Perception and Trauma Recovery

Both the event and the perception of the event must be considered when discussing trauma – Jane Simington.

I want to preface by noting that what I am unpacking in this post is not new information. There are plenty of people who have been writing about some of the concepts below. However, every time someone attempts to write about, what I believe to be are spiritual ideas of transformation, I like to imagine that it means we are getting closer to a collective awakening. Therefore, please know that I am not claiming to be an expert on this topic, but instead, I write about perception, trauma, and consciousness through lived experience and many nights of contemplation.


Over the years I have attended numerous pieces of training on trauma recovery, along with an incessant drive to consume information about the topic. In the beginning, I was driven to understand my diagnosis of PTSD and to unearth how I can heal. This drive never ended and resulted in me finishing grad school, training as a trauma-informed therapist, and developing a healing program for mothers.

I think what inspires me the most about becoming trauma-informed is the power gained. I knew in my bones that I could heal. And I hold this belief for others as well.

In my past, I struggled with depression for years, and I felt disempowered and afraid of being diagnosed with a mental illness. I held a perception that it meant that I would be cursed forever.

I tried to change my thoughts so I could feel better. However, I didn’t experience the results I craved. Granted, this quest to ‘change my thinking’ helped me become mindfully attuned to my thoughts. And as it stands, mindfulness is now receiving gold star status in healing and recovery.

Our physiology is innately intelligent and has a seeking drive that ‘seeks’ to attune towards health. I love this about our bodies. And our mind is deeply interconnected to our physiology (for those eager to unpack the concept of the mind, read The Mind by Dan Siegel).

The body and mind are one.

It is about time that we claim this knowing. Therefore it makes sense that both the physiological impact of an event AND the psychological impact of the event ought to be a part of the trauma discourse.

There is plenty written about the physiological impact of a traumatic event. To name a few, in ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ and ‘Waking the Tiger,’ both Van der Kolk and Levine, discuss the physiological imprint of trauma. Dan Siegel, founder of Interpersonal Neurobiology and author of a handful books, writes about healing from the mind, body, and relational perspective.

The literature readily available today surmounts what was available just six years ago. It is as if trauma-informed care has skyrocketed. I imagine it has done so because it speaks to how we can heal tangibly. It offers a perspective on causation to many of today’s mental, emotional, physical, relational, and behavioral challenges –not just a list of symptoms but a probable physiological cause due to unprocessed traumatic material in the nervous system.

Within the conversation of trauma-informed care, we recognize that each is impacted by a traumatic event differently; each has different variables to consider. One of the variables concerns how the experience becomes etched into the mind/memory/psyche of the individual; in other words how the individual perceives the event.


This comment has left me with many questions. A somewhat simple statement is full of complicated calculations and considerations.

What is perception?
How is perception formed?
How do we control perception? Or do we? How do we change perception?
Who is in control – self or brain?
Who is self?

As you can imagine this spiraled me down a rabbit hole of deeper discovery, philosophical consideration, spiritual questioning, and scientific evidence. Unpacking the notion of perception is not an easy task. There is little room for error because misrepresenting a concept could send the reader down the wrong rabbit hole.

And yet, isn’t it all perception anyway? Meaning the lens through which you read this has perceptual embedded within it, filters.
This leaves one to pose the following question: what are those filters made of?

Definition of Perception

Perception, according to the Dictionary refers to “the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses. The neurophysiological processes, including
memory, by which an organism becomes aware of and interprets external stimuli. 2 the way in which something is regarded, understood or interpreted. An intuitive understanding and insight.”

Thus, perception is the process in which we make sense out of an event. It includes our thoughts and senses. Perception informs how we communicate about an experience, both externally and internally. In other words, we are meaning-making machines.

For some time now, I would argue that we were taught that we have free will and thus, how we understand and interpret an experience is within our realm of control. And so, if it is within our power to influence how we perceive an experience, then do we have control over how we make sense out of an event? Regardless if the event is positive or traumatic.

This above notion may sound optimistic and perhaps even motivating for some. And when I first considered this idea I felt empowered to do something about my state of being. That said, the deeper I went down the rabbit hole, the more challenged I became by this concept.

Unpacking Perception

First of all, I felt frustrated that I encoded my traumatic events in a negative light that complicated my healing and my physiological response to trauma. I experienced self-blame. Why is it that some people could move on and have a less aggravating perception of an event, while others become entirely derailed by the experience? Could perception be the main differential factor?

Let me offer an example specific to the demographic I mostly serve:

Mother 1 – comes to therapy because she had an unplanned, unwanted c-section after a transfer to the hospital that resulted in complications that could have been terminal for either herself or her newborn. She is relatively calm about the event, is processing some grief due to the loss of physical constitution and dream birth, but she has a healthy perspective the c- section was the best option at the time and that It makes sense to her. She feels sad about the event but grateful to be a mother. She expresses frustration that she didn’t plan for a c-section or a complication arising and felt annoyed with herself (a bit foolish) but otherwise, she ‘get’s it.’ It was needed. I am well. My baby is well. We will be okay. After a few sessions of grief therapy, this mother feels like she has made sense out of the experience and in her words: ‘I am okay with what happened.’ She isn’t showing any signs of dysregulated physiology, and one would assess that she is not carrying any trauma about this event, even though her life and her baby’s life had been threatened.

Her perception = I am okay. My baby is okay. It is over now. We are okay. It makes sense to me. It is okay to have disappointment and grief, and I will move on.

