#thisishowiwasborn

#THISISHOWIWASBORN with Jesse Israel

Bringing all genders into the birth conversation has always been important to us, so we are very excited to have our first male-identifying guest on #thisishowiwasborn. Meet Jesse Israel, creator of The Big Quiet, a mass mediation for modern people made possible by community collaboration, that's taking over NYC (and the world).

We first met Jesse through Medi Club, his monthly gathering for people to well, meditate, and were impressed by his real gift of bringing people together and creating such a vibrant community in such a short amount of time (The Big Quiet was started less than a year ago and is now filling spaces as big as Lincoln Center). We sat down with Jesse to talk about how he was born and his move to make meditation mainstream with the millennials.  And since we're stopping by Medi Club on 5/4 to talk about our Birth Gathering coming up on 5/7, it's perfect timing for us to introduce the Medi Club community to all of our Brilliant Peeps.

Here’s Jesse on how he was born, a man who had 90 babies, and being cool with not pleasing everyone. 

 
 

HOW WERE YOU BORN?

I was born via c-section. My mom had been going to childbirth ed classes and she had it in her head that c-sections were bad. When she went into labor, her water broke and she was really committed to trying to have a natural birth. She was in labor for 36 hours, in a lot of pain and a lot of emotional distress. Eventually she decided to go ahead with the c-section. She was very relieved that she did it because I came out happy and healthy. She has no regrets around doing that. She actually said that one thing she wishes she had known beforehand is that it was ok to have a c-section, that she could have enjoyed the process more if she had allowed herself to trust that it was going to be ok. She had a VBAC 4 years later with my little sister.

Did hearing your story teach you anything about your mom?

I was surprised that she was willing to go through so much pain without taking pain meds. My mom hates pain and she likes to be pampered. It was a reminder of how much she loved me even before I was even born and how she is willing to put me first.

Wanna see pictures?

BB: Yes! Whoa, these are amazing! It is so rare to have pictures of c-section births, especially from the 80s.  That is a photo of you literally coming out of your mom’s uterus!

J: Did you guys make senior pages in high school? Well everyone had pictures of their friends etc. and I was the weird artsy kid who used pictures of this.

BB: Love it.

J: Look at this one. I was born a Buddha baby.

BB: You were born meditating. How appropriate.  

What comes to mind when you think about 'Birth'?

I am a little obsessed with birth right now actually. My cousin just had a baby. I was with her over Christmas break when she was 9 months pregnant. She was carrying so much life and radiance. She was a glowing figure of feminine wonder! I had never spent so much time with a pregnant woman before and being with her was so eye opening; I was so drawn to her. Since then I’ve been doing all this research about birth and found some really fun facts.  Now I am dying to be around more pregnant women. One of our circle leaders at Medi Club just told me she’s pregnant and I’m really excited. I just want to be around her all the time.

BB: Sound like you're ready to be a dude-la.

What fun facts about birth did you learn in your research?

I learned about the youngest woman to ever be pregnant. She was 5 years old. She never revealed who got her pregnant but they think it was her father. She started getting her period when she was 9 months old. Her son lived to be 40. She’s still alive and lives in Peru. Imagine being 5 years older than your mom? Crazy!

Another crazy thing I found was this Russian farmer who had 90 kids, just with two women! One had about 20 babies and the other had the rest. What is interesting is that both of these women had a lot of multiple births. I think it was like 6 sets of triplets or something. Must have been something in his sperm.

BB: That's so wild. We're definitely going to to look more into that!

Tell us about what are you currently birthing?

I am creating community and businesses around bringing meditation and personal growth to young people in ways that feel modern and easy to access. I am currently doing that through mass mediation experiences where lots of people come together to share silence. The idea is to also create space after meditations for the community to have conversations and share things that we are dealing with in our lives that are preventing us from living a life of fullness.

 
 

What gave you the "final push" to start this community?  

I was running a record company and tech investment fund for 9 years and was just feeling a very strong calling to move on. It was no longer fulfilling and hadn't been for a while, and there was some strong intuitive pull to do something else. I spent 9 years, grew and learned a ton, but the growth period ended and I felt it was time to step into the role of why I'm here on Earth and do something different. I came to that through a meditation practice which gave me the courage to act on it. So that was it. I just took a leap and didn't know what I wanted to do for a while. I started experimenting with Medi Club and now it's been about 2 years since I left.

What has been the labor like?

It was tough and scary and gratifying. I used to have big fears of speaking in public, and that is a big part of what I do now, so that was really scary at first. Mediation is such a sensitive thing for a lot of people, some see it as weird or self-helpy, so to come out to the world and say this is something that I stand for and what I'm doing was huge. To be public about it felt like coming out of the closet in some ways because initially, it was something I didn’t feel comfortable sharing, which was very challenging for me and my ego. And then organizing groups, wanting people to have a good time, wanting people to be comfortable and have a certain experience, hoping that they like me or they like what I say - I've dealt a lot with my ego and with releasing the control of making sure everyone loves me and has a good experience. Letting go of this control has been a really cool process. Now I know not everyone is going to like this and not everyone is going to like me. And as long as I am being authentic and really committing myself to the work, it’s ok. 

 
photo by  Jenna Duffy

photo by Jenna Duffy

 

What's next?

We just brought on a new business consultant to help out with Medi Club and The Big Quiet. We have some real experts who are helping and I'd like to be able to go deep and nail the system here, with the leaders, the circles, The Big Quiets and an understanding of how we can go to other cities. Eventually I'd love to have a co-working space where we come together with these values and then bring it to other cities. But you know, it’s going to take time. But I really believe in the work we're doing. And the main thing is that I love it, and now I've come to terms with the fact that I am not making the money I would have been making if I had stayed at my company, and it feels fine. But it was really tough for my ego for the first year.

