Yesterday I went to Avalon and for the first time ever I was resistant, having little arguments in my head with the Goddess and muttering under my whispered breath at the "joyful" task ahead of me. I had even managed to manifest in my anxiety a car problem that meant it was down to the last minute or not if I would make it. I really, really wanted to be there and at the same time I really wanted not to ...
As you know this women's work is my heart and my soul, my path and I walk it with dedication and passion, but little do you know that I've carried a little secret, a big fear and it has gripped me for the last few years and this particular day in the heartland of the Goddess was gonna make me face that fear and step through to the other side, or at least poke my toes through anyways.
...So let me tell you all about it ...
Before giving birth to my precious daughter, I was passionate about birth. To me bringing souls through to this world was a sacred act, not only in conception and in gestation, but in the birthing. When I found I was pregnant with my gorgeous son I was still a little muddley in those days, and my life still chaotic, but in my bones I knew that I had been given a chance to step up. So I did. I stepped in to Earth Mother. I nurtured my self, ate better than I had eaten in years (which in truth wasn't hard since two years previously I had been severely underweight and coming out of some eating, or lack of eating, issues). By the time I conceived I had managed to get up to a size 8 then throughout pregnancy I piled it on till I was a size 18! I researched birth with passion. I was doing natural all the way. I would have given birth under a tree if I could of. I planned a home water birth for my son, and persuaded my midwife that even though it was my first it was my right, my choice and that was that. I bought a homoeopathic birthing kit and mixed aromatherapy oils till there was enough for every eventuality. I massaged rose oil into my vagina and perineum and covered my bump with rich wheatgerm and vitamin E blends. I was sorted.
Then my feisty boy decided to make his appearance early. My waters broke and the birthing pool was weeks away. I just kind of ended up at the hospital for a check up and there I stayed for the duration. I did have the presence of mind to cart my natural pharmacy with me. So with my now altered birth plan in my head reforming I ordered low lighting, half the equipment to be moved out, and blankets and partner and parents moved in. No wires and the bare minimum of monitoring for me. Random midwives kept popping in as word spread to admire the calm atmosphere and to tell me the room smelled lovely. 17 hours later, after a litre of red grape juice, some massage, some moaaaaning and bit of tearing my boy arrived. He nestled to my breast within minutes. The midwife put the naturally delivered placenta on tray and I calmly fed him as we did the the placenta check together. The placenta was then bagged up, as asked and sent home with my mother who, bless her, kept it in her freezer until I flew it out to Spain (don't ask) to plant it under a tree on our land for Cayo's first birthday.
So you kind of get the picture ...
... I did come back from Spain less than a year later, single and homeless, worked two jobs and put myself through holistic training. I qualified in reflexology, massage and aromatherapy with view to helping women with emotional difficulties and addictions, and also possibly working with antenatal and labour support. My path then called me in to further healing training and work and those ideas went on hold.
A few years later I was building up my practice and once again my attention turned to antenatal support and doula work. Then out of the blue I became pregnant with Izzy. I did meditations with her in the womb and I connected with her gentle soul. It was so sad that both of us were so traumatised by the passionate, but highly destructive relationship I was in, which ended when I was seven months pregnant. I counteracted everything I could with yoga, pranayama, meditation and mantra.
Those last two months of pregnancy were bliss. Just me and my two children and two cats ... a little gem of motherhood, family and calm, although Izzy's father was causing on going problems. Again I prepared for a home water birth. My birth plan was so awesome it was later used by midwives to show others how it could be set out. I bought another homoeopathic birthing kit, mixed my oils, chanted and sang, did fluid yoga and gentle dance, hugged my belly and was so excited ... my daughter, my daughter, my gift from the goddess was on her way. In those last weeks I connected with her deeply, I had visions of her, which in hindsight gave an inkling of what was to come, and I told her to remember all that she had come here to do. To not waiver from her path.
The birthing pool was set up and we were set for and Imbolc birth and the maiden's arrival. I was so blissfully gungho that I trekked off to Cayo's dance show fit to pop and then when she didn't arrive on time I went to his gymnastic's gala one day overdue on the Friday evening. On the way out of the door I lost a smidgen of blood. I didn't tell a soul, figuring labour was finally here and I would be able to fit the gala in before getting back home to birth my girl.
During the gala she jumped and danced, perhaps twisted and tangled, with the music as I watched my son in his routine. The next day she didn't move at all. I called the midwife on the Sunday morning and we decided she was settled for labour as her heartbeat was strong. I went into labour an hour or so later, around lunchtime, also around the same time as a mains water pipe burst on the estate and all the water was cut off. The birthing pool was a no go. Neighbours offered water for cups of tea and the like and that was that.