Mother 2 – Comes to therapy because of an unplanned, unwanted c-section after a transfer to the hospital and being told ‘failure to progress’ and ‘your baby’s heart rate is dropping.’ Everything about the event feels horrifying to her. The image I get is that of a battleground. She felt the terror that her baby was unsafe. She didn’t want to cut open. She didn’t trust the hospital staff, and she didn’t trust the midwives. She presents as dysregulated, hyperaroused, disorientated, and has big energy and emotions. The sense you get is as if she is about to

explode or float out of the room. She has difficulty maintaining eye contact. She wants to tell you her story over and over again. One of the themes is that the caregivers failed her and she finds fault in all that they did. Everything was a violation of ‘abandonment’ to ‘touching without her consent.’ In a nutshell, she has perceived the event as violating, disempowering, disrespectful, disheartening, and believes that the caregivers are to blame.

Her perception = I was harmed. I was violated. I was mistreated. It is all their fault. I was neglected.

Granted these are radically different examples, but they are based on similar cases. Both Mothers experienced unwanted c-sections, transfers to the hospital, and a threat to their baby’s wellbeing. Both suffered physical trauma due to surgery (according to Levine, surgery is a trauma) and each would have experienced prolonged pain due to an induction at some point throughout their labor. Further, childbirth is an incredibly vulnerable experience. Therefore some of our protective strategies that keep us feeling a sense of control in our lives are dropped during labor and birth. Both mothers were equally at risk of having experienced their birth as traumatic based on these factors alone.

However, both had different experiences and are processing differently in the postpartum. Recovery has been quicker for Mother 1. Mother 2 presented with symptoms of postpartum PTSD. All of which poses the question, why did Mother 2 imprint her birth as traumatic? Did she have control over this? Does she have the power to change her perception of the event? These are hard questions to consider. By no means does it reflect that Mother 1 is ‘behaving’ better than Mother 2.

The trap that the old worldview can feed – Just get over it and get on with it, it is selfish to focus on the self.

This worldview leaves mothers feeling ashamed and guilty for how they are responding to their childbirth and can result in suppression of emotions and thoughts. The old ‘ignore it and it will go away’ mindset. I don’t think I need to explain to you that this does not work because your physiology won’t forget about it. As Van Der Kolk states: ‘Your body keeps the score’.

Unfortunately, there is no ignoring; there is only going through.

There are so many variables that could have contributed to each of the Mothers experiences of birth. I am sure I will miss a bunch, however, here is a list of some distinct factors to consider:

  • History of attachment with family of origin
  • Adverse childhood experiences – abuse/neglect/poverty/malnutrition
  • History of oppression – marginalized race, gender, religion
  • Financial circumstances
  • History of sexual assault
  • Nutrition
  • Support systems
  • Religious or spiritual beliefs
  • Physical health before birth
  • Mental health before birth
  • Marital status and relationship health
  • Other stressorsAll of these reasons and more influence a person’s ‘way of being’ in the world. Further, they inform how our physiology and psychology encodes (make sense of) life events. Unless we become conscious of this material intrinsically, we cannot ‘change’ our way of thinking and being.

    Therefore, can we control how we perceive an event at the time of the event? Or is it only afterward that we can influence how we store the information?

    From what I understand, our past informs our present way of being until we wake up to the programs of the past. Therefore, if we are unconscious of how our past experiences have influenced our way of thinking, feeling, doing, and being, then we have no power to change our perception of an event.

    Perception is how we make sense out of a life event. And how we make sense out of current circumstances is based on our past experiences. Therefore, we are living in the past until we become conscious of these core patterned ways of being. Dr. Joe Dispenza speaks powerfully about this notion in his book ‘Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself.’

    We cannot escape life without experiencing traumatic events. Granted, some more horrific than others. However, from what I can see and read, humans have been suffering from trauma as far back as we can go.

    We have a physiological system that responds to trauma and fights for our survival. The problem is that once we have ‘survived,’ unlike other mammals, humans have a hard time returning to a state of calm, connected homeostasis. The challenge is that our neocortex gets in the way.

    We have a thinking brain that tries to make sense out of the sometimes senseless acts and experiences. This brain is responsible for our evolution, and also, it keeps us trapped in trauma as we relive it in our mind’s eye over and over again. It is as if trauma glitches the system for some and puts the record on repeat. Thankfully, there are ways in which we can recover and respond to the glitch that puts the nervous system into overdrive.

    It is imperative that the trauma (i.e., stress) response completes its instinctive cycle. Thus, body-centered therapies are beneficial. They can move the trapped energy in the nervous system. Associated with this nervous system energy are all the thoughts, emotions, felt sensations, and images about the event. Those also need to be processed, and ‘digested’ so that the limbic system can turn off the alarm bells.

During this process, I am noticing that the final phase of recovery pertains to a change in perception in which the person views the situation from a different vantage point – usually, this involves a compassionate release towards self and other.

This does not mean that if someone experienced violence and violation that the perpetrator is not held accountable for their harmful actions or that a mother does not file a complaint against a caregiver if deemed necessary.

But instead, the perceptual field grows to include a deeper understanding of the self at that time, the others at that time, and any influencing historical information that would elicit a compassionate tone of understanding.

Sound like a spiritual awakening?

From my perspective that is exactly what is happening when we grow from one state of perception to one that includes the self, other, living creatures, planet, and cosmos. In a state of deep understanding, we by-pass our conditioned responses based on historical content. Our physiology may ‘keep the score,’ but one can argue that ‘consciousness’ exists within and without the physiology.

