healing from my own experiences without knowing what to do.  I had nobody to turn to while I was learning, and I feel these experiences had a profound impact upon me.  Now I have tools in which to help doulas protect themselves energetically while these traumas are unfolding, and ways to help them work through and find meaning and healing from these experiences.   I feel strongly as a doula teacher, that these skills are basic and necessary (not advanced), and I do my best to relay them in the doula training program I provide.  I also feel it is so important for a doula to have a community to which she can reach out and find support for these struggles.  It is within this supportive environment a doula can step into the power of her intention to truly be an instrument of peace for birthing families.  Together, we move mountains.

Lesley Everest

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Birth as Religion

Hi folks,

No, I haven't gone anywhere.  I have been busy doing other writings, and slowly easing back into my life as I get used to being a well person again.  I am busy, but not working at the crazy pace I did before I got sick.  I will never go back to that pace again.  Lesson learned.

Having been on hiatus from birth attending these past months, I've had the opportunity to sit back and think a lot.  I've been thinking about how to define my personal philosophy of birth.  Everyone seems to have a slogan, or a mandate, and I've been trying to figure out how to put mine into words.

This led me to think of the many schools of thought which exist in relation to birth, and in turn made me think of all the paths of religion there are to come to know and develop oneself in alignment with a divine energy.  Birth is a mysterious, powerful, creative, transforming force that works through us.  It is studied in every which way, yet the normal process and exactly why it works as it does remains elusive.  Why do some perfectly seeming normal combinations of pelvis and Baby end up having a terribly rough time during labour, and why do some women deemed at risk for not being able to birth at all have their babies practically fall out of them?  Why do traumas happen?  Why do people sometimes even die when nothing seemed wrong? Why do some get to drink from the Holy Grail of birth ecstasy and others don't, despite having done everything they felt to be the correct way to "worship"?

Birth has its rituals and its magic words.  There is the "Finding out of the Sex through Ultrasound" ritual.  There is the "Head in the Toilet for Three Months" cloister process some go through.  There is the "Baby Shower" and the "Mother Blessing" ceremony.  We have the great and powerful "Timing of the Contractions". There is the "Cutting of the Cord" (many variations of even this ritual).  There are affirmations and breathing exercises, akin to the Rosary and prayer beads, as well as mantras uttered in prenatal yoga class.  Much is done to call upon the benevolence of Birth, in hopes of being one of the chosen to experience a problem free delivery and the ecstasy of the all mighty oxytocin high.

Birth also has its privations and sacrifices.  No sushi.  No alcohol. Expanding beyond the boundaries of one's favourite pair of jeans.  Pain.  A transformed life.  A new identity. The grace of parenthood Birth grants us doesn't come for free.

 Birth has its temples, in the forms of hospitals, birthing centres, and homes.  It has its ministers, the doctors nurses, midwives, and doulas who serve as ambassadors of Birth, middle-wo/men, if you will, who assist a woman's communion with Birth.  Birth, obviously, has its initiates; those doing the birthing and those who are birthed.  Some prefer a specific place to express Birth, some simply end up worshiping wherever the spirit of Birth takes them, like in a speeding car or the toilet at Tim Horton's.  Initiates also like different types of ministers. Some appreciate a guide to help them interpret the messages from Birth and support their choices on the path to Birth.  Others want to be saved, and put their absolute trust into their highly appointed holy wo/man.  And there are others who wish to skip the middle wo/man altogether and prefer a direct revelation of  Birth, taking the minister-less route.

Birth has its exquisite sacred writings, tomes dedicated to nurturing one's path on how to know Birth.  Many rest their laurels on the Word of Williams, Odent, Frey, England, or Gaskin, finding their sense of rightness and comfort in these holy books.

As with any religion, Birth has its followers, which come in all kinds of forms.  There are those who believe without the container of an expensive medical temple and a bevy of appointed holy people, the road to Birth is far too dangerous for the initiate.  There are those who will cry from the rooftops the good news that Birth is wonderfully safe, IF you keep the temple and holy people out of the experience and embrace it as a vision quest to be done alone.  Some more inter-faith types of folks want a gentle, skilled guide to be present, but not to impose their views, simply to intervene if necessary.  They're not fussy about the temple, trusting things work out for the best however things unfold.

If all feel safe and happy within the tenets of their chosen road to Birth, more power to 'em!  I believe we all have the right to our own expression of Birth within whatever context we feel best.  It is a human right. Let us celebrate the diversity and richness inherent in our birth cultures, and embrace those who felt moved by their dance with Birth, whatever that looks like to them.  May we honour each path for its strengths, knowing that every path, our own included, has its weaknesses too.

As most wars are waged in the name of religion, there are many conflicts about what is the "right" way to give birth.  What was intended as a loving framework for guidance can be expressed by some as a fundamentalist view that holds itself above others, and believes that all those who don't follow its philosophy's tenets are doomed to experience a Bad Birth (whether they know it or not).  There are many threats, parables filled with fire and brimstone, of the dangers of straying from the almighty right philosophy.  The fundamentalist Medicalists call the preistesses of Home Birth "witches".  The zealots of  Midwifery-ism call the holy wo/men of  the Hospitalites "butchers" or even "rapists".  Initiates who have their own personal reasons for eschewing temple and minister are touted as Heathens, reviled as ignorant endanger-ers.  If you don't give birth in a dark room by yourself, your fetal ejection reflex simply cannot let down, and you'll likely bleed profusely if anyone says a word or farts too loud.  If you experience a Cesarean your child will not bond with you properly and your relationship is basically screwed for life.  If you have an epidural you are not a worthy warrior, and wrecked your good Birth hormones, besmirching your self and your baby in the eyes of Birth forever.  If you don't have an epidural and Pit you're a martyr, and are subjected to the suspicion of being more interested in the experience of Birth than the safety of your baby. Threats are deployed, and the environment thickens to ensure the tenets are obeyed.   You may be searched for explosives.

As with any war, there are casualties. In this case it is the mothers and babies who are harmed emotionally or even physically, not to mention the collateral damage to the witnesses. Something gets lost when we have shifted from the belief in our birth philosophy as a framework to lovingly support birth's initiates in a flexible way, to a kind of self-righteous zealotry. What motivates much of the expression of zealotry?  The desire to be "right", to fit everything into a personal scope to the point of not believing what is actually before ones' eyes, and the deep, Ego assaulting worry that for someone to act outside of our belief system is a threat.  Fear, basically.  And when fear clouds the love that was meant to be expressed through the tenets of our personal birth philosophies, we potentially cause the very same problems we accuse "the others" of doing.  Whether we shoot from the left or from the right, shooting is still dangerous, and the innocent get caught in the crossfire.

Obviously, few are that extreme.  Thank goodness for that!  But each time we speak badly of another birth philosophy or put down a mother's experience because it didn't fit into what we think defines a decent birth, what part of us is speaking?  Is it truly out of love and concern for everyone involved, or is it out of fear that our sense of personal righteousness is threatened?  Because really, "there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatia, than are dreamt of in your philosophy".

