Kaleidoscope

"For we live with those retrievals from childhood that coalesce and echo throughout our lives, the way shattered pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope reappear in new forms and are songlike in their refrains and rhymes, making up a single monologue. We live permanently in the recurrence of our own stories, whatever story we tell." - from Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje

Shattering reflective pieces of a kaleidoscope tumble in my mind's eye. These are a million moments of experience, random sounds from births - a cry, a laugh, tumbling beside facts, data, then mingling with sparkling words from literature, history, and art. Our experience of life is beautiful and complex and always changing.

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Groaning Cake


In a book club meeting, we discussed The Birth House, by Ami McKay. We ate groaning cake, talked about birth, the medicalization of women's bodies at this most natural time, history, social change, and our own lives. We were strengthened by the stories of these women at the turn of the century in Canada, their sisterhood, and the quiet yet bold way in which they kept their commmunity together. I hope you read this book.

The tradition of the groaning cake at a birth is an ancient one. Wives' tales say that the scent of a groaning cake being baked in the birth house helps to ease the mother's pain. Some say if a mother breaks the eggs while she's aching, her labour won't last as long. Others say that if a family wants prosperity and fertility, the father must pass pieces of the cake to friends and family the first time the mother and baby goes to a public gathering.

2 1/2 cups flour
3 eggs
2 t. baking powder
1/2 cup oil
1 t. baking soda
1/2 cup orange juice
2 t. cinnamon
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 t. ground cloves
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups grated apple
1 t. almond extract

Sift dry ingredients together. Add apple. Beat eggs. Add oil, orange juice, molasses and sugar. Add to dry ingredients. Mix well. Add almond extract. Bake at 350F. for 35-40 minutes. Makes two 9x5 loaves or 18 muffins.

The Meaning of Pomegranates and Northern Lights

Birth imagery is everywhere, from the paradox of the pomegranate in ancient writings to the joyful and whimsical life-giving nature of the Northern Lights found in Native storytelling. Whenever I have been challenged by a birth, or face great joy or loss in our own family, I go to my books. Research is my way of coping with challenges. I haunt creaky-floored second hand bookstores, sit on the floor of the library, or google my way to new understanding.

This month, I started with Tomson Highway's prose, both profound and profane. His imagery of the spirit child who is formed in the Northern Lights and tumbles to earth is magical. There is a bubbling life-force in his words. Then I moved on to reading tales of Persephone and the pomegranate; stories of the potency of life. Seven stars on the tiara created a fetus. Seven seeds of a pomegranate forced the eternal union between Persephone and Hades, creating both life and death in the seasons. I seek connection in these writings...

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So, what’s the best birth book to read?

In 1982, I was obsessed with everything to do with babies. I ducked into every book store for months before I got pregnant. You’d find me sitting on the floor by the Pregnancy and Childbirth section, surrounded by books. These weren’t “Earth Mother” books. I started with the encyclopedic books, looking for the ones authored by doctors with the most letters behind their names... FRCP, etc. You know, the books which scare you half to death with descriptions of all possible things which can go wrong. Then, I went to the university medical bookstore to look at obstetric textbooks. I even studied an obscure Swiss method of breathing for labour, which I photocopied from the main library. This method left me exhausted, out of breath, and very, very confused. It didn’t help when my husband and I went to prenatal classes and pretty much “failed” breathing. And when the nurses at the hospital asked us what our “birth plan” was, we just said “to have it go well”, and then I asked if I could blow-dry my hair before the obstetrician started my induction. Yikes! Over-prepared with book knowledge....under-prepared with inner knowledge.

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