Laboring Through

October 3, 2015 in Adversity, Depression, Doulas, Fear, Gratitude, Heavenly Mother, Lani, Love, Motherhood, Pain, Uncategorized

So Elder Holland hit another home run. I’d say his talk today ranks right up there in my heart with “Like a Broken Vessel” from two Octobers ago. Today Elder Holland honored women and mothers and the ways their service is nearer to Jesus Christ’s role as deliverer than any other service in mortality. He called mothers “messianic figures” and “saviors on Mt. Zion.” He even publicly thanked our dear Mother in Heaven.

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All of the talk was beautiful, but do you know what my absolute favorite part was? My favorite phrase Elder Holland uttered today was this: “laboring through the battered landscape of his despair.” As Elder Holland spoke of a mother striving to bear up her son as he traveled through the darkest days and nights of his intense anguish… I can’t even really describe to you what I felt inside. Perhaps those words and that story impacted me so deeply because I know so intimately what the battered landscape of despair looks like and feels like. Perhaps more intensely, however, I know the sheer magnitude and magnificence of the gratitude that can be felt toward those who have labored with us through the battered landscapes of our despair and anguish.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself thinking a lot about where I was last year. I went to my blog and re-read old posts full of the raw reality of what I went through. The more time passes, the more I forget just how bad it was. But in those moments of remembering, I felt it all come back to me… the utterly bleak and painful reality of what I had experienced. But the overriding and prevailing emotion I felt that night was gratitude. Gratitude beyond my capacity to describe. Gratitude so intense that it gathered with fierceness in my tear ducts and flooded down my face for a very long time.

One image kept coming back to me and renewing the flood of my tears. It was an image of me lying on my friend’s tan leather couch, our kids playing in front of me watching something on Netflix, my friend sitting at her kitchen table sewing together a quilt for her youngest son. If someone were to take a snapshot of that moment, they might conclude all sorts of things. They might wonder why we were “ignoring” each other. They might think it odd that I was seemingly sleeping through my visit with a friend. They might question the depth of our friendship. But all of those assumptions would miss the profound beauty of what was happening in that room.

I couldn’t tell you how many days I spent on my friends’ couches last summer. Sometimes I could have semi-normal conversations. Sometimes all I could do was stare at the wall or ceiling and try to breathe. Sometimes I closed my eyes and attempted (usually with very minimal success) to sleep. My friends really didn’t understand what I was going through. But it didn’t matter. I never once felt like a burden. I never once felt like an intrusion. I knew I could just be… just be… in whatever state I was in, and it was OK. If I wanted to talk, my friends would talk. If I was paralyzed by my body and mind and could only endure, my friends held space for me to endure. They played games with my daughter and fed her lunch. They made it OK for me to do whatever I needed to do. They sat with me, but not in a way that made me feel like a spectacle. They sewed quilts, did their dishes, folded laundry, but all the while bearing me up with their presence, their willingness to witness my pain, their open doors and couches always there whenever I needed them.

As I lay on my friend’s tan leather couch, my body was wracked with agonizing withdrawals, my mind was a whirl of fear and darkness. I didn’t know when the darkness was going to end. But in that moment, despite the fear and pain overwhelming me, I knew I was loved. I knew I was safe. I knew that I had support anytime I needed it. I knew that my friends and family believed in me, prayed for me, and most importantly that they were laboring with me in that landscape of horrific despair.

Elder Holland thanked mothers for their pure Christ-like love and service, and I myself do feel deep gratitude for my mother’s efforts to lift me in my deepest days of darkness. But beyond that I feel gratitude more profound than human language can convey to all the people in my life who labored and bore with me last year through my life’s most painful test of faith. Thank you. More than I can say.

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In Good Hands

March 22, 2013 in Adversity, Birth Stories, Faith, Family History, Lani, LDS History, Midwives, Miracles, Personal Revelation, Prayer, Priesthood blessings, Relief Society

“He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: . . . and shall gently lead those that are with young.” -Isaiah 40:11

Today’s Women’s History Month stories come from our Latter-day Saint birthing history. I fantasize about having a book containing all the recorded birth accounts of our early Mormon mothers and midwives. What an amazing book that would be! I have a feeling that those account would do for us modern mothers what the following two accounts have done for me. They would show us over and over and over that God cares deeply about each birth and that we are given divine aid and protection as we participate in the sacred work of giving life to His children.

