2019: Be Heard

“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”
-David Augsburger

2019 is my year to BE HEARD! Choosing a word of the year is a powerful tradition in my life. For the 5th year in a row, I am choosing a word to guide my path for the year. Except, this year it’s a phrase…my contrary nature finds that kind of delightful!

Image of two boys using a phone made of tin cans to be heard through

I find when I choose that word (or phrase) it lights the way for opportunities for growth. That first year my word was trust, and I noticed ways the Universe helped me learn to trust more deeply. When my word was power, I learned to recognize new ways in which I could express my power. When my word was choice, I began to notice how many choices we have the opportunity to make everyday. Last year my word was ask, and I reminded myself to ask, even when it was not comfortable.

What Does Being Heard Mean?

When the phrase “Be Heard” presented itself to me near the end of last year, I was in a stage of my life when I was playing it small and choosing not to speak up in ways that were important to me. I was doing a lot of healing and growing, and I wanted someone to hold space and be witness to both the pain and the power flowing through me. That sense of validation is an aspect of connection, and it is something we all need in way or another. So “Be Heard” can mean validation.

At the same time, I recommitted to my business and stepping into my role as entrepreneur. In that sense, “Be Heard” meant stepping out and not waiting for others to notice me.

A third aspect for me to learn about and work with soon became clear. It was obvious, but important, to recognize that it is just as important to give others the space and validation to “Be Heard” as it is to be heard myself. I’m good at doing that in big, emotional situations. This perspective helped me to start looking for ways to be more intentional in listening to the little, everyday communications in which we share ourselves.

In Practice

My opportunities to learn about being heard came fast and furious as the 2019 broke. I celebrated the New Year with a small group of friends on the beach. A series of events, poor communication, old wounds, and just unfortunate circumstances left me feeling minimized, judged, rejected, hurt, triggered, and thoroughly unheard that night.

I was able to address some of the things the following day. I explained to one of the people involved why some of the things had been so very hurtful to me. She listened and held me and made it clear that she understood what I was telling her. The energetic knife wound through my heart was immediately healed. I felt lighter and more loving and better able to hold space for others to feel heard.

The other primary player in the New Year’s Eve fiasco was too emotionally overloaded and wounded himself to listen to me in any way, and I was in far too much pain to listen to him. So we went in circles the entire week, digging a deeper and deeper hole neither of us could climb out of. It was a hellish week, and our relationship did not survive. I did learn some important lessons though.

The first is that Being Heard – feeling loved, validated, and accepted is important, and it’s something that I, and everyone else, deserves and is worthy of. Being Heard HEALS!

Also, waiting around over and over again to be heard, trying over and over again to be heard, being told that your feelings matter less than someone else’s –  is bullshit! You deserve to be heard, and anyone that treats you differently does not deserve to be in your life.

Third, my feelings do not need to hinge on someone else’s treatment of me. And even though I’m not there yet, I feel that this is a layer that is now ready to be healed, and this week of not being heard helped to get me to this point.

I got the chance to step out and Be Heard that very same week. I got a call one evening from my friend and mentor Michael Inanna asking me to be the guest on a weekly round table he hosts with his wife Freyja called Sex & Chocolate. They wanted me to come on and talk about sex magick in less than two hours. I actually almost said no, to this opportunity that the Universe handed me in response to my setting the intention of being heard. But then, my guides whispered in my ear and reminded me that it was exactly what I was asking for. So I said YES! and Thank You! And More Please!

And I was blessed with the opportunity to let those I loved feel safe and heard. I wasn’t the only one who had a hard week. From listening to my teenage son about his views of the world to a friend in a crisis of faith, to my lover as we shifted the dynamics of our relationship, I was given the gift of learning to listen better.

Just the Beginning

We haven’t even made it out of January yet, and I’ve already learned so much! I’m excited to see where my word of the year will take me for the rest of this trip around the sun!

And I’d love to hear from you. Do you choose a word of the year? Do you have other ways you focus an intention or goal for the year? How have these practices helped you to heal and grow? Share your comments below or in my Facebook group Grow with Me!

Embracing Power with Love

I have been thinking about my relationship with power. As a young woman, my tendency was to play it small. My family gave me the implicit message to keep my head down, play it safe, and not make waves. While I loved to shine on stage, and my creativity was encouraged, in other aspects of my life I learned to not ask for more than my share, to not show my vulnerability and struggles, to work hard for what was just enough, and not take chances.