BB: Yes, we’ve been there. But once you start going down your path, there is no going back.

Any favorite #BrilliantBits?

My meditation practice has been more than a relaxation technique; it’s helped me understand what I stand for. (Inspired by David Gelles)


To join Medi Club go here. Follow The Big Quiet on Instagram and Facebook for updates on their mass meditations.

To RSVP to the upcoming Medi Club in May go here

 
 
 
photo by  Felix Kunze

photo by Felix Kunze

 
 
photo by   Felix Kunze

photo by Felix Kunze

 

#THISISHOWIWASBORN with Carolyn Gregoire

The ties between the creative process and the creative process (if ya know what we mean) and what we can learn from these experiences of releasing into the unknown, is at the core of what this whole #thisishowiwasborn series is about. Many experts in creativity note that “staying loose” is the way to embrace the uncertainty inherent in the creative process, which is what we try to instill in our clients all the time. 

So, when we found out that our friend Carolyn Gregoire's book on creativity had just been released (with rave reviews from The New York Times) we were pretty stoked to sit down with her and learn some of the conclusions on creativity that she came to in her research. 

Her book, Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind with co-author Scott Barry Kaufman points to the idea that we don't have to "do" anything to be creative.  It's not about being a painter or a fiction writer. We are all inherently creators because as humans, we are capable of being so many different things at the same time. And this is what they found to be the common factor in creative people; that they allowed themselves to be multiple things and personalities at the same time. Their minds were expansive and messy and creation wasn't about creating something new, so much as connecting the dots of things that already existed. 

Here's Carolyn on her own expansion and coming into, and starting to trust, her own abilities as a creator. 

 
 

HOW WERE YOU BORN?

I was born on my due date. It was a 7-8 hour birth; It started in the afternoon and I was born right before 9 pm. My mom had an epidural. 

I was born in the same birthing room as my brother a year and a half earlier and since it was the only room left in the hospital, she was pretty grateful to get it. She said she had a lot of trouble pushing - that her pushing was not "adequate". When my brother was born they had to use a vacuum, so my mom really wanted to avoid that this time. They ended up threatening her with the vacuum so she pushed as hard as she could and boom I was born!

She didn’t know I was going to be a girl, and says that was the best part of it. The hardest part was that my brother didn’t take it well. He sobbed for a week! 

Did you have feelings about birth before the conversation, And did they change after?

I know I want to be a mother but I definitely have had some fear around childbirth. However, knowing that my mom -who has a very low pain threshold- managed to do it twice, makes me think I can probably handle it too! Hearing the story made me feel more confident. I know I won’t die and it won’t be horrible and I will be able to push. 

well, you just "birthed" a book so maybe that was good practice?

A lot of people compare the process of writing a book to giving birth. I suppose you can say that about any creative project, but specifically with a book there’s this seed of an idea and then a period of creation, which in my case happened to be 9 months!

BB: Perfect.

C: And then a period of waiting and editing before the publisher approves it, which takes a while (it ended up being about a year and a half total). Writing my book definitely felt like a birth, getting this thing out into the world that had been inside of me for so long. And even the postpartum of it - I just finished the PR and now I have this strange now what feeling that’s probably similar to what you feel when you have a baby. Creating this book was a really cool experience; bringing something that didn’t exist into the world, and then letting it take a life of its own.

HOW WAS THE LABOR?

It was a challenging. I never thought I would write a book and never considered myself a creative person. I am a science writer and I studied philosophy. Writing this book challenged me to look at my own views about creativity. We (myself included before the book), tend to think of creativity as something that only some people have: people who are artists are creative and other people are not. This is a big myth that we tried to unravel in this book. Creativity is a lot broader than that. 

 

BB: How cool that you came into yourself as a "creator" during this process on so many different levels! 

WAS THERE A SPECIFIC MOMENT WHEN YOU WERE ABLE TO LET GO OF THAT "I’M NOT A CREATIVE PERSON" DISCOURSE? Shall we call it, your final push?  

I didn’t see myself as a creative writer. I've always told myself that my strength isn't colorful storytelling. But as I was looking at different types of creativity, I came across scientific creativity and I was able to let go of that and realize that my strength is to take complex ideas, engage with them and make them intelligible for people. And that is creative. It's just not what I thought creativity was supposed to look like.  

The whole book is based on the premise that we contain multitudes. Creative people have a broad sense of themselves. They are introverts and extroverts, can be very mindful but also very absentminded and dreamy, be serious but also have a strong sense of play. There are all these things that in many people are very segregated, but what we found after looking at the lives of all these creative people as well as a lot of research, is that they seem to have all of these opposites contained within themselves.

WHAT KIND OF RESEARCH DID YOU COME ACROSS?

There was this famous study done in the 60’s at Berkeley where they invited all these creative people (including Truman Capote and a bunch of amazing archetypes, scientist and eminent creative minds) to live in a frat house on campus. They had them do all these personality tests and analyzed them for days. They found that they scored in the top 10% of the general public of tests for mental illness and that they also scored in the 10% of tests for mental health.

So that’s what we were trying to make sense of: How can anyone be more mentally ill and at the same time more mentally healthy than the average person? The idea is that they are drawing on things that we as a culture define as mental illness, like magical thinking, imaginativeness and unusual perceptions. But also on things that define mental health: these people are resilient and they work very hard. They are bringing all these things together.

