Monday, April 27, 2009
"The Tree of Life Motif: How It Applies to Natural Childbirth"
Here is the talk I had planned to give at my LDS naturally-oriented moms conference on April 25th. I ended up condensing it to five minutes for various reasons. To those who came, thank you for coming. It was fabulous to meet the faces behind the names on my registrants list and to feel that a movement is growing.
Introduction to the Tree of Life Motif
As a young woman I remember staying at my grandmother's home in the summer for a week. I loved to find books on her shelf and read them. My grandmother went to college when her youngest children were teenagers which was probably quite an anomaly in the 1960s for her rural Utah town. She then had a career of being a high school home economics teacher. So she had some intriguing "women's lib" type books on her shelf. One particular book caught my attention. The main point of the book was that women pay a price because of their child-bearing capacity. This price is money lost from being at a job, in order to stay home with children. The book lamented that children interrupt women's careers. The solution it offered: for women to have onsite daycare at work to bring their children to until the children are old enough to go to school. That way their careers wouldn't be interrupted.
This may be the ideal solution for a few women in special cases who don't have husbands and have to work. I don't think that overall, however, it's the best solution for all women. God has a solution, a plan for women, and it's in His restored gospel, specifically the Book of Mormon. When Nephi was told by his father Lehi about the vision of the Tree of Life, he sought an interpretation of the Tree of Life. He was not even directly told what the Tree of Life symbolized. He was given an image, and this image evoked a meaning for him. What was the image? It was the image of a mother, Mary, holding a baby, the Christ child. Then Nephi knew that the Tree of Life symbolized the love of God. Joseph F. Smith said that a mother's love comes nearer to the love of God than any other love. The Tree of Life motif can be found across the globe in time and space. It represents love, light, liberty, and home. (Check the entry for "tree of life" in wikipedia.org.)
God has a form of expression for womanhood. I believe that a woman's love, her light, and her liberty are best expressed and achieved, when she follows the form of a tree. A tree has soil, roots, functions, and fruit, and seasons, and so do women. A woman's soil is her self-nurture culture, her roots are her husband and God and other relationships, her functions are to give food, to protect, and communicate, her fruit are her good works and her children, and her seasons involve seasons of mothering, seasons of reproduction, and seasons of time and "career" outside the home.
The world has the environmentalist movement with tree huggers. I suggest that instead of being tree huggers, be tree imitators. Be a tree of life to your family. In this way you will follow the example of Christ, the Ultimate Tree of Life, as outlined in the rest of the explanation of the Tree of Life in 1 Nephi 11. Each of the speakers at the conference today spoke on something that relates to how a woman can be a tree of life to her family.
Generally in our modern industrial world, we live in a conveyor belt culture. This affects three big aspects of motherhood: childbirth, baby care, our own education and that of our children. The conveyor belt culture with its focus on materialism, high technology, and rush-rush lifestyle threatens to master us instead of being our servant. This can cause much depression, frustration, and stress if we put ourselves on a conveyor belt. Instead of living in a conveyor belt culture, which is man-made,I suggest a natural living culture based on the seasons of the natural world created by God. This involves following the model of a tree, because trees live by the seasons. This helps us to use the conveyor belt culture as our servant, not our master.
We are even told in the scriptures to be like trees. We are told to bring forth good fruit or be hewn down and cast into the fire at the last days. This scripture is in Matthew 7:19, Jacob 6:7, Helaman 14:18, and D&C 97:17. It's one of the few scriptures that is in all of the standard works, so it must be important for us to incorporate into our lives. We are also told to judge people by their fruit. "By their fruits ye shall know them." (Matthew 7:20, 3 Nephi 14:20)
In Isaiah 61:3 Isaiah says that the Lord has anointed him “To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.”
Anatomically, humans even look like trees. The circulatory and respiratory systems have tree-like structures. The heart is like the trunk of the tree and the blood vessels are like the roots and the branches. The lungs have the bronchial tree of airway passages that looks like an upside down tree.
Women have unique anatomical features that look like trees. The placenta, with its blood vessels, looks like a tree. So does the ***** (mammary organ) with its milk ducts. Both of these parts of our anatomy are or can be literal trees of life to our babies. The placenta gives food and oxygen to the baby and takes sway waste. Without it, the baby would die. The ***** (mammary organ) can sustain a baby for at least six months or longer. So we have the opportunity to be trees of life to our children quite literally.
