first fig

my candle burns at both ends…

Category: birth

Random thought…by mraynes

Was it painful for Mrs. Incredible, a.k.a. Elastigirl, to give birth?

Weekly Anti-Woman Wacko

I don’t have a ton of time today as I’m headed off to a Mormon feminist retreat in Southern California, but I couldn’t leave with out nominating my weekly wacko. As I’m in a hurry I’ve picked a video for you all to watch, I think it’s pretty self-explanatory as to why this is my pick for weekly wacko.

This makes me so insanely angry that I can barely even talk about it. It really would be nice to live in a country where women were trusted and allowed to make informed decisions on their own behalf. The fact that we are not only goes to show how far we have to go in order for women to have true equality in this country.

For better analysis into Personhood USA, see here.

The Woman Without a Shadow

cross posted at The Exponent

mr. mraynes and I are opera geeks. I spent the first years of my college career training to be an opera singer; mr. mraynes has spent the majority of his doctoral program immersed in opera scores, learning how to conduct them. Where a lot of couples have a song taken from pop culture, our song was “Liebestod” from Tristan und Isolde. Every major moment in our relationship is connected to an aria or opera. Dating…Cosi Fan Tutte. Falling in love… “Liebestod” . Engagement…Turandot. Marriage… “Morgen” . Birth of Baby Monster… “Song to the Moon” . Birth of Baby Valkyrie…Brunhilde’s Immolation. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist sharing these moments with you.)

And so it should not have surprised me that the first thing mr. mraynes said to me after getting an IUD was, “Ahh, die frau ohne schatten,” meaning ”the woman without a shadow.” Now for those not familiar with the Strauss opera, Die Frau Ohne Schatten is a fairytale of love blessed through the birth of a child. As lovely as this sounds and despite the absolutely breathtaking music, this opera is a feminist’s nightmare. You see, a woman without a shadow is a woman who can’t have children…making her not a real woman and therefore, not human. Throw in a little domestic violence and the belief that women are chattel and you have three hours of anti-woman fun.

At the beginning of the opera we learn that the Emperor of the Southeastern Islands will be turned to stone unless is wife, the daughter of the King of spirits, becomes human and gains a shadow. Of course, it is hard to feel sorry for the Emperor when we learn that he captured the Empress and believes that she is “for my soul and for my eyes and for my hands and for my heart. She is the booty of all booty without end.” Despite being captured and married against her will, the Empress goes in search of a shadow so her husband won’t be petrified. The Empress and her nurse meet a human woman who resents her life as a domestic slave to her husband and doesn’t want to be a mother because she fears children will further enslave her. Long story short, the nurse convinces the woman to sell her shadow to the Empress. When the woman’s husband finds out, he threatens to kill her because without her shadow, without the ability to bear children, she is useless to him. Luckily for the wife, the Empress refuses the shadow, saying she will not save her husband at the expense of another man’s happiness. This act of self-sacrifice allows the Empress to gain her own shadow. The opera ends with the two couples united and fertile, singing the praises of their humanity.

As a feminist, there is so much in this opera that I find objectionable. I resent the belief that my only value as a woman lies in my ability to bear children. This belief can be found around the world in almost every culture. Historically, women have not been allowed to become fully actualized individuals, not allowed to explore the things that would bring them the most happiness. Instead women are forced into a lifestyle they wouldn’t necessarily choose. For women who can’t have children, there is the feeling of failure on top of the overwhelming sorrow that comes along with infertility. Women who are childless, whether by choice or not, are often seen as dangerous and are at increased risk for emotional and physical violence.
Of course, the pendulum can swing too far the other way as well. In cultures where maternity is glorified, female subordination often goes hand in hand. The idea of the angel in the home, while romantic, only serves to infantilize women and take away their ability to be agents unto themselves. A doll’s house existence is no existence.

Second wave feminists worked hard to give women like me the choice to become mothers and also follow our dreams of self-fulfillment. But socialization dies hard. When mr. mraynesreferred to my shadowless status, I felt guilty. I cried while the IUD was being implanted. Even now, when I think about that small piece of plastic floating around in my uterus I have to fight off the urge to reach inside and yank it out. I admit that I have felt like less of a woman knowing that my fertility is compromised. Intellectually I know this is ridiculous and I am ashamed of myself. I have no right to feel this way. I have two babies and though I have chosen to see them as the crowning achievement of my life, I don’t want my choice perverted by some outdated notion that my worth lies exclusively in the fruitfulness of my womb. Getting an IUD was absolutely the right thing to do; it was right for my marriage, for my children, for our current financial and life situation and for my own state of mind.