This first account was shared by a friend in her sacrament meeting talk about family history work. It describes a miracle experienced by her own ancestors. With her permission, I share it here:

Benjamin Boyce (1884-1962) tells the story of when his wife Maud Evelina Brown (1884 – 1935) was pregnant and very sick. His autobiography reads, “After about three weeks the doctor said that she would have to have an operation. I asked if she would lose the baby and the doctor said ‘Yes’ But Maud refused to be operated on and said, ‘Go get the Elders and I will be all right.’ I did….[they] administered to her saying ‘You will have a son, who will be a joy and a comfort to you the rest of your life.’ This blessing was literally fulfilled, six weeks later [our son] was born, July  1, 1914.” (Dan and Echo Boyce, Boyce Family History, Vol. 1, 1973,  p. 406)

Talk about getting a “second opinion,” huh? There is no greater “doctor” than the Lord, and we can always put our faith and trust in His opinion and counsel. I am amazed by Maud’s great sacrifice, faith, and determination. She was willing to lay aside the understanding of men and put herself and her baby in God’s hands. In turn, she was granted a beautiful miracle.

The next story comes from the beautiful book, Daughters in My Kingdom, given to all the Relief Society sisters last year. I was thrilled to see the stories of some of our early Mormon midwives and lady doctors shared in this great book. The following story, in particular, was a powerful and beautiful testament to me that those who oversee our births can be given clear and direct guidance straight from the Lord on our behalf when they are in-tune.

Emma Andersen Liljenquist attended a course in midwifery in Utah after President Brigham Young had urged many sisters to receive medical training to meet the needs of the Saints and their growing families. This was also at the time when women were officially called and set apart as midwives for life (you can read more about midwifery as a spiritual calling in our book and here). Emma recorded these experiences from her years as a midwife among the saints:

After being set apart by Apostle John Henry Smith and several others, I returned home to do my work, having been promised by the Apostles that if I lived right I should always know what to do in case of any difficulties. . . . That promise has been fulfilled to the very letter. Many times when one of my patients was seriously ill, I have asked my Heavenly Father for assistance, and in every case it was given to me. One in particular was a lady who had just given birth to a baby and hemorrhage set in. The husband called the doctor, but he did not realize that it was so serious. I . . . asked the Lord to help us. The hemorrhage ceased and I did the necessary things for her. When the doctor arrived, he said he could hardly believe what had happened, but said I had done exactly what he would have done. . . . I have brought over one thousand babies [into the world]. Once again I give thanks to my Heavenly Father for His help and the strength the Lord has given me, for without it I could not have rendered this service to my sisters in our community. (Daughters in My Kingdom, p. 55-56)

I am in awe of Emma’s great faith. I can’t imagine how humbling it must be to know that you are overseeing the entrance of another human soul into mortality and protecting the sacred vessel bringing that soul here: the mother. What a marvelous yet daunting task to shoulder. I don’t know how anyone could do it without the Lord. I love Emma’s humble insistence that she could not have done her duties without His help. As I said before, there is no greater “doctor” than the Lord, and as our Father and Creator, He knows our bodies and their physical processes better than anyone. He knows exactly what these physical bodies need to heal and be made whole.

Sometimes, however, the Lord calls babies or mothers home. Sometimes their right path is not to be healed or delivered from difficulty. Though I cannot begin to imagine the heartache felt by those left behind under such circumstances, I feel certain that those babies, mothers, and grieving loved ones are no less “in good hands” as they endure those losses. Having lost close loved ones myself, I can testify to the overwhelming peace that can envelop and surround and strengthen those in mourning.

Whether we are given miraculous healing and rescue or given miraculous peace in times of loss, I know with all my heart that we are always in Good Hands.

Every Member a Doula

February 15, 2013 in Adversity, Death, Doulas, Grief, Lani, Loss, Relief Society, Savior

Every Member a Doula
By Lani Axman

A few weeks ago, I was reading along in a book and was struck by some words. This was not a book about birth (on the contrary, it was about dealing with death), but it brought birth to my mind:

In order to be a truly helpful friend to the bereaved, we need to decide whether we can tolerate the other’s pain or not. It is extremely painful to be a witness to intense mourning. It is tempting, when uncomfortable because others are in the throes of grief, to shut them off, to encourage them to stop crying, to deny their pain, or to try to rush them through the painful mourning process. However, fully grieving is necessary and healthy. Denying another the opportunity to grieve fully is a great interference as well as a rejection.