Two midwives arrived and a student midwife in her first week of training. They sat in the front room and chatted to my mum and my son while I got down to it alone in the bedroom. I did yoga and I chanted. I sung her in in my head. We went on the deepest journey together. My feet planted between the worlds. Every now and then some one would pop in to check and all was fine. Towards the end it was a little crowded in my room, but I was in another dimension by then and did'nt notice. It was discovered she was cord wrapped, but still no cause for instant panic, many babies are born this way and are successfully unlooped by midwives and her heartbeat, although dipping with contractions, was still so strong. At 20:12 she arrived. Not blue, but a deathly grey and lifeless. A mama hug and kiss within seconds didn't bring her to gasp for air or to pink up. The cord which had been wrapped twice, was found to be very compressed and thin at one point and she was whisked away for resuscitation into the next room. By 20:14 the ambulances was called and I never saw my daughter again until midnight. She was pink and perfect, but wired up to the hilt. I was told immediately that babies like Isadora don't always survive.
Five and half days we had. Five and half precious days. Even in the hospital I was aware of moving through the days like the elements, the first being Earth. On day five I let her go back to Spirit. That was the only right choice that as a mother I could make for her. I personally removed her life support and pulled the tube from her tiny mouth. I held her in my arms as we cuddled to sleep in bed with my brave boy and a load of teddies. My dear mum, dad and brother stayed for the long haul. Eleven hours I held her as she gasped and rasped intermittently in the deepest of comas. I watched my boy sleep. I watched my two beautiful children. I asked her to let go and told her that I would hold her always. I asked the angels to comfort her through transition and I summoned the great Azrael to carry her over. I tried so hard to stay awake, but after nearly a week of not sleeping and little food it was not easy. In the hours before dawn, when the veils are thin and it is easiest to depart, Izzy's breathing became silent, sweet and rhythmical. A breath she had not managed in her short life. Like a normal sleeping baby she slept peacefully and perfectly and I drifted off to sleep with her. When I awoke around seven she was gone.
To tell here of my journey with grief as my companion would be too much. I'm not sure how I found the scattered jigsaw pieces of my life, but with the help of family, friends and Sands I did.
As I gained my strength and I learned from other loss mums, some now treasured friends, how to be a mum to my dead daughter. I poured out my grief and bore witness to other stories, other lives and losses, others survivals and burials. I went on to help many others through Southampton Sands as it had helped me. I facilitated meetings of support and even became the Chair for a while. At the moment I work in hospital liaison and help with the memory boxes and such like.
But I avoided happy birth stories and new pregnancies like the plague. I was an expert on death, grief and sadness. My left foot planted firmly in the world of the departing. And that journey was right for me at that time. The learning was immense and the Initiation from the Dark Mother powerful indeed. But in the end as much as I wanted to want to turn back to the lifeing and the birthing I felt as though that door was painfully closed to me. I was robbed of the joy I had once had.
For the past five and half years I have also desperately wanted another child. I have had dreams and I have had nightmares. I still felt that the big family I always wanted would not be denied me. I believed and I hoped. I looked into sperm donation. I even asked a friend and I even found a donor through a wonderful, carefully researched, online site. But it was not right in the end. I knew it wasn't the right choice for me. I looked in to adoption, twice. Then 2012 I knew was my last year of hope for biologically becoming a mother again. For me to keep hoping was like torture. I was now grieving for the child I would not have. It was like living with the pain of two losses all the time. I cried in silent and wept alone and often. And in the last Moon Lodge of that year, just as I was finally looking into adoption for the second time, I led the women into a deep meditation to find what they had to let go of for the final stage of 2012. As I held them sacred space, deep in the waters of the subconscious, I was told loudly and clearly to let my own dreams of another child go. My knees buckled and I'm not sure how I held it together for the rest of the evening, but I did.
As I write this I weep. It is too hard not to. And the pain in my chest and on my chest is like that heavy elephant of grief that a dear friend so often talked about. Fuck, fuck, fuck this is so shit. It just is and that's that. I have lived with so much unwanted anger and jealously and envy, and believe me when you lose so much you would have to be a saint not to kind of manifest those emotions somewhere in your body. Every time someone talks about pregnancy or happy births I've cringed, not out of wishing ill will or not joyful of others happiness, but because it is like a knife in my own wound. It is like the na na na-na na taunt that reminds me of what I cannot have. And believe me I've guilt tripped over having this secret horrid and vile feeling too. It sucks. And I worked on it. But some days it's been as though if I see another pic of a crocheted bootie or cute hat or another pregnancy meme on Facebook I'm going to explode.
