Birth: shame, fear and exultation

19 Jan

There’s an article circulating media that is about a woman’s tragic account in giving birth at home. She is upset, angry and adamantly advises against many of the things she believed going into birth: she’s a birth warrior, put trust in your body, do it at home. She is clearly traumatized by the experience (“has nightmares,” “is consumed by what happened”), which of course is more than understandable considering her son almost died, but what is also clear is her driving need to put blame somewhere. In this case the blame is having a home birth and all of its deceptive rhetoric.

I have no desire to do much analysis on her story here (I do question the care she received) other than the way trauma drives us to find some semblance of control, which often leads to a binary: home births with midwives are bad, being at hospitals are good. The binary mentality feeds the hungry mouths of American culture, not only about birthing practices, but every other topic imaginable. We want to be justified and consoled by our safe ideology and feel threatened when it shakes or when difference challenges our white knuckled grip.

I want to allow blood to rush through those hands and continue to speak on the birthing subject because it’s important and deserves a better handling than binary conclusions, whether it’s midwives are ill-equipped or shaming those who want an epidural and a hospital. We can do better than that and so let’s make room for intricacies.

First, there is something appallingly flawed within our medical system in which the patient is routinely the object. I’ve heard too many stories about women being persuaded and sometimes coerced into being induced or having a C-section and dare I say before 5pm. Is it strange that the number of babies being born significantly decreases over the weekends (Tuesday is the biggest day for births and Monday follows)? There is 1) a problem with the role and sometimes arrogant, self-seeking practice of doctors, 2) a historical problem with the silencing of women’s voices over their bodies, desires and knowledge and 3) how the the medical field then implicitly shapes the way women see and experience their bodies i.e. women scheduling unnecessary inductions to end pregnancy.

Please note that I don’t believe every doctor is an arrogant arse nor do I believe a person’s voice deserves trumping over sound wisdom and quality care. It’s more of a cultural attitude and position I’m speaking to. There are too many first hand accounts to believe there is something collectively awry.

A few pieces of data to consider. The CDC and World Health Organization are the 2 primary places I’m pulling statistics from as well as University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing:

According to the CDC, home births have a lower risk profile than hospital births, with fewer births to teenagers or unmarried women, and with fewer preterm, low birthweight, and multiple births.

According to WHO, C-Sections in any region should only account for only 10-15% of all births (USA is 32.8%).

Epidurals and inductions increase your chances for a C-Section and other complications, according to UMN:

Most researchers have concluded that epidurals or other regional anesthesia may be associated with longer labors, longer pushing, increased risk of vacuum, forceps, and cesarean sections, as well as increased risk of other complications, such as low blood pressure (which might adversely affect the baby), fever, headache, and nerve damage. (It should be noted however that a newer research study challenges the association with longer labor lengths and increased cesarean sections.)

Also note the costs for medical interventions have tripled. An average cost for a C-section is $15,000. There is money in herding women into a particular way of giving birth.

I’m not denying the necessity of technology and intervention, but when it is the dominant machinery for delivering babies rather than a primary trust in the body, who usually knows what to do and when, is frightening. This perspective not only leads to more costs and complications in birth, but also on a grander scale, body image distortions and disorders, wars executed by a few buttons, the earth being pillaged and ultimately an escape from the essence and rule of nature. We no longer can face death of any kind.

Wendell Berry speaks to this issue:

Only when our acts are empowered with more than bodily strength do we need to think of limits.

It was no thought or word that called culture into being, but a tool or a weapon. After the stone axe we needed song and story to remember innocence, to record effect–and so to describe the limits, to say what can be done without damage.

The use only of our bodies for work or love or pleasure, or even for combat, sets us free again in the wilderness, and we exult.

But a man with a machine and inadequate culture–such as I was when I made my pond–is pestilence. He shakes more than he can hold.

(from the book, What Are People For?)

My aim in writing about birth has more to do with exulting our bodies through being set free again in the wilderness. There is certainly far more to be said, researched and made clear about the one whom “shakes more than he can hold” and therefore puts trust and power in tools and instruments. But instead, I come here to remind myself and possibly you about the wilderness, which beckons forth exultation instead of fear and anxiety. I’m here to remind us all that each of us is complex and requires intricate and patient answers, especially when it comes to birth.