Image of man shaking finger at woman who has her head down and ears covered

There have been many twists and turns along the journey to step fully into my power, and that journey is by no means finished. Along the way sexual trauma and some poor relationship choices contributed to the perceptions of my powerlessness.

I think the journey to reclaiming my power began about 12 years ago when I started to learn about my own sexual power and divine nature as a sexual being through Moksha Magick. Sexuality is such a misunderstood and feared source of power and beauty. Ironically, or perhaps perfectly, I began that part of the journey before realizing how much damage was present in my sexual being.

Image of a woman's naked back with the arms of her partner wrapped around her

Then four years ago I was finally ready to face the sexual trauma from earlier in my life. I ran away from the pain and shame and anger from that trauma for over 20 years. I blocked it out so completely, that I didn’t remember it at all until I finally felt safe enough to stand in my power and face it. It was hard, messy work. (I wrote a little bit about it here) I cried, and screamed, and rocked, and shook. I took three months off work so that I could focus all my attention on reclaiming my power. I used all the tools I now had at my disposal, including that increased understanding of the Divine nature of my sexuality. I was engaged at the time, and my fiance was able to support me with sexual healing techniques we developed together over time. We also worked together as I learned to embrace all the difficult emotions that always become entangled with sexual trauma: shame, fear, guilt anger, helplessness, hopelessness, etc. and to express them so that I was no longer carrying them inside my body. Another important healing tool during that time was inner child work. I would talk to, write to, and embrace a specific doll, giving her all the love, understanding, and acceptance that I should have had as a young teenager.

About a year later, in 2016, I was again ready to take another step further into my power. The word I chose to focus on that year was power. The Universe delivered. I participated in a program for singing performance called Breakthrough (I wrote about it here and here). Nine of us participated, each for our own reasons. The facilitators were very gifted at identifying how each of us was ready to grow and what we needed to step into next. The song the group chose for me to perform for the final concert was “Happy.” It was perfect. It was about how letting go of fear and others’ expectations (in other words, stepping into our own power) is how we embrace happiness. Music is such a powerful healing tool, especially when we embrace it with intention and focus.

Image of woman breaking chainsLater that year, I entered the Integrative Orgasmic Healing program with Freyja and Michael Inanna. Once again, the focus was on fully expressing our emotions about traumas big and small. I cannot emphasize enough how important emotional expression is! The other major component of that three month experience was using sexual energy as a healing tool to fill the energy vacuum once those challenging emotions were released. So again, sexuality became a powerful tool in my healing journey. And I also had the support of Michael and Freyja. I cannot tell you how much I value their ability to create safe space and to intuitively respond to and honor the needs that arise within that space.

Here we are now in 2018. My healing journey continues. As long as we remain on this earth plane, the need for healing and growth continues. We cannot and must not rest on past accomplishments. And so, I step further into my power. I am revisiting what it means to be a sexual healer and what sacred sexuality means to me. I am continuing to find new ways to experience and express my emotions as new layers of trauma surface, asking to be released and healed. My inner child work has taken on greater depth as I find new ways to connect with and nurture her.

There’s a big difference this time, and it filled me with fear when the work presented itself to me. As new layersImage of hands outstretched began to rise earlier this summer, I was actually excited about what the hard and messy work ahead would mean. I knew I had the tools and the knowledge I needed to take a hard look at and heal new aspects of the old trauma. But I was afraid of doing it alone. I did not have a life partner or skilled practitioners by my side. Without that kind of intensive support, I wasn’t sure how to proceed. But as with all other things in life, I had all the resources I needed. Support came from varied and unexpected directions. In fact, all the support I have found and asked for is an aspect of my power. Our power does not need to live in isolation. In fact power in isolation is meaningless.

I have often been afraid of people I perceive as being in power. Seeing or experiencing people wield power for power’s sake or to make themselves feel important infuriates me. I fear making that same mistake myself. If that’s what power is, I don’t want to be powerful! But no, that is NOT the only expression of power. Power can be expressed as sexuality and all the creative force that entails. Power can be expressed through emotions and holding space for strong emotions. Power can be expressed through acceptance and understanding. Power can be expressed through music. Power can be expressed through joy. Power can be expressed through support of those that need lifting up. Power can even be expressed by asking for help. Power can be expressed through connection. Power can be expressed through love.

