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Archive for the ‘Midwifery’ Category

If someone had told me that I would spend a weekend chanting and feeling other women’s breasts in the middle of a forest, I would probably have opted out on the retreat.

Luckily for me, however, I went blindly into the weekend and came out with a whole new perspective.

Returning to Barcelona after a week of spiritual and physical connections at Burning Man was difficult for me. Here in the city people stare at you at all the time, but rarely do they share a look with you, straight in the eyes, with purpose or curiosity. People just stare/glare at you on the metro, in the street, in the cafes. And rarely do they smile when you catch their eyes. It’s really disheartening. It feels very cold.

Barcelona feels at times very disconnected. People feel really disconnected. This whole past month, in post-Burning Man fashion, I have been longing to connect with people, with nature, and with myself. So when someone forwarded me information about a weekend-long women’s retreat in the countryside, I signed up before thoroughly reading what the weekend was to entail. A few days prior to the retreat, I received information from the organizer where she mentioned various items we needed to bring along: a ball of yarn of a color best representing me, beaded jewelry, a long flowy skirt, and a pillow case, amongst other things.

A sudden panic set in. I’m heading out to the wilderness with a bunch of hippies. We’re probably going to get naked, chant and dance in a circle. Oh geez. I read through the retreat information again and also noticed that there was a strong emphasis on mothers. I am interested in midwifery and working with mothers, but I am not a mother.

I called the organizer at almost midnight the night before the retreat and asked her quite frankly, “Did I make a mistake by signing up for this? I’m not sure this is for me.” I explained to her why I signed up (my need for connection with people, nature and myself) and she said yes, of course this retreat was for me. Just come. And don’t worry.

I packed my suitcase. Oddly almost everything I brought, including my ball of yarn, was purple. Like my bedroom wall and the scent of lavender, it is the color that relaxes me and makes me feel positive and sensual. And that’s how I felt all weekend.

We arrived to the old rural house in the Empordà and immediately I felt out of place. First of all, I was the only non-European there. Of the 40 or so women that attended, I was one of the youngest and definitely the poorest in Spanish language skills. Since I arrived with the preconceived idea of a hippie retreat, I also felt very ‘straight’ in the presence of such powerful, spiritual and eccentric women, adorned in their flowy clothes and braided hair. I felt like I was being judged just as much as I was judging.

Everything changed, quickly, once it was time to set up our circle space, this cold stone room where the 40 of us would open up and share with one another for the weekend. We cleaned the space, put down wool blankets on the floor and hung colorful material from the ceiling and walls. A group of women walked into the forest and returned with bundles of flowers, lavender plants and herbs to string around the place. In a matter of 2 hours, the room was warm and comfortable, incredibly inviting. And it was created by us together. As such, the connection began.

I had heard of women’s circles before but I didn’t totally grasp the idea. Common sense told me that we’d sit in a circle and talk, but it was much more than that. Drawing on the wisdom of ancient cultures in an atmosphere of love and support, women’s circles are a safe environment for nourishing honest and deep communication. The women’s circles also provide an opportunity to take note of new beginnings and journeys within our lives. Though the organizers had various prompts and activities planned, often times the circle just led itself. Apart from speaking, we also did various movement and interactive activities.

I was in the presence of such incredible and diverse women, all of whom shared their dreams and their nightmares. I watched, and participated, as 39 women joined forces to aid one woman through a difficult or beautiful revelation. I listened as women told secrets they had never shared before because there was so much trust and understanding hovering in the room. I shared my own experiences with them as well. We laughed and we cried. And we practiced yoga with the sunrise.

