August 13, 2019

Birthing From Within Postcard Exchange 2019

I signed up to do a postcard exchange with other Birthing From Within mentors and doulas this summer.

Assignment: create four postcards to share with four sibling mentors/doulas.

I decided to use watercolor colored pencils on card stock.  I began by writing words from songs floating around in my head on each quarter of the page:

Then I decorated or illuminated each lyric, adding some more words as I went:

From here, I plan to print a postcard formatted thing on the back, cut it up into four pieces, and send them off.  I know they won't be perfectly divided - I didn't write and draw exactly proportionally.

What I want to print on the back is a way for people to access information about the songs in case they want to learn more.  And also because I'm doing this while at a 15 hour workshop on multicultural inclusion and I'm very aware of what I am doing here as borrowing, art built on other people's art.  I want to honor the sources I drew on and direct people to those sources wherever possible.

It's hard to fit that much information on a postcard.  So I'm doing this blog post so I can put the link on the postcard to keep it simple.

Starting in the upper right corner, going clockwise around the page, the songs are:

The Eye by Brandi Carlisle from her album The Firewatcher's Daughter.  Available from major streaming services.  This lyric speaks to me about many things in my life but also about the way people in labor can dive into the center of the experience of intensity and dance through it (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively).

We Are by Sweet Honey in the Rock.  The link is a to a video of a woman who choreographed interpretive dance based on ASL to the song. Originally recorded on their album Sacred Ground, and available from major streaming services.  This lyric is a reminder to me that every child born is a holy child.  

The Underground Stream by Mary Grigolia.  The link is to me singing the part of the song which was in my head as I couldn't find any existing videos.  The words are a quote from the Sikh/Hindu/Muslim 15th century mystic poet Kabir.  This lyric reminds me of the many kinds of knowing, and that for me, the inner knowing of my heart is one of the most important kinds.

The last quarter sheet has words from three different chants.  On the edges are words from Opening by Mary Grigolia.  Again the link is to me singing the song.  In the center are A Circle is Cast which I learned from the Libana album by the same name, although I suspect it is an old/traditional round.  Available from major streaming services.  And We Are a Circle, which as far as I can tell is an old/traditional round.  I remembered the words as "there is a circle" rather than "we are a circle" for some reason.  These song lyrics evoke the labyrinthine, spiraling nature of birth and living for me.

AND ... then I messed up.  When I went to print a postcard layout on the back of my images, despite carefully doing a sample print first ... I printed on the images.  

In my defense, I spent the last two days and nights at a very long, very arduous birth.  I am tired.  But oh, my goodness, how frustrating.  "Mama, what if I tried to carry our eggs, our precious ptarmigan eggs, and I tried to be careful, but I tripped and fell and all the eggs broke?" (from Mama, Do You Love Me by Barbara Joose).

I am resilient and persistent.  I printed (at great length; our printer has its foibles) the image I took for this blog post, and printed (on the back this time) the layout.  I regret to say that the colors are not as bright as on my original artwork, the edges not as defined or sharp.  I cut them out.  I put them in the envelope for mailing.

Then I went and read the directions.  (This is unlike me.  Normally I am a read-the-directions-first kind of person.  I may or may not follow them, but I do usually read them before starting the project.)

Apparently my artwork was supposed to be about crossing the threshold.

Sigh.  This artwork, friends, is not about crossing the threshold.  It is about birth and birth work.  I hope you enjoy it, mentor colleagues!

I guess I would say my reflection on thresholds and how they relate to this project is that you don't always know when you're crossing the threshold.  Sometimes it takes a while to be able to look back and see the turning point, the gateway you walked through in the dark, the bridge you crossed on a foggy night.  You can shoulda-woulda-coulda yourself about ways you may wish you hadn't taken.  Or you can become aware of the twists and turns you've taken, accept that where you are now is where you are, and make choices about how to act going forward.  I'm choosing to send the postcards on as planned, despite their shortcomings.  They are enough.  I am enough, tired and behind as I am with my children fighting over me like dogs over a bone after my 4 day absence.  Progress, not perfection, gets you closer to the next threshold.

January 8, 2017


Sometimes you ask me whether I have backup.

Sometimes you don't, and I tell you anyway, when you ask me if there's anything you should be asking me about that you haven't.

