December 28, 2008

The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation

This little book by Thich Nhat Hanh is a classic now, and I've read it before (for my other credential in religious education, now that I come to think about it . . .) It is very restful reading, but also zestful and inspiring.

Nhat Hanh's teaching stories and descriptions are a good way to start to understand what the practice of mindfulness is. But actually doing the suggested meditations are a better way to find that understanding.

Although I do not practice mindfulness meditation in a formal way, I do practice it informally. Perhaps I would be a better, more whole person if I did do it formally. But it does help me even practiced informally.

I was first introduced to the practice not by this book, but at a retreat I attended. The facilitator was a teacher and practitioner of mindfulness. During the retreat I experienced a true change in awareness about a problem I was struggling with. I experienced the value of staying present with a feeling all the way through, rather than trying to escape it or deny it or change it. I have never forgotten that experience or lesson. It was very powerful, and I don't think I ever will forget it.

Re-reading The Miracle of Mindfulness did make me realize that I would like to read something specifically about parenting mindfully, as I find this little quote from a song which Nhat Hanh shares very true: "Hardest of all is to practice the Way at home, second in the crowd, and third in the pagoda."

December 15, 2008

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth is the book I think everyone who is expecting a baby should read. Period.

Yes, even more so than Birthing From Within.

It is so accessible for so many different kinds of people who are going to want and choose all kinds of different things for their births. And it is so wise.

I can't be critical about it, really. I just love it so much. Even if all people read are the birth stories (which make up the first half of the book) they will learn so much about what is possible in birth. And then, Ina May Gaskin is just a truly Wise Woman. So the second half of the book, which is Ina May explaining why birth works the way it does and what your choices within and outside of the medical establishment are likely to be, is also wonderful and mind-eye-heart opening for anyone.

December 3, 2008

The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth

The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer is one of the most commonly referenced books by people who are interested in natural birth and want to share that interest with someone else (i.e., "what book should I give my cousin who is pregnant and wants to learn about her options?") I can see why. It's an excellent resource, full of useful information, conveyed in a way that is very acceptable to highly educated, intelligent women. It appeals to me, as one of those women.

You can see the table of contents and some sample chapters here.

My one caveat is that it is very information focused. It's not about how to make decisions from the heart; it's about how and why to make decisions from the mind. This is very helpful for people who need to persuade their minds to follow what their hearts are telling them, or who need to persuade family members or friends to support them in following what they know with their minds or hearts to be right for them. It doesn't encourage delving deeper. But that's what Birthing From Within is for :-)

November 24, 2008

The Birthing From Within Keepsake Journal

There is still one opening in the December class listed below. If you're interested, please contact me ASAP!

If you register for this or any other class I mentor, you will receive a copy of Our Birthing From Within Keepsake Journal by Pam England. It's a kind of a workbook. We won't start on page one and work through it in class or anything - it's not meant to be a syllabus for Birthing From Within classes. But we'll use some part of it occasionally, and otherwise, it's a gift for you (and your partner if you have one) to explore as you have the time and energy. It asks you to journal, to learn a little bit, and to communicate with your baby and your partner.

I love the idea of the Journal and I love the content. I am not totally thrilled about the format, because I, personally, work much better with a blank page than with lines and decorative borders when I am trying to journal. But this is a very petty complaint. If you are like me, feel free to get yourself a nice blank book to use when actually doing the exercises in the book, or some nice art paper, and just treat the Journal itself as a guide.

October 18, 2008

The Healing Labyrinth: Finding Your Path to Inner Peace

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? I have; they have become en vogue in the past decade or so in Unitarian Universalist circles. I have found peace in them, and a way of moving from uncertainty to some knowing of myself. I like them, but I've never led ritual in them. I really liked this book by Helen Raphael Sands in most ways. She does a good job of explaining what labyrinths are, where they come from, and what you can do with them. Also how to make them.

I like the way she sets forth the four parts of a labyrinth journey: The Threshold, Journeying In, The Resting Place, and Journeying Out. I love the pictures - wonderful photographs and a few illustrations grace this volume.

