Watch with Me

July 13, 2015 in Adversity, Atonement, Breastfeeding, Dads, Doulas, Jesus Christ, Lani, Pain, Sacrament, Symbolism

Yesterday Kevin Barney posted “A Feminine Insight to Gethsemane” on By Common Consent. He explained that, as a man, it had never occurred to him to relate Christ’s longing to “let this cup pass” to a woman’s yearning to avoid the pain of childbirth. His post and the comments are worth checking out, especially the ones plugging The Gift of Giving Life. 😉

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Our wonderful Robyn Allgood is the author of a beautiful essay, “Birth in Remembrance of Him,” examining the connections between Christ’s Atonement and childbirth in The Gift of Giving Life. Here’s an excerpt:

The blood that was squeezed from Christ for us has the power to give us eternal life, while the blood that a woman sheds for her baby gives physical life. The work of labor often causes a woman to sweat as she exerts pressure to push her baby out. As the baby moves through the birth canal, mucous and other fluids are squeezed from the baby’s nose, throat, and other orifices. This squeezing or massaging of the baby prepares the baby to live outside of the womb. In this way, the labor that a woman experiences is benefiting her baby, just as the labor the Savior endured for each one of us is for our benefit.

Just last Sunday we attended Gospel Doctrine in my parents’ ward and discussed Christ’s experience in Gethsemane. As we discussed the Apostles’ difficulty staying awake to “watch with Christ,” our instructor suggested that Christ’s agony and the heaviness He felt were likely so intense and overwhelming that His apostles may have, on some small scale, felt it in the energy pervading the area. Because of their deep love and connection with Christ, they may have been experiencing some sort of “sympathy pains.”

asleep-in-the-gardenThe scriptures say that “when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow” (Luke 22:45). Our instructor suggested that it may have been that they were not necessarily “asleep,” but rather literally unconscious from the depth and intensity of the agonizing atmospheric pain they, as mortals, were incapable of withstanding. Personally, I have on a few occasions felt a pain so intense that I have fainted from it. I think our instructor was definitely onto something, and I think hers is the best explanation I have ever heard for the apostles seemingly “slacking on the job.”

When Christ asked them to “watch with Him,” I think He was, essentially, asking them to “hold space” for Him. I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of holding space lately. Holding space for someone enduring a difficult experience is both an honor and a challenge. Our Gospel Doctrine instructor last Sunday explained that when Christ said, “pray that ye enter not into temptation,” scholars suggest that it meant something more like “pray that ye will not break under the weight of this hard trial.” It seems that Gethsemane was not just a difficult test for Christ but also for His Apostles.

posteriorAs she shared these insights, I also found myself thinking about childbirth. My second baby was posterior, facing my front, or “sunnyside up,” which is not ideal for the journey through the pelvis and birth canal. It wasn’t easy pushing her out, and I was making a lot of noise.

As I worked to push her out, my stepmother was on my left and my husband was on my right. At one point I looked at my stepmom, and I could see that she was crying. When I asked her about it later, I learned that they weren’t tears of joy as I had originally suspected. She was crying because it was so hard for her to see me in that kind of pain. Almost simultaneously, to my right, my husband was bent over, and at first I thought he was vomiting. In fact, he was having a hard time staying conscious and was on the verge of fainting. Though they were not enduring the pain themselves, they were having very real and visceral reactions to it.

After the hard work was over

After the hard work was over

I don’t know if Christ’s apostles could see Him as He prayed. The scriptures aren’t entirely clear. Perhaps they could see Him or yearned to help Him. Or perhaps they could simply feel a small portion of the heaviness and pain projecting from Him as He accomplished the Atonement. They offered “sacred support” in much the way fathers and doulas support their wives and clients through childbirth (see “A Father’s Sacred Support” in The Gift of Giving Life). They could not remove His burden, but I suspect they were able to feel some of the weight of it as they struggled to remain conscious.

It is not easy to hold space for someone in pain, and the Apostles were holding space for the most intense experience of pain that has ever occurred. This perspective has given me a deeper appreciation and respect for the disciples Christ chose to “watch with Him” as well as a heightened sense of gratitude to all those who have “watched with me” in childbirth and other intensely challenging or painful experiences. Their service was a beautiful gift to me.

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Ritual Rebirth in Ancient and Modern Practice

April 8, 2015 in Atonement, Baptism, Heavenly Mother, Jesus Christ, Lani, Old Testament Women, Priesthood, Rebirth, Rites of passage, Savior, Symbolism, Temple

I enjoyed so many beautiful moments in conference last weekend. Part of me wanted to write about Linda K. Burton’s beautiful talk. While listening to her words, my cheeks ran with tears as I was completely overcome by an overwhelming gratitude for the man who has stood by my side and held me up through so much pain and darkness. I also wanted to write about saints and sinners, enduring to the end, and Mother Teresa’s intense battle with darkness.

But this morning I felt impressed to write about something I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time, and I’m not really sure why it has taken me so long to get around to it. What I want to talk about touches on some statements made by a couple of speakers last weekend:

Nothing relative to our time on earth can be more important than physical birth and spiritual rebirth, the two prerequisites of eternal life. –D. Todd Christofferson

To inherit this glory, we need more than an unlocked gate; we must enter through this gate with a heart’s desire to be changed—a change so dramatic that the scriptures describe it as being “born again; yea, born of God.” –Dieter F. Uchtdorf

During my senior year at BYU (2002, holy cow that was thirteen years ago), I completed an internship as a managing editor for an on-campus student journal Studia Antiqua. The journal was the brain-child of Matthew Grey, who was a student and editor-in-chief, and was supervised by S. Kent Brown, director of Ancient Studies at BYU. As part of my “training,” Matt gave me copies of the journal’s first issue, published before I joined the team. I still have my copy of that issue and treasure it. Truthfully, I only really treasure the last article in the issue, containing information I wished I had known before I attended the Provo temple to receive my endowment the previous year. The article I’m referring to is called “Becoming as a Little Child: Elements of Ritual Rebirth in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity,” by our editor-in-chief, Matthew Grey, now known as Dr. Grey, assistant professor of ancient scripture at BYU.