So, as I stand on the precipice, preparing to step even more fully into my power, I embrace my power with love.

Image of woman embracing power with love

Leadership Through Vulnerability

“Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” – Brené Brown

Man walking tightrope over sharks

On January Second, 2015, in front of witnesses, I looked directly into my own eyes and told my reflection, “I love me,” in a clear, compassionate voice.

While that seems like a simple act, I’m sure that anybody who has tried it will agree that doing so is anything but easy. To make that proclamation, especially in the presence of others, normally would leave me feeling very vulnerable. However, in this case, I felt empowered instead. I felt empowered because I had allowed myself to show my vulnerability rather than hiding it. In that sharing, I was set free and found that rather than weakness, displaying my vulnerability led to strength.

Over the past few years, I have come to appreciate that allowing our vulnerability to be seen can be an incredibly empowering experience for myself and those around me.

There were two experiences in the last eighteen months that really brought home to me that expressing my vulnerability as a leader empowers and heals both me and the members of my community who witness it.

The first experience centered on a ritual my partner of the day and I created as a tool for healing. I created the ritual as part of my healing work regarding sexual trauma. I had made a huge breakthrough near the beginning of December in which I did some powerful writing around forgiving the girl who was so scared and confused and ashamed about the situation surrounding the rapes. However, in the weeks that followed I came to realize that I had not forgiven all of me; I had not forgiven my adult-self who had made questionable decisions and chosen harmful paths in an unknowing result of what I experienced.

It was important to me to have witnesses and people to hold space during the ritual. Sharing struggles and triumphs is a human need. That need is a major reason why ceremonies like weddings and funerals are such important religious and secular events. I wasn’t thinking about the greater context at time I invited my friends. I just wanted to share my fears and celebrate my growth and healing with those I hoped would acknowledge and accept me.

In the ritual, I shared with my friends some of the specific things I had done for my healing and how utterly lost I had been for the past several months: the hours spent crying, the days spent shaking and rocking, the inability to take care of my children in the way I wanted to. Expressing those fears was an important part of taking back my power and my confidence in myself.

My partner then took us through a meditation about seeing forgiveness not as releasing guilt, but in accepting ourselves and our choices.

After the meditation, I took a jar and put in some important symbols representing different parts of my development. Looking back on it now, I think the most important item I placed in that jar was a piece of pyrite (fools gold). pyriteIt represented my fear that people perceived me as gold, but if they really knew what was inside me, they would be disappointed and see me as a fraud. I was a healer and a leader in my spiritual community, after all. What if people knew how dysfunctional I had been in the previous few months? What if people knew how full of doubt and fear and shame I was? Part of my intent in that ritual was to bury that notion and to begin to perceive myself as gold.

After I buried the jar, the others formed a line and took turns telling me how they saw me and appreciated me. I was brought to tears, not only by the beauty of the words, but by their sincerity. I wouldn’t have been able to accept their words as  genuine if I had not shared my fears first.

That ritual was a seminal moment in my life.It helped me to move back into my roles as healer, teacher, and leader with confidence.

About a year later, I was hosting a Moksha Magick ritual at my studio. It had been a long day. There had already been two other events at Circle of Light that day. The previous group had run late. Two people arrived early for the Moksha group, and I hadn’t had a chance to eat yet. My partner and I had just had a tense moment. I was hungry, tired, and on edge.

We went ahead and ate our dinner while the discussion topic was introduced. As the discussion wrapped up, we began to get ready for ritual. My partner met my eyes and asked if I was in a space to participate. The question stopped me in my tracks.closed eye I sat down and burst into tears. The old shame rushed up to greet me. What kind of leader was I? The gathering was in my space. I had suggested the day and time. I was the high priestess, for heaven’s sake!

Then something monumental happened: I was able to think clearly enough to ask myself what I would do if it was someone else in the same situation. I realized that I wouldn’t hold it against another person at all, even from a host and a leader. I would assure them it was okay and ask if there was anything I could do to help. I was able to express this revelation to the small group and then express what would help me without waiting for one of them to ask.

What I wanted was to just be held and nurtured. Instead of creating the ritual we had originally intended, we created a beautiful, powerful ritual that perfectly met the need of the moment.

I realized later what a blessing it would have been to have witnessed leaders in my own life show this level of vulnerability in a similar  situation. I was blown away. What a gift! A gift I gave myself and those who shared that space with me.

