The Yoga Of Motherhood
What it means to have a child–and what a beautiful experience and an opportunity for growth it is!
Eyes of steely blue… Online Store
She looks up at me with steely blue, quizzical eyes, and starts to suckle for the first time. She’s so beautiful, a tiny little square body, all folded up, like an oven-ready chicken at the supermarket. Her tiny feet are blue – the blood is just starting to course through her body with her first breaths, and her face is becoming pink. Finally, we are together, after nine months of waiting.
These are the first precious moments of our daughter Cahya, and perhaps the most precious moment of my life, too.
Nothing can describe the love that a mother has for her child; nothing can surpass it or even begin to tell you its depth and power. It is only since giving birth myself that I have really realised how much my own mother loves me, and also, what a gift a mother is.
It was a strange birth, especially by Bali standards (where women are shunted on a production line, pumped with drugs, routinely cut open, and this miraculous and sacred process is really not allowed to unfold naturally at all.*) We decided to have a home birth in our place at Tebesaya, Ubud. We were staying in a great, open plan hall of a house, eight sided, perfect Feng Shui. Big beanbags, lots of space, private and quiet, ideal for a birth, really.
I do find it bizarre the places that some women are expected to give birth. Narrow, high, single iron hospital beds! I looked at them and was like, yes, and where am I supposed to give birth! And as for the idea of moving from the birth suite to another ‘delivery room’ for the final birth – well that is completely preposterous! I have never heard of such a ludicrous idea. It’s rather like suggesting that during sex, you move to a different room for orgasm – not exactly adding flow to the process is it!
Anyway, my husband Putu, in his usual extraordinary way, agreed to my home birth plans, which were really ‘luar biasa’ (‘far out’) by Bali standards, where everyone just goes to hospital. He set himself to work, building a birthing pool from bamboo and tarpaulin (it worked very well and even caused the necessary and mythical task of ‘boiling lots of water’ for a birth, which was nice). Shortly before the birth he arrived proudly with the ceremonial coconut container and small offerings that would be used for the ‘ari ari’ or afterbirth.
The Balinese believe in a very strong link between the afterbirth and the baby. They believe the afterbirth contains the ‘little sister’ of the baby – something like the ‘four humours’ from ancient English medieval beliefs, actually – air, earth, fire and water. The afterbirth is placed in the coconut and buried by the front door! Flower offerings are placed there for a month after the birth and then a stone is put on top of the space. Every time the child leaves the house, earth is touched near the stone and touched to the child’s forehead. In this way she ‘takes leave’ of her little sister.
Weaving this local belief into our birth story was easy for me – Putu had the main adjusting to do, as he felt a lot of responsibility of course for me and was worried that something might go wrong with what was for him and his culture, quite an outlandish plan.
Our midwife, Debra, arrived from America some days before the birth. Practical and down to earth, she inspired confidence and was a great birth partner. (We also had a link arranged to the best local obstetrician, and transport ready.)
Birth, it seems funny to need to say it, is ‘a girl thing’! It involves a lot of patience and waiting (the actual birth itself I mean). It is a natural process that usually will complete successfully in its own good time. ‘Guy energy’ – ie the normal and natural desire of men to ‘do something’ – to be active rather than receptive – to take control – is really at odds with this ‘waiting game’. Modern medicine is very much in this masculine, controlling realm, and is just not the compatible kind of energy for birth. Of course I acknowledge the occasional need for quick intervention. What I’m saying is that the male-oriented attitude makes this more likely, sooner, and in more cases. And once intervention happens, the mother sadly loses control.
I was very lucky to have about six women friends present at the birth and supporting me at various times. Four loving friends surrounded me when Cahya finally came (on the video you can see us chatting and joking between contractions). This support was invaluable and so empowering.
It surprises me that I have never found any description of what birth is actually like. Anywhere! And nobody explains what it means from a metaphysical viewpoint, so I shall try to do that here.