We then looked at how that’s reflective of brain function. What neuroscientists have found is that when you look at the brains of creative people, there are connections between opposing brain networks. Usually people have a more dominant network or more dominant prefrontal cortex or executive attention network at different times (they use one or the other)  - meaning you’re either day-dreaming or paying attention to what you’re are doing and the networks don’t really interact. But creative people use both at the same time. They are engaged to what they are doing outwardly but also interacting with and internally processing things.

It's this idea of synthesis between things that are usually not synthesized. It ties to the definition of creativity (not so much as giving birth to new ideas) but as making new connections between things that already exist. This is seen in the level of their personality, and their brain, and also in the creative process which is not linear, they are jumping around between many different things. 

 
 

Any advice for people trying to be more creative?

The book doesn’t tell people how to be more creative, what it shows is that the human personality is creative in nature because we have the capacity to do so many different things. We’re creatures that contain all these paradoxes and are not boxed into being one way or the other. It's all about embracing this, connecting those dots of the different parts of ourselves, which allows us to naturally open up to our own creativity.

BB: Like creating new constellations in the sky - all these stars (dots) all over the place that you can draw connections between. 

C: It’s all about integration, trying to break out of habitual ways of thinking by creating opportunities for an unusual synthesis process to happen, by breaking away from the ways that you usually think. And being aware of when you’re falling into a trap or box of how you usually think, how you do things, how you see yourself.

Any #BrilliantBits to share?

In the moment just before a flash of creative insight, the brain's visual cortex briefly shuts down, suggesting the mind is "going dark" and shutting out the outside world. And when the insight pops into awareness, the visual cortex reactivates - like a literal lightbulb turning on in your brain!

BB: Fascinating. We literally always have to go into the darkness to see the light!


Don't miss Carolyn's book Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind! To learn more about Carolyn you can head to her website and follow her on Instagram and Facebook.   

#THISISHOWIWASBORN with Alex Fine

Back in the day Alex and Ash used to have co-conception sessions as they started to plant seeds for their visions to materialize. Ash recently even found a scrappy old notebook with 'Eva' scribbled all over one of the pages- the christening of Dame Products' signature sex toy!  So here we are. Alex's vibrator is a real live thing, and her company is creating toys to openly empower the sexual experiences of womankind. Eva is the first Hands-Free, Strap-Free, Non-Intrusive Couples Vibrator. Sounds like fun, huh? How cool to come back together, talk about the power of our holes and learn about how she was born!

How were you born?

Here's how I was blossomed into this world: I was a full month late. And in case you are wondering, that makes me a Pisces with a Leo moon and Libra rising. I'm super stoked about my zodiac sign. Your rising is who you are trying to be, your moon is your internal being.  So I come across as Pisces and really chill but I'm not chill. There is nothing really chill about me. I've got fucking opinions and I'm proud as fuck. And my rising is a Libra- I'm always trying to be fair and balanced and it drives me crazy. 

But anyway, I decided I didn't want to come out of that hole. I wasn't dropping, I wasn't making moves to the outer world so my mom had a c-section. She was delirious at first so she didn't hold me after. She told me that my grandmother had told her that breastfeeding was disgusting so I wasn't breastfed. I came out all ugly and crackly because there wasn't much fluid left- maybe that's why I have such dry skin till this day.

I hear now-a-days they only give you two weeks before inducing. I would have been a totally different person...my natal chart would have been totally different!   

I definitely feel like your birthing experience has so much to do with who you are as a person.

Were your brothers born via sections also?

No. She went to a few doctors until she found someone who would support her doing it vaginally. It's weird to think of my mom deciding this was important enough to go to more than one doctor because she is usually just so trusting of doctors. It is interesting that it was such a thing for her. I left an awful scar. I bet you that's what it was, knowing my mom.

On another note...

I found my cervix the other day.

BB: Thats exciting! How did that come about? 

A: Gyno Training Associates came into the office to try Eva. 

BB: What is a Gyno Training Associate?

A: Cervix models! No, but seriously. They get hired as part of med school training to help doctors learn how to talk about gender and sexuality while they practice examining their vaginas.  

We used speculums and everything. My cervix was hard to find. It was really high. But I loved doing it.

BB: What did you love about it?

A: It's the door to life and you never see it! 

What are your thoughts on giving birth?

It's gonna be the coolest thing that I as a woman ever do and I'm definitely gonna do it the all natural way. But then after that, I don't know... I guess I'd wanna continue doing it that way. I'm so torn. Thinking about sex toys for example (this will come full circle, I promise) people are always telling me, "Do you really want to be using a sex toy? Don't you want to be having a natural experience?" And I'm like, "Yeah, I want to have a natural experience, but sometimes, I just want to have a different experience."

I don't walk everywhere; I most certainly use tools of technology to get from point A to point B sometimes. I don't like it when people don't acknowledge that's part of a vibrator. They are efficient tools. They can really help you get from point A to point B faster. People always ask why I talk about efficiency when I'm talking about sex. Well, sometimes, I only have so much time... and that's okay. And is that ok with birthing too? Sometimes I feel I wanna do this once because my body can do this amazing thing but after that it just seems kinda inefficient and maybe I can plan it and get on with my life. With other things I'm like, boom boom boom and sometimes I think it would be great for birth to be like that too. And I think that's okay. But we will see. Is that somehow unfair to my children? I know I really want to hold my child immediately after, and I don't want to be in a hospital.

BB: #Brilliantbit: your body takes care of that efficiency for you.  Typically, second time moms have much shorter labors.  So maybe if you let nature take over you might get to that boom boom boom too!

