I want to announce an amazing fundraising event that will be taking place on April 11th, 2010, from 9am to 5pm in Montreal. Dr. Lewish Mehl-Madrona, author of Coyote Medicine and several other wonderful books on the subject of healing ourselves and our culture through storytelling, will be leading a workshop called Birth and Healing: Healing and Birth.

With Dr. Mehl-Madrona, and I quote “we will explore birth as metaphor. Birth is an ultimate symbol for change and transformation. Birth represents a physiological reality in which metaphor and biology meet. Metaphors of release, surrender, ‘going with the flow’, and energy are all helpful to giving birth. We will challenge the conventional birth crisis stories, embedded in the language ‘failure to progress’, ‘incompetent cervix’ being ‘sectioned’, membranes ‘rupturing’. By exploring these metaphors we can learn more about how to help women give birth and how to help anyone birth a new self, a transformation, a change. Midwives and doulas manage energy without interference or obstruction. Healing requires this same type of management. We will explore how the training of midwives and doulas is ideal for becoming involved in all kinds of healing. We will explore through role playing, re-enactments, and other techniques being ‘midwives of healing’ for conditions other than birth. Guided imagery and visualization will help us in these explorations.

We will explore how giving birth and the work and preparation required to do so, can be healing for women on multiple levels.”

Rivka Cymbalist, founder of Montreal Birth Companions, is a dear friend of mine, and MotherWit Doula Care is committed to helping promote fundraising events and gathering donations where we can to support this essential service. This is a message from Rivka to everyone who wishes to contibute to potentially improving a birth experience for a woman of need: “Help us fund the Montreal Birth Companions. Montreal Birth Companions is a non-profit, non-funded organization. We provide doula services to low-income and otherwise disadvantaged women and we train doulas within ethnically or culturally isolated areas of the city. Our goals are to provide women with doulas who are sensitive to particular needs, and to provide low and no-income women with education and a valid means of support.

Our organization is not government funded and relies on donors to provide support for seriously disadvantaged women.

All profits from the Birth Workshop will go towards paying doulas to accompany needy women during childbirth. Larger donations are eligible for a tax receipt. For information see:

Location:Centre Communitaire, 6767 Côte-des-Neiges, Montreal, QC, H3S 2T6
Contact: Rivka Cymbalist
Montreal Birth Companions

On a personal note, I am very excited about attending this workshop. I am big fan of Dr. Mehl-Madrona’s work, and feel he has contributed much to my approach to holding the space for a birthing woman. I used to have somewhat preconceived notions in my mind..”oh, that lady was born by C-section…she’s probably going to have a really rough birth,” or “wow, she experienced sexual abuse in the past. We’re going to run into problems.” or, “the more emotionally clear you are and the calmer your approach to birth, the more you are guaranteed of a good outcome.” Many are aware of the quantum physics theory which states that an object changes according to who is observing it. Well, I knew that giving birth in an environment which uses disempowering language like “I delivered my patient”, or “to go through natural birth is barbaric” definitely had an impact on women, but I didn’t consider that my having a preconceived story could potentially create self-fulfilling prophesies as well. Though we many not be so powerful as individuals to totally derail a birth with our thoughts, people’s energies influence each others’, and can subtly shape how a woman perceives her birth giving abilities and her birth experience.

Now when I have clients with serious challenges, I don’t project those thoughts at all. Our culture already has enough stories to categorize people. I prefer to come with a clear mind and the feeling in my heart that the intense birthing energy is beyond definition and prediction in terms of how the birth will go or how a woman will cope. We just need to be skilled, clinicians and support people alike, to deal with whatever comes up. I can hold the space for a woman in labour, outline some options, talk through challenges, make her more comfortable, and support choices, but Birth is pretty much in charge. Birth can be a tremendous Healer, bring women joy and empowerment unparalleled. Sometimes, Birth is a tough Mother, and can illuminate areas where we need to grow. And sometimes we cannot interpret it at all..it is up to the woman to make meaning of her experience and our job to connect her to those places she was graceful and powerful where she could be, giving her a richer sense of her resources from which to draw healing.

When I let go of any stories that didn’t support the here and now (but rather projected into the future), I saw amazing things. Women who considered themselves “damaged” birthed like dynamos. Women who themselves were born traumatically felt very safe and nourished in labour and had no problems. Some who were hard driving athletes, seemingly devoid of much vulnerability, birthed as gently as lambs. Conversely, some who felt very clear and open to me had lots of challenges. And vice versa on all of those scenarios. I don’t think it’s because my thought process magically made the birth better, it’s more that I probably didn’t notice before how great things were going in some “risky” births because I was clinging to my hypotheses, perhaps focusing more on the negative, and creating a story from that. Perhaps my notions prevented me from providing support in a way that could have helped things for the better.

We have tremendous power to change the fearful feelings surrounding birth in our culture. Ina May Gaskin had her finger on the pulse when writing Spiritual Midwifery and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth….half those books are chock full of stories…powerful, amazing birth stories! They’re not all sweetness and light…there are stories of challenge and even loss. But they are stories of triumph and compassion all the same. Our culture is starving for these stories. How many times do I reread those stories when I’m pregnant, connecting with those images of power? Ina May and her people at The Farm created their own collective idea of birth as a woman centred, normal, healthy event which could absolutely be achieved with minimal intervention most of the time. They weren’t being cavalier either…they believed in excellent clinical skills and medical back-up, acknowledging Birth’s unpredictability sometimes. But those few incidents of emergency did not warp their belief. They continued to approach birth with strength, little fear, and positively…they were prepared, yes, but paranoid, no. And they prove this theory of the effect of a culture’s positive approach to birthing, balanced with skilled care, with the outstanding statistics they continue to enjoy.

So next time you hear a friend telling another friend, “I can’t believe you want a natural birth..you’re going to be BEGGING for ‘your’ epidural the second it gets hard.” or “Oh my God, your belly is so HUGE! You should have a C-section otherwise your lady bits will be destroyed!” look your pregnant buddy in the eye, smile, and say, “your body is amazing, and well designed to birth just great!” You can do your part to contribute to our wounded birth culture’s healing by not adding to the horror stories. Also, telling a woman who has just had a C-section, “hmmm, maybe if you hadn’t had an epidural (or induction, or birthed in a hospital, or had done more emotional work, insert condition here) you wouldn’t have needed a C-section, does not promote healing at all. Just because you are on the natural birth boat doesn’t mean you are necessarily healing. It’s possible your opinions are judgements, and don’t help compassion grow, which is what’s ultimately needed. We can be both VERY pro natural birth, AND very compassionate and non-judmental towards women who have experienced different birth journeys. To be compassionate is not necessarily to enable what you may think is misguided thinking.

My personal “thank you” to Lewis Mehl-Madrona for having inspired many a period of deep thought for me about the power of story and images in birth, and “thank you” to Rivka for pulling this all together!

If you don’t live in Montreal, but in somewhat surrounding areas, like Ottawa, near-the-border towns in Vermont and New York, you should try to make it. You will be receiving a lot of important learning, and helping women having more nourishing births.