And yet…I am haunted by my shadow.

The Grand Tapestry

This is the sacrament talk I gave in my ward two weeks ago. I quoted from Chieko Okazaki, Joan Chittister’s Called to Question and Valerie Hudson’s Women in Eternity, Women in Zion but because I wrote it as a sermon, I did not include citations. I hope you enjoy it.

A wise woman once said that “vision is the ability to realize that the truth is always larger than the partial present.” It is easy to become enmeshed in the partial present, to be so concerned with our daily existence, that we forget that our lives serve a greater purpose and is part of a grander whole. Indeed, it is hubris to believe that we live our lives purely for our own sake, for we are all interconnected in the great plan of God. This plan connects us with every other spirit and intelligence in the universe. It connects us with God and makes the atonement of Jesus Christ operational on our behalf.

The plan of salvation is like a grand tapestry. Each of us is a small thread in this tapestry; intersecting, connecting, separating and intersecting again. Moving from color to color, dark to light. We may not know what contribution our small thread makes to the great tapestry. We may not understand the pattern that our lives make, but God does. It is God’s plan that incorporates and connects us all. It is that plan that will bring us eternal happiness.

As Moses 1:39 tells us, God’s purpose is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. No matter the time period and regardless of the culture into which a spirit is born, every life is infinitely precious because God’s purpose extends to every individual. In the pre-mortal existence, our intelligences were organized into individual spirits and we became the children of our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. In our primeval childhood, we were nurtured by the side of God. We grew and developed and desired to progress further. We desired the opportunity to discern good from evil; to prove to our Heavenly Parents our ability to become like them and live as exalted beings in their presence forever.

And so, in their great love, they came up with a plan that would insure our happiness and immortality. Each spirit child would have to leave the presence of God for a time. In order to fully prove ourselves, it would be necessary to withhold the recollection of our former friends and birth. As we sojourned through mortality, we would make choices based on our discernment of good and evil. Our Heavenly Parents knew the mortal weakness each of us would suffer, and so in their mercy, they provided us with a Savior. Because he first loved us, he desired to be the propitiation for the sins we would inevitably commit. Our older brother would be the door through which, if we entered, we would be saved.

We are told that at hearing this plan, the hosts of heaven rejoiced. Two-thirds of God’s children happily chose this plan. All of us are here in mortality because we chose the plan. Everybody who has ever been born, or ever will be born, chose God’s plan of happiness. This fact should be a source of great hope and confidence to us. We all trusted God. We all loved the Savior. We were willing to take the frightening risks of mortality because we desired to be like them. We assumed the burden of freedom because we loved Christ so much. And he assumed the burden of being our Savior because he loved us so much. Before we were born, then, we had become part of a web of love, part of the grand tapestry that is the plan of salvation.

The tapestry begins with the creation of the Earth. In order for the plan to commence, a place for mortal existence had to be created. As Moses 1:4 tells us: “And the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth.” A great Mormon poetess beautifully captures the primordial event in her “Song of Creation”:

Who made the world, my child?
Father made the rain
silver and forever
Mother’s hand
drew riverbeds and hollowed seas,
drew riverbeds and hollowed seas
to bring the rain home

Father bridled winds, my child,
to keep the world new.
Mother clashed
fire free from stones
and breathed it strong and dancing,
and breathed it strong and dancing
the color of her hair.

He armed the thunderclouds
rolled out of heaven;
Her fingers flickered
weaving the delicate white snow,
weaving the delicate white snow
a waterfall of flowers

And if you live long, my child
you’ll see snow burst
from thunderclouds
and lightning in the snow;
listen to Mother and Father laughing,
listen to Mother and Father laughing
behind the locked door.

~Linda Sillitoe

The first chapter of Moses tells us how the gods created the world; first organizing matter to create the bedrock that would form the hills everlasting. Then the gods divided darkness from light, creating the satellites of the sun, moon and stars in the heavens. The gods formed seas and fountains and then decorated the new earth with flower, fish, bush and beast. But their crowning achievement came in the creation of humankind; a man and a woman, fashioned in their own image.

