Birth and Community by Sara Frykenberg


My daughter Hazel was born on a November afternoon. Just over two weeks old, my own individual role as mother is too young to comment on much here—I am thinking too much and too little about what it means, adjusting to my little one’s schedule, feeling like my boobs are going to fall off from my breastfeeding efforts, and loving in a new way. (It’s amazing how excited one can get about ‘poopy’ after baby has been struggling for days, isn’t it?)

But when I am lying in my bed, sometimes at night, I find myself amazed and grateful for the community it took to bring my daughter into being. I was pregnant but I also had a pregnant community. I labored with community; and what I am learning, is that my motherhood is also a function of community—something, for me, that would not have been possible without the many, many people who supported Hazel and me through the process of new birth.

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Me meeting Hazel for the first time. It was a surprise that we would get to hold her too.

Hazel and I didn’t meet for the first time until the morning after her birth. After laboring for 18 hours, momma and baby went into distress as my body stopped progressing at 9.5cm, my cervix starting to swell. I had to have a C-section, and Hazel, who was overdue, breathed in meconium in the womb, so had to be taken to the NICU right after delivery. I couldn’t see her until I was able to get into a wheel chair the next day.

One of the most amazing occurrences and gifts I have received in my life happened on what was one of the most terrible days of my life. Uncomfortable, feverish, learning new things about pain that I hadn’t before been aware of, exposed, I was scared—but I wasn’t alone.

I had a whole community…

My twin sister and the loved ones who held my baby’s hand when she couldn’t be held in anyone’s arms.

My in-laws who fed me and our community day after day, bringing me a special dinner in the hospital and feeding my growing family for days even after we came home.

The nurses that literally helped me go to the bathroom, as well as to handle labor and the pain of recovery, and taught me to feed my baby.

Members of a local church who made the small quilt for Hazel that shaded her crib from the hospital lights—they make them for all the NICU babies. We got to take this small shelter and act of love home with us when we left the hospital.

One of my dearest friends who made us dinner the day we came home—a supportive visit that was just one of many she’s been making for months.

My older sister who labored with me, supported my choices and reassured me when things didn’t go according to our hopes.

My mother who sat with me in the hospital, ran errands for us and stayed with us for a week after we came home.

My husband who was and is with me through everything; and he cried with me that first night and held my hand in my sorrow that I couldn’t hold hers.

The lactation specialist who we met at the new parent resource center days after we came home, whom, hearing a little of our birthing story, said she wanted to take a moment to honor what we had been through. A witness to many mothers, this woman, a stranger, laid my feelings out to me. She recognized the loss I felt, as well as my feelings about my own body. She told me that I was not what happened to me—that what happens to us does not define who we are as mothers.

All of the loved ones who celebrated with me, held my daughter and me, and welcomed Hazel into this world.

…And this is only a small fragment of the community of my daughter’s birth.

The traditional notions of the divine that I grew up with imagine God as a solitary, individual being who creates the universe, alone, though with love. Many feminist theologies and thealogies challenge this notion of divinity. It is too like the Western individualism and hierarchy of its progenitors, honoring and even deifying those traits and historical characters that maintain kyriarchal oppression.

However, while I tend to embrace feminist notions of relational divinity, I did not know how to personally relate to images of a “relational matrix,” or “web,” even though these metaphors inspire me and my work, particularly as they help me to understand the world of embodiment and technology. I have also only flirted with notions of a highly relational goddess, on the one hand, loving this image, on the other hand, having difficulty seeing her in my own experience.

Yet, reflecting on my birthing community—the community of my motherhood and my daughter’s be-ing, I found myself understanding goddess and relational deity in a new way. Perhaps, one of her faces is a mother-community? Or perhaps, this is just a form of god/dess power.

I am discovering my motherhood as a function of community—and today, this is a face of divinity that I can see clearly, and that I am grateful for and to.Hazel

 

Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D.: Graduate of the Women’s Studies in Religion program at Claremont Graduate University, Sara’s research considers the way in which process feminist theo/alogies reveal a kind transitory violence present in the liminal space between abusive paradigms and new non-abusive creations: a counter-necessary violence.  In addition to her feminist, theo/alogical and pedagogical pursuits, Sara is also an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, and a level one Kundalini yoga teacher.

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Categories: Feminism, Feminist Theology, General, God/des

Tags: , , , , , , ,

16 replies

  1. So happy all is well with you and your little baby.

    Yes, motherhood and mother-community are one of the faces of the relational Goddess. Hartshorne stated that he had to look no further than his own mother to understand that God is love and by that he did not mean the love of a dispassionate and unfeeling God but of a God (He or She) who feels the feelings of the world. He also said that motherhood is a better symbol of the love of God (in our culture) than fatherhood. And yes, Goddess is not only the mother who cares for her child, but the community who cares for her.