This came from The Courage to Grieve by Judy Tatelbaum. Judy Tatelbaum tells us that those in mourning need special care:

The breaved often need a special friend to act as a kind of spokesperson or intermediary. This person can also act as a confidant, as well as someone who can comfortably run interference for the grieving family. Such an intermediary needs to be comfortable protecting the bereaved, even if it means being impolite at times. . . .

It may help the bereaved to hear of our own experiences. . . . Our sharing can lift some of the painful aloneness felt by the bereaved and may contribute useful information as well. Others who have grieved can offer hope and a model for survival. . . . We should use judgment in sharing our experiences, knowing that we are talking to a very vulnerable human being whose needs at the moment are great.

I couldn’t resist writing in the margin of my book as I read these words: “doula” for grief.

You may have read Heather’s recent post about dolphins and doulas. In it she gives a lovely description of what a doula does for birthing mothers:

Creating a “circle of love” around a laboring woman is exactly what doulas do. Our job is not to help the woman give birth, she has to do that on her own power. Our job is to encircle her with support, protection, love, and to stand as a buffer between her and the rest of the world at such a vulnerable time in her life. A doulas top  priority is to help a woman’s loved ones circle around her and create that “circle of love” for her while she labors and births her baby.

My grandmother died last May, and for the past few months I’ve been coming to grips with that loss and allowing myself to recognize and express my grief. My grandmother raised me from the time I was a tow-headed two-year-old until I was nearly nine years old, and I spent all my summers and school vacations with her throughout the remainder of my childhood and adolescence. She was, in a very real sense, my “mother.” She was the most constant and consistent source of love and security in my life. So this past year has been a hard one as I’ve travelled through various emotional phases… denial of her death’s impact, panic, despair, guilt, recognition of my loss, etc., and I continue to heal a little more each day.

As I read Judy Tatelbaum’s book about grief and, in particular, the passages I quoted above, I realized that going through grief is not unlike giving birth. Both are highly sensitive, vulnerable, sacred, and emotionally and physically taxing experiences. In both situations, the support of the people around us is crucial. The birthing mother and the bereaved both need doulas to comfort, guard, and stand by them as they do their important work.

After I pondered this connection, I then I realized that the same is true for any crisis or challenging life experience. We all need doulas in our lives. The word “doula” comes from the ancient Greek, meaning “a woman who serves.” Becoming doulas is exactly what the Savior has asked us to do:

As ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort (Mosiah 18:9).

Ancient carving of a birthing woman receiving support

For those familiar with both Mormon and birth-lingo, perhaps we should proclaim: “Every member a doula!” Every member a “woman who serves.” I am deeply grateful to the people in my life who served me during this past year of vulnerability and grief. They were remarkable doulas, and as I have healed and become stronger I have tried to emulate their love and tenderness in doula-ing the “hands that hang down” (D&C 81:5) around me.

Whether you know someone in grief, in labor, tending to her hospitalized child, coming to grips with a terminal illness, suffering after a traumatic experience, reeling from a divorce, trying to heal from addiction, dying herself, or in any other challenging circumstance, please know that your friend desperately needs an angel in her Gethsemane to strengthen her (Luke 22:43). When we stand as the Savior’s doulas “at all times and in all things, and in all places,” He will “pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon [us]” (Mosiah 18:9-10).

Sometimes I feel sad that I can’t be a professional birth doula at this time in my life, but it makes me happy to think that, in the meantime, I can be a doula to everyone I meet. I heart doula work.

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Related Reading:

“The Angel Standing By,” by Elizabeth Day (in the “Pain” section of The Gift of Giving Life)

“The Society for Relief,” by Felice Austin (in the “Fourth Trimester” section of The Gift of Giving Life)

“Healing from Loss and Other Sorrows,” by Robyn Allgood (in the “Atonement” section of The Gift of Giving Life)

Gestating in Grief, (Birth Faith)

What Friends Can Do, (Birth Faith)

Why hire a doula?, (Birth Faith)

In Good Hands

March 5, 2012 in Birth Stories, Family History, Lani, LDS History, Midwives, Priesthood blessings, Relief Society

“He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: . . . and shall gently lead those that are with young.” -Isaiah 40:11

This week’s birth stories come from our Latter-day Saint birthing history. I fantasize about having a book containing all the recorded birth accounts of our early Mormon mothers and midwives. What an amazing book that would be! I have a feeling that those account would do for us modern mothers what the following two accounts have done for me. They would show us over and over and over that God cares deeply about each birth and that we are given divine aid and protection as we participate in the sacred work of giving life to His children.