I'm a bit leary of the cross-cultural aspect of labyrinths. I think it's so easy to say, "Oh, look, here's this symbol and process present in cultures across time and across space, let's refer to ALL of those cultures at once when we build/walk ours!" But I'm not sure it's respectful to prepare and energize a labyrinth using elements from paganism, Christianity, Native American tribal culture, AND Hindu chakra work all at once, especially if you don't happen to have any particular training in or connection to some of those traditions. For myself, I know that in order to properly prepare and energize a labyrinth - or use the symbol as a metaphor in my childbirth preparation work - I have to know which traditions I have authentic connection to and consider how to share those meanings and traditions authentically with the people I work with.

I also read Sacred Rituals: Connecting with Spirit through Labyrinths, Sand Paintings, & Other Traditional Arts by Eileen London & Belinda Recio. Similarly, it was a truly lovely book and I learned a lot. Also similarly, I had concerns about multicultural appreciation vs. appropriation.

October 13, 2008

The Four Agreements

"Dreaming is the main function of the mind, and the mind dreams twenty-four hours a day.
It dreams when the brain is awake, and it also dreams when the brain is asleep.
The difference is that when the brain is awake, there is a material frame that makes us perceive things in a linear way. When we go to sleep we do not have the frame, and the dream has the tendency to change constantly."

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz fascinated me. It lays out the fundamental world view of the Toltec (intellectual/spiritual leaders in pre-Conquest South/Central America) as experienced by a modern inheritor of that tradition, and how Don Miguel believes that world view can help and heal all people. An "agreement" is a belief or choice we make about how we are going to live. The four agreements are healthy beliefs and choices: be impeccable with your word, don't take anything personally, don't make assumptions, and always do your best.

This book felt like a window into a spiritual tradition which is very different from (in some ways) but very compatible with (in other ways) my own. There were a few things that came up for me in reading it: one was the emphasis on control - I believe control is not desirable in most of life because it isn't truly possible. Ruiz posits control as a desired way of being in the world. Another was that while he talks a lot about the agreements we make within ourselves, and how they construct the way the whole world works, he doesn't talk about the agreements we make explicitly or implicitly with each other. I think those are very important, too. Finally, although I agree with some of what he says about how children experience agreements and become party to them, I don't agree with all of it. His veiwpoint falls into the "children are born innocent and are corrupted (forcibly) by the evil world" camp, and I'm just not sure that's a true view of reality. I think children are born with their own complex and not "innocent" spirits, and shape their families and communities as they shape the children.

But overall I did a lot of saying "right on" in my head while reading this book.

October 4, 2008


“The memory of pain always recedes. The memory of triumph does not.” – Ani Di Franco

September 27, 2008

The Birth Partner

I actually had a hard time believing that I hadn't read this book before. It looked really familiar, but I realized as I delved into it that in fact, this was the first time I'd read this material.

The Birth Partner: Everything You Need to Know to Help a Woman Through Childbirth (2nd Edition) by Penny Simkin, P.T. is terrific. There's so much practical information packed into a very readable text! One thing I really like is the illustrations of different labor positions. I'm pretty familiar with them, but it is helpful to have pictures to look at with a mom instead of having to get into each one to demonstrate them all when time is short. There is a chart showing what medications are in which kinds of commonly offered anesthesia options, when these are usually administered in labor, and benefits and risks. Since I am not a medical professional, this is very helpful information for me when I ask "what kind of epidural are you offering my client?" and the doctor says "blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda " (i.e. names of medications I have no previous experience with.)