Brené Brown says, “When we meet someone, vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you, but it’s the last thing I want to show you in me.” In other words, we admire those who are able to embrace “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” However, we fear others will judge us when we do the same.

That really doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? It’s a paradox. Maybe we admire those who are willing to show their vulnerability because we want to be able to do the same. We allow our fear of weakness to hold us back from embracing our greatest strengths. Perhaps just recognizing this double standard we have for others and ourselves will allow us to begin exploring the expression of our own vulnerabilities. In doing so, we begin to courageously accept our own strength.

 

 

 

 

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Breaking Through

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it tblooming roseook to blossom.” – Anais Nin

2015 was a breakthrough year for me. I have faced a lot of fears. I had been on three months of mental health leave from my full-time job. A few days into the New Year, I started back part-time and eventually transitioned to permanent contract work.

I started the year in the arms of my fiancé. A few months later, following some really hard discussions and decisions, we parted ways.

NYE 2015
Elizabeth, James, and me in our new home/healing center New Year’s Eve 2015

I learned to walk my own path again. My clients and students reminded me of what I know and what I’m capable of. I moved with my kids across town and expanded my business. As with any new business, we’ve struggled to make ends meet and sometimes despaired about being able to do so. At the close of 2015, I was ready to embrace life’s ups and downs, trusting that this will be a year of growth and healing. I am ready to breakthrough once more.

I have used a lot of tools for healing and personal growth during the last year: Reiki, meditation, yoga, Moksha Magick, Oneness Deeksha, art, journaling, mental health counseling…the list continues on. They all have value, and I am blessed to have them all in my toolbox to use in whatever combination makes sense in the moment. I have shared about most of these in one way or another with my students,  clients, and blog readers.

Towards the end of 2015 my dear friend Monica introduced me to a new tool. It’s called Breakthrough. It is a workshop developed to help people of all backgrounds and levels of experience in their healing and personal growth through song performance. Since October 24th, the fabulous Mick and Tess Pulver have guided a group of nine seekers to greater understanding of ourselves, where we have been, and where we want to be. For someone who loves to sing and is actively healing and growing, this was a perfect fit! With the guidance of Mick and Tess, I have continued to learn to embrace trust in all aspects of my life. I have also become aware of a fear I didn’t even know I had:  letting my true self break through the mask I tend to wear.

breakthrough

More than that, I have to share how much I admire some of the other people on this journey with me. I love to sing. I try my best to stay active in my healing work. For some of the other participants, singing in front of other people is very scary, and doing the deep work needed to really heal is downright terrifying! Yet they’re doing it! They are my heroes! It is such an honor to witness the healing and growth of everyone in Breakthrough and to share my healing and growth with them.

The culmination of all our hard work, play, and healing is a concert on January 9th at 7 pm at the Unity Church in St. Petersburg, FL. If you would like to be a part of an uplifting evening of song and hold space for some amazing performers as they share their breakthroughs, please join us!

If you are ready to do some breaking through of your own, click here for information on free introductory sessions and registration for upcoming workshops.

I wish you a blessed 2016, however you choose to breakthrough.

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Holding Space – A Sacred Gift

I’ve noticed the expression “holding space” to be gaining popularity in the last few years. I’ve heard it so many times, and the practice comes so naturally to me, that I was surprised this term has caused confusion for a lot of people when it is mentioned in passing.

Let’s start with some examples of what holding space looks like:

holdingspacehands

1. I’m meeting with an elderly woman who has recently lost a substantial amount of vision. My purpose here is to help her regain independence by learning new ways to complete tasks in her everyday life. She says that is her intention for the meeting as well. Her real purpose is to “be heard.” Until I have shown that I can honor her as a human being as a whole, she doesn’t trust me enough to get to the business of learning new skills within a scary, disheartening situation. My agency may be paying me to teach, but my first job is to listen. I hold space as my client tells me not only the story of her vision loss, but the story of her life. I don’t zone out. I stay fully with her. I ask occasional questions to help me understand her underlying needs about the situation, but I don’t try to dominate the conversation. By the time we end the session, she feels respected, and trust has been established. We are ready to move forward as a team.