We can extend the tree of life motif by saying that women have seasons. We don't have to run our lives like a conveyor-belt driven factory that runs 24/7, thinking we have to be out in the business, industrial world, constantly producing, thinking we pay a price if we have children and stay home with them. We can choose to follow the natural rhythms of life created by God and follow the seasons. We do literally have biological seasons of reproduction that harmonize with the seasons of time. Conception is like spring. Pregnancy is like summer, a season of intense growth and change. Childbirth is fall or harvest time, and the postpartum time is like winter, a time of rest.
The next part of my talk is about how to honor the particular season of childbirth. We can choose to have a conveyor belt type birth or a childbirth that is allowed to happen in its own time, without instantly relying on high-technology. Childbirth is best when allowed to unfold as naturally as possible, just as a rosebud's opening or the ripening of a piece of a fruit still attached to the tree. (I know that medical emergencies arise that justify the use of technology, but those are the exceptions.) A recent CDC report shows that for the 11th year in a row, the percentage of women having C-sections is on the rise. Nearly 32% of all births are done by C-section. Women's bodies are not increasingly becoming incapable of giving birth naturally, but overall women's/society's belief in the ability to give birth naturally is decreasing.
In this day and age when pain relief is routinely available, why would a woman choose to have a natural birth? I have had one birth with an epidural and five without so I feel qualified to talk about this. Isn't it remarkable that many LDS women, who as a matter of principle, avoid drugs, including alcohol, many times ask for whatever drug they can get during childbirth? After my medicated childbirth, I felt that even though it was nice not to have to feel the pain, that I had missed out on something.
I am not going to go into why natural childbirth is better physically for the mom's and baby's health. You can search the Internet and the public library and easily come to that conclusion. I am going to talk about how you can make natural childbirth your best birth experience by inviting Christ into the center of your birth. Remember Elder Dallin H. Oaks' talk in General Conference about "good, better, best"? He said that it's important not to just choose what is good or better, but what is best. The things that are best are those things that transform us by bringing us closer to Christ. This idea applies to all areas of our lives, including childbirth. Childbirth can be a tranformational experience, a time that brings us closer to our Savior.
So what does this look like? Here are some examples of how to have a Christ-centered childbirth. With my last three births, I have taken the time to write a prayer to be read aloud during transition, that time when I feel I am at the end of my rope. I keep it handy in the laboring room and then I ask someone to read it aloud. It invites the Spirit into the room and gives me the peace and strength to continue. In this prayer I give thanks to God for the body that He has given me that was made to give birth naturally. I ask for help to open up and let the baby come out gently. I give thanks for the baby's body and acknowledge that we were bought with a price, the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. I give thanks for the Savior and ask that His Spirit be with us.
When I had my fourth baby, on a Monday, the day before, on Sunday, I had gone visiting teaching. (Visiting teaching is a great induction method. I have gone into labor within 24 hours of visiting teaching in three out of six births, maybe four.) The message for that month was about the power of hymns. I decided to sing a hymn during labor, because I had also just read that vocalization is a powerful tool for opening up the cervix. So I sang "I Stand All Amazed" in very low, deep, guttural tones. I know I sounded funny, nobody else could tell what I was singing. It helped to open me up and let the baby come out and helped me focus on the Savior.
I have a friend who has had seven children. She told me what her sister told her a secret about labor. Her sister said to think about Christ during every contraction, to give the pain to Him, and that He happily receives it. She said, "So much of what the Savior suffered for was for grief and destruction. He is happy to experience pain for the life-giving process of birth." Having a picture of the Savior in your laboring room would help you to do this.
I remember with my fourth baby, the labor had been so intense, with contractions that were back-to-back, with no break. I thought I was going to die! After the birth, I marveled that I was still alive. I did not split open and here I was with a beautiful baby boy! I thought about the Savior and how He suffered so much more than that for me. I knew more than ever before, deep inside of me, that he suffered for me because He loves me. Just as I loved that baby boy and felt an inseperable bond, I knew the Savior loves me. Every day for a long, long time, I thought about the birth and it gave me strength to do hard things, and every mother could use that confidence.