    There may be elements of matri-phobia and misogyny in the reluctance of many process theologians who are not women to speak of the process God as God the Mother–and as you say as God who cares for mothers.

    In matriarchal societies the mother would have always been surrounded by her mothers and sisters–she would never have been “left alone with her child.”

    Blessings be.

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    • I love your note here that mothers wouldn’t be left alone… I am worried about the isolation so many new mother’s face, and already feel the pressure I am putting on myself to be able to ‘do this (whatever task) on my own.’ Yet, as this post celebrates, I have community that I need and can draw upon.

      Thank you for your well wishes.

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  2. Yes … “I have also only flirted with notions of a highly relational goddess, on the one hand, loving this image, on the other hand, having difficulty seeing her in my own experience. Yet, reflecting on my birthing community—the community of my motherhood and my daughter’s be-ing, I found myself understanding goddess and relational deity in a new way.” … motherhood may be a radicalising experience and surely an experience of Deity :)
    many blissings

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  3. Beautiful! In a culture where many women are traumatized by the medical care they receive in birth, your insights about community could be helpful to many.

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    • Thank you so much Peg. I hope so.
      As I mention above, I was so tremendously moved by the words of the lactation specialist, who had worked with so many women– this acknowledgement from a stranger meant the world to me.

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  4. Such a beautiful post, resonant with love and truth. I am so glad you and your baby are safely arrived in this new country of motherhood and surrounded by community. I love the name Hazel. Welcome, Hazel. You are well met!

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  5. Welcome to this world of wonders, little Hazel. It is a privilege to share in the story of your birth. You are off with a wonderful start of loving parents and community. May you always thrive … and do be gentle with mom’s breasts.

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    • ;) I am going to tell her about your encouragement here that she be gentle with my breasts!
      Thank you so much for your well wishes for my little one.

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  6. You’ve just had a baby and you have time to write and post a blog??? I am Very Impressed. And besides that, it’s an interesting blog. Good for you!

    And good for your community, too. Reading your post reminded me again how important community is, both in the abstract and in the absolutely concrete sense of helping each other with bodily functions. Let us know when you start catching up on your sleep.

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    • Well… don’t ask me how long it took for me to write my post. ;)
      It was good to write it down no matter how long it took though– a part of my own processing of this eventful month in my life; so I am glad you enjoyed it.

      And soon to sleep (though I’m sure it will be a long time before I can ever catch up).

      Thank you Barbara :)

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  7. WOW! Congratulations!!! Welcome baby Hazel!!

    Thank you so much for blog and wonderful pictures.
    Also thank you for sharing your “not-quite the-way we expected-it-to-happen” story.

    When my children were very young, I felt a very strong pull of community. I needed the community, my children needed the community, I needed to provide my children a community (in case something happened to me?). But as I grew older and the children became more self-sufficient, I felt less of a need for community. Could some of this community-association have been hormone induced? Was the community some kind of”back-up” plan in case I could not provide for my children? Will I once again feel the pull of community when my children are of marriageable age and I feel a need to ‘provide” them with partners? I feel that, similar to my faith, I have peaks and valleys of attachment to community.

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    • I really appreciate your insight here that the need or attachment to community oscillates– I agree. I have never felt so much of a sense of my own community, nor my great need for this community, until now; hence, I really do identify this as a part of my new motherhood. It will be interesting to see how this changes or my ideas of community change as my daughter grows. This gives me something to think about.

      Thank you for your reply and thoughts here! (And for the warm welcome for my daughter!)

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  8. Welcome to the spinning world, baby Hazel, welcome to the green Earth! We’re so glad you’re here!

    Thank you for sharing your story. I completely agree that the relational motherhood community is a face of the goddess. I also want to take a moment to honor your journey. It is unbelievable what mother/parenthood asks of us—one of my favorite quotes says that labor and birth are just a rehearsal for what parenthood continues to expect of us over and over again, to turn ourselves inside out and let go…

    ((((hugs)))

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    • Thank you so much Molly.
      I have never heard the quote you mention here, but I like it; and, it really does speak to my experience of labor and delivery quite well– particularly that moment of needing to let go…. I will try to remember this as I do the work of parenting.

      Thank you for the hugs and warm welcome for Hazel as well! *hugs back to you*

      Like

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