Backup is really important to me, to you, and to your birth.

I have attended well over 60 births as a doula at this point.

During two of those births, I called a backup to come for some of the time.  Once it was because I wasn't going to be able to get to the birth for a few hours; once it was because in the middle of a 36-hour labor I had a workshop scheduled for my other job that I couldn't cancel or get a substitute to lead.

I have missed 3 births entirely, which were attended by backup doulas instead of me.  One of those times was because I was on vacation and the family knew that I might be when they hired me and we had a specific plan about who would come if I couldn't.  In fact, that doula was with another client and called ANOTHER doula as backup.  Everybody was happy.  Except me; I was really disappointed.  Partly that was because it had been the vacation from ... well, not hell, but definitely heck.  My kids had been really sick, I had fallen down the stairs and bruised my tailbone, etc.  Partly it was just the first time that had happened to me and I wasn't mentally prepared.  The next time, I had two moms in labor at the same time in different hospitals.  I am told by other doulas that sometimes if both moms are in labor at the SAME hospital, it works out and you don't necessarily have to call in backup, but nobody can be in two places at once.  Again, everybody was satisfied (including me.)  Most recently, I got a call while on about hour 6 of a 24 hour drive home from vacation.  My client who wasn't due for another 3+ weeks had just had her water break all over everything at work (classic!)  I spent the next couple of hours on the phone finding a backup, because it was close to the holidays and a lot of people were unavailable for one reason or another.  But a backup I did find, and she went, and later the client texted me that the backup doula was AMAZING and I said, of course, I knew she would be.

I have also gone to births as the backup for several doula sisters.  Once just for part of the labor, until the doula could come from the other labor she was at.  Seven times the whole labor or at least most of it including the birth itself.  I actually love attending births as a backup.  I don't have the (mental) stress of knowing I'm on call (usually) and I get to come into the birth process and sort of prove to myself what I can do, even with no background in who this particular family is and what they want - extreme doulaing - figure out how to support, build rapport, meet needs, and facilitate clear communication by the seat of my pants.

Right now I am part of the Philly Doula Coop, which means I have built in backup from a group of doulas I know well and trust completely.  I also regularly trade back up with Kate from BellyWise who I have the pleasure of seeing weekly at our kids' homeschool coop, and back up Lori from Delco Doula.  But I've been called out of the blue by doulas I only know through professional groups on Facebook, too.  That's maybe less than ideal in some ways, but it is a manifestation of grace; as a doula, if I am needed and I can possibly provide the support without hurting myself or my family, I will go.

July 17, 2016

Process Paintings

Images created during process painting sessions over the past year.

January 19, 2015

Inanna's Tears

Inanna's TearsInanna's Tears by Rob Vollmar

Interesting perspective on what one temple of Inanna might have been like. I wish more information were included about how the author and illustrator decided what to portray - everything from the characterizations to the storyline to the art to the politics. There is a bit at the end about the clothes, etc., but that's not what I was most interested in.

View all my reviews

Inanna Lady of the Largest Heart: Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess Enheduanna

Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart: Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess EnheduannaInanna, Lady of Largest Heart: Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess Enheduanna by Enheduanna

Fascinating discussion of these original texts! I was especially interested in the connections between Inanna and Lilith/eve. I'm not sure I agree with the author's interpretations, but I understand them. To me, the Inanna of the first poem seems childish and petulant; in the second poem I wonder if the priestess is being punished not by Inanna but by Nanna (for raising Inanna above him); and in the third I also wonder if the voice isn't more whiny than not (although indeed terrible things seem to have befallen Enheduanna).

"As a doorpost, Inanna guards the passageway between two worlds, the outside ordinary world and the inside sacred womb-shaped sanctuary that shelters the abundant harvest." p. 14

"While Inanna's polarities and contradictions generate creativity, they also provoke insecurity, disruption, and terror. Social disorder can be violent and destructive. Primitive rivalries and genocide can erupt in the most advanced societies. Sexual freedom and the blurring of gender boundaries can rouse the hatred of those whose beliefs are threatened." p. 21

"She sanctions sexuality in its many forms as the surging of the life force itself. To suppress a viable expression of sexuality, such as same-sex unions would be anti-life to Inanna and would go against the creative force of her nature." P. 164

View all my reviews

Narrative Medicine: the Use of History and Story in the Healing Process

I am back in the saddle, so to speak, returning to active work on completing my certification with Birthing From Within! This book is one of the required readings for the Inanna section of the process; it was an amazing read. It applies to so many parts of my life. I'd love to give it to several family members to read, and I know I will use the lens it provides in my work, and in my personal life. Narrative Medicine: The Use of History and Story in the Healing ProcessNarrative Medicine: The Use of History and Story in the Healing Process by Lewis Mehl-Madrona

p. 6 "We can be multicultural, using several different anthologies of belief. When we compare and contrast different knowledge systems, we learn what we prefer and how practical a given approach is for our particular context."