As for me, I have decided to renounce birth religion all together.  Do I have opinions?  I surely do.  It is the nature of human beings to judge.  We need our judgement, as it helps us weed out the helpful presences in our lives to the not so helpful.  Our judgment often keeps us safe.  There is nothing wrong with discernment. But our judgment is OURS.  To project it strongly onto another because we assume they are not on the right birth path is dis-empowering.

We all come to birth innocent and perfect.  Every time.  No matter what is in our heads.  On some level, somewhere, the way we give birth, no matter what the outcome or our feelings about it, is an expression of our magnificence.  Birth can be gentle, it can be fierce.  Birth can express itself as Kali, Lakshmi, Mary, or Morrighan.  While we may have influence, we ultimately have no control.  There is no bargaining with Birth.  Birth is not some figure who doles out good births to the faithful and crappy ones to those who don't do things "right". It is a big crazy power that works through us, leading us into Mystery.  And yet we do it. This makes us pretty awesome, no matter how.

So while I have no words for my own personal birth philosophy at this time, I do have words I say to myself before embarking upon a birth journey with anyone.  It keeps me clear, and open to whatever unfolds, so that I may support them in their truths, keeping mine to myself.  I take out the "Lords" and "Gods" and stuff, but this is the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

..., make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Owning Pain

I had a conversation about epidurals with an OB friend of mine this weekend.  His thoughts were, "Sometimes I don't know if I should offer one or not."  I absolutely understand this conundrum of the primary caretaker in a hospital birth.  Firstly, it's assumed most people are going to want one at some point.  In hospital births in which people don't have a lot of support, it's rare to see those who intend unmedicated birth actually have one, especially for those women whose births end up being quite long.  So offering is reassuring and welcomed by the vast majority of women who birth in hospitals.

On the other hand, and I always really appreciate hospital staff members for this, many of them upon hearing a mother's plans for an epidural free birth don't wish to mention the epidural because they don't want to come off as interfering, or being one of "those" medical people who like to sell epidurals hard because they can't stand the idea of someone being in potentially a lot of pain.

My thoughts on the matter, and many natural birth advocates may disagree, are that it is absolutely fair for a medical person, upon arrival of a mother at a hospital in labour,  to explain that there IS pain relief in the form of a, b, c, d, and epidural.  Adding a, "I just want you to know in case you choose this, but that's all we'll say on it." would be great too.  Many are aghast when any mention of an epidural is made at all.  As doulas, it can be really frustrating to hear these words.  We jump to the thought that our vulnerable, paining client will hear this sweet phrase, then jump on the epidural bandwagon, only to feel disappointed in herself later.  But in a way, isn't this assuming that a mother will translate the epidural offer as a disempowering question?  Because you know, it isn't necessarily so. I've been asked if I wanted an epidural in my own hospital birth.  It did not make me want to have an epidural, even though I had been in labour for a couple of days.  When I decided to possibly consider epidural, it had nothing to do with peer pressure.  It came from my own core.  I gave birth before I decided, so I never did end up getting one, but had I chosen it, it would have come from a very informed and empowered place. I have seen many women asked if they want one, and those really into the process of normal, natural birth just don't seem to take it too seriously.

On of the reasons I think it is fair to provide a mother with the information that there are epidurals available in the hospital for her use if she wishes is because the caregiver's challenge  in a busy hospital is that they may not have the time it takes to really get to know the patient's wishes and the thoughts about those wishes the family/or friends present may harbour.  What pushes me over the line into the belief that an initial little epidural shpiel is not a terrible thing is that on occasion, the mother might be under the immense pressure of partner/family member/friend/even doula to NOT have an epidural at any cost.  I have been in many births where Grandma or Mother-in-Law or Husband or Girlfriend Who had her Own Natural Births were quite hostile about the idea of epidurals, and willing to project that hostility onto the caregivers just for doing their due diligence in mentioning the hospital's availability of pain relief.  Okay, true, usually it is the opposite...usually Moms want natural and the argument is FOR her to take the epidural (don't be a hero, yada yada).  But sometimes we have the mom who is not sure, or the mom who runs into real suffering and everyone else on the birthing team had a hard time surrendering to her desire for epidural.

To KNOW that someone in the hospital is on your side and supportive of your choice to eliminate pain is not a bad thing.  Yes, it IS a bad thing to have an epidural shoved down your throat every time you yell with a contraction.  That is not empowering.  But I don't think mentioning they exist before labour gets super charged is terrible at all.  There are women who come into the hospital with no prior prenatal care, perhaps new to the country, culture, and language, perhaps who have birthed previously in horrendous conditions.  I had one client who had birthed in another country and was absolutely traumatized by the cruelty she was subjected to.  She was in a room full of other birthing moms, the nurses kept telling her to shut up, that she couldn't move or make a sound, nor have anyone else there to support her.  Her thought was, "Well, I did it naturally last time, I can do it again this time."  As a doula, I talked to her about common hospital procedures, we talked about the epidural, and as always, outlined as best I could the risks and the benefits.  It didn't occur to her to think about epidural, due to her previous natural birth.  But when she went into labour, she was triggered into a post traumatic episode related to her prior birth years back.  When we got to the hospital it was casually  mentioned she could have an epidural if she wanted by the super friendly, supportive nurse.  My client looked surprised, regardless of what we had gone over prenatally.  As pain increased, her stress increased, no matter what I did.  She said to me, "Is it true I can just get pain relief if I want it?"  I said, "Absolutely.  You're doing great and your labour is progressing beautifully, by the way.  Would you like to try the shower?"   She said, "No, I want the epidural.  I remember what you told me about them.  I feel like I really need one."  And that was that.  When she got it, I saw a look of absolute peace.  She had space to process a lot of things from her last birth, and she found incredible healing in the ability to choose pain relief when in her past birth it wasn't an option.  I was glad for her.  She had a beautiful birth.  To know that a medical person supports the desire to help them out with pain can be a godsend to some.  It isn't for us to judge.

Now having said that, once the offer is out, it shouldn't be repeated a million times. Or rarely at all. THEN Mother's strength becomes compromised as she is repeatedly taken out of her reptilian brain, from which she may wail, cry and moan to help her through contractions, into questioning herself.."am i not doing well?  Am I bothering people?  Is something wrong?  Why do they tell me I need drugs?"  This comes from people outside her experience trying to own her personal process of birth in the guise of "saving".  Their thoughts might be, "She's not relaxing.  She's getting too tired.  I can't stand hearing those vocal expressions.  They make me uncomfortable and I need to DO something to get this woman to stop being a masochist.  Maybe someone is putting her up to this!"  But women in labour are generally pretty fierce, and even the shy ladies will start demanding an epidural if that's what they really want, so staff members generally don't need to press the epidural point. Women whose family members are against it will often simply refer back to the doctor's initial words and say, "They said I could take one." and feel more strength in their conviction to request it. Even if nobody offered a suffering lady drugs, if they are decided in using one, they will usually continue to ask for them. Of course, we do the doula if we know our clients desired an unmedicated birth and many women change their minds as they find their ways to cope, but you do come to a point where to try to sway a woman from what she clearly has gone hellbent on becomes an act of disrespect.  There is a line between supporting her original intentions to forcing her to own pain she truly doesn't want anymore.  I can't say I've had anyone say, "well, I ended up taking one because the staff mentioned epidural once when I arrived and it broke my resolve."   They took it because they wanted it.  No blame, no shame.  Or perhaps the continued, "are you SURE you don't want a nice, juicy epidural so you can sleep and have no more pain" song eroded their confidence after a while.  Those who take epidurals on their own steam usually don't regret them much.  Those who feel coerced often do.

