My Journey to Birth Psychology

Last month, I was encouraged to share my story with PPNE training classmates in the Classwomb Newsletter. It’s always interesting to find “key moments” in life’s complex, winding journey. And they’re ever-changing as we heal & grow. But, here’s the article I wrote from my vantage point today.

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​Years ago, I lived in a little California town where, as soon as people saw my baby bump poking out from my hippy dress, they started suggesting homebirth midwives. The most common name I heard happened to be a lovely, wise woman who insisted I read certain books and attend several sessions at BEBA.  Her tools gave me insight into my own birth patterns and shifted my paradigm around birth and society.

Another kind woman from my writers’ circle taught me about joy in pregnancy. She traveled many miles – and brought a friend – to meet me for lunch. They listened to me and shared literature about birth psychology. They smiled a lot and I could see they really cared about my child. And me. And the world.

I was invited to spend a day at the APPPAH Congress in Los Angeles. It was filled with people who spoke about my inner world. My quiet sense about our consciousness at every age (and the tenderness we deserve) was common knowledge there. I could tell… no one was afraid of birth or babies.

My daughter’s birth was beautiful. We had challenges too, that brought lessons we still practice today. She is a spirit light in the world. Fierce, compassionate, and wise.

We moved to the city. My son was born there. I was very scared to give birth in the city. Everywhere, people told awful stories. They thought I was crazy for having an un-medicated homebirth. I struggled with my own non-labor c-section history. And felt angry at society for its cruelty toward birth and children.

My son is a force of nature. He throws a fist to the sky at injustice and has done so since he was inside. His power calls me to action for the children.

When he was just a babe, I began praying for direction on how to be part of the movement for change. Remembering the women who came to see me in Ojai, I dug out the old APPPAH papers they’d given me and I signed up for the newsletter. Several months later, I learned the PPNE program would be starting soon and I began my studies at the first financial opportunity.

Weaving PPNE training into my life can be hard. Sometimes all I want is to study. Other times, it’s too much to integrate and raise my children. The patterns of life are all around me. It is my daily reality. But I think that’s why I love it most. I can be in my life and part of the movement for change. I get to visit with other families and hear their stories. I get to share bits of what I learn everywhere I go and learn something new everyday.

It seems many quiet voices have led me toward PPN as part of their own journeys. Or maybe I sought them out unconsciously… unaware that I was already on my path. Either way, birth psychology has proven to be an awesome adventure!

Do You Need More Support?

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Life’s major changes tend to expose our weaknesses and give us a pressure-cooker opportunity for growth and self-reflection. I learned a difficult lesson around this with the birth of my daughter. Although her birth was “easy”, the scorching summer heat, and her mother’s stress and isolation left Kiya not getting enough milk. Because we did not have layers of support in a critical time – through my own lack of awareness of that basic need – we struggled on alone without knowing how to look for a solution.

We’ve moved on from that time with many powerful tools that help heal the traumas of that experience. We grow together as a family and, today, I actively seek the willingness to be supported… for the benefit of my entire lineage. I see people everyday trying to “go it alone” on one level or another. There’s usually some pride in it and always suffering. And mostly, tyranny of the urgent reigns where life’s most vulnerable aspects are concerned.

But, we can be more strategic in Big Times if we practice developing tools in Whatever Times. We need layers of support around us everyday in order to thrive – people we can look to who care for us and can help if needed; loved ones, allies who can sense when we’re not okay and have our permission to do something for our benefit. Even and especially with the littlest things. A knowing phone call. A meal. A walk around the block. A job to do. Whatever it might be.

Our out-dated “rugged individualism” model measures success by one’s ability to live without layers of support. The resulting psychological, emotional and social isolation generates a lonely, irritable, suspicious, heavily medicated culture afraid to seek the connections needed for happiness.

Collectively, we can begin to change this right now – mold a more effective future with every encounter. As we grow our families, met new neighbors and craft new business success strategies, we can make sure our alliances meet a deeper need for connection and support. Not just one of profit or utility. These small, daily steps on an individual level, create a better foundation for every child born, every company built, and every society reshaped from a need that had gone unmet.

For me, the journey always begins with facing my own need to be loved, seen clearly, and not alone. To push against the isolating barriers in my own society. To reach for my inherent right to belong and feel connected. To be present to the life right in front of me. When I do this, I feel human again, unafraid and fully empowered to love. And my children can feel it right away. That’s worth its weight in gold to me.

How Was Your First Day?

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Every indigenous culture knew this: we are fully conscious beings before conception, all along our human journey, and beyond that. I’ve got a stack of books with decades-old scientific studies that verify this ancient knowledge. And still, I see people everyday treating small humans (in utero and in the world) as objects or not-very-smart-creatures who just need managing.