When we can ‘know’ that we are more than our physiology, more than the programs we have received through genetics and experiences, we can begin to change our embedded reactionary response to life events – be it traumatic or ecstatic.

For many, trauma is a wakeup call to move beyond the physiology. One’s physiology will be full of experiences and patterned responses to those and similar experiences. We cannot do anything about our past experiences, but we can change how we think and feel about them.

When faced with a traumatic event we may not be able to influence how our system responds to that experience; our physiology responds quicker than our thinking brain can. It is as if we are always one step behind the body’s imprinted and instinctive reactions. How can we catch up?

This leaves me to pose a question about consciousness itself or rather the part of the self that is the Witness, the spiritual self, the higher self, the One, the Void. Perhaps Buddha was on to something as a contemplative enlightened figure who speaks about the cycle of human suffering. He speaks about transcending suffering by non-attachment to the ego identity. I hear un-attachment to our physiology.

The physiology holds the imprinted ways of thinking, feeling, and doing.

When traced back all the way to the womb of the mother, we know that chemicals that tell us if we are safe, wanted, secure, loved are already being embedded into our growing embryo. We learn about the external world before we are born via our mother’s response to it…and on and on we go.

One could argue that we are born imprinted with pertinent information about our place in the world. From that area forward we learn about our physical self through relational attunement with our primary caregivers. Before we can make sense rationally, we are receiving perception about belonging, safety, love, pain, emotions, and behavior. We mirror those around us.


Our personality emerges from these experiences. I liken my personality to a large dose of environmental circumstances infused with the energetics of my ‘soul’ (another blog post on that notion). Much of how I perceive myself is based on external circumstances that informed me about myself. From here we see the birth of ‘core beliefs.’ In particular, core limiting beliefs.

Our perceptions are infused with core beliefs about the self, others, and ways of being in the world.

Thus, going back to the earlier example about the two different mothers. One could postulate that Mother 1 holds a core belief based on historical experiences – I am okay in the world, it is safe to be here. Whereas, it is possible that Mother 2 holds a core belief based on historical experiences – The world is unsafe, and I am at risk of being harmed.

I am making a broad stroke with this last statement. However, I am offering a point of view that how we currently perceive aspects of our history profoundly influence a traumatic experience that we have not considered before. Elements such as core beliefs based on childhood experiences. Secondly, I am suggesting that trauma is an opportunity for awakening to the ‘self’ that exists outside of our physiology. As such, perhaps from this place, we can rewire how we store memories so that we are no longer chasing our physiological reactions, but instead, changing the program so that the physiology responds differently in the future.

Is this not what the ancients meant when they said: When you heal, you heal seven generations back and seven generations forward.



On Vulnerability

The truth is: Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect. ~ Brene Brown

Vulnerability feels like your soul is exposed, turned inside out, waiting for a response. To be vulnerable requires authentically showing up in your life. It is not vulnerable to merely show up for yourself in the silence of your home. It involves relating to others or exposing a part of yourself, your soul, to another. It is the act of feeling exposed, raw, real, and open as a way of connecting that can feel like the scariest thing anyone could ever do.

Vulnerability does not feel safe, simply put.

It doesn’t feel safe because, for the most part, it has not been safe to be authentic and exposed. In moments of vulnerability, we may have experienced an attack, bullying, mockery, belittling, laughter, emptiness, and more profound yet, public or family shunning. It is as if our cells recoil at the thought of being vulnerable, we move away from it. And again, we are told that we need to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability and offer more, not less, of ourselves. The world needs this, and we need this. Why do we need this?

Author Brene Brown, deemed the ‘expert’ on vulnerability, suggests that human vulnerability opens our hearts and thus, shines a light on our shame, so we no longer live small. We need to come out of our hiding places so that we can belong; genuinely belong. When we are vulnerable, we are real. And when we are real, hiding nothing and letting our imperfections be seen, we are tapping into vulnerability.

That said, vulnerability has not always been perceived as powerful. For example, I invite you to pay attention to any judgemental thoughts, felt sensations in your body, feeling reactions when you hear the phrase: She was so vulnerable.

What did you notice? Maybe you noticed an open reaction, curious to hear more. Or perhaps you felt constriction, fear, protection; akin to feeling ‘sorry’ for someone who was vulnerable. Maybe you felt anger. Or, perhaps you interpreted the phrase as an indication of weakness. As you can see, there are many possible reactions to the words: she was so vulnerable.

I recognize that within myself I have an array of responses depending on the context in which the statement is used. Are we referring to a woman who was writing a personal story? Or a child who was exposed to an environmental catastrophe? A teenager who was attacked while walking home from school? An executive director speaking publically about a cause? Or, a mother in labor?
Each scenario generates a different emotional response. And yet, we praise vulnerability.

From my vantage point, vulnerability is both powerfulness and powerlessness.It is a paradox: to be courageous and weak. The act of vulnerability is intensely feminine.

Exposing our soul in a courageously authentic way, with flaws on the outside, can produce both joy and sorrow. It is risky. Therefore, it is understandable why we are shy to show up with vulnerability in our day to day lives if we are still figuring out whether being vulnerable means demonstrating strength or exposing our weakness. And I would add it is extra challenging for anyone who is not of the dominant culture – i.e., the white man who aligns with patriarchal values.

