Archive for the ‘Birth’ Category

Casting out demons

May 14, 2014
May 12, 2014
During my yoga practice this morning, my mind kept flitting back to the film I saw last night, Philomena. It hit close to home on so many levels. The deep sense of shame and guilt when, at age eighteen, I had to break the terrible news to my Pentecostal Christian father that I was pregnant. At least I didn’t get sent to a convent to work in the laundry and have my child snatched away. But I felt the blow of my father’s rage, and, like untold women before me, tried to escape his wrath by getting married.
Some years ago he apologized to me, his firstborn, for his extreme strictness and failures as a father. I’ve long since forgiven him. Yet the feelings we experience growing up seem to be embedded in our psyche, in our cells.
As I write this, I remember the first time I ever felt deeply ashamed. It was in Holland, and I was probably around age five or six because the memory is very clear. I had been playing with one of my neighborhood friends, and we had either gotten into her mother’s makeup or maybe she had one of those play makeup kits; in any case, I had smeared red lipstick on my lips. And, as luck would have it, I was told that I had to come home. The pastor of our church was visiting, and my dad wanted to show off his beautiful daughters. Back then wearing makeup was against church rules—a serious sin. I still remember my dad furiously scrubbing my mouth with a hot washcloth until my lips burned, trying to get that red lipstick off before the minister saw me. No wonder that, when I’m opening the front of the body in backbends, sometimes it feels like I’m casting out demons!

Fifty four years ago in the small town of Ojai

April 9, 2014

Picture (1)On this day, April 8, 2024, my son Bo was born in the Ojai hospital. I was 18 years old, totally unprepared for the shocks of life, and had not even thought about buying diapers and baby clothes.
 We lived on the upper end of Canada Street in a cozy cottage that stood at the back of the property. The front of the property, where a large house now stands, was a field of weeds and wildflowers. My bearded, bushy-haired hippie husband at the time did gardening at Krotona and other places to pay the $65 rent. Our landlady was a friendly, gray-haired artist named Celeste Dominique.

I was painfully shy at the time, with low self-esteem, and perhaps that’s why I remember the time I was sitting outside nursing my baby, with my just-washed hair wrapped in a towel like a turban. Celeste looked me over and told me how beautiful I looked with that towel atop my head and that she wanted to come back and make a painting of me and my baby. Now I’m sorry that I pooh-poohed her offer; I was probably too impatient to sit still, and didn’t think I looked beautiful with an old towel on top of my head.

Living up the street, in the house where Doug Adrianson lives now, was a woman named Ursula van der Veen, with her husband and two little boys named Jack van der Veen (the older one) and Marc van der Veen (a toddler). Ursula was, like me, a vegetarian and health food “fanatic” with European roots, so we quickly became friends. She must have noticed me washing diapers by hand and hanging them in the sun to dry, because she offered to take each bucket of dirty diapers up the street to her washing machine. What a relief that was! These are the random acts of kindness that tired mothers don’t soon forget.

Forty Six Years Ago in the Small Town of Ojai

“Who would you be without your story?”

April 7, 2014

April 6, 2014

Spiritual teachers of our era often ask the question, “Who would you be without your story?” I’m not sure what they have in mind when they pose this question, often to someone in the midst of a painful event like a death, divorce, or betrayal who is seeking a way to relieve their suffering. All I know is that life seems to be one never-ending story–each episode leading into the next. And, from a cosmic perspective, we human beings must seem like a broken record–the needle stuck in the same groove, playing the same part of the song over and over again.

The trick seems to be to get to a level where you no longer identify with these stories–easier to do with the passage of time than in the heat of the moment. The stories of our life are embedded in our consciousness. And by “consciousness” I mean the whole gamut–body/mind–everything we’ve absorbed in this lifetime, from the womb (including ancestral memories and possibly past lives) to the present moment.

The picture below was taken in Soule Park, with the Topa Topas in the background. I’m 19 years old, a single hippie mom who’s never been to a beauty salon for a haircut, wearing a shapeless, green homemade sundress (basically a sack dress with straps) and no makeup, holding my young son, Bo, born April 8, 1968. My head is filled with stories and myths of how life is supposed to be; already I’ve gone through many shocks and disillusionments and cried many tears, but the stories (beliefs) have so firmly shaped my reality that I will spend the next 45 years (my life so far) trying to break free.

