Saturday, March 17, 2012

Un-Baby Showers & Ritual Crafting

Hand on Heart, during my ritual
The Birth of a Ritual

I have been on a 6-year odyssey to make a baby with my husband. This included all the usual methods(!), as well as fertility treatments like taking the drug Clomiphene. We were not successful in our quest and last year we decided to "stop trying." While my husband more or less happily moved on to start his new business, I felt stuck. I had poured my whole heart and soul into making a baby and now that we were done with that chapter of our lives, I realized I had no idea what came next.

Back in December 2011, I had read a fantastic article in Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction, called Becoming a Wise Woman: When a Spiritual Director Designs Her Own Ritual of Transition by Teresa Di Biase [there doesn't seem to be an online version, but you can back-order the issue]. In this article, Teresa planned a ritual to mark her passage into menopause and I was touched by her realization that she had never adequately grieved her inability to bear biological children. She writes:

I realized now, twenty-five years later, that the unexamined nature of the decision rather than the decision itself was causing me pain... There would be two fundamental movements: a letting go of the literal possibilities entailed by motherhood and young womanhood, and an embracing of a new kind of ripeness and fecundity associated with wise aging... what is next on our journey to becoming wise women?
The Hindu Deity Shiva, courtesy of

I realized that I do not want to wait until menopause to mourn my own loss of fertility and therefore, the deep desire to craft a ritual was born. In fact, this realization, helped me realize one of my mantras: When in doubt, have a ritual! I knew that I needed to have a Grief Ritual, to mourn the loss of my fertility and the ability to be a biological mother, so I started my planning there. I asked for help from two incredible women in my life, Lauren Van Ham and Lila Cohlman. With their help, I realized that my grief was going to need more than just a one evening. As I did my thinking and research on Grief, I came across a description of the powerful Jewish tradition of Sitting Shiva. Shiva literally means "seven," and this week-long mourning period in Judaism is for "first-degree relatives" like mothers, daughters, fathers, etc, practiced immediately after the burial of a loved one.

This ritual really resonated with me, as it is so rare in our culture to have a ritual that works so intimately with death. In America, we are encouraged to "get over" loss as quickly as possible. The idea of spending a week with my grief, while very scary, also felt incredibly important and expansive. Also, being a fan on all the Hindu deities, I was also reminded of the God Shiva, the Great Destroyer.

Once I realized that I wanted a week-long ritual, I had a dream:

I am outside in the snow, looking into a round hut. Inside the hut, it is warm with a fire and full of a circle of women who are celebrating a very pregnant woman. I realize that I am not allowed into the hut, because my body is infertile and therefore not welcome in the ritual. I wake up cold and crying at this heartbreaking experience.

After this dream, I realized it is unfair that women who don't get to birth children do not get to have this important ritual of support and love from the women in their lives. I decided that after my Sitting Shiva time, I wanted to have an "Un-Baby Shower" (more on that, in a minute).

Grief Ritual

A friend and I commune with the fairies in the Oak Grove.

I worked closely with both Lila and Lauren in crafting this grief ritual. I chose to have it the first week of March, which would be the 5 year anniversary of my ruptured tubal pregnancy, which stands out as the worst experience of my whole baby-making journey. It felt so symbolic and significant to choose this week to do this ritual. Little did I know, it was more symbolic than I realized (more on that later!). Lila was kind enough to offer to host in her beautiful home, which feels like a temple! I invited three very special women to attend, so our circle (counting me) was 5, which felt like a very important and powerful number. We met at 4pm, so we could have both the light of the sun and dark of night to companion us as we created ceremony and ritual. This ritual feels very private and very sacred to me, but I will share that we spent some time in a very magical Oak Grove on Lila's property. In that experience, I was reminded yet again how important a connection to nature is in my creative, spiritual life.

"Angry Uterus" drawing from my Grief Journal
During the ritual, there was space to "speak from our uteruses" and I discovered that mine was very angry with me! She didn't appreciate all the drugs I pumped into her, not to mention the surgery that tore off one of her arms (fallopian tubes) and the plastic and metal forced into her. I realized that I had never stopped and asked her what she wanted. It was such a simple thing to do, and yet was so powerful.

After the ritual was complete, we sat down to eat a wonderful pot-luck meal together, which felt so nourishing and really added to the sense of care and love of this circle of women. One of my dreams is that this circle will birth into something bigger, where we can meet regularly to provide ritual for each other with a dash of dream work.

Sitting Shiva

My husband picked me up from my grief ritual, which I was very thankful for, as doing deep ritual puts me in a "high" place that no drugs have ever given me! As we drove home, I felt so loved and witnessed in my grief. None of these women questioned my need to grieve this loss and their love and support buoyed me up out of my sadness in a way that I could never find on my own. I felt like I was about to embark on an extremely long journey in the wilderness, all alone, but these women had packed a backpack for me, filled with food and good books and water and warm clothes. I felt like I could tackle anything and travel as far as I needed to go.