What are you currently birthing?

Sex toys. Making sex toys better. Eva is a hands free clitoral vibrator that a woman can wear during penetrative sex. It has these bendable arms that go under the labia majora and move with the body. 

So right now we are making it water proof and making it work better. I'd love to get more woman to come in to the place and let us take pictures... that's the real info we need to make it better.

WE ALL HAVE BRILLIANT IDEAS BUT ACTUALLY TRUSTING OURSELVES ENOUGH TO MAKE SOMETHING OUT OF THEM IS WHERE A LOT OF US GET STUCK.  WHAT GAVE YOU THE FINAL PUSH?

I got fired. So that was a real push. That made me have to decide, okay I'm gonna try and do this thing and not try and look for another job. And I made a prototype that stayed in place okay. I had a moment of clarity: an orgasm.  

home-left-right-image-1.png

BB: A good push!

A: People say you can orgasm while giving birth! Actually if pigs are sexually stimulated, while being inseminated, it makes them more fertile so maybe there's something to it. 

What has the labor been like?

It's a slow process... very slow. But there's always a solution.

BB: That's what we say about labor :)

A: It's definitely my baby. I don't like when people refer to their company as a baby but here, it makes sense. 

BB: Why not?

A: If your company is failing I think you should kill it. Not the case with a real baby. 

Whats next?

We are launching our new site in March... will take on some investors. Hire up. "Birth" new products. 

Any favorite #brilliantbits?

Your vagina can double in length when you get aroused!

Also, I feel like I can squeeze my pelvic floor muscles enough to orgasm without touching myself. I'm gonna try that tonight.

BB: Let us know how that goes


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HOW A COMADRONA IS BORN

Ash recently had the great privilege of studying with a couple of midwives (comadronas), in Guatemala.  She went via an organization called Dar La Luz whose goal is to improve the health and quality of life for women and their families during pregnancy, birth and postpartum through health education programs and hands on support. Most of their work centers around Honduras, but they are expanding to Guatemala as well, and Ash was sent to start building these relationships.

While doula care in Guatemala is starting to pop up in some of the larger cities, it is overwhelmingly still unknown to the region and it seems the comadronas may benefit as much as birthing women. It is not uncommon for comadronas to experience abuse by their husbands and/or their clients' husbands because they “roam the streets” alone at night. Doulas would make it so these women aren't traveling alone and therefore less of a target. Dar la Luz is always looking for extra support. So all you doulas and midwives out there who are interested in working abroad, check this organization out! And for everyone else, consider making a donation if it is within your means.

While Ash could spend pages recounting her experience, the ups (temazcal, a traditional sweat lodge, ceremonies!) and downs (eating an entire bowl of pasta with globs of mayonnaise) and everything in between, we thought it might be more fun to share the story of one of the comadronas herself.

Meet Angelina. She is K'iche' and lives in Tecpan with her husband and four grown children. She is a home birth comadrona, and in fact, she organizes all of the midwives in Guatemala!  When she’s not busy catching babies, or organizing everyone who does, she works for the Women’s Presidential Ministry helping to protect women's rights and the traditions of the indigenous. So yes. She basically does it all!  

How were you born?

A: My mom had an unmedicated vaginal birth and I was 12+ lbs when I was born! I am the second child but the first one died when she was born; My mom was 16 at the time. She then spent eight years trying to get pregnant again. When I was born it was a party, everyone came to visit my mom and celebrate that she had finally had a baby. My mom says they gave her many gifts because everyone was very excited. After that she went on to have two more kids; I have a brother and a sister.

Why did you become a comadrona?

A: I am a comadrona because when I was born, the comadrona that my mom worked with, told her that I was going to be one. She was actually a partera, not a comadrona.

BB: What is the difference?

A: Parteras don't use the temazcal and they can use injections. My mom chose to work with a partera because during her first birth the comadrona she had worked with kept drinking in the temazcal and uncovered the baby when she was born in the caul, which according to my mom was why she died.

I was also born in the caul. The tradition here in Guatemala is not to just uncover it. When a baby is born in the caul it is because she has a special mission. We save the caul and give it to the parents so they can keep it. The partera told my mom: "Your daughter is going to be like me, she is going to be a comadrona." My mom says I was born with the mission. Comadronas are born, not made.

For how long have you been catching babies?

A: I started practicing when I was 17. Then I went to nursing school. I told the director of the school that I wanted to catch babies.  She believed I had the calling and supported me and I started attending births at the hospital. I only worked at the hospital for one year. I then worked for the Public Health Department in a rural community for 21 years where I had the opportunity to attend home births with other comadronas.

How many births have you attended?

I’ve attended thousands of births. No baby nor mother has died. Only once a baby girl died after 5 days of being born. 

Are there more risks in the hospital or AT HOME?

It’s the same. But here in Guatemala women are afraid of going to the hospital because they won’t get their tea, the medicinal plants and other traditions that are very important for them. People think there are more risks of death in the hospital than at home, but the risk is the same.

BB: How interesting. It is the exact opposite for most people in America.

Are there any specific Mayan traditions that you use during the births?

Here in Guatemala we have a very spiritual connection with Mother Earth and the Fire. There are many rituals that we do for families that come from the Mayan tradition. One of them is the placenta ceremony. You build a fire and add incense, flowers and sugar and put the placenta on top surrounded by flower essences. It’s a ritual to give thanks to the ancestors and the Creator for the flower of life. In Guatemala we call the placenta the flower because it's where the baby grows. It’s the mother of the baby, where the baby was born and developed, so it is very sacred.