I like using the analogy of running a marathon to illustrate to medical people not sure of when to intervene on the pain relief front.  How challenging it might be to a marathoner to instead of having the road full of people yelling, "You can DO's water, high fives, gel go, keep running, don't give up!" say, "Don't be a hero!  You have nothing to prove!  We'll put you in the wheelchair and you'll still get you to the finish line one way or another, it doesn't matter that you stop running!  The process doesn't mean anything. We can't stand to see your pain anymore."  And it IS pain.  My dear friend and colleague Sesch is a marathon runner and she tells stories of people yelling with pain, limping along during their runs.  She says she has seen women bleeding down their legs as their menstrual protection fails after hours running, people shitting themselves, and vomiting down the front of their shirts...but not stopping.  And what do we do for these pained runners when they pass we onlookers by?  We screech and cheer with pride and total encouragement.  The funny thing, is that thousands upon thousands of people are willing to put themselves through this marathon torture.  Seriously, spaces to run get sold out quickly, as they can only have a limited number of folks running giving the resources it takes to support an event like that.  So if we don't think about jumping in and saving the crazy marathon runner limping her way to the finish line, why are some so loathe to let the labouring woman just be and do her thing to get her finish line?  Yeah, it may involve some yelling, vomit, and poo, but the high at the end, (which is why most runners embark upon the marathon journey), is just so friggin' good for most.  You OWNED that body process, and rocked it how you wanted.  You are gloriously, and endlessly badass.  And birth for the most part is WAY healthier than a marathon run.

At the beginning of the marathon, people are made aware by the sponsors of where the stations are where they can stop for medical attention, what part of the road to go on if they need to walk, etc.  Then the gun goes off and the journey is up to them and what their bodies and minds allow them to do that day.  And they are cheered on and supported, through howling, limping dehydration and loss of control of bodily functions.  When they simply cannot run, walk, or crawl anymore, they stop and cry "Uncle".  It's all good. Those who can't stomach watching the show leave the event.  Sounds like this would be a reasonable recipe for birthing too.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Pride of Birthing Accomplishments

For anyone who has ever doubted the importance of the impact of a woman's birth experiences upon her life, I thought I might share this.

As many readers know, I've been dealing with some major health issues.  Statistics of my chances of survival get bandied around while I stick my fingers in my ears and go, "lalalalalalalala".  I am not interested in these stats at all.  I focus on what gives me passion and what feeds my sense of power. That's all I need to really know.

I was sitting in the bath today, thinking (as I often get my best thoughts in the bath) of what have been some of the most powerful experiences of my life. I can unhesitatingly say the most powerful have been my birth experiences.  I am one of those women incredibly blessed to be able to look back upon four births with a sense of deep, glowing, beautiful accomplishment.  What people perceive as powerful is individual.  It isn't about some standard to judge one's birth against, it is ultimately about how one feels about her birth.

I have 2 oncologists I alternate in seeing for checkups.  One is brilliant with his patients. I've already talked about him, so I won't go further with that.  The other is the one who diagnosed my cervical cancer.  Sweet guy for sure, but because I haven't really dealt with him post treatment, I'm a bit nervous about how he's going to treat me.  He is decent and kind, that's already been established.  But I fear he might be the type to give me big "reality checks" if I come off as "cocky" for fear I may feel like a "failure" if I do end up croaking.     So much in Medicine seems to be geared to making sure a patient doesn't get their hopes up too high so their hearts don't get broken, but why the heck not?  That is literally encouraging half living until you die.  I mean, you don't have to REMIND me of how serious my illness was, so let's just agree to unbridled hope, which I believe influences and nourishes our biology for the better.

The point being, having a strong well of Resource within me, fed by my feelings about my glorious births, gives me immense power.  I can connect to and draw from that power whenever I may feel shitty about myself, hanging my head like Eyore the Donkey sighing, "Woe is  me....I had body is a lemon."  My passionate belief about the empowering qualities of a well perceived birth are so strong, they led me, like others, to pursue work that could potentially help others have great feeling births too.  It beats the depression, trauma, guilt, shame, feeling of loss, etc. that so many women associate with their births.  Had my births been different, I may not have the sense of as much power as I do, and I could be in a very different place in my healing process right now.  Birth doesn't just touch the day our babies come into this world, which is why it drives me bonkers when people claim childbirth is only a means to an end;  it emphatically touches us for all our lives.  A bad experience can certainly be healed and integrated, but I'm glad I didn't have to expend energy in that department, that the glory is right there and ready, easily accessed in that well of Resource.  I think of Lance Armstrong (let's put aside his troubles for now), and how advanced his testicular cancer was.  It had metastasized to his lungs and other areas.  Statistically, most don't survive that widespread of cancer, but what an amazing resource of power he must have to dip into knowing the accomplishments of his spectacular body (blood doping or not)!  Feeling badass undoubtedly has long term curative properties.

I sometimes have fantasies of the gynecology oncologists giving me grave news or breaking down statistics for me.  I figure as gynecologists, most of them have some pretty thorough OB training, and have seen many births.  I see myself asking, "What would be your thoughts about a first time mother,  a five foot not quite one inch tall 98 pound woman (when not pregnant) having a completely OP baby, the baby's head visible for three hours of the second stage?"  "Oh, impossible, never gonna come, she'd need a Csection or at least an episiotomy and/or instrumental delivery".  WRONGO!  I pushed that kid out stargazing while epidural, no tear.  "Hey, how about a second time mother birthing a substantially smaller, earlier baby than her first, but in labour for a couple of days, stuck at five cm for about 12 hours, then 9cm for a few hours?"  "Oh, that's a terrible situation, not normal at all, definitely something wrong, C-section for sure, or at least an epidural for rest."  NOPE.  Pushed that baby on out stargazing too.  No epidural.  No tear.  "Ever seen a woman have a labour of a term baby in 40 minutes from the first contraction to the baby, born with water bag and perineum intact?  NO?  Gee, this is all one one woman's obstetric history, Docs!  I have nothing to say remarkable about the fourth, it was fast, easy , and normal.  Except, oh yeah, I caught him myself while I was on my hands and knees.  Yeah, just reached between my legs and received him on my own. That's not at all unusual in my world."

I feel the power surge at the thought of this interaction, not because I have any desire to argue the rightness or not of clinical choices with a gynecologist or feel good about shunning the beliefs of a medical doctor, but because my birth stories, each one a shining picture of beautiful uniqueness, as all births are, fill me with a sense of badass that nobody can ever take away from me.  When I've talked to doctors about my births they don't criticize me, they actually say something like, "Oh, wow, that's pretty amazing, I don't see that often at all.  Good for you!"  The point is, I, as many women do when they are able to choose to birth on their terms, defied statistics.  I stretched the boundaries of what is medically considered to be normal birth, picked my battles with courage (yes, at my and my baby's own risk...that is for me to decide), and I feel, though some of those births were intensely challenging, success unparalleled.  And this is GOOD for me.