Maybe the reality of such big awareness packed in a tiny body is just too much for most of us. So we deal with our own overwhelm by minimizing their experience and racing along at our adult very-important-person-in-the-world pace. We prepare for their outer world arrival with lots of stuff (kind of like getting a desk and office supplies for the newbie in the office). We think about how we’re going to fit their training into our schedule in a way that doesn’t break our brains or the bank. (The newbie doesn’t know how to use the print-copy-fax-email-collate machine, but I have 12 meetings this week!)

How many times have we seen (or been) the ‘newbie’ on the job trying fit in, learn their role and navigate social politics, all while they try to find the bathroom and time clock? Some of us have managed to avoid that experience or have been completely supported through it. Some of us were also born into families that were inspired and elated by our amazing consciousness and held us tenderly through every milestone of development. High five to those folks!

For the rest of us, who weren’t gifted with that rare experience and came in as the newbie to families (or jobs) where everyone was just trying to survive the day… everyday. We can give the next newbie a better ride on the trip of life. When we feel their presence in the room, or see their awe-filled expressions, we can stop. Smile. Breathe. Feel the space inside our own skin. Tell them we’re so grateful they came, with all their gifts to share. And let them know we’re here to help them have the most awesome life on Earth they can imagine. Because everybody deserves that.

Homeschool River Guidance

DSC_6667tonedwebOur days are full of adventure, fun projects, creative exploration, and time in nature. No reason to complain – only to celebrate. But, my own nervous system has four decades of The Forty-Hour Week training – a completely linear, controlled, externally time-managed reality where even my bladder has to answer to someone or something for permission to follow its instincts.

So, fridays often find me pacing around the kitchen waiting for my tea to warm up, plagued with the feeling of not-enoughness. The to-do list in my mind is longer than my life and I’m only now learning to burn the list whenever necessary. It’s like a weed in my monkey-mind and grows back again. Meanwhile, Kiya – undisturbed by my turbulent inner moment – is usually busy building something like her play-dough-based production set for an upcoming kids’ youtube how-to video – shooting set for some unknown time in the near future. Kiya’s goals and dreams matter deeply to her, but she isn’t burdened by the need to meet an artificial timeline. She intuitively trusts the process of her life.

Our homeschool journey can be medicine for my anxious tendencies with its gentle, forgiving pace and open-hearted inquiry into life. And… it’s usually a crazy rafting trip through the wilderness of our family’s imagination – ever-changing without collective consent!

We will be cruising along for awhile in a wonderful flow, everyone happy, getting along, ‘learning’, ‘growing’, doing our own thing together. Then some big boulder – sore throats, growing pains, bad news, staying up too late watching movies, running out of the only-good-cereal-ever made, or just not getting to do what we want right now – knocks us into the rapids. Oars fly out, bags in the water, kids screaming, parents ranting. It’s a mess.

By the time I’ve collected myself and all of our oh-so-important-gear (whatever that is), the rest of our tribe is already wandering off into the woods following the call of an owl or the smell of lavender. I’m a mess. What about our ‘plan’? Our agenda? What if someone sees us ‘off-track’? Usually I’m near tears before I catch up to Rob & the kids. What are they doing now?!

And, as usual, they’re fine. Everyone is fine. And happy. There they are – crouched together in the forest, discussing the evolution of moss, photosynthesis, the importance of loving even the mean, ugly creatures, or something little like the healing power of light as it dances off a nearby branch.

On a good day, I feel Success Is Upon Us!! It’s really happening, learning is everywhere all the time. I don’t have to worry! I can trust the process of life! If anxiety wins, this Momma won’t calm down until we’re back in ‘the boat’ heading safely and predictably down the ‘education’ river again. Whatever that means. Either way, by the time the kids are asleep and I’m sinking into my pillow, the truth of my lucky life finds me again. I can’t stop the learning. I can’t really control its direction or what passion might dictate in the hearts of my children. I can only suit up everyday and be willing to get in the boat. Try to remember my camera, notepad, some snacks for when we get hungry, enjoy the water… and get ready to swim.

The Ugly Fish

Once again, I’ve come upon that lonely, murky pond where nothing seems to thrive but the delicate little herbs along its western shore. Their tiny dew soaked leaves glisten as the muddy roots whisper “grab me up and rub my soul over the wounds of yourself and all those you see!”

But, like a fish in a fitful, feverish dream, my fingers stick together, unable to reach for anything but themselves. I want to shout to the world “I’ve seen something new! I’ve realized something unique! I know it can help you AND me!” Silenced by every unanswered request, struck by each gust of wind in the lives that surround me, my intentions fail to manifest.