Saturday night was our party. We were told to dress like diosas and the organizer arranged for a DJ to come set the mood for our moves! And dance we did, most of the women topless, amidst a wild thunder and lightning storm raging outside. Oddly enough a few friends of mine from Barcelona showed up unexpectedly for what they were told would be a “witch party” in the forest. Ha! Upon seeing them, my initial reaction was one of shock and slight disappointment, since it was suppose to be a women’s spiritual weekend with strangers. Now there were men AND friends of mine? Soon enough I remembered that nothing in my world is ever a coincidence. Everything always happens for reasons. What could have been a big jolt in my women’s weekend in the end was a beautiful and unexpected surprise. The little bit of male energy presence was gratefully welcomed and, if anything, it only reinforced my new strengthened sense of femininity, which as it turns out is very fun to share 😉

Speaking of breasts, yes, we did massage each others’ boobies. After dedicating a good half hour to our own breasts with a homemade oil, someone suggested that we massage each other. A red flag went up for me and I almost jumped out of that circle immediately. But I did not. Because quite frankly, for me there was nothing sexual about it whatsoever. These were mothers and grandmothers. It was a powerful moment for me because I was paired up with an older woman who only had one breast, due to breast cancer. Earlier that day she told the group that she had no sensation in her removed breast for many years and only recently had she developed some feeling in it again. So imagine both of our delight as I massaged an area that once caused her so much pain and that she was only now starting to appreciate again. She almost purred and it felt so nice to bring joy to this woman in such a simple way. There were quite a lot of giggles and little jokes amongst the women. I don’t think this is something any of us had really done before and we were all clearly aware that it was half-amazing and half-strange. But I have to say, I have a whole new respect for my breasts now.

The focus of the weekend was about accompaniment. How to accompany someone else, and how to be accompanied. As the retreat was organized by women that aid other women through pregnancies and birth, this made sense. We did some interesting exercises. I always thought I was much better at receiving, but I learned this weekend that perhaps I’m actually more of a giver in certain situations. There were some extremely uncomfortable moments when I had to be passive and let someone give to me. I wanted to have control. As my partners in the exercises approached me, I felt a huge wall and would go rigid. And they could sense it and tried to respect my space. It was strange. I’ve always considered myself fairly open, but as I’ve been told by various strangers during my travels and by plenty of men, I am actually quite guarded. This weekend really helped me see that and, more importantly, taught me how to let down my guard and feel comfortable with someone crossing over my protective border.

At the close of the last day we performed a healing ceremony for a woman who has breast cancer. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. The woman, a mother of two gorgeous children, sat in the middle of our circle with her shirt off. Two women sat with her, holding her hand, while the rest of us passed around a bottle of oil and ‘blessed’ it each in her own way. All the while repeating some sort of healing chant. It lasted a good twenty minutes. And I started to cry. And then I started to bawl. Whatever I had kept in during the whole weekend just started to flow out and I couldn’t stop! The women sitting on each side of just held my hand and let me cry. And it felt wonderful.

I am so glad that my own prejudices and preconceptions did not impede me from attending this retreat. I learned so much from these women, and about myself through their eyes, words and contact. This weekend has reinforced that I do want to work with women and mothers, and I do want to help people heal. It feels amazing to know I’m moving towards the right path and I am glowing from the inside out.

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What is it with fish? This past year has been full of marine life anecdotes, and now I have a new one.

My good friend Carme first gave me the nickname “Dori”, just after the movie Finding Nemo hit the big screen in Spain (a couple years after hitting the big screen in the US, of course, since everything in Spain is delayed usually by decades). If you are not familiar with Dori, she is a blue Regal Tang fish with a really bad memory. She is constantly lost and foggy on the details.

At first I was offended. Dori is not the sharpest tool in the shed. My memory is not really too sharp either, and I can easily be distracted by “Squishy” or any other bright, shiny objects. I often feel lost and I occasionally make friends with sharks, who although seem tame are actually out to eat me alive. That said, Dori is my favorite character in the film. As Carme brought to my attention, she is the optimistic, caring and sociable character that brings comic relief to a somewhat rather tragic and sad story (the opening scene is horrific). Though a bit naive and ditzy, she definitely has a sunny take on life that is contagious and admirable.