This first account was shared a couple of weeks ago by a friend in her sacrament meeting talk about family history work. It describes a miracle experienced by her own ancestors. With her permission, I share it here:

Benjamin Boyce (1884-1962) tells the story of when his wife Maud Evelina Brown (1884 – 1935) was pregnant and very sick. His autobiography reads, “After about three weeks the doctor said that she would have to have an operation. I asked if she would lose the baby and the doctor said ‘Yes’ But Maud refused to be operated on and said, ‘Go get the Elders and I will be all right.’ I did….[they] administered to her saying ‘You will have a son, who will be a joy and a comfort to you the rest of your life.’ This blessing was literally fulfilled, six weeks later [our son] was born, July  1, 1914.” (Dan and Echo Boyce, Boyce Family History, Vol. 1, 1973,  p. 406)

Talk about getting a “second opinion,” huh? There is no greater “doctor” than the Lord, and we can always put our faith and trust in His opinion and counsel. I am amazed by Maud’s great sacrifice, faith, and determination. She was willing to lay aside the understanding of men and put herself and her baby in God’s hands. In turn, she was granted a beautiful miracle.

The next story comes from the beautiful book, Daughters in My Kingdom, given to all the Relief Society sisters last year. I was thrilled to see the stories of some of our early Mormon midwives and lady doctors shared in this great book. The following story, in particular, was a powerful and beautiful testament to me that those who oversee our births can be given clear and direct guidance straight from the Lord on our behalf when they are in-tune.

Emma Andersen Liljenquist attended a course in midwifery in Utah after President Brigham Young had urged many sisters to receive medical training to meet the needs of the Saints and their growing families. This was also at the time when women were officially called and set apart as midwives for life (you can read more about midwifery as a spiritual calling in our book and here). Emma recorded these experiences from her years as a midwife among the saints:

After being set apart by Apostle John Henry Smith and several others, I returned home to do my work, having been promised by the Apostles that if I lived right I should always know what to do in case of any difficulties. . . . That promise has been fulfilled to the very letter. Many times when one of my patients was seriously ill, I have asked my Heavenly Father for assistance, and in every case it was given to me. One in particular was a lady who had just given birth to a baby and hemorrhage set in. The husband called the doctor, but he did not realize that it was so serious. I . . . asked the Lord to help us. The hemorrhage ceased and I did the necessary things for her. When the doctor arrived, he said he could hardly believe what had happened, but said I had done exactly what he would have done. . . . I have brought over one thousand babies [into the world]. Once again I give thanks to my Heavenly Father for His help and the strength the Lord has given me, for without it I could not have rendered this service to my sisters in our community. (Daughters in My Kingdom, p. 55-56)

I am in awe of Emma’s great faith. I can’t imagine how humbling it must be to know that you are overseeing the entrance of another human soul into mortality and protecting the sacred vessel bringing that soul here: the mother. What a marvelous yet daunting task to shoulder. I don’t know how anyone could do it without the Lord. I love Emma’s humble insistence that she could not have done her duties without His help. As I said before, there is no greater “doctor” than the Lord, and as our Father and Creator, He knows our bodies and their physical processes better than anyone. He knows exactly what these physical bodies need to heal and be made whole.

Sometimes, however, the Lord calls babies or mothers home. Sometimes their right path is not to be healed or delivered from difficulty. Though I cannot begin to imagine the heartache felt by those left behind under such circumstances, I feel certain that those babies, mothers, and grieving loved ones are no less “in good hands” as they endure those losses. Having lost close loved ones myself, I can testify to the overwhelming peace that can envelop and surround and strengthen those in mourning.

Whether we are given miraculous healing and rescue or given miraculous peace in times of loss, I know with all my heart that we are always in Good Hands.