I feel life whispering something about the occasional uselessness of language, the meaninglessness of speaking that which can’t be understood. But I am not listening. I’m insisting on saying the things I need to say, confined by my need to release the pressure, hopelessly attached to the outcome of being heard from my core. In this sticky place, my phrases mean nothing to anyone but myself and my pride is the last to let go in its desperate attempt to exist and belong in the normal world.

Enraged, I scream and shake and lose my footing near the water’s edge. “No one can hear me. No one is listening. No one can see the theory behind my pain, merely the mechanics of my strain, ” I try to say. But the forest hears only a tiny whimper as I inhale before going under.

The icy water soothes burning nerves and collapses my tired lungs under the weight of my own unmet expectations. Finally, I exhale and the fighting is over. At last, my limp frame can drift down to the quiet place in the center of the pond, where all the ugly fish go.

“Ah, here you are!” the ugly fish say, catching me with their fins, filling my lungs with bubbles of fresh air.

“We’re so relieved you’ve come back! We’ve been yearning to hear your stories but the mud is so thick. It keeps us from understanding what you’re saying.”

“I didn’t think anyone could hear me!” I exclaim, astonished. “I didn’t think anyone was listening! I felt ashamed, angry and alone!” I cry and cry for hours and the water turns clear and warm. The ugly fish smile and suck at my face, drinking the tears. “I only got here because I lost myself.”

The ugly fish smile. They smile like only ugly fish can smile and tell me, “Isn’t that the only way we do get home most days?”

Because the truth is what’s most funny – I giggle and giggle until I can hardly see their faces through all my giggly bubbles. I giggle until I completely lose the need to take myself seriously. Until I can’t even remember what I thought was so important to say.

“Silly Stephie”, they say. “Silly me,” I agree. With this they scoop me up and set me upon a little rock covered in slippery green moss.

“Please tell us everything you have words to share. We really need to hear anything you really need to say.” I know what they’re saying is true and real because ugly fish don’t say things to please anybody. They don’t say anything they don’t need to say. And they always swim with ugly fish so everybody feels the same way.

I breathe in their bubbles and start from the beginning. And speak and breathe until both become easy for me. And when I’m relieved of the need to speak, I just breathe.

And when there’s nothing left, the ugly fish suck the last tears from my lashes, the last giggle from my lips and give me a gift only an ugly fish can give. They say, “You don’t need to be frightened of getting lost. It is a blessing, because it will always lead you home to us. Fall into the muck of life anytime you need to, Stephie. We will always be here, listening for your stories. We take these stories and weave them into the big Stories and tie them with the threads that unite all lives. We need your stories to keep weaving.”

And then they ask something from me, and I promise to do it. “Bring others’ stories from the world above whenever you come, too. Listen as we listen. Weave as we weave. Broaden the fabric that holds us all together. Live as a part of the whole… as you are a part of the whole.”

And I do and I will, ugly fish. Thank you. And I do and I will.

Gratitude for My Housemates

DSC_3526tonedwebTo PJ, Squaw, Cruiser, Maggie, Siva, Jenni, Jackie, Rob, Coda, Nick, Yellie, Rudy, Maizy, Brandon, Mona, Ryan, Matt, Jenn, Elyse, Mia, Kiya, Jason, the frogs and the fish.

Together you’ve seen me through divorce & several other major heartbreaks, deaths of friends & family, two cross-country moves and a couple local ones, job changes, body changes, lifestyle changes, spiritual changes, accomplishments, disappointments, sickness, wellness, dirty dishes, every possible emotion, and the birth of my child.

Never let it be said that living with others isn’t a supremely vulnerable experience. And that, my beloved housemates, represents the very best of love. And the very best of living.

Thank you for contributing to my life, my journey, and my sense of possibility.

My Beloved Sister, Susan ~

You squeezed me tight, in our last brief visit, and whispered you were beginning a new chapter in your life. Just weeks later, you found those pages opening with the giant force of lung cancer, a great wave that would soon carry you off from your children, partner, family, and countless friends into the Great Unknown. Behind the tide, near and far from your daily life, we stand grief stricken, unable to imagine truly, joyfully going on without you – your smile, your incredible presence and miraculous, inspiring light.
If I were to leave in such a way, I know you would find clarity and purpose in your grief, you would hold my loved ones in your prayers and mind, tell stories of my life that kept my heart’s vision alive; and you would laugh, cry and rage as needed until you became quiet and calm. You would feel until the feelings led you to peace and understanding. And then you would move forward, embracing your life again with me in your heart.
So, dear friend, I will do the same, in your name, trusting the guiding light of Love to lead me through this dark night. I will hold your loving wisdom as a candle for my walk and let the memories of our times together warm me when my body shakes in the cold, damp sorrow of my loneliness for you.
In rare moments now, I glimpse the indescribable brilliance of Infinity… and feel so guilty and selfish for wanting you here in this limited place. But, isn’t that just so human of me? I rest in the knowing that you and God understand my struggle. And, that I will see you again soon – in soul time – and we’ll reflect together on the vast mystery of these brief human lives with a spaciousness and graciousness my tender, wounded human heart can only now imagine.
All My Love, Stephanie~

My friend, Susan DesForges, passed away May21st at age 43 in the company of her loving husband, Christopher. May her children, Ella & Aaron, Chris, her parents, friends, colleagues, and every lucky soul to have crossed her path be nurtured and supported in this sad time of saying goodbye to Susan. I love her.