Since we cannot simply get over fear and anxiety, we must enter both through our narrative by familiarizing ourselves with how our bodies, pain and voices were regarded in our stories. We all have many accounts to which we’ve experienced harm, neglect and parental anxiety. Whether it was a mother who was constantly worried about your pain and safety or a family member who sexually abused you and manipulated silence or parents who didn’t ever speak or consider their bodies’ health and needs. Of course there are a myriad of other stories that could be told, ones I’ve heard, ones I’ve experienced and stories so subtle and insidious, it requires a practitioner of some kind to name them. Simply put, our bodies carry, conceal and cleverly disclose the tragedies of our past. Until we can lament over the past, realize the places where we’ve made vows to (I’m weak, pain is only an attack, I’m too much) and eventually bless what is yours and mine–both the goodness and brokenness–approaching anything difficult, namely birth, has the potential of becoming one more tragedy in our arsenal of vanquished expectations. Worse off, it may mean having no hope or desire for witnessing your creative body in action and result in merely getting through it–in other words, numbing proverbial death.

So the blessing may come in the form of surrendering to hospital care or easing pain that elicits memories of trauma and heartache or wanting life more so than the risk of death when death has been a familiar companion. The blessing may come by an invitation to trust your body and its resources.

Giving ourselves understanding for why we choose what we choose will only consecrate our decisions. We will have more courage to face the unexpected and possible disappointment, awareness of our desires and reverence for our efforts.

We will discover how the body longs to heal and be restored, to open up and bring life. I look at my widened hips or scabbed over wounds or weighty breasts and exult over the brilliance of creation. Yes, there are times when intellect and intervention are required, but it’s critical for us to first revere the body as far more intelligent and insightful.

To listen and observe, then proceed.

To listen and observe, then proceed.

To allow the body to suffer through what is necessary as well as passionately long for glimpses of bodily glory–these are the acts that give us gratitude not only for ourselves, but those around us and essentially gratitude for the Creator who anticipates, yearns for and undergirds the means for life even if it’s through the experience of death.

I want to create a birthing culture that invites more presence to our bodies’ stories, awareness of how we’ve succumbed to pain and death and lastly, I want to see more women in awe of their fiercely life-giving abilities whether it’s at a hospital or in the comfort of a home. Our bodies matter, our birthing experiences matter, our voices in singing and retelling the stories of death and life deeply matter.

May it be so.



The Lark Tells Her So

19 Aug

An edifice more terrifying,

than diving deep in the sea

where creatures glow and beam

It holds, composes,

creates, affirms

life and darkness,

the beautiful and grotesque



She opens her eyes

59,999 miles of human vessels rejoicing,

like the lark awakening the earth

“Arise” the vessels say, “this is your temple.”



She closes her eyes

Feel the skin and know its ancient perception

The embryo spoke first through touch,

most rousing through touch

Take in the contours of your body

Let them speak of a voluptuous, holy




She looks up

Breathe in abundance!

And exhale,

that which destroys

This glorious edifice!

Breathe in pleasure,

exhale what spoils

This glorious edifice,

it longs to bless and confirm-

Self, God and Creation



This glorious edifice

whom shall be called


Oh sweet,




To Lay Our Hands Upon

27 May

To be touched.

Fidget. A shifting of body weight.

To be touched.

It conjures up discomfort and longing. Family and culture have shaped us so profoundly.

Family. They defined the limits insofar as their personhood and sexuality are understood. In other words, good touch comes from a place that recognizes the dignity of the other and self. Touch blesses. And, it honors difference so when the child doesn’t want to be touched, the parent respects and engages that decision. If the parent recognizes his or her need for good touch and subsequently seeks it in mature adult relationships then 1) there’s a less likely chance they will refuse their child good touch and 2) nor will they seek to fill their need through their child.

When we commit ourselves to an ongoing understanding of self and sexuality, we will dignify our relationships and bless our little ones to love well and wholly.