Everyone goes on about ‘pain control’ and obsesses over what drugs to use, but maybe they are missing the point! The most important thing in my view is not ‘pain control’ but ‘fear control’. Giving birth feels very like being on an ocean or in a big sea. Every so often, a big wave of sensation rolls over you. Just like swimming, it doesn’t hurt being in the water, as long as you remember to breathe, relax, and don’t tense up and get scared. Roll with the waves – don’t panic, or you could go under and drown, just as in a real sea! The actual feeling is a bit like orgasm with a kind of wiggly tickley electric charge thrown in. Sorry that’s the best I can do to describe it! But it doesn’t hurt.
Debra, our midwife, kept up a wonderful tirade of ‘saying nice things’ like ‘the baby doesn’t want to hurt you’, ‘it’s safe to give birth’ and ‘it doesn’t have to be for you like it was for your mother’ and things like that. This made a vast difference to me. When Debra wandered off for a moment to supervise the birth pool, and I was left alone without this support, I found myself gazing into a vast dark abyss of fear – and I knew very well that that was where the pain was too. So I quickly called her back ‘Debra! Come back and say ‘nice things!’ So she did and I was fine. I have great resources, a lot of yoga training which helps enormously with breathing and staying centred. Yet I could see clearly how I could have very easily lost it, stopped flowing with the process and started resisting and therefore feeling fear and hence pain. You MUST say ‘yes ‘to the process.
Putu started getting sick at exactly the time Cahya was being born. We didn’t know it, but he was coming down with chickenpox. Fortuitously, as the baby was taking a long time to come (the labour stalled at one point and was revived by using a drip – I’m not averse to modern things – I just want input and choice about when they are used!) Putu went off to his village in Tabanan to pray. Cahya was born at just the moment of prayer, and luckily, this distance kept her safe from the chickenpox, too.
Birth is a truly ‘cosmic’ experience. It is an intense moment of coming together of karma for both mother and baby. The way in which the birth happens is largely down to the karma of the baby. The soul of the baby chooses how and when to come. Birth is probably the most vulnerable and lonely time of a woman’s life (however good the support she has). The North American Indians believe that a woman journeys alone to the land of souls to pick up the soul of her baby and bring it back, and it certainly felt like that to me. A different state of consciousness is entered. A song I wrote, ‘The Journey’ aims to capture that feeling, and is reproduced here.
I travelled to the land of snows
How you get there no-one knows
It’s cold and white and no grass grows
I brought you back with me.
It’s long and lonely in my coat
Reindeer fur and boots of goat
But I crossed over and this I wrote
I brought you back with me
I arrived tired and you were lying there
Naked on a bed of fur
I picked you up and held you here
I brought you back with me
I called your name and you awoke
Piercing eyes like steely smoke
You cried to me and something broke
I brought you back with me
It’s a lonely journey in the night
But somehow all is filled with light
You’re my tiny firebright
You light my home for me.
Wave by wave
And breath by breath
Brings me to the land of death
To find your soul
and bring it back
Bring it back with me
Jeli Lala © 2000
I was able to ‘channel’ information from Cahya before she was born. It was great to have this connection! I asked her to make the birth easy and she said ‘she’d do her best as far as she could’. During the birth, she told me she’d come at twelve o’clock. I thought this was to be in a couple of hours time (it was ten o’clock at night) but it turned out to be fourteen hours later (she was born at 11:59!) People also talk about birth in terms of ‘how many hours’ it lasts (the implication being that it’s awful if it’s long – I suppose because everyone believes it’s painful). It was fine for me that Cahya took quite a long time – only a day to get a new life into the world doesn’t seem so long to me!
The baby also told me of her previous life, as a male teacher of calligraphy on the border of China and Tibet. She certainly has a great affinity with drawing, and has always made calligraphic writing type squiggles from the moment she first picked up a pen! If you’ re pregnant, and want to try connecting with your baby, sit with pen and paper, relax and ask a question inwardly of the baby (it’s fun to let your partner ask the questions) and just write down the first answer than comes.