(A related story: Forty Five Years Ago in the Small Town of Ojai)

Picture (1)

Fifty-two Years Ago, in the Small Town of Ojai

April 8, 2012

This is a story I wrote on April 8, 2008, my son’s 40th birthday, and updated on April 8, 2015. And again on April 8, 2020.

Fifty-two years ago, on April 8, in the small town of Ojai, I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy.

It was 1968. I was eighteen-years old, totally naive, and unprepared for the shocks of Life.

Like a good number of teenage girls, I didn’t realize I was pregnant till I was in the last trimester. For several months  I had been aware that I was gaining weight around my middle. I could no longer zip up my jeans.  I tried all kinds of diets, cleansing, and fasting techniques to try to lose weight. I took longer and longer walks. One day I even tried walking all the way back to Ojai from Ventura, via the Avenue. All to no avail. In case there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind just how naive young girls can be, I swear on a stack of bibles that it never entered my mind that there was a baby growing inside of me.

When I was about six months along, my childhood girlfriends started pointing out that I looked pregnant. I took the bus to a clinic in Ventura, and, sure enough, a nurse confirmed their suspicions. That afternoon I threw up the sardines I’d had for lunch.  I must have gathered up all my courage and shared the news with my mother. It did not go well.  She told me that I had to tell my father. That was the most dreaded, awful, scary moment of my life. He went totally ballistic. The wrath of God rained down on me.  I had brought the worst possible shame on my Pentecostal Christian family.  I cried for weeks afterward.

There were no childbirth classes in Ojai that I knew of, so to educate myself I went to Bart’s Books and found a copy of Childbirth Without Fear by Grantly Dick-Read, one of the fathers of natural childbirth. This book explained how fear and ignorance play a big part in the pain of labor. As luck would have it, a friend of my parents gave me a very unusual book entitled Come Gently Sweet Lucina, by a woman who had her babies all alone, unassisted, in her own bed. I read that book several times. The whole idea of a baby painlessly slipping out was very appealing!

There were no midwives in Ojai, at least none that I knew of. I had never actually seen a baby born, not even on film. But in Holland, where I was born, natural childbirth is the accepted form of delivery. My Indonesian father had delivered my youngest sister at home, and it was natural for me to think that I, too, would simply have my baby at home. I had grown up hearing stories about women in Indonesia who gave birth squatting in the rice fields when there wasn’t enough time to walk home. In my teenage mind, the only thing I really worried about was how to cut the cord.

The other thing about my teenage mind was that I only thought about the birth. I did not think beyond the birth—about things like diapers, baby clothes,  a baby bath, or how I was going to take care of another being. My young mind didn’t think that far ahead.


It was a beautiful spring day and I was nine months pregnant, due in about a week. On this day I felt happy and relatively carefree. I was used to riding my bicycle everywhere, and I cycled over to the doctor’s office for a checkup. As I was lying on the examination table, he poked a gloved hand into my body. After feeling around inside me, he mumbled something about “stretching the cervix” just to help the baby along, because, he explained, “I have to go out of town.”

Wait a minute, I thought to myself, this does not seem right!

I managed to scoot off the table. I recall my heart beating fast and my face getting flushed with anger and indignation. How could this doctor whom I scarcely knew have the gall to cause my baby to be born early for his own stupid convenience? I didn’t even want him around, anyway! I didn’t like him and didn’t think he appreciated “I know what’s best for me”attitude.

As I write this today I applaud that young girl who had the good sense to tell the doctor that she wanted “a natural birth—no drugs, no forceps.” I left the doctor’s office  and rode my bicycle home.

When I got home I noticed some discharge in my underwear. It is only now as I sit here retyping this story that I realize the doctor messed with my mucus plug.

That evening I went into labor, but I didn’t know it was labor. I felt a lot of pressure and thought I was constipated.

All those years in school, all those hours of homework, all that studying to make A-pluses and stay on the honor roll—and in all that time no one taught me anything about the sacred rites of passage in a woman’s life. No one told me how the patriarchal system had made this holy transit into a medical event. Fortunately, my natural instincts were still intact.