Culture. It has infused meaning into touch wherein stories upon stories of bad touch, many sexual in nature, are splayed in our media, legal systems and homes. Touch is connected to sexual misgivings. Teachers don’t touch, priests don’t touch, dads don’t touch, uncles don’t touch, babysitters don’t touch. The list is long and egregious, but the message is clear: we don’t know how to touch so don’t touch at all.

When there is little healthy touch within families and culture it denies something necessary for us. Touch affirms life. It communicates a visceral notion of love without immediate language. The body is the first receiver, rather than the mind, which means it is sensory driven and thus powerful. Touch is the first and foremost communicative experience within human life. It was the earliest way we spoke to our mothers in utero.

If this is the beginning of being known, then our skin being touched and our ability to touch are deserving such high regard.

And so, touch can create and destroy in a manner that is twofold: it effects the body, which then influences the brain. Since skin is the body’s largest organ and its nerve center is denoted most strongly in the brain, we are doubly impacted by what happens to us when our skin is the primary interface. I would suspect our bodies have a far better and clearer understanding of what has happened to us in our life than what our language connotes.  Skin turns outward and inward. It receives indiscriminately, hence making our work of processing experiences all the more important and sacred. How have we suffered, given up boundaries and have harmed ourselves first through the handling of our skin? How has persuasive language blurred the lines of what really happened when he touched you or when she smacked you or when they didn’t embrace you?

Skin is the threshold to our emotional and relational world and to God. Our pain, our ecstasy, our communion, our existence is known through touch and our skin tells the layers within our bodies the stories of beauty and destruction, vulnerability and pain, longing and deficiency.

When was the last time you purposely touched your skin with care?

How have we blessed and taken pleasure in the edges, contours and permeability of this thin layer that covers, speaks and protects us?

And, do you know the places within you that grab for connection?

In our culture we rarely touch to bless nor long suffer for connection. We too often ignore our bodies and grasp for the bodies of others. The most violent image of this is rape. However, rape is an ancient motif to describe whenever someone or a group of people pillage for their gain. It can be as seemingly insignificant as ripping up the earth for more buildings or pulling my son close when I’m feeling sad. There is a pillaging in both and the mutuality of touch has been foreclosed.

How can we touch the earth, another, ourselves with reverence, approaching it as wise; one who speaks about its context and what is mutually best? Or how can we grapple with our emotions, give words to our longings and grief to our shortcomings instead of using another body to help us leave or forget the pain?

To lay a hand upon my body and bless the layers of stories first told through the skin of my thighs, the skin of stomach, the skin of my cheeks, lips, hands and ears. That is the task.

To be invited to lay a hand upon a loved one’s body and bless the layers of stories first told through the skin of their neck, the skin of their arms, the skin of their back, forehead, feet and stomach. That is the hope and joy.

Touch can affirm this life and it can be used for healing.

Let our skin speak and invite the kind of touch that reminds us of how broken we are and yet how dearly we are loved.



Body, Abridged

7 Feb

Body, wise

Body, good

Body, demands

Body, betrays

Body, destroys

Body, loves

Body, aches

Body, sex

Body, divided

Division drives the body to the fringes where it is either

fed and fed and fed

till it knows not of any face, frame, failure

or starved and starved and starved

till it knows not of any face, frame, failure

Body divided from the innermost senses,

Body divided from the innermost thoughts,

drives any of us into darkness

Unable to celebrate in communion,

the wonder of body reconnected, reunited

Unable to celebrate in communion,

the need body has to witness each of our faces

as our faces prepare the scaffolding for

faithfulness, suffering, and



A Return, A Loss and (a possible) Gain: thoughts on becoming a mama

10 Jan

Motherhood. Three simple syllables. However, when this word is embodied it becomes thousands of syllables with different weights, emphases, fluidity or lack thereof.

I am mother.

Surreptitious. Five syllables creating complications. These complications and the word’s meaning reflect a tragically complicated matter: there are only a handful who dare speak of the difficulty of entering Motherhood.


