The Day After The Election {heartbroken}

I went to bed last night in tears, having stayed up far too late watching election returns. I woke up when my 7 year old daughter came in to snuggle before breakfast. I hugged her warm little body next to me and burst into tears again when I told her that Hilary Clinton did not win the race to be our president. I had to tell my daughter that no, even though she was not born in this country, she would not be deported, and that since her parents are American citizens, she is one, too. She had heard from a classmate at school that if Donald Trump won, he would make everyone who wasn't born here leave, and she was scared.

I don't want to make this a post about politics. I am sick to death of politics, like just about everyone else.

I want to make this post about what do I do now? How do I move forward, how do I find hope?

I find hope in raising my children. Raising my daughter to be a strong, smart, capable woman who can truly be anything she wants to be. Raising my 5 year old son to be a sensitive, kind, empathetic man who would never use his power to abuse or degrade anyone. God, give me strength to guide my children through this world.

I find hope in my faith. My Facebook feed (which I promised myself last night I would not look at today, but misery loves company) has a number of Christians, (mostly liberal, but not all of them) who are trying to make sense of this outcome in light of their faith. The ones who are making the most sense to me right now are the ones who are noting that this too shall pass, and that we are still the light, and that we are commanded to love and serve one another, no matter who our elected leader is. This world is not my home, but I do care an awful lot about it and the people in it, so onward I must go, serving the least among us, and in so doing, serving Christ himself.

I find hope in my work. My work is to comfort and to encourage and to advocate for and with new and expecting parents. Both my faith and my politics help motivate me to do this work. Every time I see a new baby and mother and father born, I am in awe of the power of God to bring life and to create the bond of family. And every time I see a woman empowered to speak up for herself and her body and her choices, I am inspired to help another woman to do the same. I have to believe that every mother I help to tap into her strength and find her voice, means another baby who can and will grow up to be peace-bearers and change-makers in this world.

I mean, just look at the power in the photo below:

That baby is learning from that mama what it is to be loved and what it is to be strong.

In my work as an Evidence Based Birth® Instructor, I teach families how to access evidence based care in their births. This is one of ways that I bring peace to the world. Birthing women are definitely among the least of these, and if you don't know that, then you aren't paying any attention at all to the shameful state of our maternity care system today. I'm doing my bit to change the world, one baby, one family at a time. That's where I find hope. That's what I am going to do now, heartbroken as I am, to move forward and be the light. 

God, help us all. Amen.

Pregnant in Worship: Thoughts on Liturgy and Birth

I was SO going to post this week on the Curse of Eve (doesn’t that sound like a B-list horror film? spoiler: It’s not.), but then another idea came crashing in. Maybe next week I’ll take us back to the Garden of Eden, but today I want to go inside Christian worship and look for birtheology there.

Note the preggo belly--I was determined to get this one sprinkled before the next one came along.

Note the preggo belly--I was determined to get this one sprinkled before the next one came along.

It seems to me that the church doesn’t offer much in the way of ritual or spiritual support for families in the childbearing year. It seems that most churches do a really good job of helping with the practical considerations of having a baby–chiefly, organizing a baby shower before birth and a care calendar afterward.  And when my church did these things for me, I felt loved and knew that this was a way for people to show that they care about me and my family. But, I wanted more. I wanted ritual–words and symbol used as a way for my church to acknowledge and support the spiritual journey my growing little family was on.

Of course, there is baptism (or baby dedication, depending on one’s tradition), but this happens well after the birth (and if you are like me, you don’t get around to doing this until your baby is a toddler (note the photos of my own family’s experiences) and MUCH less open to the idea of a semi-stranger coming at them with wet fingers). Plus, the baptism or baby dedication ritual is much more about starting the baby off on a solid theological grounding in life than about acknowledging what the parents and older siblings have just experienced.

Clearly I did not learn from my experience the first time around. My apologies to Ken White, the pastor who had to chase after my son’s head as he did his best to duck and dodge.

Clearly I did not learn from my experience the first time around. My apologies to Ken White, the pastor who had to chase after my son’s head as he did his best to duck and dodge.

Credit to  Barb Nunn , a wonderful Dallas-based photographer and friend

Credit to Barb Nunn, a wonderful Dallas-based photographer and friend

This kind of ritual acknowledgement of the incredibly transformative spiritual experience of pregnancy and birth was something I actively searched for when I was pregnant. There are two moments when I felt my pregnancy acknowledged in church that stand out in my memory. One was at my friend and colleague Chantel’s ordination. During the celebration of Communion, I walked up the aisle to her beaming face, and as she offered the bread to me she gestured to my belly and said, “May this nourish both you and your baby.”  I returned to my pew with tears in my eyes.