bed   2. I have recently called off my engagement. I am bouncing back and forth between anger and despair. My sister has come to visit with the main purpose of holding space for me during this difficult transition period. When our conversation leads to tears once more, she gently asks if I want to find solutions or if I just want her to hold space. Through the tears I gasp, “hold space.” I go into my room and throw myself on my bed and wail. She comes in and sits beside me. When I am ready, I take her hand. She silently comforts me for a long time until I am done. Instead of talking about moving on and that I’m better off, she asks what will help me feel better: hugs, watching a funny movie, singing, dancing…? She is honoring where I am and what my needs are.

door

3. My 10 year-old son is sent home from school after trying to chase another kid down with a baseball bat. (This one was hard, but also really important. I would say in general, holding space for someone we’re really close to is hard because our emotions tend to get in the way of their emotions.)  When I get to the school I give him a hug. Once we get in the car, I ask him if he wants to talk about it. He shakes his head, and we drive home in silence. At home, he immediately goes to his room and slams the door. I hear him crying inside. Once (and only once), I ask him if I can come in, but he says no. I respect that. I honor his wishes, and I wait, holding space by giving him space.  When he is ready, we do have a long talk. Had I pushed, had I not held space for him, and made it clear that I was honoring where he was and his emotions, that talk would have been much more frustrating and much less productive for both of us.

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4. A small group is doing a ceremony for the healing of childhood trauma. Close friends have been invited to witness the the ceremony and support those taking part in it. Some people may be uncomfortable because they don’t know what to say or do or where to look. They do not need to say or do anything. Being there for their friends, fully present, and not turning away is exactly what is needed for those who are conducting the ceremony to feel safe and heard.

So what is holding space exactly? By examining the common threads in the above examples, I bet you can piece it together now.

Holding space involves:

Being fully present: Don’t let your mind wander onto what you are going to say next or what you could be doing instead. People can sense when you are with them and when you are just keeping up appearances.

Honoring where the individual is and their emotions: If they are sad, acknowledge they are sad. If they are angry, acknowledge they are angry. If they are hopeless, acknowledge they feel hopeless, without trying to change it.

Listening: Again, really listening, being present with the intention to understand, not only what they are telling you, but why.

Cultivating an environment of safety: Eliminate distractions. Go to a quiet room. Let them know you are turning off your cell phone. Assure them that you will keep what they are sharing between you (and keep that promise). Make it clear that you honor them for sharing what they choose to share, and that you’re not judging. If you have had a similar experience, briefly share it.

Allowing and encouraging the expression of strong emotions: Rather than trying to cheer up the person you are holding space for, reassure them by saying things like, “it’s okay to cry.” “I can see that you’re angry.” “You have every right to feel that way.” Notice that, “I understand” is nowhere in there. Although you may have a good idea what this person is going through, you have not walked in their shoes. Implying that you have, may be taken as the opposite of supportive.

Limiting verbal interjections: Holding space does not need to be entirely silent (although if the other person is not speaking, that may be a good idea). Affirmations that you are listening can be helpful – “uh-huh,” “okay,” “I hear you,” can be a way of communicating your listening and full presence. Questions to clarify can be helpful up to a point. Keep any sharing of similar experiences short and to the point.

Holding space does not involve:

Giving Advice: After they have had an opportunity to express themselves, you may ask if the person would like your perspective or help in finding a solution. Ask only once, and abide by their response.

Judgement: There is absolutely no point in suggesting how things could have been done differently or comparing the situation to anyone else’s. This will only make things worse. Make it clear that you accept them and care for them for who they are.

Trying to fix things: Again, you may offer to speak to someone or do some action on the person’s behalf, but it could very well be that all they need you to do is hold that space.

Your ego or how you would handle the situation in their shoes: Just because the person does not approach the situation the way you would, that is no reason to invalidate their approach. Just because they do not want your advice, your touch, or even your presence, has less to do with you than it does with them. Honor and respect where they are in that moment.

As I mentioned in the 4th example, sometimes we are asked to hold space within a group. This sometimes seems to be the unimportant, extraneous position when others seem to be doing more “important” things. Holding space in these situations can be just as powerful as in one-on-one situations. Most of the same guidelines apply: being fully present and honoring the process is a valuable contribution.

Holding space for someone is a gift. It is a powerful act. More than that, it is a sacred act. The next time you are called upon to hold space for someone, instead of squirming uncomfortably or wishing you could get on with your day, thank them for allowing you to give them this gift.