I am grateful to Carme for the compliment, and for really showing me the good side of my personality. Sometimes I feel like I’m just swimming along with no particular destination in mind, talking to random strangers along the way and finding myself in a swarm of unexpected jellyfish, though hardly ever sensing the danger.

But right now I feel like I DO have a destination, but I am coming across quite a few obstacles. I truly want to start the path to becoming a midwife, and to having a secure life in Europe, but it looks like I need to patient a while longer. The intensive three-year midwifery program I want to study in England is impossible, as they only accept EU citizens (since midwifery programs are fully funded by the British government). A bit of a setback, but I opted for Plan B – to take the much longer, tedious Spanish route of a 4 year nursing school program in Catalan + 2 years of midwifery. And then I found out I missed the entrance exam date by five days so cannot apply until next year.

In addition, I need a job. My company no longer excites me, and no longer is supporting me financially. But due to issues with my (lack of) work visa, finding a stable job in Barcelona is proving to be difficult. The idea of some security and stability in my life sounds dreamy, but I wonder how it will happen.

I am aware of the jellyfish surrounding me at the moment, and I should be much more concerned than I am. Oddly enough, however, I feel the best I’ve ever felt in my entire life. It is so strange. I’m hurdling obstacles much more smoothly and calmly than ever, and really feel positive and strong. Of course I would like my current troubles to work themselves out sooner than later, but I am also very much aware of the fact that “opportunity’s favorite disguise is trouble.” What is now seeming troublesome or working against me, will most likely prove itself to be a blessing in future retrospect. My life has a remarkable way of doing what is best for me, and it usually just takes some time to realize why each event and each relationship presents itself.

And so, like Dori, I just keep swimming. And guess what? Swimming can be really fun! This whole blog came about this morning because I caught myself whistling the tune from the film while making coffee. And it made me laugh. And it also now makes me want to head to the beach on this sunny Barcelona day for a real swim. I am not going to be able to resolve my pending problems on a Sunday in Spain, so I may as well go out and enjoy the day.

click here to watch video

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I witnessed my first birth during a sexual education class in the sixth grade. The boys were in a different classroom, perhaps learning about how to deal with their uncontrollable penises. We eleven and twelve year old girls with sprouting bug bite nipples, learned all about what happens to you when you have sex. Babies. Babies, and lots of pain happen. Our teacher showed us the video The Miracle of Life almost as a threat, as if to say “this is your punishment for having sex.” The girls squealed and covered their eyes. One girl threw up. And as I recall another girl had a seizure (although, if my memory is not failing me, I think her seizure occurred during the class about tampons. All I know is that it happened, she hit her head on a bookshelf, and I had to run to the nurses office to get help.)

Since then I have never seen a live birth. In fact, I have never really seen a live birth off screen. But as fate, chance, luck, or pure “pinning the tail on the donkey” has it, it looks like I will being seeing quite a lot in my future.

I have decided to study midwifery. Or perhaps to be a doula. I am still trying to decipher between the two professions and what each require in terms of studies, licenses, lifestyles, philosophies, and job opportunities, etc. But one thing is for certain – I want to be involved in the birthing process. I want to work hands on with people. I want to build a profession that can support me while doing good for others. And I want a skill that I can use to help people anywhere in the world wherever I travel or volunteer. With approximately 128 million births per year, I think there is some job security as well.

This is not a random decision. This is a result of years and years of clues – little beans that only formed a full burrito once I was in Mexico. For starters, I have been obsessed with pregnant women and babies for at least the past ten years. A friend of mine used to come home at the end of the day and tell me, “Guess what? I saw FIVE pregnant women today!” – just to make me happy. When I was 23 years old, I commissioned an artist on Las Ramblas of Barcelona to paint me a picture of a pregnant woman, which I still have hanging in my bedroom. For the past five years I have thought of opening a cafe designed for pregnant women. And I have considered designing maternity clothing.