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As D. Todd Christofferson reiterated in conference, God has commanded us to teach our children what it means to be reborn and all of the symbolism involved in it. Until I became acquainted with Matthew Grey’s Studia Antiqua article about ritual rebirth, I didn’t realize that baptism wasn’t the only rebirth ritual we participate in as members of the Church. In ancient Israel there were specific acts performed each time a child was born. Matthew Grey outlined these in his research. These include: 1) a washing with water, 2) an anointing with oil, 3) clothing in a garment, and 4) receiving a name.

Matthew Grey shared excerpts from Ezekiel 16, where the Lord spoke to the people of their original “birth” and the elements that were missing: “And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all” (vs. 4). Then the Lord described how they had been “birthed” of Him through their covenants with Him and how He had provided the important birth rituals they originally lacked: “Then washed I thee with water; yea I thoroughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil. I clothed thee also with broidered work” (vs. 8-10).

The scriptures outline a similar ritual rebirth process for High Priests before entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement each year. At the door of the temple, a priest would be washed with water, anointed with oil, and clothed with sacred attire. This sacred attire included a cap/mitre, also translatable as “turban” (Mitsnepheth in the Hebrew) or “crown” as described by Myers in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (see footnote 35 in Matthew Grey’s article). Following the washing, anointing, crowning and clothing, the priest was consecrated to the service of God with the the Divine Name inscribed on a plate of gold fitted on his head: “Holiness to the Lord” (Exodus 28:36-38).

Referring specifically to the anointing aspect of these rituals, Matthew Grey explains: “In most cases, the act of ritual anointing serves to empower or enable the person to do what he was made worthy to do through the washing. In its most common application, anointing with oil was used in the coronation of a king or in the consecration of a priest” (p. 68).

These words from an Ensign article (published two months before I was born) seem particularly pertinent: “In the temple men are prepared for their roles as kings and priests, and women are prepared to become queens and priestesses” (Carolyn J. Rasmus, “Mormon Women: A Convert’s Perspective“). President Joseph Fielding Smith stated, “It is within the privilege of the sisters of this Church to receive . . . authority and power as queens and priestesses” (Daughters in my Kingdom).

Nothing is more important than physical birth and spiritual rebirth Elder Christofferson told us. Our mothers have given us the gift of birth and our first naming. Christ gave us the gift of rebirth through baptism and offered us His name. We may experience other rebirths in our journey upward, but none is more sacred than the rebirth our Heavenly Parents offer to us: a rebirth as kings and queens, priests and priestesses, and the sacred naming given only to those who have overcome the world:

To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written , which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it (Revelation 2:17).

Gift Babies: Hollie’s First Birth

December 1, 2014 in Birth Stories, Book, Fear, hospital birth, Lani, Pregnancy, Uncategorized

We love hearing uplifting birth stories from our readers! Do you have a gift baby? A “gift baby” was born under the influence of The Gift of Giving Life. Please send us your gift baby stories! Here’s one from Hollie:

It took three pregnancy tests to convince me this was really happening. We were married only a month and a half and now a baby was coming. My initial feelings were absolute fear. How on earth could I do this? I was in my second year at university and we were living off of Marks part-time job. This was not the time for having a baby (or so I had thought). If I’m being totally honest, my feelings went a lot deeper and lot more personal than this. All I knew was that I was very much pregnant, and I very much didn’t want to be. I think what was most difficult about dealing with this situation was the guilt that came with it. How could I not want a perfect little son or daughter? I had spent my entire teenaged life dreaming of having a family and now faced with the reality I just wanted a way out.

I felt awful. I kept imagining the beautiful child inside me and thinking ‘How can I not want you?’ I spent a lot of time on my knees and shed an awful lot of tears. A trip to the states and a browse in one of my favourite book shops solved everything. As I stared at the cover of The Gift of Giving Life I felt a little sense of excitement about being able to feel the spirit about being pregnant and giving birth. After reading the contents and seeing the sort of discussions that I would be able to partake of, I knew I had to take this book home. And I was right. This book calmed all of my fears and totally blew my mind. I read the whole thing slowly, and over the course of the nine months. I managed to finish it the week before I gave birth.

One of my favourite parts was reading the thoughts and feelings of a woman who seemed to have been able to put into words the way I had felt when I found out I was pregnant. I remember thinking ‘It’s okay. I’m not the only one. It’s okay to feel like that.’ And that’s all I needed. To know that it was okay to be pregnant and not want to be. After I came to terms with that, I could accept it, take time to heal and figure out that this was the best time for a baby and that although it wasn’t part of our plan, it was definitely a part of Gods plan.

So there I was – five days overdue and at 4 am the contractions woke me up. They were hard, fast and very painful. I was hurting, but I wasn’t afraid and I wasn’t panicked. I was very calm and very focused. I had a firm belief that this was my purpose and what I was designed to do. I knew I could do it and I knew there was no need to worry. I had learned from reading my book that women who have a great fear of giving birth actually tend to have longer labours or complications in childbirth compared with women who are not afraid and keep calm. I even researched this by asking women that I knew, and it seemed to be true. I had great faith that if I stayed calm and had courage that I could do this.

I listened to the sound of rainfall and did my breathing exercises whilst sitting on the bathroom floor trying to figure out when was the right time to call my husband home and when we should go to the hospital. I was so confused – my sister had given birth three days prior and she had been in labour for 40 hours but this was happening so fast. The contractions were almost over-lapping and they were extremely painful. This was difficult for me to deal with without getting panicked, but I just kept telling myself that I could do it and that it would be over soon. This wasn’t going to go on forever, and when it was over I’d have a beautiful little girl to spend everyday with.

At 8.45 am Mark came home, and we called the hospital. It was quite far away so I was reluctant to go in and be assessed because I knew if I wasn’t at least 4 cm dilated they would send us back home. But the contractions were so fast and we felt we should go. We arrived at 10.20 am and after assessment I was told I was 5cm – wow! This was happening quickly. I had always imagined lying on a bed to give birth but sitting down just wasn’t an option in reality. I could feel so much pressure like the baby was coming already so I just had to stand. And I was right – she was coming, and I couldn’t control the urges to push. With my husband there to witness the most incredible moment of our lives and my mother there to hold my hand and motivate me to push that little bit harder, my little Lillie was born at 12.31 pm. It was quick and painful, but I loved every single second. I have never felt anything so exciting and exhilarating. Giving birth to my little girl was the best experience I’ve ever had. It was so positive and so within my capacity. I felt wonderful and so happy to finally have this beautiful, perfect girl.