The Relief Society’s Legacy of Maternal Care

February 22, 2012 in Archive, Heather, LDS History, Relief Society

This post is from our archives. I wrote it last year after doing a lot of research into the history of the Relief Society and early LDS birth practices. If you would like a little bit more information about the history of LDS women in maternal and infant care you can read  Chapter 5 of the new “Daughters In My Kingdom” manual.

I’ve been doing a lot of delving into LDS church history, especially women’s history, for this book. It has been such an incredible experience for me. Recently when reading “Women of Covenant”, the unofficial “official” history of the Relief Society, I discovered an interesting piece of Relief Society history that I was unaware of.

Clarrissa Williams

In October Conference 1921 Relief Society President Clarissa Williams announced a plan “to establish a maternity home in Salt Lake as a sort of experiment, and later, if this is successful, to extend the work by establishing similar homes in various centers.” She wanted “to encourage motherhood and to make it possible for women in child-birth to have good care at reasonable rates.”

The Relief Society, in a sense, started opening Birthing Centers. These maternity homes were generally houses that were converted into places where women could come to give birth. The one that opened in the Salt Lake Area, called the Cottonwood Maternity Hospital, had 10 beds and was furnished, run and maintained by the Cottonwood Relief Society. Relief Society sisters volunteered their time as nurses, laundresses and anything else that needed to be done. The hospital fee was $40 for the standard two-week stay. Additionally the doctor’s fee was $35, which was $5 less than the doctor fee for home deliveries. The center was dedicated on December 10, 1924 by Elder Melvin J. Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Initially the hospital struggled for acceptance and didn’t have many clients. Home deliveries were still the norm and women either didn’t see the need to deliver at a center or were hesitant of the idea. In fact, when the Relief Society in Snowflake, Arizona opened their own small maternity hospital the stake Relief Society board had to go on a speaking tour through the wards trying to convert mothers to hospital deliveries, which as they later remembered turned out not to be an easy task.

Since the majority of women gave birth at home until around World War II, many stakes and wards responded to President Williams’ plea for “a movement in the interest of maternity and motherhood through the church” by preparing maternity loan chests that included bedding and other supplies needed for home deliveries. They also put together layettes and other items for new mothers. President Williams allocated the interest money from the Relief Society’s wheat trust fund (nearly $412,000) for such projects as these throughout the church. In the fall 1921 Relief Society conference Lucy Woodruff Smith reported that in the European Missions almost every branch had a “maternity chest”.

In addition to the “birth centers” and the “maternity chests” Relief Society sisters also participated in a variety of public health events, conferences and campaigns to increase the number of breastfeeding mothers, to educate women on the proper ways to clean baby bottles, hand washing, and proper infant care. In 1924, Johns Wells of the Presiding Bishopric credited the Relief Society for a decreased death rate among LDS children under the age of five—500 lives saved in one year. Historian Thomas G. Alexander also stated that,“Cooperation between the Relief Society and public agencies produced in Utah the greatest reduction in the maternal death and infant mortality rates in the nation. By 1931 Utah ranked with five other states in the lowest group.”

Relief Society Leadership in 1916

It is also interesting to note that by 1959 the demand at the Cottonwood Relief Society’s maternity hospital had grown so much that the LDS church, still under the direction of the Relief Society, built a 2 million dollar hospital with 120 beds on the same site as the original maternity hospital. The LDS church eventually opened other hospitals, including Primary Children’s Hospital, and by 1974 the church was operating 15 hospitals and was one of the largest major hospital operators in the US. (Divett, 174-176)Yet, in September 1974 the First Presidency announced that “After a through study and consideration, the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve have decided to divert the full efforts of the Health Services of the Church to the health needs of the worldwide church membership.” (Divett, 179) In April of 1975 the church transferred all 15 hospitals to Intermountain Health Care, Inc., a non-profit corporation they had established to operate the hospitals. The board of directors consisted of both Mormons and non-Mormons.With the membership of the church increasingly becoming less and less centralized in Utah the church could not longer justify the allocation of resources to run hospitals. Saying that, “ the operation of hospitals is not central to mission of the church.” (Jones, 1992) Instead they chose to expand the number of Health Service Missionaries and to focus on ways to improve the health ofall Saints through the world. Today a good portion of these health service missions are being filled by young women missionaries (270 in 1990)– a fitting way to continue on the Relief Society legacy of improving maternal and child health (Walters, 1992)

Today the original hospital system started by the Relief Society is still run by Intermountain Health Care (IHC) and recently has been recognized as one of the best hospitals systems in the United States. It is also interesting to note that in 2007 the Cottonwood Hospital was closed down and replaced with a new hospital, Intermountain Medical. What a great legacy to those early Relief Society sisters to see what there little maternity hospital had grown into.