I don't want to yell at the doctors, "In your faces!" I simply want them to know how superimposing their stats onto me limits my potential as a fully recovered and healed human being, my births being evident of how wide I can stretch, of how very much I can handle.  And, by the way, had these births ended in necessary Cesareans or episiotomies or forceps, I don't think they would have too much altered my sense of success at how far I went (I would have gone a lot farther had I needed to).  I chose my own battles, so I would not have felt a "failure".  I would have gone into an OR in a blaze of glory and emerged victorious.  And may that be, hopefully when I'm a bout 193 or so, how I will face my own death.

Call it feminine macho-ism if you want, but if at this point in my life, dealing with what I'm going through, I have the ability to look back to those births that I DID and glean power that is healing, uplifting, and inspiring, then guilty as charged for laughing, swinging my vagina around like a lasso, shouting, "Yippie kay-yay, Motherf****ers!"

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

.....and More Synchronicity

I connect much of my healing, along with the good medical care and love I've received, with my learning to pay better attention to and heeding the whispers of intuition.  When I don't hear things right off the bat, events will arise, if I choose to pay attention, to teach me my soul's lesson's more clearly.

I have been in the super doldrums the last few days.  It sounds so ungrateful, I know, given how I just got told I am cancer free.  But remember, I've spent months on narcotics to numb out some serious pain.  As a result, it's buffered a lot of the emotions too.  Well, not the good stuff.  It is easy to find the gratitude and love for me in any state, but the drugs seriously gave me the illusion that I went through all this trauma with reasonable emotional ease.  It almost felt too easy.

So, given that the pain in my body is more sporadic now rather than something that needs constant medicating, all those frozen emotions are making their way to the surface, sneakily and without regard for propriety.  Out of the blue yesterday, I started sobbing with incredible sorrow and bitterness for the darker side of doula work.  I am referring to the times we sometimes have to witness abuse and energetically provide a buffer and protection for the sake of peace.  When we are sleep deprived to the point of hallucination, hungry, vulnerable and missing our own babies.  I was so incredibly sad in my concrete knowledge of nineteen years of hospital doula-ing that in general, the system infantilizes and controls women in labour through fear MORE than it respects the sovereignty of a woman over her own birth.  I couldn't see my place anymore, thinking I would forever be swimming upstream, that I was a right idiot for believing I could ever make a difference, a fraud for ever leading my students to believe they could help with an impossible cultural healing. It was a dark, sad, lonely, overwhelming sorrowful place to be in.

I woke up today squirming with the very discomfort of being in my hot flashing, radiation/chemo ravaged body, knowing after a night of absolutely no sleep (a byproduct of no drugs) I had to haul myself to the Breast Imaging Centre at the hospital to check out the lump I noticed a few weeks ago.  I was thinking, "Well, you went and got cervical cancer, it's not a stretch you could have breast cancer too."  I guess I hadn't freaked out before (thanks, drugs) because I figured fate couldn't be so cruel... but honestly, more clear headed now, why the hell not?  There is no immunity in this heaven and abyss of a thing we call bargaining.   Luckily, all was great with the breast exam, so nothing to worry about there.  But will I ever let go and trust the magnificence of my body  again, it having been so sick for so long without my knowing? Will I be able to put down this new feeling of victimization?

Before my husband came to pick me up from the hospital to take me to my osteopath appointment, I bought a couple of second hand novels from the nice old ladies who man the book depot.  In the back of my mind I was thinking, "Maybe I'll read something inspiring, because I'm just not feeling it today."  Ask and receive.

I was lying on my friend's/osteo's table, him just silently holding my head, and I experienced waves and waves and waves of the deepest cellular sorrow, informed by the loss of my place in doula work as well as the erosion of confidence in my body which is now a source of terror to me any time it hurts, bleeds, or produces lumps.  I silently and inwardly grieved the loss of my super power of baby making, the loss of riding the exquisite-delicious hormonal dance of ovulation, the feeling of milk full breasts.  I grieved the birth of horrific body neurosis, and the lack of faith in my ability to remain well, a deep seated fear I may never feel well again and just die.  I have not had such grief since the day I discovered my diagnosis, and that of my mother-in-law, who has lung cancer (we went into the hospital on the same day).

I rode home with my husband, feeling better with having gotten in touch with the tale of my body's woe, the sadness of what I thought might be the futility of my work in a larger context.  These are all very acceptable feelings considering, and better to be moved through in their fullness rather than being numbed out with drugs that are not needed as much anymore. I exited the car, chatted with my neighbour, ran a bath, and began to read one of the books I had bought.

I am not a religious person, but I happened to be reading a book about a nun.  Then a phrase jumped off the page, rallying for my spirit's need for healing Synchronicity to help me out of Loss and Bitterness, giving me the hit of Grace I needed to move through some of this stuff:  "...if we ask..for the strength to endure for the sake of others rather than just ourselves, we discover how powerful love really is."  Just like that, my energy shifted.

My role in birth fell into its rightful place, just with those words.  We are not there essentially for the nicey nicey lovey lovey.  That is just a byproduct of most births and a vicarious reward for our work.  The work of attending birth as a doula in an institution is about channeling love, taking dark hits from the doubters and those who never even knew birth was a sacred event, absorbing them, and shapeshifting it all into peace for the emergence of a soul earthside.  This is how we hold the space. Our presence amps up the oxytocin in the room when it's being fed with fear, control, or manipulation...or even, sadly, out and out abuse.  We don't protect women by being cops and birth plan enforcers...we protect them with steadfast love and unrelenting honour of their sovereignty.  This takes massive amounts of strength and energy.  It is not a job for the faint of heart.  I thought of the team of MotherWit, and am so grateful I am surrounded by STRONG women.  They are compassionate, kind, funny, smart, well spoken...but they are resilient warriors.  They know they have to process the moment to moment stuff that sticks in their gullets and hurts their hearts.  They don't become damaged by the witnessing, they don't get hung up or messed up by things because of sketchy boundaries. They are masters at not getting caught up in counter transference.  They signed up for the work, not just to see pretty home births (though my God, we DO love healing for us). It occurred to me then that I trained them.  I don't take credit for their natural gifts, but I may have had a hand in shaping what their vision of doula work is.  Our numbers grow. Maybe my presence in the doula world is not so futile. Then I thought of the beautiful hawk feather I have, and the words of my favourite medicine man echoed through my head, "In the face of hardship can you remember what you stand for, who you stand for, who you stand with?"  I shake my head about how many times I seem to need reminding these days, but am grateful I keep getting these reminders.  I remember now. My prayers are for the strength to endure so that I can love harder.  Not in a codependent, "If I were just good enough, all the bad things would stop," kind of way, but the, "I don't have any control here, so I'm just going to be present to whatever comes and remain loving, even if that love has to be fierce sometimes," kind of way.|

As far as my body goes, I am doing my best to clear out the webs of neurosis from my head.  I am constantly reassured of my resilience and good health, despite what I've been through.  Had my life been just about me, I truly don't know if I would have subjected my body to such damaging forces, which contain so many risks to my future health.  Chemo?  Radiation?  I always thought I'd say, "no thank you!  I've done a lot with my time.  I'm done with pain now,"  and just slip away in a morphine haze. But when I had my sweet daughter curled in bed with me sobbing with the knowledge she could lose her mother, the thought of my innocent little boy not having me around, my dear husband devastated, he who shows me every day how important and adored I am to him and by him, my mother about to spontaneously combust with her worry for me, my tender friends and crusty friends, equally loved, who let me know in their unique ways all the time how very much they are rooting for my health.....I realized that I have enough love to endure just about anything.  I endure FOR them. I endure BECAUSE of them. Their love illuminates all the things I still have to do and to enjoy, which I may have forgotten had it all been just about me.  I can dig into my resources, trust my intuition, and endure the hard stuff in ways that don't harm me if I can just continue to pay attention and heed the lessons. All of that love exchange is indeed the stuff of healing and miracles..  It is more powerful than anything else I can think of.  It supports and nourishes all the other hard shit I have to do to stay alive and well.