There’s also the Temazcal ritual. When a woman is pregnant she goes into the temazcal twice per week. If the woman wants to give birth in the temazcal then we have the birth there. After the birth there are 5 temazcales, every other day for 10 days. On the 13th day after birth we have the Ash Ceremony in the Temazcal. We do a cleansing bath to call the ancestors to the temazcal so they can protect and help us. At the end of the ceremony we offer alcohol and tobacco (smoke) to the ancestors (by pouring it on the ground). We also make food to share (if we have enough money we eat chicken, otherwise just tamales with egg and salt). The food is shared with the ancestors; that’s how we say goodbye to them and release them so they can go somewhere else. We also clean and purify all the impurities that the mother might have accumulated during the 13 days she has been in bed. Because our ancestors sometimes bring bad energies, we have to get rid of them too. We use flowers, pine and incense and give a bath of medicinal plants. After this ceremony there’s more balance and the woman can take good care of her baby and get out of bed.

After 40 days we do the Introduction Ceremony where we introduce the baby to the sacred Fire. 7 years later we have another Introduction ceremony that marks the beginning of childhood. At 13 years there’s another special ceremony in front of an altar with flowers and many offerings, as well as a big party. It’s a ceremony in which the child thanks her parents for the gift of life and gives away all her toys. In exchange she’s going to get her work tools. This ceremony marks the beginning of adolescence. She now has responsibilities to help at home and to work. It’s a beautiful and very emotional ceremony that can be a little sad too. It’s the beginning of womanhood.

After this we keep celebrating cycles every 13 years. At 26 years old the woman is ready to be a mother, she has the next 13 years to give birth. The next cycle starts at 39 when she starts prepping to be a counselor and an elder. At 52 she receives the "authority stick" which is when she can start holding council.

 
 

What is the most important thing women can do to prep for labor?

It starts with pregnancy. There, are two main things.  The primary one is the emotional state of the mother. In our case this can change depending on if it is a wanted pregnancy or the result of sexual violence which unfortunately is very common. Another very important aspect is nutrition, the mother has to eat well and get enough nutrients to be strong enough and healthy for labor.

What are you currently birthing?

There are two main projects. One of them is to create an ancestral maternal health center where we can gather all the Mayan traditions and practice the values we have lost in the hospital setting. There are many places where women are choosing the hospital because the traditions are becoming too foreign. The idea is to go back to the traditions from our ancestors and use all those grandmother secrets that are so useful and preventative. For more than 37 years of catching babies I’ve wanted my home to be a place where women can come and give birth on their own terms. It doesn’t matter what I want or what Western medicine wants. What’s important is for women to be comfortable and follow their instincts and choose how she wants to give birth.

 
 

The other project is to educate and train comadronas. I am the National Representative of the Comadronas and have been teaching for many years around the country. My goal is to create a national network of comadronas so we can all exchange secrets and wisdom. The idea is to combine both projects so we can have exchange programs with other countries, and invite guests from other places but also travel and see what is being done in other traditions and countries.

Any #Brilliantbits to share?

It’s not about the body but about the spirit. I am always inspired by the exchange of wisdom with our ancestors which I’ve felt many times. There’s a connection with what I call the aura. It’s an energy that comes and takes over us, it makes us part of the cosmos and the universe, and a wisdom exchange is made.

The comadronas wisdom is abstract, you don’t see it but feel it. We connect that ancestral energy and let our elders work through us. We ask for permission to the Creator before we work with women. That’s the essence of the comadrona life.


Don't forget to checkout Dar la Luz and consider making a donation if you can!

#THISISHOWIWASBORN with Tanya Wills

 
 

For those of you local to the NYC birth community you definitely know who Tanya Wills is, and for those who aren’t, well, you Wills now (sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves). She is a real force with just about the entire alphabet after her name: MSN, LM, CNM, WHNP-BC, IBCLC. She’s an educator and Doula turned Certified Nurse Midwife turned Homebirth Midwife and Lactation Consultant. And is known to all as someone who gets shit done (and aces whatever she does). And while Tanya is more so in the 'conception phase' of birthing whatever comes next for her, it was very invigorating to meet with a woman who refuses to be small and who believes, that just as birth is BIG, so will be whatever comes next for her.

So, here’s Tanya on finding her voice and how we can support birthing women to do the same.

HOW WERE YOU BORN?

TW- I actually don’t know a lot about how I was born. I asked my mother about her births when I became pregnant. She said 'Oh! Just listen to your doctor and you will be fine.' I was born three weeks early I’m told. My mother claims that she had no drugs when she had all of us but she did say that they put a mask on her face and she doesn’t know what that was. I’m like, 'Thanks Mom! Did they numb you? Did they do something?' She’s like, 'Nothing, nothing... except for the mask!'

WHAT WAS THE EXPERIENCE OF ASKING ABOUT YOUR BIRTH LIKE?

TW- I think my mom had her kids and never thought about her births ever again. It was because of the process of having my son that I became interested in childbirth, a topic I knew nothing about, and couldn’t help wondering, 'How this is happening!?' And I think the answers are too big for us.

BB- That was part of the impetus to start Brilliant Bodies and this interview series - to start reaching people before they are pregnant, to start connecting people to birth before it happens to them so that they can deeply trust their bodies and their selves and become active participants.

What are your thoughts on reaching women sooner?