Jumping forward, I want to turn your attention towards the notion that when a woman is in labor and giving birth, she is utterly vulnerable.

Notice what arose within you. What were your thoughts, emotions, felt sensations? Take a moment to listen to what is emerging within, what story is showing up?

Just the other day I was having a passionate conversation with some colleagues and women friends. I was speaking about how vulnerable and exposed I was feeling since sharing my first draft of my opening chapter of my book: Healing After Birth. In this section, I unpacked my birth story, my shame, and my unannounced birth trauma. It was the very first time I choose to be this public about my birth experience. Part of it was cathartic, but another part was my soul’s need to weave this story into my life’s work so that I can show up more authentic with each mother I serve.

I was spinning out my anxiety that presented because a part of me was interpreting my decision as dangerous, ridiculous, and selfish. Moreover, I felt as if I was standing on the front lines awaiting a verbal thunderstorm of opinions raining down about one of THE MOST vulnerable times of my life. What had I done! Vulnerability is bullshit, I thought to myself.

As the tension in the room was rising, we were all feeding off this angst. My colleague caught me off-guard and posed a statement: Jen, women in labor are vulnerable, period. You were incredibly vulnerable during your birth experience. And so how can you expect a woman in labor to stand up for herself, defend herself, push against unwanted procedures and protocols, or NOT hand her power over to her caregiver?

Whoa! This comment hit me on so many levels, and my system was highly activated and jumping all over the place. It was as if all of my years of experience was being sorted out in my brain and I needed to pull it all together to have a response that was short and legitimate.

I babbled my way through and felt like I was making no sense at all. Women being vulnerable in labor is such a massive topic of discussion, I said. On the one hand, women are profoundly powerful in labor and birth; and right, they are also incredibly vulnerable.

How was I interpreting this idea of vulnerability? Why was I so triggered? Part of my trigger was that I said I wish women did not hand their power over to their caregivers. But I saw my error in this statement, as we collectively unpacked the concept. Granted we only skimmed the surface. However, these questions entered my mind.

What is power?
Who has power?
Where is the power?
How is the power used?
What is vulnerability in this context?

It is fair to say that everyone in the birthing room has their power. The mother has personal power, along with the caregiver, support people, partner, family members, etc. Each person brings with them, into the room, intrinsic power. However, in this milieu, we bump up against the tension that lies between a mother’s need and desire to exert her power during labor and birth and the needs of the ‘expert’ in the room.

I imagine that you can already sense the complexity involved in this statement. And how appropriate it would be to do a power analysis to ascertain who holds more power in the birthing environment. That said, I am not going to unpack a power analysis in this article. But let’s just say that those who work within and for the medical establishment hold an incredible amount of power to influence, control, inform, and manage the experience of labor and birth.

And fundamentally, a woman’s laboring body houses a shit load of knowledge and power. Thus, one type is external power or power over, and the other is, internal power or power within.

Now, let’s take into consideration that women are still victims of oppression, and marginalized women that include but not limited to women of color, first nations women, Islamic women, and refugee women experience a much higher degree of social abuse and mistreatment of care.

The patriarchal worldview foundationally informs the medical establishment. Thus, when you combine oppressed women within a patriarchal institution you encounter power over tactics that are intended to control, manage, suppress, disempower, and submit. We cannot ignore the fact that for centuries women have been raised within the dominant cultural worldview. One imprint in particular haunts women in labor – The caregiver knows best. Within this mindset, there is an invisible power exchange that occurs, and thus the caregiver inevitably has power over the laboring mother.

Does this not elicit vulnerability? The kind of vulnerability that denotes weakness and at risk of harm.

The notion above refers to the quality of vulnerability that I have been defending against for the past 17 years. To say that a woman in labor is vulnerable is akin to saying she is in harm’s way. Moreover, I am ignited to do something about this concern, and I react with a desire to protect. My backlash attempt was to empower women through education, inspiring mothers to take back their births, body, and babies. All of which was motivated by the concept – do not allow yourself to be vulnerable in labor and delivery.

Most of the research I explored on the topic of childbirth trauma noted that women felt disempowered and traumatized in labor when they lacked choice and control, felt violated, abandoned, neglected, or feared that there was an emergency that could have resulted in the death of their baby. To mitigate this from happening it seems evident that we need women to feel prepared, confident, knowledgeable, trusting, and determined to be ‘self-directed’ in childbirth. In other words, to mitigate vulnerability (because that meant you were in harm’s way) you need inner strength and determination. I am unsure if this is in fact true?

Thus, to be genuinely vulnerable in labor and birth was/is risky. And truth is, childbirth is entirely a journey of vulnerability and letting go. So we stand at this crossroads again. If it is not safe to be vulnerable because when we are vulnerable, we get hurt, how is a mother going to allow her labor to open while vulnerable? What a dilemma.

This dilemma is what challenged me that night as I was impassioned with angst and confusion. How do I address this complicated topic? Both are true: Women in labor are incredibly vulnerable, and women in labor are full of power.

And then it hit me the next morning. Of course, I couldn’t sleep that night. I felt like my ideology was butting up against my colleague’s words. What was it that challenged me so much?

I realized it was the fact that I was vulnerable during childbirth. I was profoundly helpless in the postpartum with my daughter when I was utterly sick. And I was disgusted with myself for being so ill because I perceived myself as being weak. Thus, I considered myself as being in harm’s way. Deeper yet, I had failed. During that experience, I believed that vulnerability equated failure and a lack of power.