In high school, after years of surgeries and medical issues with my knee, I wanted to study medicine. I wanted to be a doctor, but at the same time I was more interested in alternative therapies. By the time I was 18 years old, I had gone through years of acupuncture, Reiki healings, massage, and yoga. I even wrote letters to Dr. Deepak Chopra, who had an office in San Diego, hoping that he would meet with me. When he (sadly) did not respond, I read all his books about mind over matter and positive thinking for healing. My Senior year I applied to Tufts University and a few other medically focused schools – but was rejected from them all. So instead I went to UC Berkeley and studied English instead. Go figure.

Previous to working in the production world, I was a teacher. And for the past 8 years I have worked on and off for nonprofit organizations in Africa (www.oafrica.org) and Mexico (www.puentemexico.org). So when people who know me solely as a location scout / business owner hear about my new birthing venture, they may find it strange. However, what is strange is that I was not working hands on with people, or doing something to better the lives of others, for these past few years. Though the experience has taught me quite a lot and I met some very interesting people, I was not placed on this planet to work on fashion and advertising shoots.

I collect photos of hearts made in nature. And keep a love journal. I stop and stare at almost every pregnant woman I see in the street, and talk to the Universe quite frequently. The moon intrigues me more and more each day. And I compare myself to animals on an uncomfortably increasing level (dolphins, wolves, etc). I want to learn about the use of natural herbs and remedies in health, and would love to grow my own tomatoes!

While in Mexico I took a personality test online with the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, just out of curiosity. And the result was “Idealist”. As for professions, the results said that, “Idealists are naturally drawn to working with people, and whether in education or counseling, in social services or personnel work, in journalism or the ministry, they are gifted at helping others find their way in life, often inspiring them to grow as individuals and to fulfill their potentials.” I then took various other online quizzes and each and every one said that I needed to work in a healing or counseling profession. And in the jungle paradise of Palenque, a Mayan descendant saw the freckle on the fatty part of my inner palm and said that this particular placement of the freckle, according to Mayan tradition and spiritual artwork, was a sign of the eye – or the healer. He then got way too excited, showed me his freckle in the exact same location, made me nervous, and I asked him to leave. Ha ha.

Midwife I met in Oaxaca

In San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, I walked for ages past the slightly dodgy outskirts of the colonial town, to visit the Museum of Mayan Medicine. While staring at a fake scene of an indigenous woman giving birth, fully clad in her heavy wool skirt, my heart started thumping. As the fake birthing mother kneeled in front of her fake husband sitting on a chair, with her clay arms wrapped around his neck, the fake midwife sat behind her to receive the baby. I looked at this interesting scenario and had a strong feeling that this was the way that birth should happen – but perhaps without all the heavy clothing and chicken sacrifices. Naturally. Vertically. With lots of personal care and love from one’s partner and/or family members. And of course, with a patient midwife knowledgeable in centuries and centuries of natural remedies passed down over time.

Now I am back in Barcelona and wanting to develop a skill to help people. And all the signs are pointing towards birthing, mentoring, and holistic approaches to health. At the moment I have no idea where this will all lead, but I sure do have a burning desire to get started right away. If anyone has any clue regarding this topic, please get in touch with me =)

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Indigenous Detox

As instructed, I removed all clothing, despite the freezing cold mountain air seeping in from the between the cracks in the log walls. I waited for her to remove her clothing too. But instead, the woman kindly put down a mat on the floor for my bare feet, wrapped her head in a huge wool scarf, and disappeared behind a small, square carpet curtain – on all fours. The door to the modest room opened and two younger girls entered. One handed me a sheet with colorful balloons on it and told me to wrap it around myself. I followed her orders happily, as I was head to toe covered in goose bumps. The woman called to me from behind the small hole in the wall. “Ya puede entrar Usted.”

I was not really sure what a temescal was all about. The first time I heard this word was at the Oaxacan coast. A friend invited me to go do a temescal with him and his friends. What I had heard, or understood, was that he was inviting me out to drink some local mezcal. Since I had sweetly declined, I did not realize the major misunderstanding on my part. Tequila’s cousin, Mezcal, is many things, but it is definitely not a tool for detoxing.

