Welcome to the Birth Mystics podcast. What is a birth mystic, anyway? Doulas Katie and Stephanie define it as a person who pursues contemplation, surrender, and truth in order to understand birth beyond the intellect. Think ”birth nerds” but with a little more depth and spirituality. Here we talk birth through the lens of mythology, philosophy, poetry, and more.
Episode 18: Lilith, Eve & the Serpent
What are the formative birth stories of your life? This is an important question to ask yourself as you prepare to give birth. You may think about the birth stories of your closest friends, family members, ancestors, and even media portrayals of birth. These stories influence and affect you, some in positive ways, some in not so positive ways. One kind of formative birth story that gets overlooked is the creation story. We are only as good as our creation story allows us to be. Yes, creation stories show us where we came from, but they can also show us where we're headed. They embody the full spectrum of human potential—what is the fullest measure of my creation and how can I rise to that?
Stephanie was raised in the paradigm of Western Christianity and was brought up with the story of Adam and Eve. As an adult she has studied many other creation stories, including evolution, and has made peace between these seemingly contradictory stories. Eve particularly was the most prominent female icon that she had been encouraged to emulate. There were so few female role models provided scripturally or historically, so Eve really stood out! But even though Eve was so revered, paradoxically she is punished for the choice she made. Why punish her for doing something good? If she was so righteous, why does she disobey God's command? Stephanie was determined to figure her out.
Other areas of interest were happening in Stephanie's life, including yoga teacher training which opened up the topic of Kundalini Shakti—the mystical feminine power represented as a serpent. It felt like a contradiction to the snake represented in the garden as Satan or evil. How does Eve get caught in the middle of these two interpretations? Was she tempted by the Devil or deeply in tune with her internal feminine power? Until Stephanie could crack this mystery she felt limited in her potential.
Stumbling upon the myth of Lilith shed profound light. The Midrash says that Adam had another wife named Lilith before Eve came alone. Lilith and Eve lived in the garden quite happily until the day that Lilith desired more equality in their relationship. Lilith sometimes asked to be on top when they made love but Adam refused. Over time, Lilith was done trying. She called out the forbidden name of God, causing her to grow wings and fly out of the garden. This angered Adam who also called out to God demanding help. God sent seraphim to chase after Lilith who then punished her. She was cursed to become a succubus who would seduce men in their sleep and prey upon newborn babies.
You can look up artwork and depictions of the Adam and Eve story and likely come upon a serpent with the face of a woman. This is where Lilith comes into play. The myth continues by saying that Lilith came to Eve in the form of a serpent, mentoring her to partake of the fruit. This was when things began to resolve in Stephanie's mind. We have been taught to spurn the serpent, when all along the serpent is actually our feminine power! And what if Lilith and Eve are not two women, but one. What if they have been separated out from one another. Eve represents the acceptable woman: long suffering, patient, kind, loving, supportive, and obedient. Lilith represents the demonic woman, or the succubus, but really only seeking equality with her partner, having sexual desire, emancipated, free-thinking, and independent. One was good, one was bad. But the serpent heals this rift. How ironic that we've been encouraged to be like one of the biggest rebels of scripture! Eve is a badass! Especially when she's merged back together with her Lilith counterpart!
Let's take a minute and list some qualities that we learn from these two archetypes and how it translates into the birth space.
Eve qualities: innocence, obedience, hard-working, responsible, commitment, dutiful, pre-pubescent, non-sexual, good girl, nice, etc. How can this serve us in the birth space? Preparing very thoroughly for birth, a high capaci
Episode 17: Tui & La
Today we are diving into the land of fantasy. Katie was hugely influenced in her childhood by Avatar the Last Airbender. It's a story centered around the four elements: fire, water, wind, and earth. There is also a side world connected to it called the Spirit World full of entities that possess different powers or abilities. In the beginning of the creation of the physical realm many powerful spirits chose to give up their mortality in order to create the Earth. The two we are discussing today are Tui and La representing the Moon and the ocean. They created a secret place in the North where they lived as two fish and were guarded by the Water Nation. They represent the necessary push and pull of life. We see this everywhere in nature.