Description of study on which doctors get sued & which don't on p. 8 - wow!

p. 15 "We use survival curves and statistics to talk about disease as if it were independent of the people who have it and their stories. This so-called natural history approach is grounded in the idea that the patient and her family and culture have no relevance to survival. It usually ignores the stories of the 3 percent a the far end of the survival curve who live much longer than the mean."

P. 36 "to be a good criminal, drug addict, schizophrenic, or gang member is often more accessible than achieving the American dream."

P. 47 "I am in awe of how the mainstream has stripped nature of its power. I can't understand why so many humans insist on being so isolated and alone. Perhaps it makes them feel powerful."

P. 88 "unlike conventional medicine, narrative medicine is postmodern. It cannot be sure of itself. It relies upon diversity to sort out what works and what doesn't. It is forever a mixture of all the voices that song it into being."

P. 101 "what if we move away from medicine as a natural science and toward medicine as a systems science ...?"

P. 171 "We can't assume that the information we think we are getting from spirit communication is correct. Even when I do things that could be called psychic, I don't assume I am psychic. I just happened to stumble into a conversation with non-physical entities. I could distort or mishear. I could misinterpret. I could be hearing someone else's conversation. My purpose is to start a dialogue. It is through the dialogue that meaning emerges, not through my actions or knowledge or expertise."

P.183 "I prefer the underlying assumption of narrative medicine (that we can change) to those of conventional biomedicine (that we are prisoners of our genetics and our biology.)"

P. 204 "Knowledge ... Cannot be separated from the conversation going on between the people involved. Knowledge is not separate from society."

What I am doing (especially as a doula, but also as a childbirth mentor and as a religious educator) is making connections between all the different narratives present in parents' lives. I connect/interpret the medical narrative to the personal growth narrative to the family narrative, the mom's narrative with the dad's narrative, etc.

Also, the healing process he is describing is a process that always starts with acceptance - that this is how things are and that we aren't controlling what will happen, simply doing what appears to be the next right thing to do.

February 24, 2012

My first child's 8th birthday

Today is my oldest son's 8th birthday.  Yesterday and the day before I wasn't feeling great and I found myself reading birth story after birth story on the internet.  As I became aware of what I was doing, I wondered why the heck I was doing it.  I like birth stories; obviously birth is important to me; but I don't normally read piles of strangers' birth stories one after another like eating chocolates from a box.  This morning I realized that maybe the 8th anniversary of my first birth-giving experience was a good reason to be indulging in this mild extravagance.

Tonight I opened up the file with his birth story in it.  I hadn't re-read it in a long time.  I'm not going to post it all here, although it is posted somewhere on  I don't think I'm comfortable having it out in the internet transparently identified with me the real person and I'm sure my 8 year old son would be horrified by it being clearly identified with him.

It was interesting reading for me, though.  I've changed a lot in some ways in the past 8 years.  My life has changed a lot.  What I noticed most was the voice I used in telling the story, and how it conforms to a common narrative voice used in a lot of birth stories available for everyone to read on the internet.  Very positive, sophisticated in a way, but utterly naive in others.  Although I don't think I wrote anything that wasn't true, I also didn't write a lot of things that were true.  I think partly this was because I was writing it to share on MDC, and had a public persona to live up to in some ways there.  And also partly because there were truths that I didn't necessarily know - at least not consciously - at that time.