Like Alice, I followed the rabbit on all fours into the curious and mysterious hole at the bottom of the living room wall. One part of me was relaxed. In general, I enjoy any type of healing, care or attention given to my body. On the other hand, I had heard more negative experiences than positive ones about the temescales, as the boiling temperatures and cloisterphobic dimensions usually unnerve people rather than relax them. But I vowed I could not leave Oaxaca without trying chapolines (fried grasshoppers), seeing a baby donkey, and experiencing a temescal. I had already accomplished the first two, and with two weeks left to go, decided to check the third one off the list!

As the ceiling of the tiny clay room was low, and my head is much higher than the average Oaxacan’s, the woman had me lay down flat. I asked her to explain to me what this process was all about. She simply answered, “To clean you. To remove your fears.” She kneeled at my side, spat water into an even smaller hole in this dark, miniature cave, forcing a huge wave of steam and heat into the room. It burned slightly as it touched my skin. But the most difficult part was breathing. I imagined the sensation was something similar to what a Dragon might feel if it breathed back in its own fire. Or when you stick your head out of a car window while going 100 mph and it’s hard to catch your breath. It is not necessarily painful, but just a bit awkward and uncomfortable.

It appears the woman had a cure. Using a huge bouquet of herbs she beat me in the dark, in long sweeping motions. Head to toe. Up and down. She turned me to each side, and belly down, belly up. All the while she breathed heavily and sighed quite a lot. Surely she was suffering the heat much more than I was, as she was dressed in thick layers of clothes and wore a woolen scarf around her head. She took a few moments to lay down and catch her breath, and then even once left me alone in the steam chamber to sweat it out all alone.

I was led to this woman during one of my hikes. We were examining various medicinal plants in the forest, and the guide mentioned something about how the local midwives use these plants in their healing and birth practices. As I have developed a strong interest in midwifery lately, I asked if I could meet the local midwife. He said she was too old now, but that her daughter was studying with her – that, in addition, she offers temescal ceremonies and that I should go to her. Secretly I had hoped to meet her 85-year-old mother, but turns out she was ill. So I asked my healer about her experience with midwifery. She looked shocked and responded, “Midwifery? Are you crazy? I’m way too scared of that. Someone else will have to carry along the tradition.” I found it odd, being that she cures fears and all. But I guess it is possible to cure and not be cured?

Anyhow, as everything, it’s all about mind over matter. Once I let myself relax, I imagined that each bead of toxic sweat that exited my million pores somehow added valuable hours to my life. I asked the woman to spit on the hot rocks again, the more burning steam, the better! The amazing, healing scents of the herbs laying next to me (and now smothered all over my body) added to the relaxation. And though I can probably find many of those herbs at the local supermarket, there is something about home-grown plants carefully cultivated with a healing intention that somehow is just not comparable.

Once the sweat bath was over, I crawled back into the bright room all slimy, light-headed, herb covered and blind – not too far off from a newborn baby! She asked if I wanted a massage, and I obviously accepted. Right as I got comfortable on the bed, a huge thunder-storm began and the rain pitter-pattered on the tin roof during the whole healing massage.

Too calm and too relaxed to head back to Oaxaca on a second-class, windy road bus, I opted to stay the night in the woods. As everyone else in Mexico was visiting the beaches during Semana Santa, the community gave me a cabin meant for 4 people, about an hours walk from town, set in the middle of a forest. As they dropped me off and said good night, I looked around at the darkness surrounding my cabin, and listened to the howling dogs (or coyotes) not too far off in the distance. I laughed aloud when I realized that I was not scared. All alone, in the middle of nowhere, with wild animals and who knows what around, I happily snuggled up near my fireplace and read for hours and had a great night’s sleep. Fully detoxed, and fearless, the temescal must have worked.

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