Monday, November 26, 2012


I see it has been a long time since my last blog post. For those who may not know, I was diagnosed with Stage 3B cervical cancer four days after my last entry. To make a long story short, I finished an intensive round of chemotherapy, external radiation, and Brachytherapy (internal radiation), and have been dealing a lot of pain due to double j stents, these soft tube thingies that run from my kidneys to my bladder to keep my ureters open (the cancer had blocked my ureters and caused my kidneys to fail). One has been removed, and the other is coming out tomorrow. There is still an incredible amount of pain in the place the first one was removed. So yeah, I've been through the ringer. Glad to say I am on the road to recovery, though it is slow. I'm not sure what the actual cancer status is at this time, but I have a really positive feeling. The outpouring of love and good wishes from family, friends, neighbours, the Facebook community, and in fact from unknown people all over world has been overwhelming.
What cancer has taught me is not how shitty life is when you are dancing with the Big C (though it's had its moments), but that the Universe is a place where there is always love and support if you can connect with it. There is always some small thing within which to take comfort. There are too many incidences that have shown me how held I am to get too victim-y about this process. I do believe in coincidence. As Freud said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." We don't have to haul out the symbolism for every little thing. But I also do believe in Synchronicity, and that when we ask for it or put it out there, very obvious connections can be made between incidences and their meaning in our lives. I had such a moment last night, and I choose to believe it was a moment of Synchronicity rather than coincidence. When things are coincidence, I tend to react by saying, "Oh, hahaha, that's pretty neat!" When it is Synchronicity, I have a visceral reaction....trembling, maybe some tears, goosebumps. Definitely something on a body level. That could be me wishful thinking. I'm enough of a skeptic to doubt my gut. But when I look back throughout my life and track these incidences, their meaning in my life was always proven somehow. So whether or not I'm being a total flake head, I'm going to trust it. That's my story, and I'm sticking with it.
So yesterday was the last day of the MotherWit Postpartum Douls Training here in Montreal. MotherWit's postpartum doula Millie Tresierra conducted the training. I like to put in an appearance as the Director of MotherWit and a creator of the training, but especially because I've been out of the work loop for a few months and am using all of my energy to heal, I just popped in here and there. Our last exercise of the class was to do a closing ceremony. We do some guided imagery work to bring an opportunity for insight and nourishment to our students, some smudging and clearing, and in this case an intention to put down or give away something in their lives that wasn't needed, and to receive a message or image of something that was needed. Students wanted to give away fear, or the inclination to overdo it, and many received messages of confidence, the need to self nurture, etc. I told them that this intent was living, that if they paid attention, they may find Synchronicity growing in their lives as they aligned more fully with their path. When it came to my turn, I threw some sage into the container where the other things that weren't needed were smouldering and said, "I give away CANCER! I ask for complete and permanent healing." I went home and didn't think much about it.

 To backtrack, though in the vernacular of healing from cancer we use words like "kill, eradicate, kick cancer's ass," etc., I have not actually thought about it in those terms. Instead, I have felt that cancer was part of me that went wild and frenetic, crying strongly for a type of attention I never properly gave to myself, and in fact, often actively turned my back on in a sort of self sabotaging game of "let's watch my own destruction". I know some of you know what I mean, even if you haven't experienced the extreme of cancer in your own bodies. In any case, one day while receiving bodywork on my abdomen, around where the cancer was, I had an incredibly powerful image of an eagle emerging from that place and taking flight. My loose interpretation of Eagle imagery is that it is a symbol of Grace, of the Positive Masculine archetype. While I will never blame anybody for the development of my cancer, I do feel that my cells may have been sensitized, that sensitization nurtured by my own self neglect, by a constant barrage of exposure to manifestations of the Negative Masculine from infancy outwards. If we can often attribute the growth of cancer to an exposure to environmental toxins and lack of proper nourishment through incorrect food choices, I think we shouldn't discount emotional toxicity and lack of soul self-nourishment, these things also definitely contributing to the eroding of our physical health. Do I think everyone who has experienced these kinds of emotional wounds gets cancer of their lady parts? No, of course not. I can only speak for myself. And again, I do not blame. I have had choices, and in fact strong intuitions about my needs...yet again and again chose not to act on them because they may have disrupted other people's lives. I have given away a lot of my power in exchange for everyone else's peace. Lesson learned. In short, I get the sense that my healing is about transforming (not killing) the energy of the Negative Masculine that has harmed so many (including those who perpetrate that archetype) into the Positive Masculine of Grace, Dignity, Connectedness, Wide Perspective, Truth, Protection, a good "Seeing"; birthing it on a deep ancestral level through the emotional, physical, and spiritual work I and others have done and are doing for my cervix, from my Radio-Oncologist to any of you who have known about my illness and sent some healing vibes my way. All of it has promoted a positive transformation. My sense of transforming it is not some lofty idea I've pulled out of my hat to justify an incredibly hard and painful process, but something that has come to me actively through dreams, conversations with others who have shared their dreams about me, images, and yes, Synchronicity. It is what I'm choosing to work with.
The specific moment of Synchronicity I'm speaking of, and you may laugh but there it is, came to me last night while watching Treme. This is an HBO program about life in New Orleans post Katrina. It is my husband's and my favourite show ever, as we both have such a connection to the place, the show even inspiring us to take our first vacation together in twenty years there. It is so funny how the Universe will even speak to us through the medium of television if we're not paying attention otherwise, and speak it did. I think it was the season Finale of Treme last night. The very last scene was of a character named "Chief" Lambreau. This season he was diagnosed with cancer. We see Chief sitting in his LazyBoy chair in the hospital hooked up to his chemo meds. He is all bald and tired looking. Before the show goes to credits you see him pick up a piece of bead embroidery he is working on. With a look of determination, he starts sewing. The image is of an eagle in flight. I could choose to laugh and say, "What a coincidence!" but it would dishonour my process. It would also dishonour my students, who I asked to pay attention to their own incidences of Synchronicity after they released their intentions in ceremony. So I put down my fear of being judged as a flakezoid or a wishful thinker. It may be so. But I am going to take the goosebumps and desire to weep after that Treme scene and run with them. I looked up Eagle Symbolism today just to see what more it might mean, and this is what I got: "Eagle represents a state of grace achieved through hard work, understanding, and a completion of the tests of initiation which result in the taking of one's personal power." I think we're on the right track.
Thanks for listening. Normally I don't post things as personal as this, but so many people have messaged me telling me how they are following my journey and are so happy when I post anything about how my life and dance with cancer is going. Thank you so much for your good thoughts!