 

Resources

Being a Container: Holding Space for Others

http://www.dailyom.com/articles/2010/23597.html

Understanding How to Hold Space

http://www.spiritualawakeningprocess.com/2011/09/understanding-how-to-hold-space.html

 What it means to “hold space” for people, plus eight tips on how to do it well

by Heather Plett

What it means to “hold space” for people, plus eight tips on how to do it well

Holy Communion

 

Wow, I just looked at the date of my last blog post. I have been through a whole hell of a lot since I last made an attempt at blogging in September. Now that I am ready to share my story of the difficult time I have had in the intervening months, I thought that my first blog post back in the saddle would be about the pain that comes with truly healing deep wounds and what helped me to come back to the world.

As John Lennon told us, “life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.” At the end of February, as I was preparing to dig in and really start putting myself back out there with a series of blog posts, life happened…Well, death happened too. The story I am about to share with you is both tragic and life-affirming. The fact that I am sharing it here, in the vast internet universe, is very much related to the pain and healing I have experienced in the last few months, but that’s another story…

me and Ash

On Thursday February 19th, I received a text from my sister Ashley Rae. She was 41 weeks pregnant. She and her mid-wife had agreed to induce labor by breaking her water the next day. This was so very exciting! We had been waiting these long weeks and months to meet Galen and welcome him into the world. The problem was that her roommate, who had agreed to attend to her six-year-old son, Aiden, during the home birth, had just gotten a job and was starting that same day. With excitement, I volunteered to make the two hour drive to Orlando to be with Aiden and Ashley in their home during the labor and birth. I decided to bring my 14 year-old daughter Elizabeth with me. Looking back, I am so grateful that I made those decisions to go to Orlando and bring Elizabeth with me.

We arrived on Friday afternoon about an hour after the amniotic sac had been ruptured. Ashley was 7 cm dilated and in full labor. She rushed out of the bedroom when we walked in and gave me a big hug and my birthday present. (She hadn’t been able to come celebrate my birthday with me at the beginning of the month because she was so close to her due date. She loves to give gifts, and she had made me a beautiful tarot reading covering the next year). Elizabeth stayed with Aiden in the living room, and Ashley invited me to hang out in the bedroom with her doula, her midwife Kelli, and the midwife’s assistant. We talked and laughed and hurried around making last minute preparations for the birth.

As the contractions became more intense, Kelli decided to check the progress of Ashley’s cervix and the heart rate of the baby. Ashley’s cervix had opened to 9 cm – only one more to go! But wait…no heartbeat. At first we thought, maybe it’s the equipment, or the baby’s position, or the placenta in the way…or something…it had to be something.

She had just had a full prenatal exam two days before, and everything looked great! There had been no complications with her pregnancy whatsoever. The decision was made to transfer her to the hospital. Elizabeth would stay at the house with Aiden. The midwife called the ambulance. It arrived quickly, and I was able to ride along. It was hard to leave Ashley alone in the back with the EMTs at such a stressful, and scary time for her, but we knew they needed to be able to do their jobs.

When we got to the hospital, the nurse who checked Ashley’s cervix said that it was back down to 6 cm. Worse yet, they still couldn’t find a heartbeat. They sent for somebody from the ultrasound department. Still nothing. Of course the technician wasn’t allowed to tell us anything. It was almost an hour from the time we arrived at the hospital to the time the doctor came in and delivered the sad news: Galen was gone. By that time Ashley’s midwife and doula had arrived as well. We surrounded her with our arms and our hearts.

Only a few minutes later, after Ashley had contacted her dad and her (other) sister, she posted this message to Facebook: “Galen is stillborn.” The outpouring of love and support was immediate. Among the first responses, one of Ashley’s friends posted a link to “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” which is an organization that provides free professional photography for parents who have lost a baby. One of us asked Ashley if she wanted them to come. She said yes without a moment’s hesitation. I’m not sure what I would have said in the same situation, but I’m so glad she invited them in. Ashley’s sister Crystal arrived, then the two photographer/doulas from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. Someone who knew Ashley (although not well) asked if she could join us. Michelle is not only a very talented and experienced birth doula and hypnotherapist, she also trained as a bereavement doula recently after experiencing a similar loss in her own family. With her joining our number, we had at times up to seven women present supporting Ashley as she labored to give birth to Galen.