I truly believe that I owe my birth experience to the things I learned and kept with me from The Gift of Giving Life. I will always treasure the special things I read in it and shared with my husband. I will always treasure calling my sister who was also pregnant with her first and discussing the things we read in this wonderful book. And I will always read this book throughout my pregnancies. It is one of the best books I have ever read and I urge every woman, mother, mother-to be to take in its words and let their hearts be touched.
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P.S. We’ve discounted The Gift of Giving Life for the holidays! Click HERE to snag this super deal!

Our Deliverance

April 1, 2014 in Birth Stories, Dads, Family size, Fear, home birth, Lani, Midwives, Miracles, Personal Revelation, Prayer, Priesthood blessings

When my second child was two-and-a-half, we starting thinking about conceiving a third baby, a thought that both excited and terrified us simultaneously.  Could we really afford another child?  How would we pay for the birth, being without maternity insurance?  Could I really handle mothering three children? Gently, the Lord communicated to us that we would be blessed if we chose to invite another child into our home and that He would ensure that we had the means to provide for that child’s birth and life.

A few months later, I became pregnant. Each day was a constant struggle between faith and fear as we strained to hold fast to the Lord’s assurances that we would have the money we would need.  And I had to make a decision—where would my 3rd baby be born? We had never felt comfortable considering home birth in the past, but we knew that having our third baby at home would cost thousands of dollars less than paying for a hospital birth out-of-pocket. Only a week after I got a positive pregnancy test, I was already agonizing over the decision.  My husband gave me a priesthood blessing in which the Lord told me that He would guide me to make the right decision for us.  This scripture spoke to me in my dilemma:

 

Yea, and it came to pass that the Lord did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us; yea, insomuch that he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith, and did cause us that we should hope for our deliverance in him (Alma 58:11).

 

I agonized more and more and settled on a hospital birth with nurse-midwives recommended by a friend.  I definitely never had an overwhelming feeling that it was the answer to my dilemma, but it felt fine in the beginning.  After three or four prenatal appointments, I had met most of the nurse-midwives and loved them all, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that this wasn’t quite the right path for us.  So we went back to the drawing board and opened-up that agonizing question again.  Only this time (and for the first time in my life) I was really open to accepting home birth as the answer, and so was my husband.

On Halloween night (2008), my husband and I spent a couple of hours praying for guidance, searching the scriptures, and exchanging our thoughts and feelings.  We felt that the Lord was leading us toward a home birth and that our next step was to pray and ask the Lord if this choice was right.  When I prayed, I asked God to please help us to receive a clear answer so that we could move forward with confidence.

Then I asked for a priesthood blessing. What followed was one of the most tender and beautiful spiritual experiences of my life—the kind that words feel inadequate to describe or explain.  The actual words of the blessing were marvelous, but more than the words was the feeling that overwhelmed me.  We didn’t get far into the blessing before tears were streaming down my face as I choked back sobs (and I don’t cry easily).  I felt the most incredible burning in my heart—like I was being filled with the burning, life-giving love of God.  There is nothing in the world like that feeling.  It completely overwhelmed me.  I don’t know if an answer to my prayers has ever been so clear. When the blessing was over, I just hugged my husband and sobbed in his arms with joy and gratitude for the beautiful gift God had just given us.

Our answer was clear: we were having our baby at home!

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We continued to seek the Lord’s guidance as we selected the midwives who would attend our baby’s birth, Mary and Nedra. And the Lord, my God, “did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us; yea, insomuch that he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith,” just as He had told me He would, through the scriptures, at the beginning of my pregnancy.

The blessings and miracles continued to pour down upon us.  In February, I attended a doula training workshop (offered for free as a gift to the community by the doula trainer) where I met many women who would become my friends.  One of them, Cassie, offered to be my doula and take photographs of my birth (again, for free).  She also took some maternity photos for us (like the one above).  Unexpected additional income came to us, with the probability of further additional income opportunities in the future.  Just as the Lord had promised, we found ourselves with enough and to spare financially, and our baby’s birth was completely paid-for by my 36th week of pregnancy.

Then, on April 1, 2009, my son made his debut. My water broke in the afternoon, contractions started a couple of hours later, and about five hours later, I was clinging to my husband’s arms over the edge of the fishy pool, moaning through the hardest contractions.

I could tell I was in transition when I found myself reaching my limit.  It was at this time that I turned to God.  I don’t think there is any other physical experience that brings a person closer to the veil between earth and heaven than childbirth—particularly the 7 cm to delivery span.  I silently cried to God: “Help me!” My mind wandered back and forth between my present physical surroundings and an otherworldly distant space.  Somewhere in that space I found myself calling to my deceased friend, “Catheryn, I need you now!”  I don’t know if it was her voice or my own that whispered in my head, “It’s almost over.  You’re almost finished.” My husband’s soothing touch and the words “It’s almost over” playing over and over in my head are what carried me through to the end.

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I moved to the bed for the delivery. Perhaps it was Mary’s oil and hot compresses, but I never really felt the “ring of fire.”  I didn’t even really know the head was out until I heard someone say, “His head is out!”  Then Mary said, “Reach down and pull out your baby!”  I grasped onto his warm, slippery shoulders and pulled him up onto my chest.  It was 10:55 pm on April 1—an April Fool’s day baby!

At first all I could see was the top of his dark-haired head and his slippery arms and back.  We touched and rubbed him—alternating between smiling at each other and staring at our baby—as the midwives draped a towel over him.  I breathed quickly in and out, saying something like, “Oh my gosh!” and then, “Is he OK? Is he OK?”  Mary smiled and calmly said, “He’s just fine!  He’s doing great!”  Everyone started talking and smiling and taking photos.  My husband felt a tear roll down his cheek and watched it land on my shoulder.