This paragraph at the very end of the story does ring true to me now.  It is naive in some ways, but that naivete is true to who I was at that time.  It states pretty succinctly how I felt about the birth in the first year or more after it:

"Looking back now, from five months later, I think it was a wonderful birth for all of us who were present.  As we wrote in our birth announcements: Born at home, we welcome him with great love and joy and gratitude.  I am so grateful that I had no fear of giving birth or of giving birth outside of a hospital.  I was born at home myself 27 years ago and was present at the home births of my two brothers, and one of Moose’s four siblings was born at home as well.  I am so grateful that I was not afraid of pain.  I have had a lot of pain, physical and emotional, in my life, and I knew that I don’t like pain but that I can go through it.  When people ask me, I say that of course there was pain in giving birth, but there was no suffering.  The pain was for a purpose and my body and mind and spirit all knew it.  Suffering is pain with no reason or no good reason for being.  I am so grateful that I had wonderful, amazing support from my partner as I gave birth and that he has blossomed in many ways into a wonderful father since then.  I am so grateful that I had my mother with me, and my dog as my “doula”.  I am so grateful that I was able to have a skilled, legal, caring midwife and assistant at the birth (and our insurance even paid for most of it!).  I am so grateful that our baby was born healthy, whole, and without ever being exposed to narcotics or other drugs.  And of course, our son - his life, his presence, his being - is continuous and reciprocal and amazing love and joy."

I am still grateful for my child and our family and so many things.  I also recognize that gratitude and frustration, confusion, and struggle can co-exist.  They are all part of love.

I love you, W!  Happy Birthday!

July 28, 2011

Mother Food: Lactogenic Food & Herbs for Milk Production and for a Mother's and her Baby's Health

Mother Food by Hilary Jacobson is an interesting resource, but not an interesting read.  Her purpose is laudable - but it really is "compiled as an informational guide".  There is not much of a narrative, but for the sake of so much information, that's easy to forgive.

June 25, 2011

Birth: the Surprising History of How We Are Born

Birth: the Surprising History of How We Are Born by Tina Cassidy definitely feels like what it is - an overview written by a journalist.  Journalists are by trade and often personality disposed to facts over feelings, the story over one's opinions about the story.  And this book is pretty thoroughly non-judgmental.  Since I am not, in the privacy of my own mind, non-judgmental about the history of birth, it was an interesting difference of perspective for me.

One factoid that stuck out at me from the book was the description of the surgical procedure called symphyseotomy, where a doctor would cut through the soft tissues of the mother's genitalia, and then manually separate the cartilage in her pubic bone to create a wider opening for the baby to come through.  This was (and in some places where a cesarean is radically unsafe or simply unavailable, still is) used as an alternative to  unsafe cesareans before anesthesia and an understanding of preventing infection. A third of the mothers and half of the babies died, but this was apparently a better mortality rate than cesareans could offer at the time.  I'm not sure I'd ever read about this before, but it is truly horrifying to me.

The other factoid that stuck out is related.  I know I had read about how rickets deformed women's pelvises and led to the need for such horrific - and desperate - measures, but I hadn't remembered the details.  Pelvic openings of 2 inches.  Yikes.  And no 99% effective birth control other than simply never having intercourse.  Double yikes.  I did like the (probably anecdotal) story from several hundred years ago about the father who performed a cesarean on his wife and took out her ovaries himself to make sure he would never be in that situation again.  I can so imagine that, and it feels so different than the similar stories from a generation or two ago about doctors deciding to take the uterus and ovaries out after a cesarean.

Worth reading, for sure.  Not my favorite ever based on lack of emotional appeal and any sense of activism whatsoever.

April 10, 2011

9 Weeks and The End

The last of my postcard exchange images:

Two of my family members and one of my colleagues are expecting babies in October or November this year.  I decided to do colored pencil studies of what their babies might look like at this point in their pregnancies.  This is 9 weeks.

I should mention that I'm behind on posting these so they are no longer at this # of weeks.

April 9, 2011

12 Weeks

For the postcard exchange . . .

Two of my family members and one of my colleagues are expecting babies in October or November this year.  I decided to do colored pencil studies of what their babies might look like at this point in their pregnancies.  This is 12 weeks.

I am a bit behind on posting these - they aren't at this number of weeks anymore.

April 8, 2011

13 Weeks

For the postcard exchange:

Two of my family members and one of my colleagues are expecting babies in October or November this year.  I decided to do colored pencil studies of what their babies might look like at this point in their pregnancies.  This is 13 weeks.  

I should mention that I'm a tad bit behind posting these - so they aren't at these weeks anymore.