My other moment came a bit later in my first pregnancy, at Holy Trinity, the Anglican church I attended in Utrecht, the Netherlands.  They hold a healing service every few months in which people are invited to come forward to the altar rail and receive a blessing. I went forward as I approached the end of my pregnancy in order to have the minister pray over me and my baby for a healthy birth. That moment of having hands laid on my shoulders, oil anointing my forehead, and words of blessing spoken over me as I kneeled in church did much to allay some of my anxiety and to remind me that God would be with me in the physical act of delivering my child.

While I treasure both these memories, I did sort of happen upon them by accident. Neither communion nor a healing service are particularly designed to support pregnancy. So where are the rituals for pregnancy and birth? Why does the church, and its vast store of language and symbol regarding advent, and hope, and fear, and creation, and journey, and, well–LOTS of themes which easily relate to pregnancy and birth, remain silent?

I can’t answer that one. I have lots of thoughts, but of course no real answers.

But if the church, or even a church, (hey, what about your church?) wanted to start acknowledging and supporting the spiritual journey expecting families are on, here are some ideas:

  • A blessing for a pregnant woman, as well as for her partner and other children. What I’m suggesting is something that would happen within the context of worship, with the whole congregation present and participating. (As opposed to what is known as a “blessing way“, or “mother blessing”: a home-based ritual meant to provide emotional and spiritual support for a woman in her pregnancy. This is fodder for a whole other post entirely. Stay tuned.) This blessing could be short and simple, but the pledge of spiritual support from her congregation would be quite meaningful to a woman and her family journeying through pregnancy.
I love this image, but I think it is sad that this woman is all alone. Where is her community?

I love this image, but I think it is sad that this woman is all alone. Where is her community?

  • A blessing for the mother and her family after the birth. There used to be such a ritual, and it still survives in some Christian traditions. It is known as the “Churching of Women“, and for many people it carries negative connotations about the impurity of women following childbirth. However, I am proposing that we move beyond any such connotation, reformulating and reclaiming this ritual as needed in order to focus on welcoming a new mother back into worship, acknowledging the enormity of what she has just done, and lending support to her and her family as they move into a new way of being.
  • Always in the back of my mind when I am working with this concept of birtheology is the knowledge that pregnancy and birth are not always simple or even accessible to all. Of course, considerable discretion would need to be used, but I believe that offering a means of acknowledging the loss of a child through miscarriage or stillbirth and praying for and with the parents who have experienced this within the context of their community of faith could be a powerful means of supporting their grief.
  • Along these same lines, there are those in the pews who silently struggle with infertility.  I have no idea what this might look like, but perhaps there is a way to break the silence and shame on this subject as well. What is the church for, anyway, but to support one another in faith through life’s journey, whatever that journey might hold?

These are just preliminary ideas, and I could write a whole post on any of the points above. What I would really love is to hear your thoughts and experience. Is there a way in which you found spiritual support in the childbearing year within the context of worship, or do you have suggestions for how that could happen? Or have you felt excluded within worship as one who has struggled with fertility issues? How would you suggest the church address people in this situation?

V is for Vagina

My 3 year old has begun doing representational art. I am so excited about this, as it means that she no longer simply fills a page with scribbles, but now her lines are drawn with more precision and are meant to represent something in particular. So far, her favorite things to draw are people. The other day V (the 3 year old) and her father (Thomas) and I were all sitting at the table while she was working, and she produced this:

And then she volunteered this description of her work:

  • (indicating the two large circles at the top) “These are the eyes.”
  • (pointing at the lines) “These are the arms and legs.”
  • (finally, indicating the small circle at the bottom of the page) “This is the vagina.  That’s what it looks like.”

Somehow, Thomas and I didn’t laugh (credit our years and years of experience working in child development centers) and instead made some sort of appropriate response to her work. But inwardly we both were cheering!–not so much at her artistic ability, but at her nonchalant use of the correct anatomical term for female genitalia. This is what we have been working toward.

This might seem strange to some people, but Thomas and I are giving our all toward our goal of helping our V have the best body image possible. And we figure that starts with her not only knowing what she’s got, but also knowing proper anatomical names for it and knowing that not one bit of her body is dirty or shameful or embarrassing to talk about in front of her parents.

Thomas and I just this past Sunday finished up leading a sex ed course for middle schoolers and their parents at our church (the wonderful, inclusive, progressive United Christian Church), and one of the things the author of the curriculum did which I particularly appreciated was to address what she called “the issue of female pride.” She wants every girl to know that God made every bit of her, including her reproductive system, and that every bit is “fabulous”. It reminded me of a passage in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, in which Ina May Gaskin (author, midwife, and natural childbirth advocate) writes, “There is no other organ quite like the uterus. If men had such an organ, they would brag about it. So should we.” I am sure Ina May would agree that the same could be said for our vaginas.

But some women experience anxiety about whether their vaginas will ever return to normal after childbirth. Fear about this can be a real distraction from doing the work of labor and birth. My advice is this: give it time, do your kegels, and remember that your body was designed for this. Which reminds me of another classic quote from Ina May (also from Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth):

Remember this, for it is as true as true gets: Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth as well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose, and water buffalo. Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.

Can I get an amen?