In Movement, Goodbye for Now Ojai

Saturday afternoon found me flying solo at the coffee shop. Among the reader, writers, and chatters I noticed a man in the corner, eyes closed, face peacefully upturned to received the kiss of the gentle winter sun. He captivated me with his longing look of hopeful serenity. And then I had to smile. He was holding Total Freedom by Krishnamurti! Oh Ojai, no matter where I go, there you are…

I recall the dry, dusty smell of your valley after many hot months when even the moss in the swimming holes has moved on. And when, at last, the rain arrives, I pray it lingers long enough to wash that seemingly eternal dust from deeply worn crevasses in flesh and stone.

The heat’s expression is rivaled only by the intense solitude of the Ojai people – even those ‘social butterflies’ who meet each sunset at one or another gathering in yurts, temples, cafes or pubs. Artists and healers standing shoulder to shoulder; I could not escape the quietly frenetic turning, churning of so many souls longing and searching for their Great True Expression.

I mourn your mystical myriad flora and fauna here in the city, cannot find a fraction of the stars, and never hear my coyote family singing in the darkness. Tiny tears fall that I will not see them walking by my house or see the streetlight reflecting in their eyes as I say “hello, goodnight, brother”. The owls and frogs don not sing us lullabies. There are no poison oak to sternly remind me when I’ve gone off the path.

I grieve my friends who continue on with walks and potlucks. Their waterland smiles and supple bodies hug like the sea on a kind day. Sometimes it’s as if I’ve died or was never born. It’s as if the wind took me away like the jasmine in the heat, its smell so deeply penetrating in its subtlety, then gone. Just the memory of a flower. Just a delicate vine without sound.

And then I wake again to the bright sunlight of Denver, and it doesn’t scare me. Because I know it won’t burn my skin for months on end. The wind will come and pull a cold rush down upon my day, maybe even bring heavy snow or rain. And my lungs will open with the possibilities that change brings. My shoulders will drop into place and I will breathe. And tomorrow – or later today – the sun will return her rays again to warm my face. And I see that this, above everything, is why I’ve returned to this Rocky Mountain place. I am a mountain bird. My wings need wind and my heart needs change.

Here, 4000 feet above the nest, I rest my feathers in a city decorated with people of every shape, size, color, and background. We walk the paths of sun-speckled parks, raising our children side-by-side in grocery lines and on buses. The intense stillness of your world has been replaced by a humming, musical, collage of sounds, signs and colors. Here I feel free to be seen or invisible, whisper or scream.

Even in the safety of this new expanse, I appreciate the ‘cradle’. For, my daughter was born on your silent shores, Ojai. The insistent, persistent slowness of the vortex finally settled my heart and body enough to give birth. For this, I thank the stillness.The cosmic, collective movement resulting in this creature, Kiya, drew it’s momentum from a long, quiet exhale I could only take in Ojai.

In silence, each day, I return to you. In movement, each day, I say goodbye. And so, in this way, it is with you, Ojai, that I live and die.

Kiya’s Teachings

It’s so easy to get lost in useless details, chasing the same dishes around the kitchen day after day, wondering when I’ll ever know how to live “right”. There’s no satisfaction in my perfectionism. Then Kiya comes along and re-minds me how to be present  by the everyday things she does.

Like licking brownie drippings on New Year’s Eve…
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enjoying winter evening rays at the dog park…

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testing the outer limits of fashion…

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and embracing her  inner Artist.dsc_2527web

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Neither wind nor rain, stress or strain, the darkest night or brightest day keeps Kiya from being Kiya. This tops my list of reasons why Kiya is my greatest teacher and inspiration. Everyday, she learns and grows into more of who she already is. A bright and sensitive, complex spirit monkey. And then some.

Tonight

He & I stood together in the chilly winter night, steadily preparing for flight. Folding our tents. Plotting our family’s next step. Soon I was amazed to find a great, glorious Us had begun to fill the air. How strange and wonderful. Not just him. Not just me. More than that had become… We!

Then he  smiled and

shrugged his shoulders,

“I’ll never let you go,

just so you know”.

My heart flew open

and my Spirit shouted out

from a deep, sweet place inside!

“Will you marry me?”

And he said yes.

And I said yes.

Yes, yes, yes.