Regression. The counter-intuitive act required upon entrance as ‘mother’. It’s a return to a former or less developed state in order to be attuned to your ‘less developed, primal’ infant. It is madness for some, difficult for many and complicated for all.


In many ways I was (and still am) being birthed too. My birth stretches much longer than my son’s, yet both of us have been experiencing something radically different than what we were accustomed to. During the laboring over our births, I frequently made sounds that were of the soil and sea; sounds that resembled whales to lions to the earth as she groans and aches for a new day. There’s something so appropriate about the mother’s sounds and a baby’s first piercing cry. They disrupt the world of etiquette and poise and remind us of the glory and the grotesque, the beauty and hardship of beginning this life.

There were moments as I walked through the threshold of motherhood that I wondered if I’d be able to continue.


A healing body.

A different body.

A precious, ongoing, grueling responsibility.

Steep learning curves.

Much fumbling. Much anxiety, especially with others around–especially with others because I didn’t want to be seen or known as a struggling mama. And lastly, dare I say, moments of insanity? It was (and still is though much less now) a painful, sweet, exciting and holy exhausting experience. I was emptied. I was made full, but I couldn’t grasp onto the fullness, it had to be relinquished and I was emptied again. The cycle, be it literal or figurative, has been a firm and gracious teacher.

How will I give myself to the world? How will I find myself in the world? How will I trust that I still exist when all has changed?

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

These verses eerily linger in my head as I consider this season, like scarcely moving chimes colliding. The slow reverberations act as an ancient reminder of the life I’m invited to live. Yet, like the untouchable sounds, it can be madness to comprehend what it means ‘to be given’ and ‘to be had,’ to lose and to gain.

To be mother and give, to be mother and receive, to be lost in it all and somehow believe I will be found.

Maybe the chimes are also good teachers, telling me I cannot apprehend anything in this life, just as I cannot remain full or emptied. I cannot aggressively hold on to my identity pre-baby, to my dreams, to my routine, to my higher-functioning self because it leads to depression, anxiety and despair. Though it doesn’t mean to raise the white flag and give up.

Hell no.

Birthing something and being birthed (be it an identity, child, adoption) is the most sacred, wild, unknowable yet divinely ordered experience, an experience that desires a new imagination for tomorrow.

How can I give, lose, set myself free in this powerful and enervating role as mama?


“For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept myself still and restrained myself;

now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.”

You will cry out like a woman in labor, You will gasp and pant for a new day, a better day.

You will gasp and pant.

“..I who took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”

You bend down to them.

You fed them.

Bend towards me.

Bend towards me and feed me.

“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted…

Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”

Remember her and her and her and her and her and me. Put your hand over your belly and remember us.

Lord, my heart is not proud;
my eyes are not haughty.
I don’t concern myself with matters too great
or too awesome for me to grasp.
Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself,
like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk.
Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, put your hope in the Lord—
now and always.

My scratching at the door, my inebriated gait, my compass-less heart, my hope and despair and power and enervation is within this Womb of God. May you and I be released as we make our way through and with a small seed of faith, trust we will in some form or fashion

be found.



17 Nov

She crawls.

And, probably more often than not she drags her scarlet body.

The slug leaves a glistening residue, spotted by only those who pay close attention to their surroundings and like a slug her residue is evidenced, however it requires not the careful observer, but the crude onlooker.

The see









Beneath her ragged garments her arms undulate with muscle as she seeks 30 miles of healing, as she sought hundreds more of healing, as she will seek healing till it at once happens. Her culture is dismissive of what vulnerably courses through every human body: blood, bones, skin, wounds, smells, the grotesque, illness, needs. In a world fixed on taxonomy and appearance, she was ignored to the bottom.