Afterward, I was so full of energy and endorphins that I couldn’t stop smiling and didn’t really sleep for at least a day.  Within an hour after the birth, I was up and showering.  Then I went downstairs to grab a bite to eat, almost as though my body hadn’t just given birth (intact perineum… woohoo!).  The next days, weeks, and months I spent in bliss, more deeply in love with my tiny little boy than I ever imagined I could be. I had never experienced anything like the intense, fierce bond I was blessed to experience with that tiny baby boy, despite having two older children (whom I loved).

When the Lord communicated to us all those years ago that we would be blessed for inviting another of His spirit children into our home (two years later, we invited our 4th), I couldn’t have imagined just how blessed we would be.  I know with all my heart that our greatest blessings and joys come when we allow the Lord to guide us in all of our decisions.

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Becoming Zion: Book Recommendations

January 17, 2014 in Book reviews, Divine nature, Intuition, Jesus Christ, joy, Lani, Motherhood, Music, Preparation, Savior, Temple, Zion

So I’ve been a bit obsessed of late with Zion. Can you feel the momentum like I can? Things are happening. We are being prepared for big things. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking on my part, but I feel in my gut that we and our children and grandchildren will build Zion, we will BE Zion. I want to get there as quickly as possible. I’m done with darkness and misery and suffering. I can’t wait for light, truth, love, peace, wholeness, and Christ in our midst!  During a recent trauma-release session with a therapist, I was asked to go to a “special place” in my mind. I chose to place myself in the center of Zion’s temple because there was no safer place I could imagine. It was awesome, at least in my imagination.

Maybe you’re as eager as I am? If so, here are some books you might love (if you haven’t read them yet)…

81pYSv-cBJL1) The Triumph of Zion: Our Personal Quest for the New Jerusalem, by John M. Pontius 

I started reading this book at the end of the summer last year (after reading another of his books, Visions of Glory). The vast amount of information contained in The Triumph of Zion made me overlook its minor flaws. I learned so much from this book about Zion, translation (the spiritual kind, not the language kind), the Second Coming, etc. There is a lot of repetition and rehashing of the same information, but I tried to see it as an intentional gift to really embed the information in my brain rather than as an editing mishap. If you want to better understand what needs to happen in order for Zion to be built, this is a great resource.

 

64982762) Light in the Wilderness: Explorations in the Spiritual Life, by M. Catherine Thomas

After two separate strong, wonderful, spiritual women recommended this book to me, I knew it was time. I think I have marked almost every single paragraph in the book with my red pencil and stars and circles and notes. This is one of my new all-time favorite books ever.

If you know Truman G. Madsen’s work, it may interest you to know that his review is quoted on the back cover of Light in the Wilderness: “This remarkable and penetrating book deals with some of the toughest spiritual issues of our time.” I discovered Truman G. Madsen as a teenager and devoured all the books my stepmom had by him. She later gifted them all to me, and I absolutely treasure them. In fact, Truman G. books were the only spiritual books I could stomach during my battle with anxiety/depression in 2012. He was the thread that kept me connected to God. I love him. Light in the Wilderness reminds me a lot of Madsen’s style.

M. Catherine Thomas is a convert, a mother of six, has a PhD in ancient history, taught at BYU and the Jerusalem Center, and has served four Spanish-speaking missions with her husband. I hope I can hear her speak someday. I love her! Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Everything in the Cosmos is playing music based on its particular configuration and vibration. The spheres are full of music. The elements of our physical world play the music given them by their Creator, but . . . we shall see that Man can choose to a degree the energy by which he will vibrate and the music that he will play” (p. 39).

“One day our former glories will be unveiled again; meanwhile, just the knowledge that we are full of unutterable wonders can light our way–yes, can cause us to question our current perceptions of reality and expand toward greater ones” (p. 64).

“But setting aside a human tendency to be gripped by fearful or miserable thoughts, we can quietly, deliberately, and deeply entertain the possibility of the opposite of what the thought is tempting us to believe. What might be a truer way of looking at this situation?” (p. 82).

“How important it is to realize that like is drawn to like: intelligence to intelligence, truth to truth, light to light (see D&C 88:40), but also anger to anger and pain to pain. We will draw to ourselves the sort of energy from unseen beings that we ourselves entertain” (p. 186).

I can’t wait to read this book again, and again, and again. It is like a manual for becoming pure in heart, becoming Zion.

 

97803408243753) The Mozart Effect, by Don Campbell

As I’ve written before, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Zion’s builders/inhabitants it is this: they SING. Over and over and over the scriptures declare that Zion is home to those who sing “songs of everlasting joy.” I got a copy of The Mozart Effect for a few dollars at Goodwill last year and promptly started devouring it. I learned so much about the healing power of music and song from this book. It’s dated (making reference to cassette tapes, etc.) since it was written back in the 90’s, but the information is still as pertinent as ever. If you want to have a better understanding of why Zion’s inhabitants will spend so much time singing (and making music, I’m sure), this book is a great overview.

 

babyandhandxsm4) The Gift of Giving Life: Rediscovering the Divine Nature of Pregnancy and Birth

Ha ha! Really though. I have long felt that we were inspired to write our book when we did because it would play a part in preparing the mothers of Zion to birth and raise the most powerful spiritual army that has ever lived. You may have heard the phrase often quoted by birth advocates: “Peace on earth begins with birth.” I absolutely believe this is true. And Satan knows it too, which is why he has worked so hard to disempower women in their life-giving journeys from the very beginning of their journeys. If he can throw a wrench in a mother’s views about her body, about her own strength, her connection to her baby, her faith in her intuition from the very beginning, he’s gone a long way toward accomplishing his efforts to weaken families. But if we can strengthen a mother from the very beginning, if we can lift her and support her and help her discover her own power and intuition, we have made huge strides toward weakening Satan’s influence over that particular family. The Gift of Giving Life can strengthen the mothers of Zion, and the mothers of Zion will help usher in a millenia of peace. This army of peace is being unleashed upon the earth even as we speak, and it is growing. So exciting! If you haven’t read our book yet, we hope you will!

Do you have some other Zion-focused book recommendations?

Please share in the comments! 