At around 11 p.m. the contractions began to hit in earnest. I was totally unprepared. I forgot everything I’d read. There was no one to coach me, no women friends or midwives gathered around. My mother came over. I panicked and agreed to go to the Ojai hospital.

At midnight I found myself alone on a high bed in the hospital labor room, my mother sitting in a chair nearby. The doctor periodically poked his head in the door to offer “a little something to help you relax.” I must have glared daggers at him, because he didn’t dare to come near me!

Every once in a while a nurse took a peek inside my body to check how things were progressing. She offered no words of support.

Soon I was flat on my back on the delivery table, feet placed in stirrups, shaved, prepped, and ready for the doctor to “deliver” the baby—-a crazy notion if there ever was one!

And suddenly there was the baby, crying, “Waaa . . . waaa . . . ” My own seven- pound- three- ounce baby boy! Of course he was crying—you would cry, too, if you suddenly emerged from darkness into bright light and were dangled upside down by some giant stranger in a white coat!

I’m not even sure if I got to hold him for a few seconds on the delivery table. I do know that very soon the baby disappeared into the nursery. As I was helped off the table and into the “recovery room” I heard the doctor say to the nurse, “She had it without anything, all right!” All along he hadn’t believed I could do this without anesthesia!
The baby had arrived at 2 a.m. I was wide awake, ravenously hungry, and ready to go home. And I wanted my baby! Instead, I was ushered to bed with a glass of water and a sleeping pill. I was outraged! I wanted to get the hell out of there! But there was a problem I had not anticipated. The doctor had performed an episiotomy. I hadn’t realized that was part of the deal, and now I had stitches that burned when I peed.

I threw the sleeping pill in the trash. All that work and no baby! I was too excited to sleep. I heard the other women in the room talking. Our beds were separated by curtains, so I could hear one of them moaning. They had all received a spinal block, and I got the impression that some of them had been in the hospital for several days. Something in me cringed when I realized that they all were bottle-feeding their babies.

I later learned that I was one of the lucky ones; millions of other women were not so fortunate. In her memoir, My Life So Far, Jane Fonda describes how the doctor put a gas mask over her face without asking, even though he knew she wanted to be conscious for the birth. He was wearing jodhpurs in readiness to go fox hunting when he was called to the hospital. That impatient doctor tore her up with forceps. At least I was conscious and was “allowed” to push the baby out on my own.

There is a whole generation of women now in their 60s, 70s, and older, who feel they missed out by being knocked out for childbirth. They’re still talking about it! A few months ago, when I told my yoga class about my niece’s natural, gentle birth, the older women in the class started talking about how they wished they could have been awake when their babies were born.

By 6 a.m. I’d had enough of being a hospital prisoner. There was nothing to eat in that place, and by now I was beyond ravenous—-but not hungry enough to eat canned peaches and white toast. The nurse promised that the doctor would check me when he made the rounds, and he would probably “let me go home.”

I had to go pee. When I came back to the room, I found out that the doctor had made the rounds and passed me by. When the nurse saw my crestfallen face, she tried to console me. “He’ll be back tomorrow morning.”
Tomorrow morning!” I yelled. “I’m going home now, with or without the baby!”

Suddenly it all hit me. Somewhere in the nursery my baby was crying. What was I doing here? I started walking down the hallway. “I’m going home! Give me my baby.”

All at once everyone sprang into action. I was given papers to sign. Like magic, a wheelchair appeared and the nurse told me to sit in it so she could push me down the hallway. My parents were called to come pick me up. Someone put the baby in my arms. They wheeled me right up to the car and helped me into the back seat, along with a case of baby formula.

I put my as-yet-unnamed baby boy to my breast, and there he stayed for three years . . .