Another thing that has helped me during labor is to have a goal, other than the obvious one of having a baby. For previous births that were less than ideal, you can use this to perceive the birth in a more positive light and say what you learned from the birth or say what you feel grateful for about the birth. Even something simple works like, "I feel grateful that I can be a mother." Or, "I know I can give birth naturally." For my third baby the goal was, "I can give birth naturally by relying on the natural means that God has created to deal with the pain: water, heat, pressure, music, and other people." My goal has progressed to be "I can think about Christ during labor and remember His love for me." With this next baby (I am due in August), the goal is "I can actually think about Christ during labor and turn the pain of labor into pleasure." I have heard for years that it is possible to have a painless childbirth. I am all open to that and would like to learn more about the possibility.
Labor during childbirth gives women a unique opportunity to draw closer to God. A friend of mine had a typical conveyor belt birth with her first baby, with a lot of unnecessary technical intervention that caused problems. With the next baby she chose a natural path. She did not let herself get induced and waited patiently for the baby to come past the due date. Her mother reminded her, "Not in your time, but in the Lord's time." When she finally went into labor, the baby was posterior, which makes for a more painful labor usually. As she moved into different positions to ease the process that God designed, she felt alone and lost like never before. She prayed and pled for comfort and strength. She says that she felt Him with her, giving care and love. She says that she has never had an experience in her life equal to that one. He did not leave her alone.
Not only is a new baby born at birth, but a new mom can be too. She can be transformed or spiritually reborn. The natural childbirth movement comes close to this. It emphasizes the opportunity for women to have a better birth by tuning into themselves through relaxation and trusting the natural process. As a result, more than just a baby is born. A stronger woman, a new mother with greater trust in herself, her powers, and the natural processes of life is born. By inviting Christ into the picture, a woman can emerge with an even greater transformation, even the best transformation possible. Women can have the best birth possible and be born again through Christ through a Christ-centered childbirth.
A woman can emerge from a birth with greater trust in the body God created for her, purchased through the blood of Christ. She can have greater belief in God and His ability to help her. She can have a greater testimony of Christ and a greater appreciation for what He did for her with His atoning sacrifice. She can have a much closer relationship to Him, knowing more than ever before how much He loves her. This is part of the second, spiritual birth mentioned in the scriptures that all mankind must have to enter into the kingdom of God. (See John 3:5, Mosiah 5:7-8, and Mosiah 27:25-26)) It is an opportunity we can capitalize on. Childbirth is a season to honor, to let unfold naturally (I know there are exceptions where technology should be used) and to invite Christ into the process, for the most miraculous birth possible, a spiritual birth through Christ.
Part II- How the Tree of Life Motif Applies to Attachment Parenting
So, you give birth, you have your baby, how do you apply the Tree of Life Motif to parenting? Fascinatingly, Dr. William Sears, a pediatrician, claims in The Baby Book, which is the Bible of attachment parenting, that the ancient meaning of the word wean means "to ripen." In other words, the baby, the fruit of the womb, is meant to be attached to the mothering tree of life as a biological unit, for a season of time. This is just like a real piece of fruit is meant to be attached to a tree for a season, until it ripens on its own and naturally separates. This season does not end at birth, but extends through babyhood and toddlerhood.
Even after the physical attachment of breastfeeding, babywearing, and bedsharing are over, the emotional attachment remains forever. This emotional attachment actually is part of the pinnacle of what heaven means in the LDS religion. Remarkably, the LDS theology teaches that the ultimate form of heaven is to be sealed, or eternally attached, to your family members and God the Father and God the Son. Conversely, the worst form of punishment is not be eternally burned but to be a son of perdition. The word perdition comes from the Latin perditio which means irreparable loss or ruin. The worst fate is to be eternally lost or unattached from those you love the most. Just ask any Toy Story character and they will agree.
Christ wants to seal us as His, in family groups. In Ezekiel 34:16 He states, "I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken." He doesn't want us to be lost. By being permanently attached to Him in heaven we avoid that permanent lost state. Only by our own free unrepentant will can we decide that we will not be found by Him and be lost forever.
In Mosiah 5:15 we read, "Therefore I would that ye would be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord, God omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that you may have everlasting life and eternal salvation..." Most profoundly, Truman Madsen, an LDS philosopher who graduated from Harvard, asserted that "We can't know who we are until we know whose we are." We are Christ's, bought with the price of his eternal atoning blood.