Sacred Space for Birth, Part 1

November 4, 2013 in Birth Stories, Cesarean, Depression, Education, Faith, home birth, hospital birth, Lani, Midwives, Personal Revelation, Postpartum Depression, Prayer, Preparation, Traumatic Birth, VBAC, Waiting

1011942_669099829783949_352451545_nCherise is an Arizona Mother, Doula, Childbirth Educator, Placenta Crafter, and Creator of the marvelous “Big Baby Project” (a website full of empowering vaginal births of babies 9 lbs and over). I love how her story illustrates what I wrote about in my essay “Unity with Providers of Care” in The Gift of Giving Life. I love that Cherise continued to search and pray until she found the right care provider for her. -Lani

 

Sacred Space for Birth, Part 1
By Cherise Sant

My first encounter with childbirth started with the birth of my first child. That experience was eye opening, disappointing, affirming, traumatic, magical, overwhelming and set the stage for the worst depression of my life. I had resisted an induction but eventually caved to the pressure I was receiving from my obstetrician. The ultimate result was a healthy baby boy born via cesarean and my broken heart and body.

My second birth was an empowering vaginal birth in the hospital, but I was met with mistrust, abandonment and even violence though I had carefully chosen my provider and a “natural birth friendly” hospital. Even more disenchanting was to have my baby caught by a resident student as there was no obstetrician in the hospital at that time. If something catastrophic had occurred, I would either have had to wait until someone arrived or transfer to another hospital. It was then that I asked myself, “Why did I get out of my bathtub at home and tear down the freeway in transition to come here and meet negativity and contention when the help I was going to the hospital to potentially receive wasn’t even there?” I knew my next baby would be born at home. Should a need arise, I would then go to a hospital.

Three and a half years later, the month after my daughter weaned, I became pregnant again. Thankfully, there were a handful of midwives who had extra credentials, allowing them to legally attend me in a VBAC at home. I began to interview them. The first one I interviewed was “the one” – or so I thought, until I knelt down and prayed to know if she was. Very clearly, the answer was “no.” I was stunned. I knelt there in a sour stupor, trying to work out what that meant. Did that mean I wasn’t supposed to pursue a home birth? Was I willing to go back to the hospital? The next couple of weeks reflected no progress on the part of my attitude. I knelt down again and asked, hoping maybe I wasn’t clear that first time, but very clearly, the answer that came again was, “She’s not the one for you.”

I didn’t know whether this birth would involve a tragedy, but there was one person that did know all, and that was the Lord. So I resigned my will and continued the search. I was not only searching for a provider, but also asking whether home birth was the Lord’s will for my family. I really had to search myself- why did I want this? After a lot of prayer and contemplation I concluded that it was because I wanted my birth to be treated as sacred. I wanted the spirit of love to be unrestrained. I knew that would best be achieved in my home, with people I knew beforehand rather than meeting a stranger in a hospital and hoping for the best.

I interviewed another midwife, and then another. Their philosophies clearly did not match my own and I was feeling defeated. At the time I was teaching childbirth education at an obstetrician’s office, and knowing that she was more mother-baby-friendly than most, I considered choosing a hospital birth with her. Still, there was no peace and approaching my 17th week I felt like I was running out of time. I did NOT want a last minute scramble. I continued to pray, search my scriptures and explore my thoughts and feelings about all of the possibilities.

One weekend, I was volunteering at a birth event where a screening of a popular birth movie was taking place. I was sharing my dilemma with a friend and fellow birth worker. She then told me about a midwife who was credentialed to attend VBACs at home and that she’d been in practice for 30 years. In that moment, something came over my body, mind and Spirit that had never happened before. My bosom burned like a fire, and my mind flooded with messages of love and support from my Heavenly Father. I knew for certain that she was the one I was looking for. I got her information and sat down for an “interview,” though I already knew she was the one.

It turned out that not only did our philosophies match but she was the only midwife in the state (of whom I was aware) with the skills and support I was looking for. (And I was pretty picky.) In particular I wanted someone who was comfortable enough to use only her fetoscope during labor instead of the Doppler. I wanted access to herbal knowledge and teas – which she had an abundance of! The Lord knew exactly what I was looking for and wanted, and he was providing for me. I felt so loved.

Even still, the weight of my decision caused me to doubt. I prayed and sat down with my scriptures yet again. I opened right up to scripture which basically said to me, “I already answered your question, don’t keep searching for what you already have.” I prayed prayers of gratitude for my answer and continued to prepare.

Look for Part 2 (the birth story) in a future post…

Birthing Hymns

October 2, 2013 in Atonement, Divine nature, Lani, Motherhood, Music, Savior, Symbolism, Temple, Zion

A couple of months ago, I was listening to the song “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” and I thought: this would be a great song for childbirth. Especially this line…

Come, come, ye saints, no toil or labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear
Grace shall be as your day.

Then I got thinking about some of the other hymns and realized that so many of them could be seen through the lens of childbirth and take on new meaning. For instance,”work,” “toil,” “labor” and related words can be considered in terms of childbirth. “Temple” can refer to our bodies/wombs or the holy places where we choose to give birth to our babies. Here are some passages I found particularly meaningful as potential aids for women in childbirth.

Motherhood Rooted - by Alija Craycroft

Motherhood Rooted – by Alija Craycroft

As sisters in Zion, we’ll all work together;
The blessings of God on our labors we’ll seek.
We’ll build up his kingdom with earnest endeavor;
We’ll comfort the weary and strengthen the weak.
(As Sisters in Zion)

***

In many a temple the Saints will assemble
And labor as saviors of dear ones away.
Then happy reunion and sweetest communion
We’ll have with our friends in the beautiful day.
(The Day Dawn is Breaking)

***

How beautiful thy temples, Lord!
Each one a sacred shrine,
Where faithful Saints, with one accord,
Engage in work divine.
(How Beautiful Thy Temples, Lord)

***

From grim confusion’s awful depth
The wail of hosts, faith’s urgent plea:
Release our anguished, weary souls;
Swing wide, swing wide the gates, and set us free!
(How Long, O Lord Most Holy and True)

***

Holy temples on Mount Zion
In a lofty splendor shine,
Avenues to exaltation,
Symbols of a love divine.
(Holy Temples on Mount Zion)

***

Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, upheld by my righteous,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
(How Firm a Foundation)

***

amanda 008

It’s a Human Thing- by Amanda Greavette

Thus, all my toilsome way along
I sing aloud thy praises,
That men may hear the grateful song
My voice unwearied raises.
Be joyful in the Lord, my heart!
Both soul and body bear your part.
To him all praise and glory!
(Sing Praise to Him)

***

In mem’ry of the Crucified,
Our Father, we have met this hour.
May thy sweet Spirit here abide,
That all may feel its glowing pow’r.
(In Memory of the Crucified)

Sacred Space

September 11, 2013 in Birth Stories, Breastfeeding, Faith, home birth, Intuition, Lani, Midwives, Motherhood, Personal Revelation, Pregnancy

Sacred Space
By Brittney Walker

I met Lani several years ago at a doula training I fell into after the postpartum doula training I’d signed up for was cancelled. Birth wasn’t so much my thing as was helping new moms through the trauma of those first weeks postpartum.