Intermountain Medical Hospital, in Murray, Utah.

As I read through all this history I was so impressed by the Relief Society’s success in improving maternal and child health in Utah and surrounding areas. President William’s initiative came at a time when she wanted to ““to encourage motherhood” amongst the women of the church by making sure that they were receiving good care and support during pregnancy and that the support originated from the women around them. The image of these Relief Society sisters banding together to support each other in pregnancy and birth is so inspiring to me.

I can’t help but feel that if President Williams was living in our day she would look at the needs of our mothers and see that there is still a great need for women of the church to “encourage motherhood” amongst themselves. Many of the childbirth “maladies” facing women today are spiritual, emotional and mental rather than physical. There are the young women who postpone motherhood because they are unprepared or misinformed about childbirth, breastfeeding and motherhood and are terrified of it. There are women who have already given birth to children but who had traumatic or negative experiences that makes them scared or unwilling to have more children. There are women, more than most of us realize, who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder after giving birth or have moderate to sever postpartum depression, much of which goes undiagnosed and untreated for years. We might not have women and babies dying in our Wards or in our neighborhoods, but we still have mothers who need the same sort of support and care that Relief Society sisters at the turn of the century provided for each other.

What ways do you see that women in the church could emulate our sisters of the past and “encourage motherhood” and improve the care new mothers receive?

Side Note:

As I was reading through historical documents I discovered that the State Health report in 1912 is the first accurate statement of maternal and child deaths in Utah and it showed that the maternal mortality rate in Utah was 14 deaths per 100,000 births and that the infant mortality rate was 110 deaths per 100,000 live births (Divett, 197). I was curious to know what the maternal mortality rate is today and was a bit shocked when I saw that, a hundred years later, the US’s overall maternal mortality rate is 17 per 100,000 and places like Washington D.C. have a maternal mortality rate of 34.9 per 100,000 and the State of Georgia has a 20.5 per 100,000 maternal mortality rate. Utah currently has a 8.9 per 100,000 maternal mortality rate, and is ranked 20th in the nation in terms of maternal safety during childbirth. It is always hard to compare statistics across generations because of the different ways in which numbers were gathered and counted, but those numbers were still a bit shocking to me.

Sources:

Derr, Jill Mulvay, Cannon, Janath Russell, Beecher, Maureen Ursenbach. (1992). Women of the Covenant: The Story of the Relief Society. Deseret Book: Salt Lake City, Utah.

Divett, Robert T. (1981). Medicine and the Mormons: An Introduction to the History of Later-day Saint Health Care. Horizon Publishers & Distributors: Bountiful, Utah

Jones, William N. (1992). “Hospitals” in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism: Volume 2. Edited by Daniel H. Ludlow. Macmillian Publishing Company: New York, pg. 660.

Walters, Christine Croft. (1992). “Maternity and Child Health Care” in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism: Volume 2. Edited by Daniel H. Ludlow. Macmillian Publishing Company: New York, pg. 867-68

Allomaternal Care

February 1, 2012 in Archive, Felice, Lani, Motherhood, Relief Society

Today’s post comes from the archive. I love this post because it discusses a topic so important to me. Allomaternal care saved my life when I was a child. If it hadn’t been for the loving care of many substitute mothers, my life would certainly have gone in a far more dark and troubling direction. Thanks for highlighting this important subject, Felice! -Lani

Allomaternal Care–Another plug for Relief Society

By Felice Austin

Raise your hand if you like stability?

Seems like a given, right? According to many studies, being a good mom has more to do with stability of resources than with the amount of resources. Studies in all animals showed that youngsters in a stable environment with plenty of food got the most nurturing from their mothers. Those who had scarce but consistent amounts of food received almost as much nurturing. But those in an unpredictable environment–sometimes they had a lot, some times it was scarce– not only did they receive the least amount of nurturing, but were also subject to abuse or aggression from their mothers.

When I think of stability of resources in humans, I think of money and food, but there is so much more.