After the birth, we were all completely exhausted. I have a photo of Putu stretched out, stiff as a board, clutching a broom from sweeping the floor, just zonked. He’s smothered in white ‘boré ’ – rice ground with deliciously fragrant flowers and mixed with water and put on the skin (a local remedy for the horrendous chickenpox blisters). He looks like a skinny deranged aborigine ghost! I wasn’t much better – so tired – I hadn’t realised what a massive physical impact birth has. In the days after the birth, the body releases litres and litres of excess water through the urine and does a huge adjustment process. There’s a need to rest and on top of this, the new baby is in the bed and needs feeding, changing and constant attention! Giving birth is chickenfeed compared to the energy and time needed for caring for a child.
The three weeks after the birth though were a lyrical time turnaround between sleeping, washing nappies, listening to Robbie Williams, feeding, eating, sleeping, just watching the tropical garden outside, washing nappies… Getting to know each other and hanging out together were really nice luxuries.
And really, this has continued up to now. Having a child is a constant and never ending wheel of things that must be done (and done NOW!)
You may have heard the quote ‘children give you patience’. I would like to change it to read ‘children give you patience…because they can be the most incredibly annoying beings on the planet!’ They quite naturally have no respect for your time boundaries, priorities or ideas! They need you and they always need you NOW!!! (At times I find myself just wishing I could go to the bathroom in peace without hearing ‘MummmmEEEEEE!’ coming at me through the door!) Though, as any parent will tell you, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Nothing can compare with the joy of your child bringing you a flower for the first time, or saying ‘thank-you’ or giving you a great beaming smile or a hug. I’ve had to learn to let go of my priorities and try to focus on hers. (With varying success – the other ‘given’ quality of the parent seems to be that of guilt!).
The main thing I want for our child is give her a strong sense of self-esteem. So, we don’t make her ‘wrong’ if she makes a mistake. We don’t yell at her, criticise her or hit her (this was normal practise in Western upbringing when I was a child). We certainly don’t give her negative inputs like ‘you’re stupid!’ etc. We often praise and encourage her. And we listen to what she wants (however idiosyncratic!) and allow it if possible.
Boundaries are challenging though – how do you control a screaming two year old – set the boundary, not give in, yet try to minimise the size of the ensuing drama? I find this very difficult. The only answer I have so far is ‘distraction!’ Give the message then change the subject so it doesn’t become too big a thing. I’m still working on this one! The relationship with one’s child seems to magnify anything that is already difficult (giving great opportunity for practise!) The other ‘given’ of being a parent, of course, is knowing that you can only do your best, and you are bound to do some things wrong.
Perhaps the biggest thing I’ve learned from joining the parent clan is just how difficult it is even to provide the basic things like a nice place to live, clean clothes, good food on the table, time and attention – just this takes a huge amount of energy, never mind anything ‘intangible’ like love, support… I now have much greater appreciation and gratitude for own parents – they did their best in difficult circumstances. I have really let go of blaming them for anything disagreeable that happened when I was a child, and this feels like a great freedom.
If you are already a parent, salut! If you are planning to become one, congratulations – it’s one of the greatest journeys there is. And if you’re not in this realm, I hope you’ll enjoy opportunities that come your way for spending time with children.
(*Note: Since writing this article, Bali has a birthing centre, which has earned its creator, Robin Lim, a CNN Hero award.)
© Jelila 2002, All rights reserved.
Jelila is a well-known International Healer who offers a range of life-enriching healing sessions including Crystal Healing, Energy Work, Past-Life Journeys, Sound Healing, The Reprogramming™ her Signature Technique, The Gift… of Harmony™, her own range of Crystal Healing Necklaces, Healing Music, Books, and more.
She has appeared in many magazines and in Asia and Bali at top resorts like The Four Seasons, The Bale, and The Westin, and has a wealth of experience and depth to help you – for living in delight!
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