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Heart of Sisterhood

A few weeks back, one of my dear MotherWittie colleagues injured herself, and was unable to attend the many births she had scheduled. As doulas, we spend a lot of our energy on volunteering for births for women in need. We have liaisons with organizations which call us up asking for volunteer doula services for teens, refugees, women in shelters, etc., and we will provide that. When my colleague got hurt, pretty much all of us at once decided we would just each take over one of her births for the month. Charity begins at home, and we figured if we can volunteer for other people in the community, it's no stretch to do a birth for a sister in need. We planned to attend the birth, and transfer the payment to her. I just received an email from my dear colleague and I am full of tearful gratitude. I feel loved, cared for, and understood. People out there don't realize that as unregulated, "freelance" workers, if a doula becomes ill or injured, she is out of luck. A sick doula is a broke doula, and many of us depend upon our work intensely to support our families. While we do it for the deep love of birth and families, it is also our bread and butter. I have no words to express my gratitude without being reduced to an embarrassing mess, so I thought I would just show her email to shout out to the world the quality of human beings I have the honour of having in my life. These are the heights of what a doula sisterhood can reach, and I invite you all who do this job to take a look at the healing potential you have not just for the birthing women you serve, but for the women you back up. "Hey Lesley, On Saturday night we talked about a lot of stuff, and one of the things we discussed was you, and how we are worried for you. How difficult it must be to live with chronic pain, how difficult it is for us to see you go through this and know that what we see is only scratching the surface of what you're going through. We see FB posts (5 hours in the tub today? Holy crap), we hear about "the latest" from you when we see you, and we see that you're struggling, and have been for a while, because it's just not getting better. I mentioned how you all came together for me this past month when I needed you, and how much it meant to me. We talked about it and we can do no less for you. We are, every one of us, as happy as can be to take on your client load on a volunteer basis--some of it, all of it, whatever you need right now and until this is resolved. We could each take one a month, for example--even come with you to a prenatal or two so the client knows who we are and that we may well be at their birth. And we are very happy to do it without compensation. You are not well, and it would be an enormous financial hit to bow out of these births, so we can take them on for you. We don't have insurance, but we have each other, and that's even better, if you ask me. You need to get better, and we will help you in any way you need. Love you, Megan My dear friends, I cannot express my thanks enough. I hope I will be well enough to attend my births, but knowing that if I can't, my clients are in wonderful hands is SO reassuring. I put you out there as a shining example of compassion and goodness. Love right back at you.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Rage Diaries