A bleeding woman, not to mention 12 years of bleeding, was labeled as ceremonially unclean: she was forbidden to touch and be touched. Her identity became, as any identity would after 12 years, Untouchable, Undesirable, Unknown. God gave the people of Israel strange regulations about cleanliness (to men and women) and these regulations placed in the hands of imperfect people turn them into ugly tools to puff up those who appeared to be clean; those more concerned with power rather than the beauty of reverent acts applicable to everyone. Here’s the portion that pertains to women from Leviticus 15:

25 “If a woman has a flow of blood for many days that is unrelated to her menstrual period, or if the blood continues beyond the normal period, she is ceremonially unclean. As during her menstrual period, the woman will be unclean as long as the discharge continues. 26 Any bed she lies on and any object she sits on during that time will be unclean, just as during her normal menstrual period. 27 If any of you touch these things, you will be ceremonially unclean. You must wash your clothes and bathe yourself in water, and you will remain unclean until evening.

28 “When the woman’s bleeding stops, she must count off seven days. Then she will be ceremonially clean. 29 On the eighth day she must bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons and present them to the priest at the entrance of the Tabernacle. 30 The priest will offer one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. Through this process, the priest will purify her before the Lord for the ceremonial impurity caused by her bleeding.

The see









The rumors spoken by the pristine people about “this man who heals” must have lingered and lowered, like cool air or collapsed onto the loose dirt long enough for her low bearing body to shuffle itself into them. A spectacle of syllables delightfully whooshing around her, slowly whispering to her of this good man.

A man who touches.

A touch that affirms life.

A touch that restores.

Why does this matter though? Why can’t she simply be healed where she is?

Through being touched we are made vulnerable and alive and through our touch we make the world vulnerable and alive.



These acts grow mutual respect and love for self and other. One theologian writes on how touch is vitally important to our existence, “from the first day to the last day, touching is experienced as assurance, confirmation of the self and healing”. Skin is the greatest organ of learning, of taking in the material and spiritual worlds (Moltmann-Wendel, Elizabeth, I Am My Body: a theology of embodiment, 1995). Thus, this woman is being invited to be desired and known in the most tangible way.

(And yet, the most offensive part of this whole story is this: she, the unclean woman,



first desires, knows and later touches the rabbi, which in turn confirms her life.)

The spectacle of syllables now careen around her, anxiously gushing to her of this defiant rabbi.

“You must go!” they say.

“You must go!” they say.

“Touch him when he’s not looking, touch him and be healed!” they urge.

She becomes dizzy by the possibility of healing, her breath shallow, her body jitters. She begins the journey.









And yet here she is dirty, bruised, breathless and determined. Her risk is that of someone who has sought healing from mainstream sources and returned more ill and empty handed. One can become more daring and open to other forms of healing that aren’t widely accepted or proven or rational.

I’ll offend him, she thinks.

I’ll be humiliated, she knows.

I’ll be quiet when I reach out to touch his hem, she decides.

She shuffles her body into the crowd and it slowly ricochets off of every inattentive onlooker. She is this faceless nuisance, more like the town cat who desperately wants to be touched so he pushes and rolls his furry body into your legs. Stop that. Gross. Try someone else. Twelve years of this and a persistent desire to be healed will create a brave madwoman. Onward, find him, she gasps.

And there he was, the good, defiant man. Cloaked by the traditional rabbi garb in which the fringes at the bottom of his robe undulated by the whooshing of people’s bodies inching closer to him. The tassels were catching a sliver of light from the hot afternoon sun, beckoning her to reach out,

reach out,



for them,

“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

Everyone denied it, and Peter said, “Master, this whole crowd is pressing up against you.”

But Jesus said, “Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me.” When the woman realized that she could not stay hidden, she began to tremble and fell to her knees in front of him. The whole crowd heard her explain why she had touched him and that she had been immediately healed.“Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”

Your faith has made you well. Your faith has made you well. Your maddening, persistent, long suffering desire has made you well. She drained the power from God Incarnate and this God isn’t made privy to this act until after when he finds himself surprisingly emptied.

This God is caught off guard and surrenders to the least of these. Her seeping, red discharge engenders compassion and powerlessness for the purpose of empowering her body through healing.

How she must have trembled long after this incident. How she must have touched her body with gratitude. How she must have collapsed from 12 years of exhaustion and humiliation and deprivation. But, she knew her body mattered for today and somehow believed this man who touches with kindness also valued healing for today. Yet, whether it was out of fear or too many years of embarrassment or weariness or of such faithfulness, she touched him out of kindness for her body’s suffering.