Probably the most interesting and challenging part of the book for me is the Pain Medications Preference Scale. This is a scale from 10 to -10: 10 means a mother would prefer not to feel any pain at all, getting anesthesia before labor begins. -10 means a mother would prefer to use of pain medications under any circumstances, even in the case of a cesarean birth. Both of these extremes being nearly impossible to put into practice, most women will fall somewhere in between. The Scale also shows what a birth partner needs to do to help a woman with this preference. The idea is for the mom and the birth partner to each identify their own preferences and support each other appropriately. That is the kicker for me. I know what my personal preference is and I know that many of the women I work with will have a different preference. So far I think I have done okay with that. I really don't feel any urge to judge any one's decision to (or not to) choose pharmaceutical pain relief when it is different than what I think I would decide for myself in a similar situation. But I find that I have sometimes reflexively justified a mother's choice as being one that I would make for myself in a similar situation. And although on the surface that may not cause a mother to feel judged or invalidated, on a deeper level, comparisons are odious. It doesn't matter what I would do if I were the mom. My judgement of that question is irrelevant to what is happening in the moment at a birth, and in the long run, I can see that it could be harmful to impose my judgement, offer my justification for her decision. It matters what I do do as one of her birth partners. My role is to validate her decision making process. What matters is for her to make a decision that is justified in her mind by her own values and preferences. It makes me so mad when a doctor or nurse says, "I would do this for myself/a family member, so it's the right thing to do." Just because it was right/would be right for you doesn't mean it's right for me. I don't want to say that - even subtly and subversively - to the women I am caring for.

The flip side of this is that Penny Simkin is one of the few birthy authors I have read who is really trying to be almost completely value neutral about the "big issues" in the birth world. In this book, at least, she is valuing caring support by a birth partner for a pregnant woman, but she is not expressing any kind of opinion herself about the birth industry and how it functions. While I think this is good in that it makes this book useful for a wider spectrum of people than many other books, I also think that I'm not sure value-neutral is where I want to or can be about the birth industry. Non-judgement of the people participating in the birth industry by having babies isn't the same as non-judgement of the system for me. I need to leave those judgments of the system aside when I enter the birthing space or even the educational space; but I (at least for now) think it's also important for me to recognize the judgements of the system I do hold as I lay them to the side when that's what's needed.

Okay, this one got long. Good stuff!

September 23, 2008

The Doula Advantage

I read this book, by the way, while labor-sitting with a wonderful couple who had a very long, very slow labor followed by a very fast 2nd stage and birth.

The Doula Advantage: Your Complete Guide to Having an Empowered and Positive Birth with the Help of a Professional Childbirth Assistant is by Rachel Gurevich. What I found most interesting about it is that it's written from a very different perspective than most "you should have a doula" books: that of the consumer. The author isn't a doula or a midwife or a childbirth educator. She's an editor at a mom-focused website - and a mother. So this is kind of a "consumer reports" version of why and how to have a doula.

I like that she lists a wide variety of doula certification organizations (including Birthing From Within) - so many sources just say "find somebody certfied by DONA". DONA is great, I'm sure, but I have no desire to certify through them. And I am learning a LOT through my certification process with Birthing From Within!

On the other hand, this seems like kind of a "lightweight" book to me. I guess because it's focused on ONLY doulas and why you might want one and how to get one. There is so much to learn and think about and experience around birth besides a doula that it felt strange to read a book that really doesn't address (in any depth) the kinds of choices and experiences a doula is supposed to help a woman negotiate.

One little thing that struck me as odd was her injunction against meeting with a doula you're thinking of hiring in your home. She really doesn't say why she thinks this is a bad idea, and honestly, I think it's a good idea assuming you've screened the person ahead of time (by talking to her over the phone, etc.). It's harder to have a conversation that's more than superficial in a public location, and I don't know that I'd want to hire or be hired based on a superficial conversation.

Would I recommend this book to clients? Maybe - I mean, it wouldn't go on a "waste of time" list like some other books I could (but won't) name - but it wouldn't be at the top of the "read this now" pile, either.

September 8, 2008

Mentoring: the Tao of Giving and Receiving Wisdom

I read Mentoring: the Tao of Giving and Receiving Wisdom by Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch slowly. It's not a long book, and it's also not a dense book - the main portion of the book consists of four-page sections for each of the "Virtues of the Heart" and "Virtues of the Soul". The first page shows the Chinese character for each; the second page describes its poetic meaning; the third page shows translations epigramatic wisdom from Chinese classics on the subject; and the fourth page describes the virtue's application to mentoring relationships. I tried to read one virtue at a time, several times a day, because I wanted to relax and savor the lovely calm and gentleness of them.