I am trying very hard to reduce my intake of NSAIDs. I have for the last nearly four months been in chronic and increasing back pain. I'm not the type to lie around suffering out of martyrdom when the show must go on, so in order to be functional, I've been hitting the over the counter pain medications pretty hard. But that cannot go on forever (I'm feeling toxic). I'm trying to take more time to sit with this infernal sensation that travels and migrates, and generally causes me a great deal of grief on many levels. So today, not having taken any Naproxin/Aceteminephen combo, my back is paining me something fierce. I've taken to my bed, shifting incessantly trying to get comfortable. Which is not happening. My dog and my laptop are my faithful companions. If I don't put my mind somewhere I will go mad. A friend of mine mentioned the work of John E. Sarno, MD, a retired professor (at 89) of clinical rehabilitation medicine at the New York University School of Medicine. Actually, I think he still teaches, but just recently gave up his clinical practice, which is pretty impressive. I've read a couple of his books, and I will give a brief summary of what might be up with this pain: Dr. Sarno has treated around 12,000 patients who have come to him with pain conditions of one sort or another, armed with CAT scans and MRI's showing erosions, herniated discs, degenerative disease, yada yada yada. His message? It's not proof that what's hurting you is your "diseased" body. Many studies have compared MRIs of people suffering from pain to those who do not experience pain, and there have been no real differences. Many people have spinal abnormalities who do not suffer any pain at all. He asks why on earth would lying on a soft bed or sitting down create excruciating pain in places the material isn't even touching? Why can some people carry their kids around no problem but then be in agony when they try to touch their toes? With decades of clinical experience under his belt and a track record of a 90% cure rate (without surgery or drugs), he says with good authority, "Hogwash". So why the pain? The underlying issue with the epidemic of chronic pain and illness our culture is experiencing now, he feels, is psychosomatic. He uses that term tenderly because he knows some people might interpret it as pejorative, and he in no way means it that way. He very compassionately explains that the debilitating pain many people are suffering is indeed real, but way more than should be justified by their "injuries". What he uses as treatment, very effective treatment it seems if 90% out of 12,000 have been incredibly relieved is this message: What you are experiencing is Tension Myocitis Syndrome (TMS), which is basically a harmless but excruciatingly painful deprivation of oxygen to the site of suffering. He believes this because every healing modality which brings oxygen to the affected area like deep massage, passive movement, TENS, stretching, and warmth, brings temporary relief. So the big question is why? Why are we suffering? And why is it that whenever many of us enjoy a cure of one thing, something else creeps up to replace it? I see people OBSESSED with chasing down the absolutely perfect diet to heal their tummy and behavioural troubles, people going to every possible bodyworker out there to find "the" right modality to heal their body's mysterious suffering, people downing anti anxiety meds for their panic attacks (all part of the TMS picture). Of course they are, they are desperate for relief! I myself have been on this hamster wheel all my life. I have suffered some kind of chronic pain or health issue since early childhood...."nervous tummy" (as a kid I couldn't go out of the house without getting stress nausea), as I got older I developed a bad case of OCD in which I counted every breath and swallow I ever took in sets of five. I studied psychology at the time and by learning about it, got it way under control naturally and it ceases to be a problem today. When that stopped, I developed chronic throat issues. I was emaciated and ill from constant tonsilitis and was a wreck from all the antibiotics. I got my tonsils out and then serious IBS started once I got to enjoy relief in my throat. That continued for many many years, sometimes the pain so awful (I've had several babies naturally, so I know real pain) and scary, I'd pass out and end up in the hospital. Interspersed with this was always some area of chronic, annoying musculo/skeletal pain and/or anxiety issue, as well as never ending insomnia. But the muscular pain at that time wasn't debilitating, because the IBS was taking care of was just annoying...enough to be a distraction sometimes. As I got older, I started developing migraines (sometimes the see auras, pukey type) around my cycle. I finally got really really serious about my health and cut out all wheat, sugar, bad oils and chemicals, and started training for a half marathon. I felt on top of the world. My IBS was totally under control and the migraines were GONE (and continue to be), as well as the chronic upper back and neck annoyances. Plus, I was looking like a very in shape hottie for a mother of four, if I do say so myself. Then, just around the time I was really finding my groove as a runner, reveling in good health and loads of energy in my 40's I NEVER had in my 20's, I started developing some severe perimenopausal symptoms and this hideous back pain that has me in bed now (by the way, I caved and took some Tylenol...couldn't think anymore). I have had a uterine biopsy, pelvic/abdominal ultrasound, x-ray, cultures, and blood tests. Nothing unusual. I am waiting for an MRI, but being in Canada, unless I fork out the cash to pay for it out of pocket (yes, I have private insurance that will cover it, but having a largish family, that dent would be sorely missed in the interim), my appointment is in May of next year, I kid you not. So this happy, healthy, in shape person has been, within the space of a few months, transformed into a badly anemic, agony suffering, and I'll admit pretty depressed person. I could run 21 K without a problem, now I can't walk without wanting to faint and am breathless after 2 stairs. I used to fling my kids around and could assume yoga positions that would rival a contortionist, and now can't even sit for more than 5 minutes without whining. Why? Why would my pain be increasing if I haven't run since the pain began? A human being can snap a bone and it will heal within a matter of weeks. I've had my tonsils ripped out of my throat, and it healed no problem, but it makes me tired to speak now. And no, it's not age, because chronic pain is much more prevalent in people under fifty or sixty. Logically it would get worse and worse into the senior years if our bodies went kaput after a certain time. But it doesn't. This is what I have gleaned from reading Dr. Sarno's book The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain, and I imagine this message delivered personally to all those whose health has been checked thoroughly to rule out serious disease (because sadly, that does exist), but continue to suffer, by this kindly great-grandfather type, patient and chock full of wise experience: Your conscious mind presents itself to the world in one way (a good person who tries to do the right thing, or a perfectionist, or a "type A"), but at the expense of the expression of your unconscious mind, which is like a tantrumy 3 year old vying for attention. In order for your conscious mind to reign supreme and maintain your good image and thoughts of yourself, your ratty little subconscious "must" be stopped from wreaking emotional havoc. The body (specifically the brain) acts as a mitigating force between the unconscious mind's repressed intense "negative" emotions and the conscious mind. Basically, the body creates TMS to distract you from harsh emotions, namely rage, that threaten to injure the image you have of yourself and ensure the world has of you. Sure, change your diet, get exercise, and you'll find healing in one form or another. Until.... For example, here is the plight of regular mom: sure, you love your kids and would die for them, but there's a bit of a taboo about moms saying, "I'm feeling goddamn resentful of my brat today, who didn't leave my boobs alone all night and now I'm angry and exhausted and wish he had an off button." No, instead you LOVE breastfeeding and BELIEVE in the beauty of attachment parenting (and you DO...just not every freakin' second, but you don't like to admit it to yourself or others). It's all about the kid, after all, and you try so hard to be a great mother. So you repress those "unacceptable" feelings of anger, and you have a chronically sore neck and skin break outs. You may get on top of them with herbs and homeopathy and diet changes. But if you are a sufferer of TMS, which, though it feels physical is entirely psychological, guess what? Something else will creep up. Dr. Sarno has seen it time and time again. My first reaction to the kindly doctor's message was, "You're a quack, Sarno! You're saying this pain is potentially all in my head?! That I have a raging psychotic three year old inside who, because my body checks her expression, causes me all these horrible symptoms?! Boo!!!!" Sarno's reassuring answer is "No, it's not all in your head. That would be demeaning for sufferers to believe that of themselves. I trust the pain is extremely real. But it's not harmful, and you are not really injured or ill if all tests have come back normal. Look back at your history." And I sheepishly have to say, maybe the guy is right. I mean, it wouldn't hurt to try his method, right? It's cost free, and the greatest risk is that nothing will change. There's also a chance I might heal. It's not like I'm eschewing seeing my family physician (who is AWESOME) to keep on top of things. So why not? And what is the good doctor's method, you may ask? It is to emphatically shift belief gears, to know on a deep gut level, that there is nothing seriously wrong, that the pain is simply TMS, a sensation brought about by a harmless, slight deprivation of oxygen to the paining area. It is important to know the symptoms are born of psychological reasons, namely the body's kind attempt to repress the socially unacceptable emotions of rage, shame, grief, etc. One does not have to change one's personality, or to go into a fit of primal screaming, but to simply be aware that repressed emotions are the root cause of the suffering. Not the every day rages we feel (though they certainly exacerbate pain), but the ones we don't know about or are loathe to admit to ourselves lest they ruin our Polly Anna image. It means talking to our brains and saying, "Hey, Brain, I know what you're doing! I know you're trying to create subterfuge, but guess what? I'm in control now, and it's not working. In fact, since we're communicating here, why don't you send some extra oxygen over to this hurting place?" When our conscious minds have full access to all of our psyche and can process things honestly, perhaps the culture of unconscious minds will shift to be less needful of reacting with rage to things. But for now, it is what it is, and we are quite underdeveloped in that realm. Sarno asks us to take time daily to reflect upon these principles, that by going over his instructions, the brain will "get" the message, and stop feeling the need to repress the emotions. It takes time, but for many, just reading his books have evoked a cure, the message of empowerment that strong a medicine. Pretty cool. And he insists, for all those naysayers, this is not a placebo effect. It is real, clinical medicine, simply created by the mind. In fact, he believes it is usually the back surgeries and physiotherapy for the boo boos that are placebos. He warns that if you are a sufferer of the psychological condition of TMS, something