Stephanie talks about centripetal and centrifugal forces, where one pushes and one pulls, and yet when they work together we are held in orbit. Without the push and pull we couldn't exist. And the balance is so delicate! How have we not flown wildly out of orbit? What keeps this balance? Some other examples in nature:
The symbiosis of trees exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen
Bodily cycles that involve contracting and expanding: breath, circulatory system, musculature, etc.
Birth itself is a beautiful example. Consider the uterus and how it is designed to be a contract and expand organ. When you're pregnant, the mass of the uterus muscle is down toward the cervix which helps maintain the placenta and keep the baby in its place. During labor that muscle migrates or ripples, through each contraction, up toward the top. This process thins, effaces, and dilates the cervix making birth possible. This top-heavy uterus also applies downward pressure on the baby to aid in the delivery process.
Labor is typified by push and pull, both physically and emotionally. The word contraction speaks exactly to the physiology of what's happening. Sometimes we swap that term for "expansion," and yet the uterus is actually contracting during a contraction. We can reclaim the term and hold it more neutrally, or infuse it with power, rather than stigmatizing it as painful. However, in between contractions is when the softening occurs. Labor is the marriage of work and rest. Emotionally, you will have times have confidence and strength and exertion, and times of receiving, needing, and doubt. This is both good and natural.
Katie speaks the importance of this balance, to not try to push, push, push our way through birth or life. We are more conditioned to being strong than we are to being soft and vulnerable. Stephanie mentions how the phrase "empowered birth" too often implies "I didn't need any interventions" or "I was quiet and internal." But it can look like so many different things! You can ask for help, require interventions, and have things entirely against what you had planned AND it can still be empowering based on your balance of the push and pull. Let us have reverence for the complex and delicate process of birth, to release expectations and self-judgement. Psychology and science are starting to ask how our emotional and mental well-being interact with our physical well-being. For so long in our culture these areas were disconnected. We're starting to understand that all the different aspects of who we are are interconnected.
Consider the process of birth, how the baby, in a way, takes two steps forward and one step back—a distinct forward and back. And though this can feel like a set back, it is a mercy! Every time the baby descends blood flows into those tissues. This prepares the body! Without that back and forth we would see much more damage to the body. Your body is wise. It's protecitng you and your baby at all times in the best way that it can.
Katie shares about a doula that was supporting a client in labor. In the middle of pushing, the Mom asked everyone to step out so she could rest. Everyone honored her wishes and allowed her to sleep for about 20 minutes. Then the pro
Episode 16: The Goddess Trinity
Kora, the Maiden, loved to explore the Earth and all its beauty. One day in her wanderings she encountered strange shadows that haunted her steps. In her wisdom, she knew she could help them and prepared for a journey into the underworld. She made her descent, causing the Earth to contract in grief, bringing death, decay, and winter. When Kora arrived, she met each shadow one by one, preparing them for rebirth in the physical realm. When it was time to return, she made her way back to the surface of the Earth and saw its barren state. She wept in grief, taking upon herself the name Persephone, the bringer of destruction. And yet, her tears began to flow over the parched Earth, bringing about spring and summer in their zenith. She was filled with hope coupled with newborn responsibility, assuming her role as Mother and Keeper of the Earth. She knew she couldn't abandon the Earth again. But as she went about her work, she once again encountered the shadows. This was very conflicting. What could she do? If she went to the underworld again, the Earth would retreat back into winter. But she also knew that it was her duty to help the shadows. Despite the unknown, she once again descended into the realm of shadows. Just as before, she anointed each shadow until they had all been met. She then returned, found the Earth just as she expected she would—in harsh winter. Her tears once again flowed, seeing spring and summer once again return. That was the moment she became Demeter, the Mother of Earth and Keeper of the Seasons. She now embodied the spirit and vision of the Maiden Kora, the creative responsibility of the Mother Persephone, and now the wisdom of the seasons of the Crone Demeter. For ever after, Demeter cared for the above and the below in their proper season, maintaining balance and order.