Being assigned to read this book felt like a gift. Tao means "way", and the way this book describes being in relationship to others is, in most ways, exactly how I would like to be in relationship with all the people in my life. Of course I am not all of the time in all of the ways with all of the people who are important to me. But this book isn't about "should," it's about "could" - "you could choose to behave more this way when a situation arises" rather than "you should do xyz when this happens!"

And I guess that's what I want to keep most from reading this book: offering those I mentor (clients, family, friends - the authors describe how mentoring is a model for all kinds of human relationships) and myself coulds instead of shoulds. This book models that possibility beautifully.

September 4, 2008

Homeopathy for Pregnancy, Bith, and Your Baby's First Year

I loved reading this book, and I'm so glad I couldn't find it through the library so that I have my own copy to keep. Miranda Castro, the author, is a homeopath who has worked extensively with women and children, including herself and her own, and her purpose in this book is to empower people to prescribe homeopathic treatments for non-critical conditions for themselves and their family members.

I learned a lot I didn't know about homeopathy. I've always been told, "well, there's nothing really in homeopathic remedies, so try it - it can't hurt you and it might help." And I've read the indications on the remedy bottles and guessed at something that might be appropriate. And sometimes, it's helped. Castro explains that in fact, using the right remedy for too long, or using the wrong remedy, CAN cause or exacerbate the symptoms you are trying to treat or other symptoms; that you should not take most remedies for more than a few days or doses at a time; that it is usually not a good idea to combine multiple remedies; and that a dose is a dose - it doesn't matter if you take 3 of those little granules or 5 of them.

She also explains in detail how to choose a remedy - when you have lots of time, or on the fly in an emergent (though not emergency) situation. The book includes a "materia medica" list of a wide variety of homeopathic remedies and what they are good for to help you in this task, something I've not encountered before. Although this sounds like it would be boring, it was actually pretty interesting reading, since each remedy is linked to certain emotional and character traits. I read it "looking" for myself and other family members - and I found us!

Today I looked up a remedy in this book for a doula client facing an induction next week. (This was simple as there is only one suggested remedy for labor not starting in a timely fashion.) I didn't prescribe it, of course - I think I'd need some formal training of some sort to feel at all comfortable prescribing even relatively benign homeopathic treatments to anyone outside of my immediate family - but I did share the information with my client. I have no idea if she'll use it - but I'm sure I'll use this book again with clients and for myself and my family.

August 22, 2008

Book: NLP, the New Technology of Achievement

NLP, the New Technology of Achievement, edited by Steve Andreas and Charles Faulkner (Harper, 1994)

First of all, NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming. A book with an (unexplained) acronym in the title was really confusing for me when I was trying to find it in the library database, but oh, well. And what does neuro-linguistic programming mean? This book is about how to 'retrain' or 'train' your brain to think in positive ways about what you do want, and negative ways about what you don't want - to put it very, very simply. It is ostensibly aimed at anyone and everyone, although it is obviously coming from a business perspective - most of the examples are examples from business and other "achievement" oriented parts of life.

Since I usually need to understand things on a very personal level before I can grasp them on an external/structural level, this may not have been the best "NLP" book for me. I was also extremely off-put by the attitude of the authors that NLP is the solution to everything! I am off-put by almost anything that claims to be the one solution to everything, a cure-all, a panacea. "There is no one right way." Anything that seems to be claiming to be the or even a one right way bothers me.

On the other hand, I am fascinated by the exercises in the book, I can see how important they are in application in Birthing From Within work, and I need to get a copy (or a similar book - I'm going to ask around to see if there's one that would fit my learning style better) so I'll have it around to actually do the exercises.

One idea I've already used is the principle of assuming positive intent. In a disagreement with my husband, I took a deep breath, reminded myself that he had some positive intent in his behavior somewhere even if I couldn't see it for the life of me, and asked him what it was. And guess what, he told me. When you've been married for 10 years and known each other even longer, your communication patterns tend to get kind of set in their ways sometimes. So that may not sound like a lot, but it actually felt pretty big to me to be able to stop in the middle of an unpleasant feeling discussion, really listen to what he thought, and just accept it - because it's hard not to accept a positive intent, even if you know it didn't produce the outcome you would have liked.