else will start hurting eventually, until the brain stops interfering with the unconscious emotions. More of his instructions: When the sufferer feels safe to do so, knowing on a cellular level there is nothing actually wrong, she MUST assume all regular activity. To baby one's back or allergies or tummy is to acknowledge that what's going on is physical, and it's just not. Stopping therapies that focus on structural healing is also important, or obsessing about what's causing allergies, etc. is crucial. Here is where I differ from Sarno and would argue with him: he believes giving up one's chiro, acupuncturist, osteo, physio, homeopath etc. is important. This may be true if all these people were doing were trying to affect a structural cure (he is a medical doctor, after all, so is interpreting energy medicine in a very earthy, clinical way, which it isn't always). But from experience I believe much of this work is deeply energy based, and creates access to the somato-emotional links that are behind many health issues. I think this approach, however, must be intended by the client and the practitioner, which is how I enter into receiving and giving bodywork. I call my massage table "The Confessional" and have mopped away rivers of tears of grief and anger that create space and resources to access greater energy for healing. That's just my two cents. So that's Sarno's work in a nutshell. His books are a few hours read and much food for thought. I'm willing to give it a go, so I have been starting a Rage Diary, as instructed, to write down my life pressures from where I began 'til now. I look around globally at my many doula sisters on Facebook, and regard the beautiful nurses I get to work with in hospitals as a doula, and I am deeply saddened by how much many of them suffer from chronic physical ailments. So many nurses are barely functional from back pain. Many doulas and midwives too, myself now included as one of those "back pain people". I've been thinking about the root of that in relation to women working within this technocratic birth culture, and I have a bit of a whackadoo theory if you care to hear me out. Maybe it's pain talking, maybe it's real. It's just a thought. Birth used to be women caring for women almost exclusively. Medicine came along and usurped that, desecrating the traditional knowledge female healers and midwives had. The archetype of the Sacred Feminine was destroyed in many ways quite effectively, turning many practitioners of midwifery, herbalism, and ceremony into stake fodder. This is a historical truth. During "The Burning Times", a period of about three hundred years, generated by The Crusades and The Inquisition (Ah, Religion), millions of people were murdered, the vast majority of them women. So much knowledge has been heartbreakingly lost. The dedication of Anne Freye's book Holistic Midwifery Part I is to those lost midwives, and I have known many a birth worker, even medical ones, to feel the ancient tug of a heartstring at these words: To my sister Healers Witches Wise Women Midwives Who for hundreds of years Were burned and tortured and died by the millions as your children looked on. To those who locked arms and walked into the sea Rather than submit to the inquisitor's torments. For the wisdom that went with you Mostly unwritten, but never forgotten. For all you knew and shared The care you gave And the courage it took To continue in the face of truly Overwhelming odds, For your strength; a source of continuing inspiration To you, dear Sisters, I dedicate this book. Parts of this process of the domination of patriarchal knowledge over women's bodies can obviously be seen in our hospital birthing culture. And I don't mean that patriarchal has to do only with men, it's just an approach, a paradigm. You just have to witness this once to see evidence of this belief system in action: a woman, perhaps a mother of several children, yells, "The Baby is coming!" only to be examined by an often young childless medical resident,confined to a place and position she'd really rather not be but submits for the sake of this clinician, found to be a number of dilation, station, and effacement, deemed that it is clinically improbable that she could feel a baby heading for her vagina at this point in time, and told "No, your baby is not coming yet." (then Doula catches the baby who falls out in one push about a minute after the resident walks out the door). Subtle evidence of Power Over Birther is everywhere, no matter what positive things we say about technological advances, justified by how it's all so much safer for Mom and Baby. Now clearly while I have some issues with it, I don't want to knock the advent of a patriarchal participation in childbirth, because many advances have created the opportunity for more living mothers and babies. I feel that our home births are safer now because if things go south fast, the trusty hospital with excellent surgeons and technicians can get us out of a pickle and save us and our babies if we so choose. Medicine has much to share in terms of knowledge and support of the birthing process and for healing sick mothers and babies, and many midwives keep up to date with medical skills so they are better prepared for emergencies. Many doctors are curious about "older" ways of baby catching, and are open to learning from midwives who practice more traditionally. All good stuff when applied properly. So when used in balance, the marriage of Matriarchy and Patriarchy can be a wonderful thing in any given birthing room, no matter who the practitioner. One doesn't need to usurp the other, though essentially it clearly culturally leans strongly in favour of a more masculine approach. For now. We're working on it. By being a normal birth advocate, I'm not saying we should get rid of Medicine and that all women should birth at home. Not at all. But witch hunts aren't entirely over. On both ends, now. Until that stops and we value both sides and create a good partnership, mothers and babies suffer. Until then, there is much to emotionally process. Anyhow, this is to say in my infinitely tangential way that I think many female birth workers carry around a lot of rage not just for the authority over women's mysteries that were taken from them beginning centuries ago (call it an ancestral grudge), but also because of the here and now atrocities that are performed sometimes. And I think it causes them pain. We see women push massive babies out of of their pelvises and most heal up just fine. We see Cesareans, being cut deeply into the body, and they usually heal without too many lasting effects. Epidural needles are jabbed into a sensitive place, perineums are cut, and while for sure there is risk of injury, MOST of the time, people end up reasonably physically okay. Is the fact that birth workers are on our feet a lot, lifting things, running around, etc. REALLY at the root of why we have so much pain, as the stories of birth workers with pain believe? I mean, that's all in a day's work, and our ancestors had it a lot harder, eeking food out of fickle Earth, not having any time to chill in front of Facebook, not having chiropractors and Tylenol, etc. Yet doubtfully they suffered chronically and physically as we do. Here is where I can suddenly see a caged, rabid 3 year old in a fit of rage dying to come out and beat people up: as a doula, I am probably one of the most diplomatic folks you know. A lot of doulas and midwives are. I'm told time and time again, "Wow, you see the good in everything." And on a conscious level, I actually do. I stand by my feelings that there is not a lot of healing in contempt of different birthing "camps", and that by building bridges between a Matriarchal and Patriarchal approach to childbirth, we can create happier parents, better outcomes, etc. I absolutely do feel that every woman has the right to choose the best birth for her if she can, and deserves love and support for those choices, even if they're not the choices I would make. I take offense to many hospital routines that impinge upon the normal process of birth, but don't think it's done out of malice. I try very hard to understand where that side is coming from and have compassion for their position. And I think I truly do succeed with a full heart. I work hard on being a conscious person, looking for Higher Road choices and regarding people with love. But it probably means there's some pretty heavy anger build up lurking too in the psyche of the conscientious birth worker. Because our conscious minds are not the same as our unconscious minds. I try NOT to project anger and judgement onto situations, and I think the situations fare better for it. That is one level of living. But the anger that naturally ensues from witnessing perceived injustice or abuse HAS to go somewhere if there is no space to process it in the moment, because higher consciousness actions must occur to heal a situation. So apparently that repressed energy is going towards creating strong physical pain. Just watch night shift nurses clutching their backs and shoulders between treating patients, especially if there's an attending doctor they're not too fond of yet can't rear up against for fear of losing their job. As I said, I am keeping a Rage Diary, and I encourage my doula trainees to keep one too, if they might want to prevent their health and quality of life from being harmed by unprocessed anger. Anyone suffering from chronic pain that has not been diagnosed as a dangerous disease might want to do so too. I can see my "good" self struggling all the time with projecting myself into the world as a decent, loving human. And that's fine. Projecting rage onto someone doesn't help anyone. But I'm real too. And if I don't own my emotional reactions and give that 3 year old a safe, loving space to tantrum, I won't be able to continue my work. Even when I write my blog I'm conscious of everyone who might be reading, and try not to create too many waves. I think there are probably doctors, nurses, midwives, friends, my mom, clients, religious conservative folks etc. who are reading this, so I have to be "good" and not create waves. But this is probably not helping my pain much, as it makes me less "real". If you only knew how many times, when repression breaks through and rage sets in, that I want to rant, "Do you know what I just saw that fucking douche bag do to that baby?!" Or how sad i get sometimes when, after explaining all the benefits of breastfeeding to a client they end up formula feeding from the get go because despite my Herculean efforts, they have no faith in their miraculous breasts or would rather enjoy the freedom of bottles and formula more. Or how I feel that I want to hurt someone when I see rushed fingers "making more room" for Baby to come out (because God forbid those hands can't be sat upon with patience), thus contributing to perineal pain and trauma I see my poor clients suffering terribly with when I visit them at home. Or when my family know I'm suffering and the house falls entirely apart without my ability to participate in its upkeep. My conscious mind accepts these things and processes them through lenses of compassion and unconscious mind, like all unconscious minds (and we all have them), gets right pissed off. And that's okay. It's got to go somewhere, right? So from now on, instead of pretending I'm a saint who is not enraged by things and can simply let things flow off the loving aura of my conscious self, I'm going to own it down and dirty in a little black book (but NOT like Stuntman Mike's black book, if you've seen the film Death Proof!!). And I pray this will help to heal the pain my body carries to try to prove in futility to itself I'm not an illogicial, irrational, walking human dichotomy like everyone else. If you made it to the end of this long ramble, thanks for listening. It was good therapy.