This is Stephanie's personal retelling of this ancient myth. There is strong evidence to support the idea that the well known Greek version was not the original myth. Many patriarchies absorbed and adapted myths through their lens. In the Greek version Demeter and Zeus copulate and give birth to Persephone. Persephone is the ultimate victim, abducted by Hades, raped, and taken to the underworld. Demeter pleads with Zeus to save their daughter. Zeus, looking out for his "bro" Hades decides not to punish him so much as to compromise and placate his angry wife. So Persephone—who is never consulted in any of this to ask what SHE wants—is bounced around in a split custody deal. Whenever she is down with Hades in the underworld, Demeter goes into grief and winter comes upon the Earth. Whenever she returns to the surface, Demeter rejoices and brings spring and summer.
What a disempowering story! All of the women are pawns in the hands of all-powerful, amoral, male gods. None of the actions they take are intentional or empowering. Everything happens to them and against their will. It feels only fitting that we creatively imagine a more matriarchal telling of this myth that honors the feminine journey. This version merges three key archetypes or phases of a life journey into one: Kora, Persephone, and Demeter. This is the Goddess Trinity of ancient Crete which has profound modern day application.
One clarification: patriarchy does not mean "men in power" but rather oppressive power in a top down hierarchy. Just as matriarchy does not mean "women in power" but rather a system of governance that is family led in a down up community model.
Let's explore these archetypes. The Maiden represents youthfulness, anticipation of life, naivete, playfulness, new beginnings, virginity (in its original meaning), hope, exploration. Like Kora, in the myth, there is a clear transition from Maiden into Mother, where she must learn to explore her shadow side and step into a life of commitment and responsibility.
The Mother represents realized life, the fruits of creation, responsibility, patience, nurturing, discipline, commitment. Like Persephone, there
Episode 15: You Birth Like You Live
You birth like you live. So how do you live? If you're really willing to ponder that simple question, you can go pretty deep. This is not meant to make you feel guilt, shame, or self-judgement. It's simply a reflection of who you are right now. Instead of just plunging into what society has told you is a good birth, this is about curating birth to your specific wants and needs, even if it doesn't look like anyone else's. Birth is a mirror that reflects back at us to help us grow.
How do you live in connection with pain, stress, and intensity? Think about how you respond to a strained ankle, a hard workout, menstrual cramps, or sickness. How do you cope? What brings comfort? Katie benefits from hot and cold contrasts, like baths, compresses, ice packs, rice bags, etc. She needs solitude and quiet, huddled in her room covered with blankets where she can sleep it off. In contrast, her sister would throw herself onto the couch in the middle of the living room in a "whoa is me" demeanor. She needs more attention and to be catered to. This is her nature and what helps her cope. They are so different, and both valid. Think of stress—how does it manifest in your life? You may get irritable, touched out, shut down, panicky, or emotional. What steps do you take to de-escalate? Typically when you come into your birth space you will want the same types of comfort and coping tools and de-escalation steps.
How do you live in relation to each of your senses—which of your senses are more sensitive than others? Think about your senses of touch, sight, sound, taste, and smell. What triggers these senses and what pacifies them? How can you set yourself up for success in the birth space knowing this about yourself? Sometimes you may think to yourself, "I didn't cope very well," if you were messy, loud, triggered, or intense. But is there a bad way to cope in the birth space? Coping is coping no matter how you did it.