“According to the primatologist Sarah Hrdy, human evolved as cooperative breeders in setting where mothers have always relied on allomaternal care from others. So whatever a mother does and others do to help her, inside or outside the home, to ensure the predictability and availability of resources–financial, emotional, and social–may ultimately secure her children’s future well-being.” (Brizendine, p. 110)

An allomother, or substitute mother, can also help break the cycle of inattentive nurturing. Louann Brizendine says, “Families tend to inherit their mothers’ maternal behavior, good or bad, then pass it on to their daughters and granddaughters.” It is not passed on genetically, but through what is called epigenetic imprinting. But women who were born to an inattentive mother but then raised or influenced by a nurturing allomother tend not to behave like their genetic mother.

The saying “it takes a village” is not just a cliche. When I review all of the women who have come to help me or my daughter at just the right times, it adds up to more than a village.

Me v pregnant with two of my oldest friends, Beth and Mindy.

Though the Relief Society may not always function ideally and not everyone there will be your best friend, I would like to invite you to just remember and be amazed at what a great organization we belong to, and what we can do for each other, and women outside the church.

I would love to hear your stories. How has allomothering been important in your life?

Guardians of the Hearth: Elizabeth Jane’s Birth

November 23, 2011 in Birth Stories, Gratitude, home birth, Motherhood, Robyn, Uncategorized

To be a righteous woman during the winding up scenes on this earth, before the second coming of our Savior, is an especially noble calling. . . She has been placed here to enrich, to protect, and to guard the home—which is society’s basic and most noble institution. —Spencer W. Kimball 

As often happens after I attend a birth, I have a hard time sleeping.  My mind has a tendency to go over and over the details and events of the birth.  And my friend’s birth that I attended was literally a joy to witness.  I don’t think I have ever been to a birth where there was so much laughter.  Even though the mother was in hard labor, she was laughing, chatting, and relaxed as she welcomed her little Elizabeth Jane into the world.

Since I could not sleep I finally got up and started to read my scriptures.  I opened my Daughters of the Kingdom Relief Society manual and enjoyed reading about women as “guardians of the hearth.”  I thought about my sister, living on the other side of the country, ready to give birth any day.   We both knew that I would not be able to be there for her this time and it was hard.  Her husband is a wonderful birth partner but she also yearned for her sister.  I yearned to be there too.  But I also knew that there would be other “guardians of the hearth” to take care of her.  And I was right.  She was surrounded by just the right women at just the right time.  I was grateful I could be guarding someone else’s hearth as she was so close to her birthing time. It seemed to bridge our separation for a day.

It also occurred to me as I was reading why I have found so much joy in serving as a doula and childbirth educator. It is because this work is at the center of what Relief Society is about — serving others, strengthening home and family, and developing charity.  It is one of the ways in which we are “guardians of the hearth.”

Whenever I teach childbirth classes or attend a birth I feel in tune with God’s plan for me.  I do love this work but I only embarked upon it because I felt “called” to it.  I have heard many other women say that as well about becoming a midwife, doula, or other kind of childbirth advocate.

So thank you baby Elizabeth Jane, for once again reaffirming my faith in the gift of giving life.  Your mother and I have seen life full circle.  After grieving the loss of our little ones together we both welcomed babies into this world a few months apart.  And then today as I arrived for your birth I watched your parents work together in a very celestial manner. Your daddy very lovingly stroked your momma’s back while speaking words of encouragement and love. I rarely, if ever, saw him leave her side.

My part in your special day was small but I felt great joy in performing it.  I picked up things, fetched water, made scrambled eggs, took pictures, encouraged your momma, gathered your siblings so they could witness your entry into this world, took lots of pictures and just basked in the heavenly feelings that filled that room. You are a blessed little soul to have come into this world with so much love. 

There have been times when I have been discouraged, feeling like maybe I should just give up birth advocacy work.  Even though this work is full of ups and downs, I can’t leave it.  It is simply a miracle to witness birth in action and I thank my God for it.

So to all of those guardians of the hearth I say thank you! 

You can read Elizabeth Jane’s full birth story here.

 

Elizabeth Jane with her momma, Shani. She and her husband, Ken, both contributed to my "Healing From Sorrow" essay.

 

There is much to be thankful for.

Wishing you and yours a sacred and joyful Thanksgiving.