I also hurt so deeply because I have been blocking part of my work. I love what I do. I love my becoming and I love where it is taking me. I teach women how to connect with their wombs and their cycles. I show them how to use that place of their power, but I have lived in fear of the day a pregnant woman shows up a to my door wanting womb blessing or the like. Crazy I know. Nuts to think I was womb working on deeper levels, but was gonna be the only womb worker who wouldn't work with one of the primary functions of the womb. I know I've been energetically blocking it. I have women come to me who have experienced miscarriage or baby loss, those who've had hysterectomies and early menopauses. I'm sadly in my comfort zone with all that and I feel able to help those women. Exciting new areas had opened up for me around sacred sexuality, blood mysteries and shamanic work, but I was still internally blanking that one thing. Avoiding and blanking pregnancy and childbirth. The thought of a round full belly doing what a womb does so beautifully had me running for the hills. I was going to be out of my depth in that scenario and it was only a matter of time. I also began to realise that what if I offered a beautiful womb blessing to a mum to be and that pregnancy by some misfortune also resulted in a dead baby I would feel cursed and not cope. The unravelling was only a thought away. I was also out of my depth with pregnant friends and babies. I find myself socially inadequate. I never was a really coo-ey baby person anyway, I was always more into toddlers and the endless questions. But now I can't even find the words and I can't do the small talk. I begin to wake up in the middle of the night when it nears someone's due date. The anxiety builds and builds as I search texts and Facebook for news that all is okay each and every time.
So as is my want to this deep soul work, I went to the source. I womb worked. I wanted to shift this. I wanted so badly to get to the same place of peace and acceptance with this new accelerating grief that I had found around Izzy's death. I knew to go deeper in was the only way to swim through. So in I went and began a series of ceremonies that began on the last dark moon. Each time, deeper I swam, diving down to find the nugget of wisdom. I could feel the energetic currents of life drawing my pain to me and then people started sending me things, blissfully unaware that in "my womb work" I didn't do "that". In this last month I've had poems, pictures of pregnant women, powerful pictures of naked women holding babies with umbilical cords still attached and a dear sister sent me this absolutely amazing video of the Birthing Tree. It's all been wonderful, but so bloody painful. Like a festering wound coming to a head as the Goddess called forth the beginning of my healing around this.
Also some many weeks ago I got an invite to rather special day. A chance to meet and learn and be in sacred space held by the wonderful and inspiring Jane Hardwicke Collings, all the way from Australia. A day of ceremony at Chalice Well, of all places, to heal the sacred feminine around the issues of sexuality, fear and women’s rights in pregnancy and birth. A chance to work with others as Priestesses, doing ritual, craft and magick guided by the Goddesses Freya and Brighid. Of course I leapt at the chance and yet stepped back in horror simultaneously.
Immediately my heart and my intuition went "Yes, I'm going", but elsewhere it was not so easy. I ummed and ahed and the little voice in my head went "Heidi, you can't, you're not going, it would be too much. You don't have to do this". Then the other voice in my head went "Heidi, this is what you need and it's what the women of the world needs so you go." Aaaagghh!!
Alongside all this was the womb ceremonies. Only last week I was given a dream vision. I gave birth in once again to my daughter, this time in ecstatic pleasure and bliss. She was born as before, alive but lifeless and breathless. A grey vision of birth and death. Her mortal body and her still attached umbilical changing and fading slowly into a wisp of winged white attached by a hair like thread and then she was gone. I then felt kisses upon my face and a whispered thank you. A soft gratitude for allowing her to do the journey she was meant to do, for having the courage to agreeing to this path for both of us.
As the weeks have gone by I have fought internally and struggled with my stuff. Then my car problem clarified that I needed to go. As soon as I realised I may not be able to get there I panicked, knowing I so needed to be there. The pain in my chest physically grew worse as the grief welled into a crescendo. My car was sorted on the Monday night as I my moonblood appeared a few days soon than expected and I had to leave on early on the Wednesday. I felt totally unprepared and I wept as I gathered my things together on the Tuesday. So many friggin anguish riddled tears mixed with a real excitement and joy. I was going back to Avalon, to my heart, to my healing and to trust. My darling son just said to me "You have to go, mum, you have to go". He ran me a bubble bath, lit candles, played soft music, made me a pot of women's tea and basically told me to get my shit together. What a man-boy.
I packed some special things for our altar. I wrapped my candle jar holding Brighid's Flame and the solar St Brighid's Cross I made out of straw for Brighid back in February. I packed the gift from Mother Nature, known in our house as the "Woody Vagina" and a painted stone with a golden spiral goddess for Freya. I packed lots of bottles to collect the sacred waters and I also took an offering off my own to give to the Land and the Goddess once there. I received a text from one of my dearest SiStars who was doing womb yoga training at that time and was struggling like me with the learning for different, yet similar reasons. Mutual and virtual hugs and support all round.
Early the next morning I drove off ...