August 18, 2008

Required Reading

I am going to be doing some required reading for my certification processes so I thought I'd post some reviews here for my own future reference . . . and yours!

First review: The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers by Jack Newman and Teresa Pitman.

This is an awesome book. I had to get it via interlibrary loan and I am appalled by this fact. It should be in EVERY library, several copies. This is vital information mothers and partners need when they are learning how to breastfeed and how to support breastfeeding. I have breastfed two children very successfully, attended LLL meetings regularly, and watched various friends and family members breastfeed successfully. I learned a lot from this book, including some information about some of the things I worked through with each of my sons that it would have been helpful to know at the time, rather than in retrospect.

Although I do think that there was value in our figuring things out ourselves. I mean, we didn't ever give up and we learned a lot about each other in the process of figuring out what worked and what didn't for us. I'm not sure but that we mightn't have missed something important if we had been given the "answers". On the other hand, a lot of people get to the point of giving up, or are encouraged to that point by ignorant care providers, so this is a very important book to have as a resource. I will be getting my own copy ASAP.

As much as I loved the informational aspect of this book, I also really loved the flavor of the writing. Wry, dry humor, and wit! Punchy, too. It was fun to read. Here is a representative quote:

"I think this question of guilt is an important one. We shouldn't be making mothers feel guilty for not breastfeeding, should we? We shouldn't be making mothers feel guilty for anything, actually. Most mothers are doing the best they can, sometimes under very difficult circumstances. . . . But we certainly make mothers feel bad about their choices in many other situations. If you are . . . pregnant, and you drink alcohol, even small amounts, you will probably leave your doctor's office with stern warnings ringing in your ears and guilt in your heart. . . . Obviously, the physician who says that we should not make mothers feel guilty for not breastfeeding doesn't believe that breastfeeding makes a difference. But there is lots of evidence that it does - for the mother, for the baby, and for society."
- pp. 35 - 36 The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers
P.S. - I bought myself a copy - this is such a useful book and I had a 30% off coupon from Borders . . . YAY!

July 15, 2008

"We clasp the hands of those that go before us,
And the hands of those who come after us.
We enter the little circle of each other's arms
And the larger circle of lovers,
Whose hands are joined in a dance . . ."

This is the poem by Wendell Berry which inspired me to choose this blog's name. I've been meaning to post about it for a while, and I thought I deserved a little break after spending about 3 hours trying to figure out which health insurance options make the most sense for me at this point (!).

So I love the image in this poem of little circles (families) within the larger circle (community). Connecting people and families to community has been a huge part of my life's work so far, and I see birth work as a continuation of that theme. We need to be together to learn and grow. Birth happens best when it is well prepared for and well supported (that can mean different things for different people - the support of friends and family who encourage a couple seeking an unassisted birth all the way through compassionate care for a high-risk pregnancy by excellent perinatology teams).

And someday, I'd like to be able to provide parenting education and support for home/unschooling families, as well. But I'm starting with birth!

I admit, though, that "Larger Circle" also seems like a kind of neat name for a birth work blog because of cervical dilation! You want the largest circle possible when that baby's coming out!

July 12, 2008

It's Official

Well, I've signed up. I'm a officially enrolled as a Birthing From Within Mentor and Doula. I'm so excited! (Hey, do I get smilies on this thing? I want a really really exuberant one.)

I have been listening and listening to my heart and the universe for a long time, and I know that this is the time to follow this path. I need to learn what I will learn through this process. My prayer is that I will also be of some use to the women and families that I will (hopefully) have the honor to serve as a Mentor or a Doula (or both) as I complete the certification process.

Okay, universe - I'm ready. Bring on the birthwork!

Yikes. Did I just say that? But I'm not done my filing and I haven't made that dentist's appointment . . ..

Just kidding. A calling is when you have to do something, even if it would be easier not to. Being on call 24/7, leaving my toddler in the middle of the night, putting together a viable business . . . these would all be easier not to do. But I have to go there. And I will do it joyfully.