Adam and Eve were the first to come to this earth, though the Garden of Eden was a transitional and paradoxical existence. They had the veil drawn over their eyes and yet, they walked and talked with god. Adam and Eve lived in a state of innocence; they could not sin, they could not die but they also could not progress. They were given two commandments; the first was not to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the second was to multiply and replenish the earth. But they were given the gift of choice, the first gift of heaven, to choose whether or not they would keep the commandments of God. This is where the beauty of God’s plan was manifest for it is not in God’s nature to expel his children from his presence. And so he designed a plan that would allow Adam and Eve the ability to choose for themselves whether they would progress or remain in a state of innocence.

As we all know, Adam and Eve fell that men might be. Throughout the ages, our first parents have been criticized for breaking the commandment of God. But the restored knowledge of the plan of salvation has given us the vision and understanding to know that their transgression was essential to the progression of all men and women.

Though underestimated and vilified throughout history, Eve understood the greater vision of God: that man must be that they might have joy. Her statement in Moses 5:11 is perhaps the most doctrinally profound in all of scripture. “And Eve…heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” Eve knew that it was the perpetuation of life, the continuation of the plan of salvation that would bring true happiness not only to herself, but to all her children. And so Eve became the first agent of light, providing the way for God’s children to receive bodies and progress to immortality.

All members of the human race must enter mortality through birth. Those of us who accepted the plan were permitted to pass through the veil that shrouds mortal life. We know women play an important role in the passage through the veil; they escort every soul through the veil, even the soul of the Savior of mankind. In a sense, they serve as the gatekeepers to our mortal world. Presiding over those who pass through the first veil, they clothe each traveler with a physical body and introduce them into mortality and agency through personal suffering and sacrifice.

This is something that I have had occasion to think a lot about recently. My own experience with the birth of my two children has been sacred and I have reflected often on the power there is in bringing life into the world. There is a point during labor where one leaves the mortal realm and is caught between life and death; it is in this sacred realm that the veil is at its thinnest. As I labored with my beloved children, I could feel a godly presence, not only sustaining me through the pain but entrusting me with the lives of two precious children, charging me to nurture them and bring them back to light.

As latter-day saints, we have been given the vision to understand that it is our families that unite and exalt us. When a man and a woman marry, they are committing to life, to love, and the perpetuation of life and love. Their mutual love for each other, unites them in a sacred cause, the perpetuation of love and life in their posterity. Both men and woman are creators of new life. Both have an obligation to nurture that life. Men help in the nurturing and loving of new life, just as women do. Parents have the responsibility to teach those to whom they give life, that there is light and love in this world, and to seek it. In this way, young souls are prepared to recognize and be receptive to the fullness of the Word of God. Women and men jointly teach their children goodness so that they might return to the presence of God.

It is, of course, up to us children to follow the light that our parents have introduced us to. Mortality is designed as part of the gospel plan to bring us mingled experiences with good and evil; that we may learn from experience to make wise choices. And many of these experiences are painful because we fail. We know ourselves to be weak. We stumble along, being less than we can be, never living up to our own standards, let alone anyone else’s. We try to obey the laws of God. The more our actions are in accordance with those laws, the more blessed and God-like we will be. If we choose, if we even desire to choose, if we even hope for the desire to choose, we set in motion the powerful forces for life that are led by Jesus Christ himself. He responds to those tender tendrils of crippled life with the force and energy that will bring them to flowering. Listen to these promises of love and yearning desire for us. Feel the hope they bring that with Him we can overcome the world. “[I] am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for [his] sheep.”

A true vision of the plan, one that does not see the tapestry as a single finished point, gives us the right to grow, to progress. It implies not only a God who made us, but a God who is with us, in us, and in everything around us. Whoever we are, whatever we are, this God knows us, understands us, walks with us to the melting point where what we are and what God is become one.

We are God’s children and God knows our greatest potential is to live as He does. We know why we are here. We have been given a vision of the great tapestry, the plan of salvation, through the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. We may not know what contribution our small thread makes to that tapestry. We may never know how far the effects of our service will reach. By our good works we magnify what is mighty in us all, one step at a time, one day at a time. We can never afford to be cruel or indifferent or ungenerous, because we are all connected, even if it is in a pattern that only God sees. We are all part of the pattern; black, white, brown, male or female. We are all connected in the merciful plan of our Heavenly Parents and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

May we all have the vision to know the full truth of this plan.