TW- I’m asked this all the time and I think the answer is that we have to get them as girls and address how they view themselves and their bodies and what their bodies can do, probably will do. Something like 88% of women are going to have babies. This is not alternative stuff. It doesn't get more mainstream than this! What is happening during births now is a kind of oppression, oppression because we don't know any better. There is no good reason why no one in the system can't help women breastfeed. There is no good reason that people are separated after having their babies... why partners can’t stay in the hospital overnight without paying $900. There is no good reason why women can’t hold their babies after having a c-section. I assure you, I’ve been in that room. There is NO good reason - she’s awake during the surgery, don’t tell me there is a good reason she can’t hold her baby! Women are not cupcakes - tell them the truth!

This is a blanketed statement, and there are definitely hospitals with better practices, but generally speaking, what is happening now is that hospitals are controlling births - even if there's no IV, there’s some unnecessary intervention that happens because they feel they have to do something. How many times have I heard students tell me they couldn't push effectively? One student told me once she felt like she was a dancer and her doctor the choreographer and she couldn't figure out the moves.

how can we empower these women?

TW- The thing is, babies are SO GOOD at being born, and we are SO GOOD at birthing them. So what happens when we start honoring the experience of what she is doing which is so ordinary and so extraordinary at the same time? This life force is SO POWERFUL. What happens when we just allow ourselves to work with it if we need to and otherwise just stay out of the way? What happens when we stop measuring outcomes by if everyone came out alive? 

Women tell me all the time 'I was changed [from my birth experience].' I personally didn't have a home birth because I was looking to have a spiritual, transformative, beautiful, peaceful experience… but I was changed. I sat with my baby and was like 'Whoaaa! That was so much bigger than I thought it would be.' There is this wall that you get to, this self-doubt. I believed with every pore of my being that this was impossible.

So what happens when we say, 'She will find her way' in our own minds? 

BB- She will find her way!

NOW TELL US ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE CURRENTLY BIRTHING?

TW- For me right now in terms of what’s next, I feel I am standing at a cliff. What’s next for me is not something I envisioned before and that is so big, SO HUGE.  I have my hand in a lot of things which is great. I thought that when I graduated from midwifery school that I would be there but now I know there’s no there. I graduated and I thought that things would get smaller and fall away and become sane. And that is not what has happened. And I don’t feel willing to get smaller right now. There is a part of me, as a mother, a wife and a friend where I feel pressure to get smaller as far as my work goes. But every other sense that I have is to get bigger and that is scary because I don’t know what that is. I am very interested in having the largest amount of influence that I possibly can. That’s what I feel I am here for - to help people. My work as an activist is the way that I live now.  

I don’t know if I am going to be able to lower the overall c-section rate but where do I lower it? On the front lines - with my own hands. And I can help lower the rate by encouraging people to have their babies with folks that have low c-section rates, and help those practices be so busy that the change is totally consumer driven. I feel part of what I am called to do is to ignite the consumer to ask for what is right. It’s going to be some bigger influence to get people to hear this issue, I’m just not sure what the portal will be just yet.

IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU’VE FOUND YOUR VOICE. WHAT HAS THE LABOR OF GETTING TO THIS POINT BEEN LIKE?

TW- I’ve been told that I take up too much space. I feel OK about that now, but in my first year as a doula I didn’t. I felt I wasn’t playing the role as this person that has more experience than me thinks I should. And that was challenging for me. The good news is that I had some terrific mentors that told me, 'They are afraid of that...This is about you and if you’re taking up space you must have something to say.' Stepping into that is BIG.

WHAT'S NEXT?

TW- Where are we right now? Ina May is retired, we have her book - half of her book is totally dated and doesn’t speak to what’s happening in the hospital. And the other half of her book is about people having their babies on The Farm, which I personally did not identify with as a pregnant New Yorker whose favorite food is Doritos.

                  Sign on Tanya's door at her home in NY

                  Sign on Tanya's door at her home in NY

                                                       #MidwifeBrain

                                                       #MidwifeBrain

So where are we? I am interested in knowing who is speaking to pregnant families right now - it’s kind of no one!

BB- Other than friends and family sharing scary stories right when you’re about to hit your due date, of course.

TW- Right. So what is the change that needs to be made and how can it be made boldly? And I don’t think it’s going to be made in the political organizations. It’s going to have to be a personality who moves this forward and it is going to have to be with consumers asking for what they want, and specifically with consumers asking for what they want for things that there is no reason we don’t have. Somebody approachable has to talk to them and be available for them. Someone who’s feet are on the ground. I feel a lot of the birth visionaries that are out there have excellent messages that have carried us all and have paved the way, but I think that we’re ready for somebody regular. We’re ready to talk about birth and labor as it is. I don’t think it needs to be a special place in Tennese or an orgasm. It can be something regular. And what is wrong with that? 

BB- Boom. So exciting!

ANY #BRILLIANTBITS YOU WANT TO SHARE?

TW- Your body is going to birth the baby, it's your mind that will not go along for the ride, it's your mind what will try to screw you every time. 

                                                                                                                   Tanya with her daughter Violet

                                                                                                                   Tanya with her daughter Violet


To learn more about Tanya and keep up to date with everything that she's birthing (or if you want her to catch your baby) head over to:

MANHATTAN BIRTH + MARCY TARDIO HOME BIRTH + INSTAGRAM + FACEBOOK

Plus checkout her new class CHILDBIRTH FOR EARLY BIRDS that's coming up on March 17th!

