I have longed for thy salvation, O L-RD; and thy Torah is my delight. Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee; and let thy judgments help me. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments. Psalm 119:174-176

22 December 2012

The Girl effect - part 23, Birth redux

Bouquet - photo by J.Stahl

I've been thinking very hard on my break about what I wanted to talk about next on my blog about women, and girls, and things that need changing in our cultures and also in our faith. Funny thing, one thing is not going away in the back of my mind and I feel like I'm being driven to discuss birth again.

"Why?"  I'm sure some of you are thinking... In fact, I asked myself that very same question, and the more I think about it - "Why not?" - this is one area where traditionally, women are not empowered or in charge of, and it is the one thing that affects ALL of us - men or women, boys and girls. We got here somehow. Someone had to birth us.

The questions I have are as follows:
  • Did she know all the options available to her?
  • Was she educated when it came to birth? --Did she know what was happening, how it would happen, how to ease her pains, whether it was optional to go without interventions?
  • Did she have a midwife or doula?  --Did she know she could?
  • Was she forced into an unnecessary cesarean?
  • Did she have birth complications?
  • Did her congregation (church, synagogue, what have you) assist her after her birth? 
  • Did her family assist her?
  • What are our / my options?
  • Is a VBAC something possible after a cesarean? --is it really as risky as some doctors paint it?

How timely, that this is a pressing issue on my mind, when most of the Christian world is celebrating the most important birth in the entire history of our faith - the birth of Messiah, and remembering that Mary bore him in a Sukkah that day, without her female family members attending (as was custom), very possibly without a midwife, and only with Joseph attending. This had to be terrifying, unless she knew and trusted her body to do what it had to do.

You see, the custom of the time was that the women of the families were together for all the births. Midwives were common, but women were often together during births. Had it not been for the special circumstances of the birth of Y'shua (traveling, hotels all booked) - this would have been something afforded to Mary. Except, that's not how the Bible tells us the story.  It was just Mary and Joseph, no room in the inn, and a baby laid on the area where they'd have eaten in a sukkah. Can you imagine?

And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancĂ©e, who was now obviously pregnant.
And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
-Luke 2, New Living Translation

Women did not traditionally keep Sukkot like men did. Women did the baking and cooking and were often together in the Sukkah for meals and some celebrations - but not for the entire week camping outside like the men did.  And here was Miriam (Mary) with Yosef (Joseph) living in the Sukkah apart from everyone else due to the birth of the miracle child.... Y'shua. We know that for 8 days they stayed in the Sukkah, and quite possibly after that, they may have found lodging or moved on to stay with family. We're not told.

The amazing thing, the light of the world Himself, was wrapped in strips of cloth worn often re-used as wicks to light the lamps in the Temple during Sukkot. It was said that during Sukkot, one could see in all of Jerusalem without any part of it being dark due to the giant lamps in the Temple being lit at night.  It is quite possible that Miriam got these "swaddling clothes" from her cousin Elisabeth, prior to her journey with Joseph to Bethlehem.

Bethlehem was often called a sleepy neighbor village of Jerusalem. But, we are not told that it was as bright during this time of year. Yet, the angels sang, and the star shone bright for the Levitical Shepherds minding the Temple flocks to witness this miracle in their midst:

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
-Luke 2, New Living Translation

So while this is in the back of my mind, I'm also thinking about how removed many women are from family when they give birth, and how institutionalized that all of this has become.  There has been a lot of news and fervor about this issue as of late. Its timely, precisely because people are thinking about birth all this month and some are even still thinking about it into mid-January when the Christian calendar finishes the celebration of the birth and circumcision of Y'shua (Jesus) when he was a baby..

I'm a member of, and interested party in "One World Birth". You might have heard of it. If not, please view the video below:

You can see the 14 minute version of the film here, and order a copy of the upcoming DVD. You may have heard about this movement and the UK outreach "Freedom for birth" recently in the news. This is the same group.

Source: An old German book, pre-1800

"Birth, to my mind, is the very frontline battleground for human rights," says Rebecca Schiller, a doula schooled in human rights and a leading UK activist. "Nothing says more about a society, a culture or an individual's attitude to the rights of those around him than his attitude to the rights and responsibilities of a birthing woman. If the moment when our human rights begin as a newborn baby is set against some gruesome backdrop of our mother's subjugation to the deliberate, even criminal, withdrawal of some of the very basic rights we all expect, what chance have we of living a life where our own rights are respected?"
The mothers fighting back against birth intervention, The Guardian UK

Think about this for a bit. Ruminate a little.  Research the history of birth in the West since the 1600s and tell me, do you think women are empowered when they give birth..?  Or is it just one more way women's rights and security is violated when they want to have children?