It was a long, long night. During those interminable, exhausting hours, sometimes Ashley gave her full concentration to the rushes (as she prefers to refer to contractions), focusing on bringing Galen into the world. At times she despaired and would momentarily give in to the overwhelming pain and unfairness of the situation. At times she distracted herself and the rest of us with her musings and her irrepressible humor. But the times I will cherish the most are the times we actively shared our sorrow.

 circle of love

This picture was taken near the end of Ashley’s labor. It was a moment of grief and pain, but also of love and community. I had been sitting at Ashley’s feet, when a thought struck me suddenly and hard. I jumped up. Galen had come to this world to experience love and acceptance. “We need to tell Galen how much we love him,” I insisted. Even though there was no longer life in his body, his spirit was still with us. I knew in my gut, that we needed to express our love for him aloud to help ease his passing. Everyone gathered around and Michelle and I took turns expressing our love and appreciation for Galen.
It was important for me not to hold back my tears of loss for and pain for Ashley and for Galen. It was important that she not cry alone. It was important that we shared our tears. As I stood there in that moment, it struck me that this was the true definition of community…this connection and expression that so many of us long for and seek in the mundane world was fully present as we shared our grief. We were in communion, a holy communion with each other in that moment.

I began to sing a song that Ashley and I have sung together many times, a traditional Native American tune: The River is Flowing.

The River, She is flowing,

Growing and flowing.

The River, She is flowing down to the sea.

Mother carry me,

Your child I will always be.

Mother carry me down to the sea.

I repeated the chant over and over, and the others joined in. Once again, I felt incredibly blessed.

Shortly after that, Ashley made the difficult decision to have a c-section in order to deliver Galen. The hospital staff had been extremely kind and patient and did their best to honor Ashley’s wishes. They didn’t push the interventions that they probably saw as necessary, but let her come to her decisions in her own time.

Just like with Aiden’s birth, Ashley had been joyously preparing for a natural home birth. Even after she was told that Galen had already died in her womb, her initial intention was to give birth without any drugs or other interventions. As time dragged on and the pain increased without the compensation of new life at the end, Ashley elected to have an epidural for pain and later Pitocin to increase the contractions. By late in the morning on Saturday, the epidural was not able to block much of the pain Ashley was experiencing. She had gone through transition four times as the contractions strengthened and weakened over the course of time. She had gotten maybe three hours sleep through the course of the night. She was exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally. It was time for Galen to be born.

Ashley asked Crystal to be the one person allowed to stay with her during the cesarean. After they had left the room, Kelli opened her arms to me and took a step in my direction. I ran to her and fell into her arms. I sobbed, letting my body release the tension and anxiety that I had been holding for all that time. I could share the heartache with Ashley, but it hadn’t been time to share the worry, the ache of my mind for what she had been through. But I had others to share it with me. Kelli and Michelle held me and sang to me and soothed me. They shared their tears and grief with me, just as I had communed with Ashley.

At 12:50 pm on February 21st 2015, Galen’s body was brought into the world. He weighed 13 lbs, 12 oz. It appeared from his condition that he had passed away some time ago, probably not long after Ashley’s prenatal visit on the 18th. While Ashley was still in surgery, Erin and Mackenzie from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep were able to photograph Galen with a reverence and beauty that I am still in awe of.

 Galen

Shortly after Ashley was brought back to the room, she was able to hold Galen and spend time with him. She talked to him and kissed him and loved on him. Again I was struck by the beauty and love that was shared in that space.

Later that evening, after Aiden had met his baby brother, I asked if I could hold Galen. “Of course,” Ashley answered. He was so heavy, twice as big as some newborns. He had a little button nose and precious ears, beautiful fingers and toes. I was saddened that we would never see him grow up, never hear his voice, never get to know his unique personality. At the same time, I was so grateful for the time I had with him, grateful for this continued time of communion and oneness. I sang to him…

On the day that Galen was born,

On the day that Galen was born,

On the day that Galen was born

The angels sang and they blew on their horns,

And they danced, they danced,

They smiled and raised up their hands!

On the day, on the day that Galen was born!

I do believe the angels danced that day, for Galen and for all of us. The Universe rejoiced that Galen had no need to suffer in this lifetime. All of Creation rejoiced that the rest of us, in our suffering, became closer to understanding the Oneness that we are all a part of and an expression of. Galen’s life and death indeed brought us into a holy communion with one another and all of Creation.

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