Go in peace, daughter.

Go in peace, daughter.

Go in peace, daughter.

For your faith has made you well.

Bioluminescence: making the unseen seen

31 Oct

There is a ritual I go through every so often. Unceremonious, absent, profane.

There is a ritual I go through every so often. Slam, break, point.

There is a ritual I go through every so often. Gravestones, abyss, vacuous.

There is.

And at the end of this black lunar path is,

the bottom of the sea.

There was.

I know you too have your personal ritual. One that flattens the imagination, calls forth a commitment to atrophy and builds walls around your body.

Atrophy, acedia, depression, pinned, despair, unrestraint, sabotage.

These are the words I confess.

Help me in my unbelief. Help me in my slough.

Scream in my face, Move! No, I sigh, that won’t work.

Hold me in your arms and tell me that I’m good. No, I sigh, that won’t work either.

I want to make things and when I do I feel my spirit press hard against my insides, filling up the negative space with rejoicing. So, why does it happen few and far between?

Why does my ritual seduce me far more than the experience of creation? Why do I prefer to roil my dark thoughts of comparison, inadequacy, anger and fear? There is a strange satisfaction in these dark dirges.

There is.

There was.

The bottom of the sea.

(Deafening and simplifying silence )

(Wash over me, wash over me, o’ sea, o’ baptism:

deliver me)

I sense sadness somewhere near. It’s searching for its master. Tears brim. Heart tethers loosen. And I declare, no, I whisper to sadness,

I’m right


She quietly arrives. We’re underneath a large white sheet that is propped up by an old broom with bristles that shed every so often. The flashlight is on and I softly ask, Why do I hate? Why do I bury?

I have stories, good stories. Stories of jumping into icy waters, putting mud on my eyes, dancing foolishly in front of rigidity, giving a beautiful birth in my home, praying with the tongues of fire in me and yet I have too many other stories of me sitting alone with glazed eyes, a stiff body, contorted face, raging fists.

The flashlight fades out and I’m left in darkness.

Why do you run from pleasure?

The broom teeters and eventually topples over.

Why do you run from pleasure?

The swarming darkness and mess of sheets return me to the secret conversations I had with God as a child while I laid restless in bed. Pleasure, which came in the form of my rudimentary belief that a God existed and wanted to hear me, thus I gave Her thoughts and ideas and worship and consequently was given a sense of delight and belonging.

These moments of ecstatic joy are moments of pleasure and something in me and something out there would like me to forfeit all experiences of it. Something out there would rather give me a snake (or technology or rumors or fantasies or Christian platitudes) than good, nourishing food for my hungry soul.

I realize to experience pleasure isn’t to possess a mere appetite. In other words: lust. And, lust is easy and without risk. To experience genuine, embodied pleasure means one has to work, risk, scheme, suffer a bit- in other words, one has to give and, sometimes with more trouble, receive. Those blessed occurrences are the fruit of labor, reception and love, I suppose.

(Deafening and simplifying silence )

(Wash over me, wash over me, o’ sea, o’ baptism:

deliver me)

The sheets wash over me.

My tears wash over me.

I’ve desecrated and I’ve detached.

I’ve wanted cheap ways.

I’ve wanted safe plans.

But, to create means to go to the bottom of the sea. To feel the fear of what it means to have no promise of resurfacing. To surrender to the disorder with a belief that one small act of creating will lead to another and another and:

it may not lead to the world’s standards of great success, yet if it grows pleasure, a giving and receiving, a risk to love and be loved, then surely Heaven has come to earth.

There is, was and will be rituals that ruin and yet it’s in those sea beds one can forgo the wielding ceremony and undergo the Creator’s pleasure in us. A pleasure that says, Out of chaos, I’ve made you and called you by name. Instead of wrecking the things that are seen, Will you make what is unseen, seen?

If we partake in creating of any kind, bringing what is unseen, seen or at least beginning to articulate it, then it implies you are undergoing the kindness and pleasure of God rather than destroying or fleeing from it.

Will you make what is unseen, seen?