#THISISHOWIWASBORN with Madame KIRAN GANDHI

A few years ago Nat was at a TED Talk and was thoroughly impressed by Kiran Gandhi who is a total badass at just makin’ it work (Instead of choosing between Harvard biz school and touring with M.I.A she did both) and who recently bled freely during a marathon to bring attention to the issue of period stigma around the world (Reminder: you wouldn't be here without em!) During our interview with our other favorite period pioneers, Nat was reminded of Kiran’s talk and in particular her theory of Atomic Living (we think it can be applied to labor quite beautifully- take a listen!). So, between her can-do approach to just about everything, and the new music project, Madame Gandhi, she is currently birthing, we thought this major creator would be the perfect person to sit down with and learn more about how she was born.

                                                                                                    #thefutureisfemale

                                                                                                   #thefutureisfemale

so tell us, How were you born?

KG- My mom told me that she and my dad were both staying in a Harvard dorm (they were both in Business school- my dad at Harvard and my mom at Boston University) when her water broke.

BB: Ha - born at Harvard, born again at Harvard. It was meant to be!

KG- She said it was easy, that it’s amazing how the body just completely opens up and then closes. They would shift taking care of me. My dad would go to class in the morning and my mom would go to class at night.

What was the experience of asking about your birth like?

KG- My mom is very matter of fact. If it were me telling the story it would be all emotional, I’d remember small significant details, but it’s just not her style. She was more like “We got to the hospital. Birth was awesome. You popped right out. We had class the next day.” Very much my mom. 

BB: It's funny- it sounds like your approach to life mirrors your mom's attitude and the circumstances around how she birthed you- that wanting it all attitude and really special ability to just therefore make it work- going to biz school and touring, being in biz school and having a baby.

KG: Yeah. That's cool. I never thought of it that way. It would have basically been this year that my mom would have given birth to me and I could never imagine giving birth now. They were going to graduate in May and I was born in Feb. of that year. 

DId your birth story taught you anything about yourself or your relationships today?

KG- Yes, my mom is always able to find the positive of any situation, and I have definitely learned how to do that, no matter how difficult it can be at times! 

When thinking about birth what are the first things that come to mind? 

KG- Excitement. Love. Nourishing someone. I like the idea of it a lot. I think it would make me feel righteous, elevated, like I have purpose, that I want to be protective. It definitely excites me. I think it's because my mom was so strong about it. Her saying “Oh yea of course - it's beautiful” makes me feel excited instead of afraid.

Tell us about what you are currently birthing.

I’m birthing my music. I’m moving to LA. It feels very good and I am very excited. My producer is out there and she and I work together really well. 

BB: That's Madame Gandhi?

KG: Yea! I call it Madame Gandhi because the notion of a 'madame' is someone who is female, and who is respected for her female qualities; not because she’s trying to become masculine, or hard, or change herself to fit in, but really just being a female leader. 

So this is the notion of a 'madame', the idea that you are leading based on your feminine qualities and they should be as valued, loved, and welcomed as we love, value, and welcome male qualities.

Check this out. It’s a meet the band type thing. It’s cool. It’s a clip from when we played this pro-choice party in DC.

What is the connection between the pro-choice movement and your music?

KG: Being able to make and perform music that speaks about gender equality and liberation. I want Madame Gandhi to stand as a project that celebrates women, that celebrates women’s voices, that makes other women feel confident to do whatever they want to do. I feel like everything that is related to women is often so strange and taboo and awkward and I'm so over it. There aren’t that many artists that want to champion women's causes. I don't know why. Maybe because they are trying to work on their own career and many times their careers fall in the hands of men because they are the ones running the industry and so it's difficult to actively forward any gender equality cause.

What’s the labor been like?

Bewildering. It's a great parallel to giving birth. Everyone acts like its so easy and when you actually do it you realize there's a million unknowns - why didn’t they tell us this?!

Theres a lot of finding your own path. There’s no set answer. There are a couple things you can do that are set like "Use this program" or "Upload to Soundcloud", "Post to Facebook." And maybe that’s a parallel to "Going to the hospital", "Finding your Dr." etc. But the actual making of the music, the creative birthing process, is difficult. You have to catch yourself at moments when you are ready to be raw and vulnerable and that’s hard.

My process has been that, when I’m walking around the street and I'm just thinking or singing or whatever, I record it quickly because I know that if I am the studio, that authentic song/melody/lyric wont happen as easily.  This allows me to have a sound bank of ideas to build off of when I'm in the studio. Had I not recorded it in it purest form- when it was created from my brain and body, it would be gone. To just come up with something in the studio for the sake of it- it never works. It just sounds shitty.  

What gave you the final push to just focus on your music- and to start using your voice?

 
kiran-ghandi-3-435.jpg
 

It was after I ran the marathon and felt lucky to have been given a megaphone to speak. It felt like a gift to be able to have an audience who valued and resonated with my views on gender equality and liberation- so I took this gift and have been running with it ever since. I have written articles, songs and speeches this year that I never thought I'd have the chance to do in a life time.

Any #brilliantbits you want to share?

The heart is a beating drum!

 

 

To learn more about Kiran and keep up to date with what she's up to follow @madamegandhi , read her blog and listen to her music. Also...

MEET MADAME GANDHI

LEARN ABOUT ATOMIC LIVING



#THISISHOWIWASBORN Partnership, Purpose and Periods

I (Ash) first met Annie back in college when I cast her in a production of Vagina Monologues.  Fun footage here. Given our shared appreciation of all things vagina, it came as no surprise, but with much admiration and joy, when I received an email about her new endeavor Conscious Period with co-birther Margo Lang.  Natalia and I had been musing over launching our #thisishowiwasborn campaign for some time now, and their courage to launch was just the kick we needed to birth this baby.

So we're off!