How do you live in connection with your body? Do you have a good understanding of your bodily sensations, movements, and feelings? Do you respect your body? What is your relationship like? Katie used to try to control her body with her brain, forcing it do or not do what she deemed okay. Birth has helped heal her relationship with her body. Stephanie felt really checked out from her body, almost like it were No Man's Land. She was ignorant of her anatomy, despite being sexually active and having given birth. She didn't know what the vulva, clitoris, or cervix were, or how many orifices she had. As she came to know her body on a first-name basis, her body went from No Man's Land to Homeland--it aided her experience of embodiment. Body shame hugely affects us in the birth space. Most of us are very self-conscious about the more unpleasant sides of the human body. Our body is quite actively pushing out all sorts of fluids and smells in the process of pushing the baby out--blood, amniotic fluid, discharge, poop, farts, burps, throw up, etc. It's important to see this as a natural part of the birth process. And yet, if you are grossed out by these things, that's helpful self-awareness. You can move forward exactly as you are and take steps to safeguard yourself at whatever level you choose. And you can hold an openness to learning more about yourself and growing incrementally.
How do you live in relation to self advocacy? Think about how you are in standing up for yourself or honestly assessing your own needs and ensuring those needs get met? What steps can I take to help me better advocate for myself if I know it's challenging? How can I move away from people-pleasing and into self-advocacy. Be mindful in how you pick your birth team that you can communicate these needs with ahead of time and ask them to support you in the process of self-advocacy.
Each birth is a beautiful mirror. It will show you deeper layers of who you are. You may learn some things that aren't fun to learn, but it's important. We can get to the point whe
Episode 14: Mama Bear Musings
Stephanie and Katie engage in a composite dialogue that demonstrates the unrest and confusion women can feel when their Mama Bear ferocity wakes up during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Oftentimes these sweet, pleasant, docile women are deeply shaken by their rage and volatility, particularly when it's directed toward those they love most.
Where Katie's previous episode "Princess and the People Pleaser" addressed what it means to be a woman in the birth space and breaking down stereotypes, this episode looks more specifically at the postpartum experience and the place for anger and rage and how those emotions are an important part of being a mother.
Katie shares her Mama Bear awakening story, which she felt was more gradual. She never felt like she fit the mold of what society expected of a woman. Plus, she is the oldest of seven children and had already tested those "mothering" qualities within herself. But her Mama Bear really revved up during pregnancy as she learned to navigate day to day health choices--she felt very protective of her unborn child and wanted to make the best possible choices on the baby's behalf. As a mother a lot of Mama Bear energy comes out in protecting her children's health and wellness. Anger and ferocity does come out occasionally, particularly in her doula work. Big Mama Bear rage can come out after a birth if she encountered cultural issues, couple dynamics, or a client's loss of autonomy.
Stephanie shares her Mama Bear awakening story who relates to Katie in feeling like a Tom Boy who didn't fit the feminine mold. Once she hit puberty, things got confusing as huge emotions opened up. She always felt a very strong fire in her belly her whole life that she believes is her Mama Bear energy. But, when she started to call upon that fire in order to cope in a challenging childhood environment with an emotionally and verbally abusive father, she felt a lot of shame for being so "unfeminine." She was sassy, disrespectful, combative, and subordinate in order to keep her head above water. Once she left the house and went to college she tried to suppress that Mama Bear side of her out of shame and a desire to be more feminine. When she got married and had her first baby--she couldn't hold her back anymore. So much rage and grief was unleashed during her postpartum.
So often new mother's are so broken and ashamed of their own bigness. They feel that they are the worst mothers. Who becomes a mom, has a baby, and is suddenly screaming and exploding with wrath at her newborn or toddler or spouse? It so often leads to self-deprecation. Stephanie seeks to validate their desire to be a good mother and to not scream at their undeserving loved ones. AND, she equally seeks to validate the anger itself. Anger is actually not the problem but rather how it's being directed.
Katie points out that men, in our society, are often told that anger is the only appropriate emotion to feel, and yet for women it's bad. And women are supposed to feel soft and gentle and kind and men are ashamed to feel those ways. Stephanie teaches some basic concepts of what emotions are--that none of them are good or bad, but neutral. Emotions are messengers, and we don't shoot the messenger for delivering unpleasant news. Every emotion plays an important role for us, especially in the birth space. Emotions are energy that want to be in motion, not stuffed down or suppressed. Suppressed emotions turn into an internal atomic bomb that is uncontrollable and wildly disproportionate. Many of us tell ourselves that feeling sadness, anger, or grief is weakness, but really it's humanity--it's an integral part of being human. Some emotions are heavy and others are light.