The Price I Ask

There are very few things in this world that I feel more passionately about than pregnancy and childbirth. My own experience with both have been so emotive, terrifying, joyous and overwhelming; rarely have I felt more powerful and vulnerable than when I am pregnant or giving birth. These have been transcendent experiences for me. I am a better person for going through the indignities of being pregnant and giving life to two beautiful children. I am a better person because pregnancy and birth require sacrifice.

Obviously the sacrifice of the physical body is necessary when pregnant. A woman has no choice but to share food and nutrients with the growing child. Often times that foetus acts like a parasite, leeching calcium from your bones and, in my case, stealing the hormone that makes my body run normally. As that baby grows, you helplessly watch your body contort and balloon into a shape that is so unrecognizable that you cannot help but question whether it is your reflection you see in the mirror. Then, of course, there are the hormones. The hormones that make it difficult to string together a coherent sentence. The hormones that create bone-deep weariness. The hormones that make you question the intentions of every one around you, including those who love you the most.

But perhaps it is the smallest indignities that hurt the most. Like not being able to tie your shoes or the constant heartburn. Like having to say no to the piece of chocolate cake you want so badly because of the gestational diabetes that make your babies gigantic. Like not being able to get out of bed without assistance or having your back ache so badly that it brings tears to your eyes. Like being unable able to pick up your oldest child and hold him close to you. Like foregoing sex with the father of your children and the man you love more than anything because you are so big that he can’t get within arm’s length of you.

This doesn’t even take into account what happens during birth. Nobody tells you about the doctors that treat you like a mentally challenged child. You are legs are forced back to your ears, exposing your most vulnerable parts to the cold air and the stares of anybody who passes by. Nobody talks about the blood and the shit, the fluid that comes erupting from you like Vesuvius. You don’t know desperation until you have felt the crowning of your baby’s head ripping apart your most delicate tissue. And then when it’s all over there is the stab in the leg, the pushing, the stitching and the weeks of bleeding to look forward to. And I will do it all again.

I will do it again because the sacrifice is worth it. It is worth it to me to bring children into the world who will know what true love is. I sacrifice my body, my mind, my dignity, my free will so that a few spirits will know light and truth. It is a sacrifice I freely give to my children, my husband and my heavenly parents. It is not a sacrifice, however, that I give freely to world. The price I ask for re-populating our society with decent citizens is for the society that I willingly contribute my time, money and resources to respect the sacrifice I make.

I have a few dreams in which this respect could take form: free maternity health care, paid maternity leave, and I’m talking French style 3 year paid maternity leave, flex time, affordable daycare. But today, I’ll settle on just one…Respect my life.

I took it for granted that most Americans, most politicians, even the Mormon church agreed that the life of a pregnant mother is of value and should be protected at all costs, even if that cost comes at the expense of the child she is carrying. I am hopeful that this is the case but it scares me that a man who could be elected president of the United States could on national television say that exceptions for a woman’s “health”, are an extreme pro-abortion position. As a childbearing woman, to have concerns about my health so openly and condescendingly sneered at, was beyond horrifying.

So to John McCain and all those who believe like him, I have this to say:

My life is of value. My health is of value. This is personal to me. I am not part of an extreme pro-abortion conspiracy to murder all the unborn children that take up residence in my womb. I am a wife and a mother. A woman who cares for society’s outcasts and comforts the abused. I am a woman who has served my country bravely, just like you have, sir. I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death twice to bring children into this world. Children who will love their country and protect her freedoms. Children who will be part of the next generation of American goodness. We have both sacrificed for our country, sir and though you may not believe it, our sacrifices are equal. Just like the value of our lives are equal. I respect the sacrifice you made for this country. And now I ask the same respect from you.