The morning after my ritual, I received an e-mail from my mother. She said that she had been dreaming of me for 3 days straight and wondered if I was okay. I told her of my ritual and plan to "sit shiva" in the coming week. She reminded me that my Grandmother (her own mother) was born on March 3rd, the day of my Grief Ritual. Reading this, I realized, that her mother, my Great-Grandmother, DIED GIVING BIRTH to my Grandmother! This is just one example of how, when we let go and listen to our intuition and guidance from the greater spirit, amazing things happen. I realized that I was playing such a small role in this grief ritual - I was doing healing work for ALL the mothers in my ancestry and I felt them all supporting me!
I also kept a journal during this time. I am an avid art journaler, and I just so happened to finish a journal just before my Grief Ritual (it's so interesting how these synchronicities happen!). Instead of starting a new "big" journal, I came across a handmade journal I made back in 2003, in my Masters in Art & Consciousness program at John F. Kennedy University. In paging through the journal, I realize that I made it just as I was getting "serious" with my then-boyfriend/now husband. The one page I wrote on in the journal back then had only one word: FERTILITY. Incredible. It's a small journal, and it took exactly one week to finish it, even though, again, that was not something I was thinking or worrying about. Click here to watch a video tour of my Grief Journal.

I had a lot of experiences during my Sitting Shiva time and I felt a lot of strong emotions, including powerful rage and deep joy. Again, the details of this time feel pretty personal, so I'm not going to share it here, but trust me, it was powerful and amazing. If I had to do it again, I would find a way to not have to work, or work out at the gym, and I would find a way to be in nature a lot more. But I made it work and it was incredibly powerful.

Un-Baby Shower

Once I emerged from my Sitting Shiva time, it was time to celebrate! What is an Un-Baby Shower? It's a celebration of the choice to be child-free. I don't think it's fair that only pregnant ladies get to be surrounded by love and celebrated and supported. ALL women deserve to be seen and celebrated as dynamic, creative forces in the world!

Thanks to collaborating with Lauren Van Ham, we came up with a fun afternoon of ritual and food and laughter. I had invited about 20 women to come to my house and shower me with love and I was amazed when 18 agreed to come! That morning, it was pouring rain, and all these women had to squeeze into my tiny house! But by the end of the afternoon, the sun was out and we all ran outside and frolicked in the field next to my house. This felt perfect in its symbolism of coming out of grief (the rain) into love and support of this powerful circle of women (the sun).

In both my Grief Ritual and this Un-Baby Shower, it felt important to have my body really be seen and loved, since it had gone through so much trauma in trying to make a baby. During the Un-Baby Shower, Lauren and I improvised off the whole "paint the pregnant belly" idea and invited all the women to paint all over my body. I wanted everyone to put "creative seeds" into my body to honor me and my journey moving forwards. It was so fantastic to be surrounded by all these women that I loved so much as they focused on various parts of my body, infusing an aspect of their creative energy into my soul and heart. Also, being a fat strong lady, it is always empowering to wear a bikini and be seen!

My husband Justin and I receiving a "hands-on" blessing.
We ended with a "laying on of the hands" blessing from all the women present. My husband and I stood in the middle and we were surrounded by hands infused with love and support.

Everyone also brought quotes from their favorite Child-Free Women, and I want to share a few of them here:

My infertility is circumstantial but my life is not barren. And to the women who are on the other side of hope, know that you are more powerful than your womb. You are maternal whether or not maternity ever comes. You are a woman and your love and how you choose to offer it, is a gift. ~ Melanie Notkin

I always love working with children. I never had any of my own. God has his purposes. God didn't let me have children, so everybody's children could be mine. That's kind of how I'm looking at it. ~ Dolly Parton

What is the meaning of life? That was all - a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little, daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one." ~ Virginia Woolf in To the Lighthouse

The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience. ~ Emily Dickinson

"After Enlightenment, the Laundry"

So what is life like after such an intense ritual? On the outside, my life might look the same as before, but internally, it feels like my heart has been released from a steel cage. Before this time, I felt so empty. As I watched my husband rushing around, growing his business and living a happy life, I felt like someone had pressed the "pause" button on my life and I had no access to the remote. Now, post-ritual, my mind and soul is over-flowing with ideas and projects. The weekends used to feel like never-ending spans of emptiness as I waited for the work week to start, and now, my weekends feel so full I can barely keep up! My current journal is exploding with art, I'm taking lots of photos with my FujiFilm Instax camera (thanks to one of my Un-Baby Shower gifts!) and my dreams are guiding me to do "psychic, spiritual performance art," whatever the heck that is!

I highly recommend that you look at your own life and see if there is a ritual that needs to happen. I am totally open to helping you with that. Feel free to contact me to do some creative brainstorming! I also highly recommend both Lauren Van Ham and Lila Cohlman, for their excellent ritual-crafting skills. Thanks for reading my story. There will be many more after this one, I am sure!

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