Welcome to our first #thisishowiwasborn, where we invite those who are birthing projects of their own to reconnect to their own birth story and learn from where they come from.

 
 

Let’s started by talking about BIRTH. HOW WERE YOU BORN?

Annie- My mom would have liked a home birth, but in the late 80s it was just so far out there that my parents opted for a hospital delivery. She wanted to go as natural as possible--she even asked her doctor for a vaginal massage instead of an episiotomy. But once I was over a week late, she ended up being induced because there wasn't enough amniotic fluid anymore. After a lengthy delivery and pushing for two hours, they realized that my head was too big and her OB/GYN, whom she loved and trusted, performed a c-section. My dad says that the second that they opened her up I was just there, looking right up. I went straight to my dad. The nurse told my mom right away “This is a very sensitive baby.” My mom was just so happy I was healthy.

Margo- My parents met in medical school and my mom delivered at the same hospital she did her residency. She knew she was moving along very quickly in her labor but no one believed her because I was her first baby. Everyone was shocked when I was born 45 min later! Because it was so quick, the OBGYN was nowhere to be found so my dad put gloves on and was ready to catch me until a nurse “hip checked” him out of the way. However, there was a medication in my system that stopped my breathing when I was born. My dad insisted on helping and says he was the one to revive me by tapping the bottoms of my feet. In the meantime, my mom was trying to get off the bed to help too even though she hadn’t even delivered her placenta yet. Apparently, it quite a scene. Eventually I started crying… and here I am. I was named after my grandmother.

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WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE STORY?

Annie- Right after I was born, my mom was totally out of it but the first thing she said to my dad was “Well what are we going to do the next time around?” 2 years later I had a sister.

Margo- I think it is really cool that both my parents felt so empowered to help revive me- to own that process and change the situation. Most people don’t have that opportunity.

DID YOU LEARN SOMETHING THAT SURPRISED YOU?

Annie- My mom's biggest take-away from the entire process of having a baby, from first finding out she was pregnant all the way through my birth and infant hood, was to let go of control. I think it's interesting to be able to experience that level of surrender in such transformative situations.

Margo- A funny take away is how different my parents remember the story of what happened- my mom remembers a lot more people around helping with the “reviving” process.

HAS LEARNING ABOUT YOUR OWN BIRTH TAUGHT YOU ANYTHING ABOUT YOURSELF TODAY?

Annie- I’ve always known I’m very sensitive but didn’t know I was perceived like that by other people. It also made me admire my mom a lot more and realize that sometimes you just have to surrender and realize that people and the system aren’t prepared for what you want, but if you persevere and if you hold on to the ultimate purpose of the situation it will all be okay.

Margo- When you find out that you were born not breathing there is this weird sense of ‘I could not be here’. In my mind, my dad saved me when I was born and I’ve always felt very protected by my parents. Knowing that I could be, literally, dying and that they would know how to fix it has been very much a theme for me. That sense of security and knowing they have the tools to fix even what seems to me a very scary situation, makes me feel very safe and protected. And it allows me to take risks because I know at the end of the day they are there for me if something doesn’t go right.

DO YOU HAVE ANY FEARS ABOUT GIVING BIRTH?

Annie-  I really want to give birth today and I want everyone to watch!

Margo- I have heard horror stories from a friend that is a medical resident. Crazy things happen to people’s bodies!

TELL US ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE CURRENTLY BIRTHING

Conscious period is an organic tampon company with a dual giving model. There are two parts to our model- the first is one-for-one- for every box of organic tampons that we sell, we give a box of pads to women that are homeless.  But we felt we wanted to take the one-for-one model a step further and address the issue at the root- unemployment- which is why they can’t afford the pads in the first place. Which brings us to the second piece of our business model and what we are currently working on now- crowdfunding to raise enough money to purchase machinery so that we can manufacture the pads locally and employ the same women that we seek to serve in everything from production to packaging to sales, to inventory management.

In addition to our period products, we aim to break the stigma around periods.  As it stands now, period products are not covered by food stamps AND they are subject to taxes. We want to help make policy changes by creating a dialogue around menstrual issues and educate women on these issues so they can stand up for themselves.

We all have Brilliant ideas but actually trusting ourselves enough to make something out of them is where a lot of us get stuck.  WHAT GAVE YOU THE FINAL PUSH?

Margo-  For both of us having a partner- someone with different yet complementary skill sets with whom we felt safe and confident with was super important and made it possible.

Annie- I also think there’s a deep understanding that this is my special way of being of service in this world, and it has snowballed into something way bigger than me. What propels me is deeply knowing that I am using my talents, interests and gifts to bring something forth that can serve other women in line with my ideals.

What’s the labor been like?

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Annie- It’s hard and ALOT of work. Our INDIEGOGO CAMPAIGN made us feel so vulnerable to everything: from praise to criticism, from people supporting us to people not supporting us. And I think that speaks to what happens when you really follow your dreams. When you follow this idea and believe that you have the unique capacity to make it happen. And that is a really powerful force propelling us forward and collectively. There is a hell of a lot of leg work to go about making it happen but it is really exciting too.

Any favorite #BrilliantBits to share?

Annie- The average woman spends over 100,000 hours menstruating.

Margo- And will use 16,800 tampons in her lifetime (assuming you’re a tampon user)

 

 

To learn more about Conscious Period and the work that Annie and Margo are doing go to http://www.consciousperiod.com.

To pre-order or pledge go to https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/conscious-healthy-period-products-for-all#/

Follow them on instagram and join the #menstrualrevolution: https://instagram.com/consciousperiod/