Picture (1)

Birth of Monica at the Home of Beatrice Wood

December 15, 2011
Scan_Pic0012December 16, 2016, 35 years ago
Every year, on December 16th,  I remember the birth of my daughter, Monica Ellen Marshall, at the home of Beatrice Wood. The story that follows was published in the Ojai Valley News a few months after her birth.   
December 16, 1981, Birth of Monica
   So well hidden is the sacred rite of birth in our culture that at thirty-two years of age I still had not actually witnessed a single baby being born.*

   During the first part of my pregnancy my husband Lyn Hebenstreit and I had been living at the home of our friend Beatrice Wood in upper Ojai. I first met Beato at age seven when my family emigrated from Holland to Ojai. We were part of her extended family. We moved back to her house about two weeks before the baby was due.
   Beatrice was almost 90 years old and she had traveled the world but had never seen a baby being born. This was her golden opportunity. I spent the last days of my pregnancy napping, doing prenatal yoga, taking long walks, puttering around the house, helping Beato with dinner parties, and making myself useful.
   Every morning I promised Beatrice that “The baby will arrive today for sure. See how much it has dropped.” After days of unfulfilled promises, Beatrice threatened me in jest with eviction if I didn’t produce something within 24-hours! I finally did go into labor on the very day Beatrice had an important appointment in Los Angeles.
Labor Begins

   My labor began in the late evening with mild cramps. Around 2 a.m. I took a long hot bath, then slept till six in the morning. By 8 a.m. I felt very uncomfortable and tried to convince my husband that the baby would come that day. However, I was not officially due for another week, and he guaranteed me the baby wouldn’t come that day. He assured Beatrice that she should keep her appointment in LA, and then he took off for work.
   By 9 a.m. the cramps were feeling bad and I called up Ananda, the midwife, who lived in Santa Barbara. She said she’d come over about noon to check on me.
   “Noon!” I thought to myself. “That’s three-hours away. I better get ready to have this baby on my own!”
   Fortunately, the woman who was housekeeping for Beatrice that day was also a masseuse, and she periodically gave me a nice back rub. However, the cramps got worse. I finally realized that no one believed me after so many days of crying “wolf,” and that this was the real thing!
   (These were the days before cell phones and my husband and the midwife were both out of range of a landline.)
I tried to vacuum the bedroom and set out the birth supplies. I kept kneeling on all fours to try to get comfortable, just as I did in my prenatal yoga classes. I finally told the housekeeper she better finish vacuuming and cleaning the room for me.
   I was beginning to feel depressed and the constant cramping was wearing down my spirit. Where was my husband when I needed him? Why wasn’t he around to help! I called my youngest sister, Paula, to tell her I “might” be in labor.  She tracked down my husband and convinced him to head on home.
   By now it was getting close to noon. Where was the midwife? I went outside and walked around Beato’s circular driveway a dozen times, trying to time the intervals in between the cramps. I could hardly believe it was all happening in broad daylight.
   I rested against the giant rocks near the house and gazed up at the panoramic view of the glorious Topa Topa mountains. I tried to calm down and orient myself. It felt so good to be out in nature in the warmth of the sun. With the expansive views of the mountains and the vast blue sky above, I felt a deep connection with Mother Earth.
   Finally, Ananda, the midwife, arrived around noon. An internal exam revealed that I was 4 centimeters dilated, 90 percent effaced, and at 0 station. I was progressing normally, but still had a ways to go.
   By then my husband had arrived and the midwife suggested that I might go for a short walk. As I stepped outside, the next contraction was so powerful that I returned to the bedroom. There I had a full view of the majestic mountains from my window. With each contraction I hung onto my husband for dear life and concentrated on the glorious view before me.
   The contractions were much more powerful then I had anticipated. I was thirty-two years old and this felt very different from what I remembered giving birth to my son at age eighteen. It felt like my body was squeezed in a vice…very tight…tighter…and then suddenly, release.
   As the contractions grew ever more powerful, I wanted the company of other women.
   Two friends, who happened also to be labor and delivery nurses and wanted to witness a home-birth, had arrived by now. One massaged my back, while the other gave me a foot rub. I wanted and needed sympathy and support. Just when I began to think I had suffered all I could take, someone would bring me a cold, delicious drink of fresh apple juice spiked with two packets of Emergen C, full of vitamins and minerals.
   Ananda and my husband reminded me to breathe more calmly. By now it was late afternoon and the setting sun was streaming through the window. The sunlight had a powerful, calming effect on me as I assumed a classic seated yoga pose.
   I noticed that my husband’s T-shirt had a tear in it, and I asked him to humor me by changing into a nicer new shirt. Even though by then I was down to my birthday suit, I somehow felt he should dress up for this occasion!
   A few times I tried to lie down on the bed, but the midwife advised that the labor would go faster if I remained upright. At 3:30 in the afternoon I was 10 centimeters dilated–- the point when I could begin to push the baby out.
   As I was walking from the window over to my bed, the bag of primordial waters broke at last. It was like a water balloon splashing all over the rug. I was amazed by the quantity of water and half expected the baby to follow right along, like a fish, swimming out of the ocean onto dry land.
A New Passenger on Planet Earth