LDS doctrine gives me the why of attachment by saying that heaven is eternal attachment to my husband, children, and extended family, and attachment parenting philosophy as outlined by Dr. Sears and his wife Martha give me the practical how-tos of attachment parenting to apply to those helpless beings in my immediate charge, my babies. The Searses outline the following Baby B's of attachment parenting in their book:
#1. Birth bonding,
#4. Believing in the Language Value of Your Baby’s Cries,
#5. Bedding close to Baby
#6. Beware of Baby Trainers, and
I don't have time to go into all of them, but I will mention something about breastfeeding and babywearing. I have a book coming out, Tree of Life Mothering Volume I, that addresses each topic from an LDS perspective.
If you practice a certain kind of breastfeeding, ecological breastfeeding, then your body is a literal tree of life to your baby, for at least six months. Your milk is the only sustenance your baby has for those six months. No water, no artificial baby milk, and no juice. This practice treats the mother and baby unit as an ecological unit that deserves even more respect than the ecology of salt marshes. This exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics because of the health benefits to baby and mom. If you do eco breastfeeding, which is exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months, plus some other guidelines, then your body will undergo physical seasons just like a tree does. Just as a tree goes through a wintertime of being infertile, so does an ecologically breastfeeding mom. She has lactational amenorrhea, an absence of ovulation and menses. (The rules of ecological breastfeeding are outlined by Sheila Kippley in her books. Her latest one is The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding: The Frequency Factor. See nfpandmore.org.)
In regards to bedsharing, the Savior told a parable in Luke 11 about a man who was bedsharing with his children. Someone comes to the door and knocks. The man does not get out of the bed and answer the door because he doesn't want to disturb his sleeping children. I like that, it seems to say that sleeping in the same bed as our children do is not just OK, but something to honor so that we don't let something like a person knocking on our door disturb our sleep with our children. It's a great excuse to say you can't get out of bed sometimes because you might disturb the baby or child you are sharing a bed with.
Our modern industrial world wants to put parenting on a conveyor belt, by saying that children should be on a strict timetable, and our responses should be according to our own man-made schedule, instead of the natural schedule that comes from the creator of nature, God. AP was the original model of parenting, and still is in native cultures, but got lost just like the true gospel of Christ got lost.
Life is much happier for mother and baby/child when we see our lives and our children's lives as trees with natural rhythms or seasons like trees have. The Tree of Life Motif can even guide as as our children wean and become physically detached. Trees are like buffers. Have you noticed how they often provide a natural border between different pieces of property? Often they are used in cities to provide green space, a haven or rest from the hard physical features of urban life. They don't ask for anything in return, they simply provide beauty and comfort as an act of grace.
We can be this way for our children, doing simple acts of beauty and grace for them that no one else will do. We can be a buffer for them to help them transition from one season or activity to the next like no one else will, because no one else is as emotionally attached to them as we are. Fortunately, they grow up and don't need us to be physical trees of life for them their whole lives but we can always be emotionally attached to them and provide more emotional life for them.
I remember reading in the Ensign in this past year the story of a young man who had grown up, gotten married, had a child, and lived far from home, in another state. One morning, his mother felt impressed to pray for him as a family with his younger siblings during family prayer for his safety and well-being. That night while he was at his job at a convenience store and gas station, a burglar approached him with a gun demanding all the money in the store. This young man had the presence of mind not to panic, but to act in a way that did not make the burglar fire the gun. The young man was able to get to the place in the store where he could press the button that called the police. The police came and got the burglar and all was well. The mother who told the story felt that this was because of her prayer that morning.
I love that story. It's an incredible example of being emotionally attached to a child, even though there is no longer physical attachment. This mother had the emotional connection to her son to know when he needed extra prayers. I hope each mother can have the fertile self-nurture soil and enough supporting roots to be up to the task of being emotional mothering trees of life to each child she bears for their whole life.