Lani and I kept in touch, and in time she invited me to contribute to The Gift of Giving Life while they were still collecting birth stories. I remember thinking it was cute that these ladies were collecting spiritual birth stories. Birth was many things to me, having experienced three of my own, but spiritual wasn’t one that stood out. Becoming a mother and bringing new life into this world are, of course, sacred, spiritual things but birth itself? Not in my experience.

Then I became pregnant with number four. For many reasons, we chose to deliver this baby at home with a midwife – our first outside of a hospital. Right off the bat we learned we were in new territory. After research and interviews we found a midwife we not only felt comfortable with but also with whom our personalities just clicked. I knew I could confidently trust my midwife with my baby’s (and my) life.

An early complication arose so we ran some tests and met with our midwife. She educated us, presented our treatment options, and then asked the game-changing question: “so what do you want to do?” There was no indication of bias or judgment in her face. She deferred the decision to us, the parents – our first crash course in midwifery care. It was clear that we would be in the drivers’ seat regarding our prenatal care for this pregnancy. I felt overwhelmed and inadequate. We’d always just been told what to do, and signed the dotted line and then done our best to be good patients. We had no medical training and didn’t feel qualified to make such weighty decisions. My midwife assured us that there was no one more qualified and that she knew we would make the right choice.

We didn’t understand the biology behind what was going on and couldn’t see the future so we took our question to the only one who can. We prayed fervently about what to do. We asked in faith, knowing the Lord’s love for us and our little one and we received an answer. I felt peace, went forward in faith and trusted that things would work out. They did.

This became the theme for this pregnancy. I relied heavily on the Lord for wisdom and peace. I developed a more active relationship with Him than I had ever had and happily handed over the steering wheel in favor of the passenger seat.

With three boys at home we went into our second trimester ultrasound with one thing in mind: Our baby’s sex. As focused as we were on that issue it took us a while to realize that the tech seemed oddly preoccupied with our baby’s nose and lips. After a long, very odd ultrasound, the tech left and then returned with an obstetrician, asking her to have a look. Then came the news, they suspected our baby may have a cleft lip and palate but couldn’t get a great look at his face. They needed us to come back in a couple of weeks. My first thought was, of course he doesn’t. (Yes, another “he”.) No family history of birth defects, no risk factors, nope, not us. My second thought was, so what if he does? Why are they making such a big deal about it? If that’s how it is then that’s Heavenly Father’s plan for my baby and our family. We can handle it. So, we scheduled the follow up.

A couple weeks and too much research on my part later, a second ultrasound confirmed that our baby would have a cleft lip, possibly palate. The news was harder this time with my newly acquired full knowledge of the implications. Likely, this meant no breastfeeding. Breastfeeding isn’t just a feeding method but a parenting style and the only way I know how to do it. And what about our home birth? Cleft babies have a higher risk of breathing difficulties at birth so many homebirth midwives won’t attend cleft babies’ births. There is also the possibility of related defects that may not have been caught on ultrasound. However, I’d also read stories of cleft babies being unnecessarily rushed away from their parents to the NICU where the hospital didn’t know what to do with them until someone from the babies’ cleft team could arrive (as much as a week or two later) to free them.

Again, I was faced with a decision I could never make on my own. Was I risking baby’s life? I found stories of cleft babies born at home with good outcomes but always by surprise. My midwife had recently delivered a cleft baby and was confident that she could handle whatever came up and planned on extra safety measures. Another thorough ultrasound didn’t show any signs of other related defects as far as they could see. He seemed a very healthy baby boy. But again, it wasn’t until we took the matter to the Lord that the overwhelming confirmation came, I was birthing this baby at home. I felt a calm peace about this decision that couldn’t be swayed and drowned out the concerns of well-meaning family and friends. I knew.

Months later our little boy was born perfect, the way God created him — into the waiting hands of his father. I wrote on my blog:

I’ve heard people talk about birth being a spiritual experience but with my first three babies coming into the world amid lights and hustling bodies in an unfamiliar and kind of scary environment, it just wasn’t something I ever understood.

But in my room, at 10:14 that Sunday night, I felt Heaven and Earth meet. In my room, surrounded by people who love me and baby Clayton I felt part of something great and eternal. I wondered how I’d ever shared something so sacred with strangers in a strange place.

That feeling has stayed with me through the last week and a half. When I would normally be feeling alone, fighting for my sanity, and feeling guilt and sadness for my baby’s rude entry into the world, I instead feel supported, joyful, blessed and in tune with my new little bundle.

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Photo credit: Shelly Ivy at ivystudiosphoto.com

His birth was perfect. I felt loved, supported and trusted by my caregivers and family members (including friends) that were present. I felt the comfort, peace and protection provided by the walls that house my precious family. The sacred space where we labor to raise these precious young men took on a new purpose that night as we welcomed a new member to our forever family.

With pain in my baby’s future, with surgeries looming on the horizon and more challenges in his future than I ever would have chosen for my child I took comfort in his gentle entrance into the world. With a childhood of doctors, nurses and therapists ahead I found peace in the intimacy of his birth. I couldn’t breastfeed this baby but nestled in his own bed between mommy and daddy from that first night he didn’t feel the lack. No strangers’ hands, no poking or cutting, no feeding tube, no hospital stay separated from Mom… my boy was born into a room full of people who will be there and support him through any challenge life has in store.