Three years ago, I was on a family vacation in Oregon and pregnant with my second, when I had a divine dream. I was trying to survive my way through life, knowing that my husband was called to ministry within the church, and thinking that that's what I was supposed to do as well. As much as I loved birth, I didn't think that birth work could be a calling- and didn't I want to serve God with my life? (ha!)
...The revelation that birth work could be a calling, a gifting, a ministry? Wow. From that moment on I began to explore the idea that maybe this was what I was supposed to do. All the pieces had been there, I just needed to put them together.
Momma on a Mission -
The Pieces Were Always There. See also "The Glorious Body"

I asked Momma on a Mission what she thought of this, and she had this to say:

" I think for me the reason that birth is so powerful is because it's one of the most intense experiences (if not the most intense) of a woman's life, in which the body, soul, and spirit are all (or should be) fully engaged and present during the experience. ... It's supposed to be transformative. It's supposed to be empowering. It's supposed to take almost everything out of you- and then you realize that YOU DID IT and you have the most amazing reward that you can imagine.

So then you take an experience like that, and have a culture that doesn't recognize that that's what birth is supposed to be, and because of that culture, so many women don't know that birth was meant to be an empowering, transformative experience. In birth, women have this opportunity to take ownership of their experience, to take ownership of their person, body, soul, and spirit. But so many women in this culture don't know how to take that ownership, or that they can, or that they should(no matter what type of birth actually occurs). Then when the whole experience, this thing that's supposed to be intensely personal, is given over to an expert, often a man, even, to be managed and controlled- then that ...experience can be lost. And the woman is often violated in the process.

 Also, in many (most?) cases, women don't trust their bodies. In so many different ways, and from so many different insidious angles, we're told from childhood that our bodies are not good enough. Not only are they not good enough, but they're something to be ashamed of and covered up. That makes it so much more difficult for a woman to trust her body in birth, to trust that it's able to birth a baby, and also to let go of her inhibitions. Birth requires odd positions, nudity, vulnerability, and things like moaning and groaning. It takes confidence to be able to do things like that, and to do them well. How many women truly have confidence in themselves, and then how many of them have confidence in their bodies?

  And then take that mindset a step further into breastfeeding. If a woman already has little confidence in her body, she's probably going to have little confidence that her body can create milk and sustain a tiny human with it. For a lot of women, breastfeeding is their first positive experience with their body- and that's amazing. But for so many women in this culture- a culture where they're not likely to have ever seen another woman breastfeeding, a culture where bottles are normal, a culture where doctors and nurses perpetuate so much misinformation that does not encourage a normal breastfeeding relationship- it's hard to find the confidence that their bodies can do this amazing thing, and that it's normal. So what should be a beautiful, empowering, bonding experience becomes something that they're unsure of, nervous about, and feel like they have to hide.

This is why woman to woman relationships are so important. It's so powerful to have a strong, confident woman look another woman in the eye and say, "I did this, and it was amazing- and you can do it too." We need to be able to share that wisdom, woman to woman. Lets reclaim these things from merely being managed by medicine, and put them back where they belong- in the hands of wise women that can support and empower each other.. "

Thank you. Thank you so much M.O.M.! You really put that together in a neat little package!

 I still don't know what my mission is. I'm not certain of my calling right now, other than to let people know that half of the people we as Christians and Messianics claim to be reaching are not being reached, and are being treated unethically and inequitably.  This bothers me a lot.

Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing this season - if you are celebrating Christmas in some form, please remember the women in your family who have given birth, those who have experienced child loss, and those who are soon to give birth. Think long and hard about how they are treated and have been treated - and if there is any way you can help. And I am certain, that in some small way you'll share in remembering a part of that birth so long ago that has (and should still!) change so much in our lives.

When you sing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", "Mary, did you know?" or "O, Little Town of Bethlehem" - remember that. When you remember how you treat the women in your life, remember how you treat Y'shua.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,[f] you were doing it to me!’
-Matthew 25, New Living Translation

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