A Tale of Two Births

Cross posted at Exponent II

I just gave birth to my second child and it was an experience entirely different than the one I had previously or what I expected. I suppose the mechanics were the same, I gave birth vaginally without the use of anesthetics and yet it seemed to me that I lost something indescribable in the second birth and I am mourning that loss. You see, I am one of those women who believes that there is real power in the birth process; that there is something other worldly and divine in trying to give life to another being. In my first meeting with the midwife who would deliver my son, she asked why I wanted to birth outside the mainstream medical model for my first pregnancy. I had several good answers for this including a skepticism of male dominated, Western medicine and a fascination with the history and marginalization of midwifery. But my desire for a “natural” birth went further than this to something I couldn’t quite articulate. I wanted to connect with women throughout the past and present, to touch the divine within myself and to know the power of creation. Something within me knew that I could best achieve this as I labored to give life to my child.
I have given birth twice in the past year and a half; both births were wonderful experiences where I was, at least briefly, able to obtain the above desire. But the births were dramatically affected by my choice in medical providers. I believe that labor and birth are inherently feminist issues because of the choice, or lack of choice, that the experience provides laboring women. Indeed, the increase in knowledge and choices for pregnant women was one of the earliest successes of the women’s movement. There was a huge paradigm shift during the 1970’s and 80’s that rejected the old model of restraining and knocking women out, effectively making them passive participants in the birth of their children. Instead, women demanded a greater role in the birthing process and wanted some choice in what happened to their bodies.
As a woman in her childbearing years, I am grateful for the increased choice I have when it comes to my maternity care. What I didn’t understand before giving birth though, was the impact these choices had on the experience I wanted for myself and my child. So as a public service (I promise I’m not trying to navel gaze here, although I won’t stop you from commenting on how brave, strong and skinny I am), I thought I would share my birth experiences. Please take them for what they are, my experience. What worked best for me will not be best for all women.
I have never felt more powerful than when I gave birth to my son, Baby Monster. I chose to deliver outside of a hospital at a free standing birth center in the Phoenix area. I had a midwife and a nurse who gently guided me through my twenty-one hour labor with a variety of techniques used by midwives for centuries. I felt a powerful connection with the women assisting me and to my foremothers who had birthed me and all humankind. As I transitioned to the last stage of labor, I entered into a dream-like place somewhere between mortality and death. At that moment I connected with the divine, a connection that supported me through the three hours of pushing it took to give life to my son. When it was all over, I not only had a beautiful baby but the knowledge that I had converged with something greater than myself.
When I got pregnant again, I was devastated to learn that my birth center had closed due to the sky-rocketing insurance rates midwives are charged. A homebirth was not something I felt comfortable with so I turned to the OB/Gyn that I had gone to for my annual pap smear. I had picked him because he was the first OB in my HMO directory to have an open appointment. I figured that since I already given birth, I could be assertive enough to stand up for the kind of birth I wanted. Unfortunately, I felt that there was always a power struggle between me and my doctor as to who controlled my pregnancy, birth and body. Due to gestational diabetes, early in my pregnancy the doctor informed me that he would induce my labor if he felt the baby was too big. Baby Monster had been ten pounds so I was not afraid to have a large baby but I stuck to a low-carb diet so as to prevent a medical induction. Despite my best efforts, when it came time for the ultrasound to determine the baby’s size, she was big and so the doctor scheduled my induction without my input or consent.
In an effort to regain some control, I induced myself using my trusty breast pump the evening before the scheduled induction. This labor was much more solitary than the first; I labored mostly alone with my husband and mother-in-law asleep nearby. My labor was short and intense, almost primal. I listened to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Wagner’s Immolation of Brunhilde as I worked through each surge. Once again I entered that dreamland and felt the power of creation. I felt myself transition into the last stage of labor and knew I had to get to the hospital quickly. At this point I lost my connection with the dreamland and was never fully able to regain it. It seemed as I went through the process of registering and being checked, I stood at the doorway of that sacred place, looking in but not entering. The triage nurse panicked when she realized I was dilated to a nine and was about to have a baby. The doctor arrived just in time to demand I be given an IV, which of course didn’t take on either arm but effectively kept me from re-entering the dreamland of labor. Ten minutes later, Baby Valkyrie was born.
I am grateful to have had both experiences because of what I learnt from each one. Most importantly, I am grateful for the healthy baby at the end. Both the alternative and traditional experiences had their upside and downside. For example, my midwife was so easy going that she forgot to give me the gestational diabetes test which probably led to the size of my son and made the labor harder both on me and the Baby Monster. My OB/Gyn was very attentive to detail and I had an easier pregnancy and labor because of it. Assuming there are no complications, there is not a right way or a wrong way to birth as long as the woman is comfortable with the choices she is making. This is where I went wrong; I was never fully comfortable with the traditional medical model of birthing. I lost so much power in trying to fight my doctor that I was unable to regain it when I most needed it. So I guess my advice is, know what you want and then be true to that desire.