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Photo credit: Shelly Ivy at ivystudiosphoto.com

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Photo credit: Shelly Ivy at ivystudiosphoto.com

Heavenly Father had a plan for me and my baby. He answers prayers and provides us all the tools we need to endure our trials and hardships. Clayton’s gentle beginnings gave me peace when I soon had to hand him off to his first surgical team. He endures surgeries, recoveries, trauma and related struggles like a brave little soldier while I cling to the memory of the gift of his peaceful entry into the world.

His birth matters. To me, and I think to him in an intrinsic way he may not ever be aware of. It has had a profound and abiding impact on my relationship with my baby and the whole family. I thank Heaven every day for that gift.

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IMG_0285Brittney Walker is a homeschooling mom to four wily, awesome little men. She has written about parenting and babies online and in print since her nine-year old’s birth and currently hosts a support group for expectant and new moms, supports new mothers through placenta medicine and is pursuing her breastfeeding counselor certification through Breastfeeding USA.

Frankincense and Myrrh: Father and Mother

August 7, 2013 in Attachment, Dads, Divine nature, Energy Healing, Lani, Midwives, Motherhood, Nourishment, Pain, Postpartum Care

945292_10151913129351040_496511578_n1Today’s guest post comes from my friend, Morgan. Morgan has five adorable children and a perfect match of a husband. She dabbles in a little bit of everything. She is an essential oil consultant, a doula, and a birth junkie. She also loves to sew baby stuff like baby carriers and cloth diapers. About ten years ago, my brother and his wife gave us a special “magi’s treasure” box as a gift. At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate how fortunate I was to have actual frankincense and myrrh resin in my possession. I certainly do now. -Lani

Frankincense and Myrrh: Father and Mother

By Morgan Somers

I love essential oils and I have loved learning about their uses and applications. Essential oils fascinate me, both from a science and physiology standpoint and from a spiritual/emotional/energy systems standpoint, but even that comes back to science in the end. I love learning it all. Two oils that are particularly amazing to me in their characteristics are frankincense and myrrh.

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Frankincense is known as the king of oils. It has the amazing ability to enhance the effects of other oils when used together with them. It is a powerhouse oil that has such a diversity of constituents that it can address a huge range of issues. Some of those uses include inflammation, cancer, and depression. But energetically/emotionally, it is the oil of truth. It helps people to let go of negativity and spiritual darkness. It connects the soul with light and truth. My favorite thing about frankincense is that it supports a spiritual attachment, both with God and our earthly father. It is a powerful oil that protects while also being a gentle nurturer. It reminds us that we are loved and dispels sentiments of abandonment.

Myrrh is a wonderful antiseptic. It cleanses and purifies. It’s particularly good for healing and pain. Midwives often use it on the umbilical cord stump of newborns. It’s also used as a mouthwash because it’s great for the mouth, gums, and throat. Energetically/emotionally, myrrh is the oil of Mother Earth. It nurtures our relationship with our biological mother, our mother earth, and our Heavenly Mother. It supports and repairs a damaged mother-child bond and promotes a sense of safety and security. It fosters trust and dispels fear. Anytime there has been a division or lack of attachment with our mothers, myrrh can bring us back to a place of trust, safety, and nourishment.

“Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness. . . . All thy garments smell of myrrh . . . whereby they have made thee glad.” Psalms 45:8

When I learned about the spiritual powers these two oils posses, I was overcome with awe. It gave new meaning to the gifts of frankincense and myrrh that the wise men brought to the baby Jesus as He left the premortal world and His Heavenly Parents to walk among men during His earthly sojourn. We too can use these oils to draw closer to our Heavenly Parents as well as our earthly parents.

Adoration of the Magi, Andrea Mantegna 1500 (Image Source)

Adoration of the Magi, Andrea Mantegna 1500 (Image Source)

“And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:11

Many parents anoint their newborns with frankincense at birth to ease their transition into earthly life. Myrrh would be a reasonable choice as well, particularly in cases where mothers were unable to have a good bonding experience in the first hour of their child’s life or for families that grow through adoption.

I love the powers these two oils possess together and I love to see them work in my family. I am so grateful for a loving Heavenly Father who has provided these gifts for us to use while we are here on this earth struggling through our mortal existence without Him quite so close to us as He was before we came. As a mother, I love that I can draw nearer to my Heavenly Father and Mother when I need help knowing how to raise these children and cope with the difficulties that come as a part of our mortal life experience.

Maria’s Journey

August 5, 2013 in Angels, Birth Stories, Fear, home birth, hospital birth, Lani, Midwives, Miracles, Motherhood, Pain, Personal Revelation, Pregnancy, Young Women

Maria.2010At last month’s TGOGL Party in Utah, I had the privilege of meeting so many beautiful souls. One of these souls was Maria Farley. When I met her and heard her talking about her sacred feelings about birth, I felt like we’d always been friends. Maybe we have? Today I’m sharing my interview with Maria about her beautiful birth experiences. -Lani

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am part of a blended family which makes me the mother of 5 amazing children and 3 wonderful step children, 6 of which are married.  I am the grandmother of 2 granddaughters and am anticipating 3 additional grandchildren who will arrive sometime in Sept, Nov and Dec/Jan of this year.  I currently work full time outside the home, but I treasure my time at home the most with my husband Ron and our Sunday evening gatherings with family that can come each week.

When was your first baby born? What was the birthing climate like in your community? 

Sept 1987.Maria preg w.KiraMy first baby was born December 18, 1987. I knew very few women who had or were having children in my immediate community.  I grew up where birthing in a hospital was the standard.  My mother had 8 children laboring as long as she possibly could at home before going to the hospital to deliver. Everyone I knew at home in Utah had their children at the hospital with a doctor in attendance.

While in San Diego, I made friends with two women, Tracy and Susan, who introduced me to the idea of home birthing.  I did a lot of reading and research and discovered that there was quite a community of women who used midwives and birthed their children at home. We gathered together in my midwife Abby’s home once a month with other mothers and expectant mothers to talk about our desires and fears and hear of each other’s birth stories.  This became the supportive community I focused on as I prepared to be a mother.

Who were your birthing mentors? Were there women in your life who you admired or respected who empowered you as a first-time mom?

