Sunday, March 4, 2012

Book Launching in Bali

Thank you, Ibu Robin, for being my physical and spiritual babica (which is a Croatian word for midwife, but meaning also “little grandma”). Thank you for being at my side to introduce my book to this lovely audience, as you were there at my side when my daughter was born.

Thank you, Asri, for giving me the opportunity to present my book at Biku Tea House. Recently some very illuminated researcher (Steven Johnson) brought up the historical importance of Tea Houses in 18th century England for the development of great ideas that shaped the future of our world. I am very happy and honored to present my book in a tea house, as it seems to be so propitious.

What seems to be the most important thing in human society is storytelling, spontaneous exchange of ideas, free flow of information and improvised connections that might occur unexpectedly in cozy environments. Back in the history, storytelling was essential for learning to live in human community. Maybe some of the information was passed on selectively, from father to son and from mother to daughter. But birth was not one of those things. Birth was part of the whole family, as it was part of life. Probably, women were more interested in the subject of birth, so they would go deeper into the discourse and they would participate in a greater number to the birth events in their family and their community. Since the early age, women were learning about the experience of birth by witnessing. They were prepared when the moment came. Every individual knew his or her own birth story that would become part of their life stories.

When I became pregnant, I discovered I knew nothing about birth, despite 18 years spent between school and university, and 36 years of life experience. I had a void. Yet, I remembered stories my mom used to tell me. The one I cherished the most was not the one of my own birth, which happened in the hospital and left my mother speechless, more or less. No, the image I had in mind came from the story my mother used to tell me about my grandmother giving birth in her bed with the help of her husband, my grandfather, who was holding her under the arms while she was kneeling and pushing. She gave birth in such way for three times with the help of her mother, my great grand-mother, who was a medicine woman in the village. The forth time, her mother could not assist her and a new midwife came instead. But this midwife was taught only the laying down position that made my grandma and my little aunt suffer more then necessary, so much that the baby nearly died. When the situation became critical, the helpless midwife said to my grandma: “Do as you always did!” So my grandma and my grandpa did the job they know how to do and my favorite aunt is today a successful physiotherapist for paraplegic children. She was born in 1956, the time where hospitalized birth was getting predominant and midwifery as liberal profession was getting illegal in my country, at that time Yugoslavia, now Croatia. The practice of midwifery in Croatia still has a fuzzy legal status, and homebirth is practically illegal (find more about birth choices in Croatia by visiting the parents' association RODA). It’s good to know that not everywhere in the world is the same.

I started reading books to fill the void of information I had about birth. I was so shocked by my lake of knowledge about the most important event in everybody’s life. How was that possible? Luckily there was internet and Youtube, a modern tea house or a technological fireplace where so many powerful women gather and share their stories. I watched The Business of Being Born, a documentary about homebirths in New York, and it was the first time in my life that I saw how the baby was really born. Before, I would stick to the movie cliché of a hysterical mother rushing to the hospital only to be saved by white uniforms and modern technology. In the documentary it was real life, sweet, messy, but also calm and spontaneously quiet. It was so deep that I couldn’t stop crying. It was emotional and poetical. A profound respect invaded my whole body and I realized how sacred birth was. I also wanted a sacred birth. I didn’t want a hospital birth anymore, that before I thought being the only way. I haven’t met anyone who didn’t give birth in the hospital, except my grandma. All this was new to me, but I felt it was the right way, the right attitude. It occurred to me that natural birth outside the hospital was going to be my choice.

I was lucky to be living in Bali for most of the time. Here I met Ibu Robin Lim, and I didn’t have to say anything, she already knew everything that I wanted. Later on, she landed my daughter gently in my arms. Robin was practicing lotus birth, the umbilical cord non severance, which I wanted for my girl. I was so happy I didn’t have to explain to the medical staff what lotus birth was, and what I wanted to do with our placenta. We didn’t cut Koko’s umbilical chord, and I prepared her placenta as a post-partum remedy that I took for quite some time after birth. It was a very earthly experience. But now, I couldn’t imagine a better way.

I gave birth at Bumi Sehat clinic. Koko had a natural birth in water and we sang to her. Since the first contractions, I started to sing in the attempt to trick my mind, to shape the pain and give it a sense. It came to me spontaneously. My mind was probably trying to grab some anchor in a vast fear of the unknown demon attacking my body. While my mind was busy singing, I realized the pain was coming in waves where the first part was a peak and the rest was a sliding ride. I sang a song my partner Bluebird and I wrote while I was pregnant, when we were both living in a pink cloud. It was sweet and it felt so appropriate. During contractions I realized the pain was short, not even one verse of the song. It was not that giant borderless monster that I thought it was. It would last less then a minute! And then, the more I sang, the more my mouth would open, the more my cervix would follow. I would open up. I realized how powerful this connection mouth-uterus was. I finally found the meaning of so many pictures and sculptures that represent fertility all over the world: a woman with her legs spread, her vagina clearly exposed, and her mouth wide open with the protruding tongue. Maybe there is an ancient method of birth that we forgot about but our molecules still keep the memory of it? This image is a very powerful reminder. When the big push time came, Robin invited Roberto and I to sing together to our baby who was coming out, and so we did. Robin and her assistant were also singing, a welcoming Hindu mantra. It was sacred and poetical and intense. It was the best rite of passage to motherhood that I could wish for. It was the best welcome to the world that I was able to give to my daughter. I carried her home with her placenta still attached, and after three days the umbilical cord fell off.

When I came down from my pink cloud, I opened my Facebook account and my friends wanted to hear the whole story of our exotic birth. My pregnancy in Bali, in Rome and in Croatia, the big belly travel experiences, the choices I made and why, the lotus birth and all that weird and unheard practices. So, I started to write everything down: my ignorance, my research, my female family history, my thoughts and emotions along the way and all up until the end - the birth on the island of the gods and placenta eating. I came out with a book. The Memoirs of a Singing Birth. I sent the book to my friends, who then sent it to their friends, and the book took flight. I was surprised and amazed by the reactions. So many women, but also men, friends, and friends of friends, wrote back to me telling me their own emotions about birth. It was very touching. I realized how important it is to ritualize this experience, to share it and to get it out in order to heal the wound. Many of those stories were unpleasant and painful because of the lack of gentleness and respect towards birth. But some women, like myself, felt they had to shout to the world the joy of a new self – a Mother.

Western society has a mechanical vision of childbearing, as well as childrearing, and this vision is harmful to women and their children. It’s not going to get better unless we realize that we, as human society, have a deeply rooted need to celebrate motherhood and bring birth back into light. It will not happen by itself, we have to speak up and share our experiences despite the feeling that others might not be interested in the details of our story. Maybe we have to go back to the tea houses, were great minds gave birth to the Illuminism and the idea that our body is a mechanical assembly of the laws of physics. I’m sure that there were very few women in those places at that time saying their word. But we are here now, and we can talk about it, and maybe bring the soul back into the body of our institutions.

I am very grateful to the island of Bali and its people who opened my eyes about my own body and my own spirituality that allowed me to reconsider maternity and motherhood.

I want to say a special thank you to Ganesha bookstore. Thank you, Anita, for believing in my book and supporting this event together with Asri, Ibu Robin and so many wonderful women who helped me create this event. I am so proud to be part of this female circle.

I also wish to thank my man Bluebird who is always by my side and who supported me in all the choices I made even when they seemed unusual. If you wish, papa Bluebird and I can sing Koko’s birth song for you…

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