We have been lied to that it is unfeminine to be angry or rageful. That keeps women small. That is the suppression of women. Anger is the only emotion strong enough to get you to change something. The second part of anger is to move us toward protection of someone we lov
Episode 13: The Princess and the Pea-ple Pleaser
Katie reimagines the fairytale of the Princess and the Pea. A lonely prince is looking for his perfect bride to be his princess. When a disheveled looking woman shows up on their doorstep, the Queen comes up with a brilliant plan to determine if she is truly a princess or not. She stacks many mattresses on top of one another and places a single pea in between two of them. She concludes that if this woman is truly worthy of her son's hand then she will notice the pea. And, of course, when she awakens and is asked how she slept, the woman complains about the uncomfortable lump in her bed. This impresses the Queen and the Prince and Princess marry.
The moral is supposed to be: you can't judge a book by it's cover. But it seems to more readily speak to our expectations of an ideal woman and what that means. What are some of the peas in our lives? The bars and standards by which we judge ourselves? What does a pea in the mattresses have anything to do with her character? Why such an arbitrary test?
One message is that you cannot be worthy of love or be considered a princess if you're disheveled. You have to look the part. Think about how much our bodies change during pregnancy and birth. We feel unlovable if we gain weight, change shape, acquire stretch marks, or lose our firm breasts and tummy.
Another message is about our demeanor and being nice, calm, accommodating, pleasant, cooperative, and helpful. Birth often takes us out of these stereotypes and asks us to embody a more wild and unpredictable state of being. So many women may perceive their births to be "bad" if they acted like a "bad girl"—yelling, swearing, roaring, screaming, etc.
People pleasing is something women have been conditioned for. This has led Katie to give her clients a "get out of jail free" card that gets them off the hook for being the peacemaker in the birth space. She tries to give them upfront permission to not people please when they're in labor. They are not responsible for everyone else's experience. There is no behavior that will send them to "bad person jail." Everything goes during birth: animal sounds, primal sounds, sexual sounds, body sounds…there's room for all of it.
Stephanie shares an experience with one of her doula clients who roared through her contractions in a powerful and impressive way. Though it was entirely normal for Stephanie, it was very off-putting to the client. In between contractions the client would express embarrassment and shame over the sounds she was making, to the point that she almost didn't want her birth videographer to record her labor. She was so caught off guard by her own bigness.
Sometimes in the natural birth community there is an undercurrent that says if you're prepared for birth, and fully educated, then your birth will be calm. And peaceful. And quiet. It's fundamentally not okay to tell women that they're effectiveness in preparation will be determined by how loud or quiet they are. This culture is not helpful. And if you're expecting to have that big, euphoric, blissful moment when delivering your baby, consider that euphoria is typically a result of intensity. What if in those moments when you "lost control" and your quiet birth turned loud and wild is part of the process of effective birth?
We yearn to give you all permission, for those of you preparing to give birth, to hold no judgement for your own bigness. Allow birth to deepen your relationship with yourself, to level up, and to shift your mindset. There's a reclamation that has to happen, albeit gradually. We have to practice it over and over again. It takes patience. Every birth brings a new awakening. We can always ask "Is this belief serving me? What do I want? What are my desires and preferences?" These can help us move out of people pleaser mode and into self-actualization. Too often it's us women that move first to give or to compromise. But the wild woman heightens our needs and teaches us to put ourselves first in birth.
Love this so much
Stephanie and Katie are so much fun to listen to. I’ve loved everything I’ve listened to so far! It’s really helped me to reflect and think deeper about some things ❤️
Love Stephanie and Katie! They are incredibly powerful force for positive birth change. Love their stories and the flow of the podcast. :)
Feeds my soul
I’m in love with this podcast. It is beautiful. These two women have such great energy and it flows perfectly. Yes yes yes.