The three women mentioned above had a tremendous influence on me and truly helped me feel empowered to trust in my instincts and follow the promptings of the Spirit as I became a mother.

The culture that Abby fostered in her gatherings gave me multiple examples of women from all walks of life in varied circumstances who I felt great support from.  They had confidence in their choices and I saw how they nurtured, carried, nursed and balanced other children while they had these new little babies.

Tracy was a close neighbor who had a baby at home, close to the same time as me, and we helped each other as we moved into this new territory together.

Susan had tremendous faith, and I could talk to her on the phone for a few minutes and feel loved and encouraged as soon as I heard her voice.  She had a way of making you feel valued and encouraged, like you could accomplish anything after you talked to her.

My own mother helped me develop a foundation in the gospel of Jesus Christ and this was a profound undercurrent in my preparation to becoming a mother as well.

Were your births spiritual experiences? How so?

July 14.1996.Sara Louise BirthYes!  Very much so!  With my first birth, Kira, I felt angels around us as I labored.  When she came, still blue and Abby handed her to me and said to both Jim and I, “talk her in” we became very aware of how thin the veil between life and death was.  As Abby worked to clear her airways and stimulated her feet, we talked to her and told her how much we wanted her to be with us and how much we loved her already.  We could feel her spirit enter back into her little body as she pink-ed up and began to breathe.  She never cried.  It was one week before Christmas and I felt very connected to Mary at the time of Christ’s birth.

At my second birth, Danielle, I began to understand how each child that came to the earth for us to raise were really not ours, but were on loan from Heavenly Father and that they came with their own strengths and personalities from a full pre-mortal life.

With Jessica, I felt the guarding power of my dad who passed away in October the year before she was born. His name was Don and she was born at dawn, so we gave her the middle name Dawn in honor of him.

July 14.1996.Sara.MariaWith Lucas I learned to trust in the Lord’s timing.  I learned that no matter how much we think we know and can do from past experience that in birth there is always a moment, sometimes very long moments, where you have to trust in the Lord and lean on his strength to deliver and raise a child.

With Sara I learned about the Atonement and the unwavering, unconditional love that my Savior has for me.  That negative feelings and struggles and traumatic, hard births can instantly be swallowed up in the love the Savior has for me and my children.  That joy and peace are real and available to us as soon as we ask for it.

Have you attended any births as a support person? How was that for you?

I have now attended two births as a support person.  The first was for one of Susan’s children in Jan 1996.  It was a water birth in her home, with her husband and I attending, and one older daughter looking on.  It was amazing!  I had given birth to 4 children at home by this time.  It was the first water birth (and any birth) I had seen that wasn’t my own.  I was awed at her power and strength and felt so privileged to be there in such a sacred and intimate space with them.

The second was just this year in June for my second grand-daughter.  My stepdaughter, Heather, was estranged from her own mother at this time, and she asked me to attend her (like a doula would).  She was being cared for by a midwife in a hospital. This was a hard labor and birth for me to attend. I didn’t know how much she really trusted my advice, and she had a strong sense that staying in bed was the only way to be safe during labor.  She had great fears about the well-being of the baby and wanted to be monitored and checked for progress frequently. I wanted to help her by giving ways she could move around and positions that could make it more comfortable for her.

Nothing I tried to help her was effective. This led to an epidural and apologies to me. I quickly realized that she needed to be told frequently that birthing was her own and the baby’s work, and that she owed no one an apology, especially me, that she was doing an amazing job and this birth journey was hers however it happened, that she shouldn’t give up, that this would still be a beautiful empowering birth.

I also saw that I needed to help her husband be more involved in her care and be attentive to her and encourage him. In the end, after 8 more hours of labor in the hospital, sweet Rowan Grey was born without any additional interventions.  As little Rowan Grey laid on her skin to skin, we reviewed what happened and how things went. We began to focus on all the positive things that had happened, and just how amazing it is to bring this daughter of God into the world and be her mother.

I think that this was the beginning of an understanding for me of how important it is for women who are birthing to feel confidence in themselves and in God in the birthing process.  It also confirmed to me the value of gaining knowledge about birth through reading and hearing many other positive stories.  The most important preparation for a new father and mother is the preparation of the heart and mind to trust God; to trust our body’s ability to birth.  To have confidence in our ability to learn what we can and then be guided by divine inspiration in our choices. To learn to surrender to the powerful energy called birth and trust that we will come out better and stronger, much like precious metal in the refiner’s fire.

Dec.8.1991.Jessica Dawn Birth0001How have your positive views about birth impacted your children’s views about birth?

I think that they see birth as a natural process. I believe this is a key element in empowering them in their own births.  That it isn’t something that happens to you but, something you are a part of.  They have seen birth first-hand at a very young age.  They have heard me scream and moan and felt the intensity (pain) and power of birth. They have also seen the joy and intensity (pleasure) and sacredness of birth as well. No matter how they choose to birth, they know my only expectation is that they are educated about their choices and that they do in fact have choices.  They know that I don’t hold any judgments for how their birth stories play out.  They know that there is always strength to be gained or lessons to be learned from their experiences.

July 14.1996.Meeting Sara

What do you think is the best way mothers can strengthen their daughters and friends as they prepare for birth?

Share your stories. Tell your children their own birth stories.  Share the beautiful parts and the scary parts.  Share how you overcame the scary things – talk about your thoughts and feelings in connection with preparing and how things turned out in the end.

If there were things about the birth you didn’t like, explore together how you would have liked it to be different.  Be open to recognizing what things you could have done differently to be more prepared the next time or for other women and also recognizing what expectations you had to let go of. I think it’s good to share positive stories.  I don’t think it’s helpful to share “horror stories,” but when friends ask, and you feel prompted to share more difficult stories, share them.  They need to know the hard parts about birth too.

Most importantly, be a safe place where there are no judgments or comparisons and enjoy each birth story for its uniqueness.  Just as each women and each baby is unique.  Believe in each other, encourage each other, praise each other in all things, not just about mothering and birth.  Celebrate being a woman with them and love the varied unique talents and body shapes we come in. Knowledge is power and coupled with faith the journey of birth and motherhood can truly be a beautiful transformation.