Part III- How the Tree of Life Motif Applies to Holistic Education
(I know this is long. Now you see why I didn't give the talk at the conference. The great thing about typing it into my blog is that I can add things I would have had to have left out for time's sake.) So, you give your baby the gift of attachment parenting. As your baby grows, you can give your baby the gift of a holistic education, which comes by applying the Tree of Life Motif to your understanding of education. Conveyor belt education (if you need to learn more about this then read the book Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille) can be done at home or in public or private charter school. It involves following a set curriculum and schedule, regardless of individual interests of the children. Some philosophies of education offer an alternative to conveyor belt education. They follow natural seasons of learning. Just as a tree has seasons, a person can have seasons of learning.
I have a chart to show these seasons of learning which I was going to show at the conference. I don't know how to put it in here, since it's a table. If you want to have it, email me at email@example.com and I will email it to you. In this chart, you have five columns and six rows. You have the seasons of learning across the top. The purpose of the spring season of learning is to plant the seeds of truth in a child's mind. The purpose of the summer season is to grow the seeds of truth by applying them through reading, discussing, and writing, learning to think clearly. Autumn or fall is time to harvest the seeds of truth that comes from each person's unique interaction with the truth, to see good works or fruits of one's labor. Winter is the time to rest and make sure the fruits of one's labor are secure for future generations.
So then you have the philosophies going down the left side of the page. These philosophies are Classical Education (as in Susan Wise Bauer's writings, like The Well-Trained Mind, Thomas Jefferson Education, the Natural Rhythms of Learning, The Stages of Learning, and Celestial Education, as defined by LDS homeschooling mom Michelle Brady Stone. Each of these philosophies have natural seasons of learning, which I explain on the chart but won't go into here. Except I will explain the definitions as applied to TJED (Thomas Jefferson Education.)
The spring season of learning combines the Core and Love of Learning phases. The summer season comprises Scholar and Depth phases, a time of intense growth, change, and work. Mission phase is Fall or Harvest season. Then Impact phase is winter, setting the fruits of your education in place to impact endless future generations.
Each of these philosophies, because they follow natural seasons of learning, are a kind of holistic education. They all involve educating the heart to some degree, not just the mind. The heart is what makes a whole person. They all involve the humanities, or liberal arts. They disagree on the how of going about it. Whatever the details are in each one, the most important things to remember in following whichever one you choose are to allow the child freedom to go through each season as he or she chooses and involve God in the process. The more you involve the child's freedom, developmental abilities, and God in the process, the more natural or holistic you will make the education. These philosophies can be put into practice at home or in a school away from home. If you do choose a school away from home I suggest you remember the injunction in Mosiah 23:14 that you let no ungodly person be your child's teacher.
If you feel frustration with your child's education or with your own educational process, it may be because you are forcing you or your child to be in a season the child or you is not ready for. Or you may be putting the child or you on a conveyor belt for education, instead of honoring the natural flow of seasons of learning.
All of these philosophies that involve the natural seasons of learning fall under the umbrella term of educational perennialism, both secular perennialism and religous perennialism. Perennialism is the educational philosophy found in the Bible. If you want to learn more, look up this term at wikipedia.org.
The result of going through the four seasons of learning is the fruit of good works, a manifestation of the love of God, served up in the unique flavor of that person's mission. This fruit is a legacy for endless generations to enjoy. I remember reading a picture book of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia to my little children one day. I marveled that this man's great ideas of Christ, of good and evil, have been preserved and can be enjoyed by anyone, old or young, rich or poor.
What does this fruit taste like? Perfectly, C.S. Lewis gives us the description:
"What was the fruit like? Unfortunately no one can describe a taste. All I can say is that, compared with those fruits, the freshest grapefruit you’ve ever eaten was dull, and the juiciest orange was dry, and the most melting pear was hard and woody, and the sweetest wild strawberry was sour. And there were no seeds or stones, and no wasps. If you had once eaten that fruit, all the nicest things in this world would taste like medicines after it.” (The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis, HarperTrophy, New York, p. 171)
If we allow ourselves and our children to go through natural seasons of learning, whether it be at home or in a public school (this can be done, although it's much harder, and must be done with constant communication with God and the teacher) we will bring forth this fruit, our good works that manifest the love of God, to serve to others.
If there's great joy in tasting of the fruit, there's even greater joy in serving this fruit to others. That's what holistic education is for, to allow each person to go through natural seasons of learning, so that they might bring forth the best fruit, or good works that only they can give because of their unique mission in life, to serve to others.