After a happy journey, and some deep breaths I entered the Meeting House at Chalice Well. How blissful to be greeted by some new smiling faces and a warm hug from fellow Moon Mother Clare. How wonderful to meet Jane. As we gathered and sat in circle I internally gulped as I realised we included two pregnant women and breastfeeding mother complete with beautiful babe. I internally cheered as I realised we included many midwives and doulas and womb workers. I internally applauded the lengths some had gone to to be there especially those from Spain and Italy. What a truly magnificent group of women. How happy was I that I had been brave enough not to deny myself this day. As I looked at Jane and fell into those eyes I knew that the the Goddess had gathered us truly.
The Mother candle was lit. We opened circle and spoke our truths whilst holding the "Talking Bowl" and lit our daughter candles. We included our mothers, our grandmothers and our ancestors. We created our altar. We journeyed to the upper world to meet the Goddesses Freya and Brighid. We each came back with knowledge about how to serve humanity around the area of childbirth and a tool to use. I was relieved when the path for me was not to step back into the doula and birth support arena again, but to carry on with what I'm doing. Freya told me in no uncertain terms to learn yet more and teach more around sacred sexuality and Brighid told me to continue to use the spearhead and to continue uphold women's rights in all things with it. I got given a new tool though, something which only today have I realised is connected to my original journey with the spearhead and the uncoiling black snake. How exciting.
We then brainstormed about the medical practices during pregnancy and labour that damage women's sexuality. The whiteboard was not big enough to contain it all as the stories from within the profession and without poured forth. I still can't believe I never realised before that some midwives call an episiotomy a cliterotomy or clitorectomy because of the tissues cut through and that it is routinely done in 1 in 4 labours (if I remember that statistic rightly). As the day progressed my passion returned and I felt more than a little fierce for my birthing sisters. We then used the Amber Tears of Freya to represent the wounds and threaded them along with healing amethyst, because the wound reveals the cure, and with pearls of wisdom which comes with each tear.
We then brainstormed the issues around fear in childbirth and how our innate power is stripped from us through patriarchy and media. Again the whiteboard was filled to overflowing with ideas and indignations. Then we burnt each of those those fears in sacred ceremony, vanishing them in Brighid's Flame, the cleansing flame which I brought with me. We worked some deep magick, the ripple effects of which will take place in the coming months and years in the field of midwifery and childbirth. As we completed I saw before me the same vortex deep in to Mother Earth that I saw back in February with Brighid. She set me upon yesterday's journey even back then. Afterwards I made Jane a Keeper of Brighid's Flame too, to take back to Australia to use in her work with the School of Shamanic Midwifery.
We then made our prayer ribbons and tied them to sticks gathered from the Tor. We close our circled. Each of us changed and inspired. Me with my heart full of gratitude to each of those women. My heart full of love for Jane for holding that space and leading this work. Me thankful to myself for daring to dip my toe back in the water and glad I have the Goddess to kick me lovingly up the backside when I need it.
Many of us then wandered up the Tor to anchor our magickal workings in the earth. On the top of the Tor facing the sunrise several years ago I buried a fine filament of my daughter's hair wrapped in some of mine. In my mind's eye we see each dawn in together that way facing East in the heart of the Goddess. And again I found myself in a strange full spiral burying a connection upon the Tor. We dug our fingers in to the soil and planted the tiny tears, the cures and the wisdoms in a circle around the phallus of the church tower, the physical representation of the patriarchal stamp on the old ways of the Goddess. Our work was done and begun. My healing around this extra grieving has also definitely begun. Lots more to go I know, but it is a real start.
I look back today on yesterday and realised that as Jane said, the balsamic moon that we met under was a fruition of what was planted within ourselves at that last new moon. It was that on that day that I began some deep womb work with The Fountain of Life and the fruit has been juicy indeed. I feel honoured and blessed to have been a part of this beautiful circle of women and to have worked some healing for all our relations.
The future of midwifery has some awesome women fighting for the sacred to be put back into it for all women and all humanity. There are so many inspiring and incredible women now taking up the mantle, perhaps the verdant cloak of Brighid herself and healing the damage that has been done around childbirth. The divine feminine is rising in all things and the web is being woven thicker and stronger by we the weavers. I will continue to carry my daughter into every Moon Lodge and every Red Tent. I will continue to walk the way of empowerment, the blood mysteries, the cycles and the sacred sexuality alongside those shamanic midwives and soulful doulas knowing that we women have so much to heal in our wombs, so many gifts to discover there, that my path is just another red thread in the most magnificent of cloths. And I will shed no doubt a few more of this wombman's tears, as so many of us do with sad causes, pains and damage of our own, but I know that those tears water the soil and in the wound is the cure and the wisdom.
Dedicated with love and gratitude to Jane Hardwicke Collings and the Priestesses of the Amber Tears and Cleansing Flame