And harm is what occurred during that 24-hour hospital stay. My vulnerability led to a violation of my body – aggressive procedures against my will. And being immobilized for two weeks, oozing mucous out of my ass, was not only humiliating it was vulnerable.

I was terrified of being that vulnerable.

The concept of vulnerability is complex to unpack, especially as it pertains to the childbirth milieu. The deeper I go into my understanding of vulnerability, I recognize that there is a difference between being vulnerable as a way to bring my authentic self to the world, and being in a vulnerable (unsafe) situation that could result in harm. The childbirth continuum includes the possibility of both forms of vulnerability. Thus, discernment is critical.

Although my body may react similarly to each case, both being perceived physiologically as a potential threat for harm, I choose to engage with my mindful mind to remind myself that vulnerability does not always involve damage. Albeit, it is still a risk.

The risk to be real, knowing that rejection from the tribe, family, friends, is a possibility can trigger paralysis and symptoms similar to perceiving death. This degree of terror is a result of our biological primary need to attach securely with others, in love and kindness. If we consider the above notion, to connect with love and compassion as a primary motivation, we are inclined to lean into vulnerability as a means to meaningful connection and belonging.

My drive towards vulnerability, authenticity, and raw exposure of my hearts story is not something I enjoy doing; it is a necessity. Without it, my experience of life would feel empty and meaningless. Thus, it is worth the risk. And that also means that rather than shaming myself for having been vulnerable during my birth and postpartum, that I connect with this past part and hold her in love. The antidote is a compassionate connection and non-judgemental understanding for both the self and others.

I sat with this post and contemplated the paradox of vulnerability – holding both powerfulness and powerlessness. I allowed myself to venture inside to connect to my postpartum self; grief showed up as I held my dear collapsed part in the depths of her pain of vulnerability. Knowing in that moment that I could carry both powerfulness and powerlessness within myself, and that is enough.  I believe in the concept that the deeper one goes within, the greater capacity they have to hold that for someone else.  Holding the paradox of vulnerability, in acceptance and understanding, is my work right now.


Birth Shame & Blame: A Response to An Epidemic

midwiferyfor soul quote

For twelve solid years I pioneered the natural birth industry as a childbirth educator, doula, student of ‘traditional’ midwifery, and advocate.  This included a strong focus on instinctive and physiological labor and birth.  The motivation to teach about the power of birth, from this lens, was supported by scientific evidence in the fields of physiology, endocrinology, neuroscience, personal experience and a belief that the mammalian female body was created to give birth instinctively.

Deeper yet, I became a spokesperson for natural birth after the birth of my first child because I saw birth as a women’s rights issue; I wanted to stop violence against women in birth.  Naturally, I saw the medical institution as the culprit (and those who worked within it) and Midwifery as the solution.

I believe that all passion is motivated initially from a place of heart and soul; a desire to ‘do good’ and ‘help’.  However, although the initial motivation stemmed from a place to ‘do no harm’, it is hard to maintain that place of pure motivation without developing an ideology.

I want to talk about how the ‘natural’ birth ideology can be contributing to the concerning rise in childbirth shame and postpartum depression. Including my personal and professional mental battle, as I wrestle with this paradox and help mothers find healing.  

Fifteen years deep I am still grappling with the question: If birth is physiological and instinctive than why is it not the experience for so many labouring mothers?

What stands in the way of accessing this mammalian birth right?  And why does it matter?

For years I believed that if care givers would just support birth physiology and get out of the way with all of their protocols and interventions, then women would birth instinctively and uncomplicated most of the time.  This led to a belief that the reason why there is a high rate of complicated births, followed by unwanted c-sections and interventions, was/is the caregivers ‘fault’ for not applying physiological evidence based care.

From this vantage point the ‘cure’ was/is simple: Care givers need to change their practices to be supportive of physiological and instinctive birth.  

The First Layer of Blame

This mindset led towards what I would consider to be the first layer of blame: If childbirth did not turn out the way the mother had hoped, someone is to be blamed, and that someone is the caregiver!  

For a few years I was stuck in this mindset and could not see beyond it.  Care givers of birth (Obgyn, Midwives, Nurses) were at fault; the system was at fault; and the education was at fault.  Mothers could scapegoat their authentically painful feelings by adopting this mindset.  Instead of authentic grief being expressed in response to their unwanted birthing experience, mothers could project anger towards the institution of birth and make them ‘wrong’.

This anger has fuelled many movements within childbirth: Freebirth/unassisted birthing; Cesarean prevention and awareness; Mainstreaming midwifery; Childbirth rights; Thousands of blogs and videos; Documentaries about the politics in childbirth; and Lawsuits against mistreatment in labor.

These movements have opened up the conversation about childbirth in that, giving birth is no longer a private affair but a public topic of conversation.

Within a decade I have personally witnessed the business of birth BOOM! Doula is no longer a puzzling sounding word with no context; but rather a necessity for pregnant families to have by their side.  We have experienced an explosion within the Doula industry: There are more courses and instructors now, more Doulas, online programs, extra ‘workshops’, birth bag supplies to be purchased, and even postpartum doulas.

If you are pregnant you are bombarded with more than a handful of different childbirth classes to take, all of which are most often focused on helping you have a ‘natural’ childbirth experience; some even focusing on hypnotherapy to help you train your brain to ‘let go’ in labor so you can have a pain-free physiological labor.

Midwifery has become mainstream (for the most part) and more and more people are hearing the word and choosing a Midwife as their primary care giver.  And, for pregnant families within my home city of Edmonton, many are denied access to care because there are not enough midwives to serve the demand.  Met with outraged citizens, many of these women who are denied access of care are afraid to give birth with an Obgyn in attendance (I was one of these women who feared OB care).

The Second Layer of Blame

This feeds what I believe to be the second layer of blame: The system has denied women access to caregiver of choice; it is therefore the systems fault for a unwanted birth outcome.  

Again, outrage in regards to ‘lack of choice’ has motivated a movement to draw awareness to the fact that this lack of choice is a violation of birth rights.  This has led to what I would call the second wave of unassisted birthers.  The first wave was motivated by a desire to have autonomy and ownership over the birth experience, the second wave is in response to a denial of care.  Two different starting points.

In all of this, the natural birth movement is still very much at the forefront of all of these movements.  From what I have gathered over the years, more women are desiring a natural birth because of a belief that this is the best way to give birth.  A belief that I have fostered and fuelled.  And although part of me believes that this is true, I cannot know that it is the absolute truth – especially if it is causing much emotional pain amongst todays mothers.  Birth empowerment and informed choice are high up on the ‘needs’ list for pregnant women.

And throughout my career as an advocate and educator, I taught exactly this:  If you just get the right caregiver (or no caregiver), who supports birth physiology and altered states, and who listens to you and supports your needs, you will feel safe enough to let birth happen to you.  

All you need is the right environment that supports your hormonal needs in labor, and you need to be undisturbed and left alone so you can find your way.  Albeit, all of this was/is supported by science and what we know about instinctive physiological labor, I still found myself perplexed when I attended or was told about a ‘birth that didn’t work out’.

What went wrong? Who interrupted the labor? Who was to blame?

Underneath these initial responses were thoughts that something got in the way: It must have been due to hidden unprocessed trauma; discomfort with letting go; psychological challenges; unhappy relationship; discomfort with sexuality; discomfort with losing control; low pain tolerance; unsupportive environment etc.

As you can see, there are thousands of possibilities.  Some of which may be true; they may have contributed to the outcome.  However, what is the benefit in figuring it out and focusing on all the reasons why birth ‘didn’t happen’ the way a mother had hoped it would?  What if how a mother gave birth didn’t matter, as long as she was supported in a kind, considerate, humane way?

The Third Layer of Blame

This leads to a third layer of blame: I, the mother, must be at fault.  My body failed me because I didn’t have the outcome I wanted…the outcome that society is suggesting I have.  Anything ‘less’ is unforgivable and someone needs to be ‘blamed’.  

When there is blame there is shame.

Each of these three layers of blame foster shame and worse, distrust in the self (and body for future births) and the other (care givers).  This is cultivating the very thing that I, as an advocate of natural birth, was trying to eradicate from the very beginning: violence against women in childbirth. I can’t believe it has taken me this long to realize this and see through the cracks.

What is worse: overt externalized violence or internalized self-perpetuated violence?

Violence is violence and they both feed disempowerment and oppression.  Internalized shame is a violent act that disempowers every mother; diminishes her life force; keeps her from feeling joy in her children; feeds the belief that the female body is defective; and separates mothers from each other (natural birth camp versus medicalized birth camp).

We want to foster a society that empowers mothers and families

It is ironic and beautiful that my path has led me towards a counselling profession in which I help mothers heal from childbirth trauma.  I am honoured to hold the stories of shame and guilt, as I sit on the receiving end and see the damage that can be caused by a birth ideology: all women must give birth physiologically, naturally, and instinctively.  I am humbled as I sit in sessions and hold raw grief, grief that is behind the anger and the blame, grief that comes from relief and release from these binding mindsets.  Grief that happens when a mother realizes she doesn’t have to hold onto the blame.

Although I still believe in the science that supports birth physiology, I have stopped my need to blame: blame caregivers, lack of choice, or women.  Rather, as a holder of stories I recognize that it is far more than this.  It is about transcending this mindset and discovering a new mindset that fosters the most kindness towards self and other.

From this kind inner place true joy can flourish regardless of one’s birth experience.  

NOTE: I am not suggesting that we turn a blind eye and ignore overt abuse that does occur in childbirth.  This type of childbirth trauma needs addressing and consequences.  There is no room for violence period.  Also, I chose to use the words: she and women.  I acknowledge that not all pregnant people identify with these labels and that the language around birth is changing.  Please know my intention is to be inclusive to all peoples.  



A Women’s Worth: A Mother’s Struggle with Shame

Recently, I took a chance.

I submitted an article I wrote about my struggles, as a single mother, trying to re-enter the ‘workforce’ after 11 years tending to the home. To my surprise and excitement Rebelle Society (a feminist blog site) approved the submission.

I poured my heart out and unscrambled my frustrations with the modern work world. I spoke about my shame, my programmed shame, as a mother and woman who couldn’t even land an interview. 

An exert from the article:

Common among women I know is the gut-wrenching challenge of extinguishing internal shame which insidiously accumulates, due to our culturally limited and subsequently self-imposed beliefs about the notion that our work (meaning paid work) is synonymous with our worth and success.

This shame which has been forced upon us, albeit invisible, by a prevailing patriarchal belief system, differs in intensity for each individual depending on the circumstances one is born into. Unplugging from the shame requires varying levels of willpower and support, depending on ethnicity and culture, economic background, religion, sexual character, and gender orientation.


CLICK HERE to read more

My mentor use to say to me: “Jennifer, as you live you midwife, and as you midwife, you live” 

What a koan. A deep statement. One that took years to pull apart and truly enliven within.

More recently, it clicked and became a way of living rather than, a way of intellectualizing. My work in the ‘outside world’ is not separate from my work in my ‘inside world’. I learned that as I navigate my everyday life, I am navigating it through the lens of the midwife. I tend to my life in the ways I would tend to a woman labor.

I will unpack this concept in a later post as it speaks about embracing the archetype: ‘Midwife as Healer’. 

I pause, as I think about this statement and the article I am speaking about. I see how sometimes I forget that this archetype lives within and when followed, will guide my way.



The Tao of Motherhood & Midwifery

“A wise mother does not unnecessarily interfere with her child’s life.

Your children have their own process-their own thoughts, feelings, and reactions – which must be allowed to unfold.

If your childhood was painful you may get over-involved with your children’s lives and smother them.  Or you may find yourself forcing them to think and feel the way you do, to adopt all your values and live the life you wish you had.

If you do not trust your children’s process, your children cannot trust anyone or anything.  Your confidence in them builds their confidence in themselves.

Assist your children in such a way that they think, “We did it ourselves!” (The Tao of Motherhood – Vimala McClure)


replace  the word “children” with laboring woman and “mother” with Midwife and read from this perspective!

“As we live we Midwife, and as we Midwife we live” (Whapio)

A wise midwife does not unnecessarily interfere with a laboring woman’s journey.

Women in labor have their own process-their own thoughts, feelings, and reactions – which must be allowed to unfold uninterrupted.

If your birth and/or training was painful you, as midwife, may get over-involved with a laboring woman’s birth and smother her.  Or you may find yourself forcing her to think and feel the way you do, to adopt all your values and have the birth you wish you had, or the birth you had.

If you do not trust the laboring woman’s process, the Woman cannot trust her birth.  Your confidence in her, as Midwife, builds her confidence in herself as the birthing mother.

Midwife your Mother’s in such a way that they think, in the end “I did it myself!”

(The Tao of Motherhood – Vimala McClure)

Everything is Sacred… Everything is Sexual

I know that this is a site dedicated to birth, in particular, Free Birth… However, I believe that everything is connected and what I have learned about birth, I have learned about life.

The other night I went to gather with women at our monthly Women’s Circle.  The evening was all about sex, sacred sexuality was the topic… and this is what came through me after the event so I want to talk about it.

I am a mother of three children, in a partnership of 12 years (constantly evolving and stretching the boundaries of this relationship), and I am a sexual human who has been terrified to claim this power fully.  However, I know that by choosing to keep my sexual energy at bay, locked away because of shame and lack of trust, that I am missing out on the pulse of the universal lifeforce – the ecstasy that is constantly available and flowing and uniting.

Lately I have been known to say that everything is sexual, sacred, and sensual.  The three S’s.  A stimulating conversation, a tantalizing diner with friends, a powerful yoga session, a good F@#$, a bubble bath, the trance of dance, listening to music, breastfeeding, giving birth, writing, you name it, it is sexual.  Ahhh, what a crazy notion that when you are present in the moment of life, when you are merging with all that is, when you are love and loving, and when you are in connection – you are experiencing your sexual life force, you are One.

So tell me,  since many are ashamed of this energy, this sensation, this pulse and since we have been shamed, wounded, and now guarded, how are we supposed to heal ourselves, others, and the planet? Does it not make sense that we have a fucked up culture because we are terrified of claiming this natural essence, we lack trust in ourselves and others, and we are wrong or bad for actually being ecstatic with life while in the presence of others.  When we do this, we turn our sexual nature into our shadow and it sneaks out the back door and we all know what that looks like?  I am pissed off at our current cultural trends of trying to make everything sexy – just look at media – and yet, we send the message out to the young and old, that you are not allowed nor encouraged to act on those urges!

Ok, here is a thought… We can’t heal the earth if we can’t even treat our own earthly bodies with love and respect.  If we can’t honor the sexuality and sensuality of our own body and if we are ashamed of it, than of course we are going to continue to rape the great Mother Earth, of course we are not going to allow ourselves to feel the eros of the planet – the love force.  If we did, what do you think would happen? Well we might actually make different choices, we would treat the Mother Earth like our Lover – with deep respect, regard, affection, attention, care, and Love.  What a concept!

But then again, what do I know. I am only tapping into this great force, this need to respect and honor this brilliant energy that provides the Self and the Cosmos and the Other with great pleasure.  Deconstructing years of cultural imprinting that states, be sexual and sexy but don’t LIKE IT.  Especially as a mother, a wife, a partner, a lover etc.  And if you do like it and want to tap into that energy well, it is dark, dangerous, scary, and dirty (and even if it is, that there is nothing wrong with that also).  Time to lift the veil and start reclaiming ourselves as a whole sexual expression of a human that we are.  With that comes great honor and responsibility to use this power wisely.

I believe that if we are taught to honor this sexual life force, we will honor the other.  In honor we cannot wound.  We cannot misuse.  When we are taught to use this power wisely and with consciousness, we seek different choices.  We see ecstasy, instead of pain.  We see love and nurture instead of disrespect and abuse.  We see healing instead of wounding.  We see passion and creativity and change, instead of depression, lack of empathy, and lethargy.  We see a dance, a human dance, that embraces the essence of life in gratitude to experience being Human.

And so it is…

Gazing into my soul… a journal entry Oct. 2007

I use to write in my journal all the time, it was my friend, my solace, my peace.  I would curl up in the evening or during the day, as I took a break from the children, and I would write.  I would write from the heart, no censoring, only the truth that moved me at that time.

What amazes me about journal writing is that I notice themes and patterns, I see that for years, I was writing about the same story… the same stuckness and asking the same questions.  And then, voila, I would notice something shifting in my journal entries, there was a new vision, a new sense of self, a breakthrough and the story would evolve.  I also notice that when I write, I tend to write in 1st, 2nd and 3rd person.  I alternate between these positions, as if someone is talking to me and I am writing what I am hearing.  When I write in third person, it is not me who is writing to the other, but rather the other writing to me.  Here is a journal entry that I wrote in Oct. 2007 and I happened to read it today and I am moved to share it, completely unedited…(taking note that to share the soul’s process is a vulnerable position – therefore, I am unsure why I am sharing except that it is what I was inspired to do in this moment)

“As I ponder what exactly I am doing with my life, I spin more and more webs of possibilities.  That is what these are, total possibilities each with different paths – which is it? To trust entirely that there is a greater purpose.  To let Spirit move me, speak through me, to be a conduit for the Creator, to with with full awareness that this Life Force called “Spirit, God, Creator, Force” is pulsing through me and is participating in ‘my’ life.  Then to act from that place with that kind of focus, love and energy… Does this “God” really have a plan for us? Me? In a way that is silly ot believe.  I think the only ‘plan’ God has created for each of us individually is that we fully express our human self and embrace both the darkness and light which exists in us all.  To love non-conflicted and with meaning.

I can be passionate about many different ideas, things, people… like love, we can love many.  However, really committing to one individual, one lover, one partner investing everything into it – transforming the Self and the relationship can bring you to Freedom.

And so, it really doesn’t matter which path I take.  The point is to fully invest myself, my whole being, unconditionally.  There is no right or wrong path or choice.  There is just that… CHOICE.  And each choice has an experience of its own.  It is what we do with these experiences and how we interpret them that matters.  Spirit is all about experiencing through the human vessel.  The array of stories, feelings, thoughts, and lives makes for a colorful world.  However, ultimately how do we, the I which knows all, the I above the personality – How does this I shift how it perceives an experience?

If indeed it is all an illusion, or a dream, than the I can choose how it wants to experience its ‘reality’.  Break the programming, hack the code.  The mind code that is… where there is a will there is a way.

Again, faced with great choice and change.  How do I decipher between running away, fear, and real intuition?  Time for the new?

My patterns – I am passionate about something so I invest everything into it, until it is no longer passionate for me, (i.e., fastball, sport psychology, birth and midwifery, nutrition all invested in with the hope and belief to finally become something… somebody)

All with the quest for meaning, to emerge and now, her I am at another crossroads – to keep pursuing midwifery with in a school that is recognized and finally become a registered licensed midwife that can ‘get a job’. After all, isn’t that why I have been doing this? But something is stopping me, I feel limited by this, the passion dissipates.  Catching babies just to catch babies is not motivating me.  Actually, it frustrates me.  Why, because I am watching women give their power away, be victimized, be abused, give up etc.  I stand witness for the most part of an era of Women not claiming their power of birth; and because their are so few who are wanting to create change and claim their birth it feels like a waste of time, energy, and resources to study formally to become a “midwife”.

And so, I peer into my soul and ask myself now what? Soul quest… Soul Midwifery!  What i ti is that really moves me? when I teach, what am I offering? -The birth of the Self? The birth of the Soul? The story of the Soul?

The transformation of the Soul and the Self.  The human capacity to live life fully… to express our human potential and love it!

To witness this process and to stand at the gate of the emergence of the birth of the Self, the Soul and the Spirit.  Whether this be at a physical birth or a spiritual birth or a passing over or rather passing through the veil.  The veil of illusions…

And so, now what? What is the path tha twill allow this meaning and desire for each individual human on this planet to birth and be witnessed?  what is my path? What is the next step? Psychology? Counseling? Humanities? Philosophy? Spirituality? What?

To really trust this process, to trust that I have already emerged and that this next step is one of reunion.  A re – union of the Self, the heart and the Soul.  That the quest, to quest, is the journey.  Is the becoming, the becomed, the I am.  No longer needing to become something in order to prove my worth and talent in the world!

Becoming something other than Myself is not authentic and will not give me anymore worth, confidence, or proof that I matter and that I am important.

And so, if I am no longer concerned or preoccupied with becoming a ‘something’ than what program or what is my next phase of pursuit? what is going to best serve my hearts desire for self – realization and fulfillment and how can this best serve the planet?

This next phase is to fine tune my skills.  To hone them and find their strength, power, and beauty and grace and then to start using them with confidence, connection with Spirit/Source and with compassion and humility.  To serve myself, my family, an the planet for this next evolution of the human species.

And so, I ask the Creatrix, the Great Self, for guidance in this process.  That i receive clarity and ease regarding my next chioce and that I enter it with total trust, commitment and be totally non conflicted.

when looking at my options I ned to ask how does this serve my intentions? Is this in alignment with my entire being? Am I interested because I will ‘become something’ when I am done? Or am I motivated because this will bring all of my skills abilities and intentions in alignment so I can fully express my life?  Now go back and re view again open to all and pay attention along the path…

And so it is.