Before I began to push, Ananda asked all of us present to form a circle, holding hands, to share a moment of silent meditation to welcome “the new passenger.”
   When I heard her speak those words, I burst into quiet tears and truly felt my heart opening to the new little being about to enter my life. That moment did more to calm and center me than anything else. I felt the love and support of the people around me and the spiritual forces guiding me through this event. As the tears flowed, I was overcome with a sense of release and relief.
   At about 3:45 p.m., I began to push. All those yoga squats practiced every day during my pregnancy were finally going to pay off! I tried various positions — for a while I was on my hands and knees on the floor –- and ended up semi-squatting with my husband and a friend supporting my back.
   All the while the room was being transformed for the delivery. Sterile sheets and receiving blankets were laid out. I heard the tea kettle whistling. Someone brought in a stack of hot oil packs to help prevent tearing. A mirror was set up so I could see the baby’s head beginning to make brief appearances.
   I was overjoyed when Beatrice came home in time for the birth.
   I could feel the deep love and quiet support of everyone in the room.
   I looked out the window and saw that the sun was setting behind the mountains. I was acutely aware that soon it would be night. I was communing with the sun, cooperating, not fighting the process. As the sun began to disappear, someone turned on a soft light. I felt an immense peace descend upon the room. The midwife rechecked the fetal heart tones.
   All was well.
   Just as the contractions were much stronger than I anticipated, the pushing also took longer and required greater effort than I had imagined. My body felt eerie and unreal, and I remember suddenly yelling, “Somebody do something!”
   I looked out the window and saw that the sun had disappeared. At 5 p.m. I gave one more mighty push.
   Forever etched on my consciousness will be the utter relief of the head finally bursting forth, followed quickly by the body. Suddenly a delicious, wet, slippery and very pink little girl was on my breast. Her eyes were wide open and she nursed almost immediately.
   Someone gave me a cup of warm Sheppard’s Purse tea. My husband waited until the umbilical cord stopped pulsating before cutting it. I expelled the placenta soon after.
Buddha Baby

We floated Monica Ellen in a warm baby bath and she looked as if she had just awakened from a deep sleep, very serene and at peace.
   As I looked at this baby I was aware that her gentle, peaceful birth did not disturb her innate tranquility. She was still in the Garden of Eden, our original, unconditioned state. I could sense that she came from Source and was still deeply connected to Source. I will never forget the special feeling of divine energy she embodied, as she was now in this world but not yet of it.
   Ananda quietly asked everyone to leave the room so that Lyn and I could be alone with our new baby.
   Everyone was attuned to the moment and understood it was time to tip-toe out.
   A little while later, my two nurse friends escorted me to the shower. The hot water felt heavenly. What a long, incredible day it had been! I could hear the midwife and Beatrice laughing in the kitchen. I found out later that Beatrice talked about the birth for months afterwards!  (And, in fact, she mentions it in her autobiography, I Shock Myself.)
    After I put on clean clothes, I went back to bed. I felt total happiness. Monica was gracious enough to sleep on her daddy’s chest six hours straight, her first night on Planet Earth, while I got some well-earned rest!    

*Note to the reader: My daughter Monica is my second child. I did not witness the birth of my son, Bo, since I was flat on my back, feet in stirrups, on a delivery table at Ojai Hospital when he was born in 1968. His birth story  (also on this blog) is titled “Forty Years Ago in the Small Town of Ojai.”

%d bloggers like this: