Birthings, Grassroots Healing, Musings, Reflections, Spirituality

The Mother Within

For Mum. Love you xo

 

“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love  her; rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn for her; That you may feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her breast, that you may drink deeply and be delighted with the abundance of her glory”…”behold I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like a flowing stream. Then you shall feed; On her sides shall you be carried and be dandled on her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”

This is one of my favourite passages out of all the writings of the Prophets. It’s hard to imagine now of this troubled city, but it speaks of a time to come when a true, everlasting peace shall flow out of Jerusalem to bring comfort and healing to the whole world. The poetry evoking the maternal archetype is sublime. It touches that deepest part of ourselves, to that tiny baby that still exists deep in our core, who still craves the tenderness and comfort and nourishment that only a mother can give. The archetype is universal in its application, whether we experienced it with our own mothers or not, it gives us hope.

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Carnations. My mums favourite. image source: Wikimedia commons.

The purpose of introducing this post with this quote is not to discuss or expound the belief system that it comes from, instead this central concept of drinking deeply of this outflowing comforting peace reminded me of an interesting parallel to that other, and equally archetypal mother we continue to carry within ourselves – the Extra-Cellular Matrix.

Today it is Mother’s Day here in Australia, so I thought it fitting to drop a post about a thought process that I recently shared on Facebook, that as Matthew Wood noted, makes the Extra-Cellular Matrix exceptionally human, and in my pattern-attuned mind, Divinely inspired. It came to me whilst listening to Matthew talk about the mucopolysaccharides in Marshmallow Root (which gives a cold infusion of the root a slimy, gel like consistency) and how in practice we might use it in ‘leaky gut syndrome’ because it is similar to the Matrix material which acts as something like a mortar in between the cells in the gut lining. I’ll explain what this means and revise what the ECM is as I share my thought process here in the fulness of its progression.

Which came first, the protein or the Matrix? For a long time, alternative health practitioners have said that dairy/milk is mucous forming^, it’s acidic (when pasteurised and homogenised), and it’s one of the top food allergens. Mainstream medicine and mainstream dieticians have always refuted these concepts, possibly dependant on where their funding came from. This post/thought process isn’t about the inherent good or badness of dairy in the diet, nor is it an invitation to debate whether breast really is best (it is), rather I am drawing correlations in regard to the role of the Extra-Cellular Matrix in the effects of milk on the human body – particularly the infant human body.

Many years ago, during a semester of Nutritional Biochemistry, I learned that babies are born with purposefully designed ‘leaky guts’. That is, their gut membrane is full of tiny little holes^^. These tiny perforations don’t seal up until the appearance of the first teeth. There’s an ingenious reason for this. Mother’s breast milk, especially the Colostrum of the first 2-3 days post-birth, is full of proteins such as antibodies and other immunity-founding components, as well as the macronutrients – fat, carbs, and protein. The ‘leaky gut’ of the baby allows these large proteins to move through and start establishing a good foundation for the immune system. Different microflora species, as well the food they need are also found in breast milk, and this – along with the flora received during the normal birth process – helps to establish the baby’s own gut microbiome. We now know that a healthy microbiome has far-reaching health affects – from our immunity to our mental health.

My understanding is that the emergence of the teeth signals that along with this sealing of the gut membrane, the baby is now ready for solids and other foreign proteins – found in other animal products and grains in particular. Introduction of these prior to this milestone confuses the fledgling immune system and sets up an immune response, which if coupled with other foreign intrusions (such as formaldehyde, aluminium, mercury, and recombinant DNA from bovine, porcine, and simian tissue, and aborted human foetal tissue – also known as Human diploid cells MRC-5), results in the development of allergies and food intolerances. But in learning about the ECM (extra-cellular matrix), I’ve now come to a slightly more developed understanding.

The ECM is the gel-like fluid that exists between the capillaries, the lymphatic vessels and the cells themselves. It consists of single-molecule width polymers such as glucosamine and hyaluronic acid. This ‘matrix’ receives nutrient and metabolic waste product like some central transport station which then organises where everything needs to go. Whereas once the cell theory (that is, the cell was an autonomous unit that regulated itself) dominated medical thought (and still does), researchers have since found that it is actually this Matrix that regulates all cell function, and acts as a unified whole throughout the body as an organ in its own right. Most recently it has been rediscovered by mainstream science and is now known as the Interstitium. By and large this is the organ that the treatment of alternative practitioners targets the most. And we were doing this intuitively long before the mainstream got wind of it.

I’ll let Matthew, referencing Alfred Pischinger, the doctor who brought the Interstitium to the fore, describe the Extra-cellular Matrix with his usual eloquence;

“It was Dr Alfred Pischinger (2007) who demonstrated that the pathology and biology based on the cell as the basic “unit of life” was a delusion resulting from superficial observation and disregard for the complexities of natural systems. His research on the extracellular matrix is still to be appreciated in conventional medicine, but Pischinger has shown that the basic functional unit of life is the capillary/matrix/cell. The cell in a multicellular organism does not control itself, like a person or an animal, but is controlled by the matrix, which determines when and what it east, when it releases waste products, whether it reproduces or migrates, ad how actively it contributes to the life of the organism as a whole. The matrix is fed and drained by the capillary bed (including the lymphatic capillaries), and therefore this triad is the basic unit of life. Changes in the cell are related to changes in its environment, and changes in this environment are related to changes in the circulation.“(Wood, et al. 2015. Traditional Western herbalism and Pulse Evaluation: A conversation.)

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Gustav Klimt.1905. Mother and Child.

Now I have to wonder, as I examine breast milk more closely – yes, it seems to be the same consistency as ECM fluid – indeed most secretions in and from the body are composed of this fluid. With this in mind, I contemplate whether the importance of breast milk lies not so much in the immune proteins etc that it provides (although the love, comfort, and nutritional nourishment is paramount), does it – as an extension of the mother’s matrix – actually entrain the baby’s matrix? We might compare this with how the mother’s heart entrains the baby’s heart to beat at a regular rhythm, or the mothers breathing patterns entrain, or teaches the baby to breathe more slowly and evenly. This speaks to the instinct to carry our newborns around, or sleep next to them, keeping them close to our hearts, now sadly often over-ridden.

When we introduce milk from another animal before the appropriate time, does the baby’s body instead recognise that this matrix material simply does not carry the same ‘vibe’ as the mother’s matrix? After all, as I write this I have to conclude that amniotic fluid also has its origins in the matrix fluid, and given that the baby has spent some 40 weeks being bathed in this very personal imprint of his or her mother, I suspect that the similarities would be instantly recognised – at least on a sub-conscious or instinctive level.

This is important, because if we understand the incredible significance of this Interstitium, this Matrix (interestingly, from the Latin – also meaning ‘mother’), on the regulation of our bodies and our overall health, then surely we should come to a greater appreciation of how important this innately human liquid gold is to our children.

I think another fascinating tangent off this is that for women who, for whatever reason, can’t breastfeed, the historical record going back to the most ancient of annals tells us that until we felt the need to sterilise our experience of life, finding a wet-nurse seemed instinctive. The wet nurse was a surrogate nursing mother, and often this was another mother, relative, or a hired servant. Occasionally, in the most dire of circumstances or in the mythological realm, the wet-nurse was an animal. But even the thinking that the intelligence of the wet-nurse would be inherited by the nursling is telling. And to complete the continuum, I was recently discussing this thought process with my own Mum, and she mentioned that when I was a baby her doctor told her that the baby’s saliva is exactly the same as the Mother’s. Instinctively, during the introduction of solid foods and foreign proteins, many mothers throughout history in all cultures would chew the food first before giving it to the infant. This instinct began the process of digestion, reducing the food to a mush and therefore making it easier for the baby’s young digestive tract to recognize and accept. I’m not one to think that the ancients were clumsily fumbling around in a darkness filled with the cobwebs of superstition. I think that they knew and experienced life in its full expression, something that most of us might only dream abou

It is beyond the scope of this platform, as well as your attention to go as deep as the subject will allow here, so if you would like to know and understand more about the Extra-cellular Matrix, particularly in regard to how we work with it through herbal medicine, keep an eye out for Matthew Wood’s new book on the subject, publishing sometime in the next year. A preview of his work on it can be found at www.matthewwoodinstituteofherbalism.com

I find that the physical manifestations of the untainted creation are an expression of the spiritual, and so some of you may continue to run with this concept of a unifying Matrix and consider what upholds and sustains the universe and keeps the planets and the stars in their orbits, or Who binds the cluster of the Pleiades, or loose the belt of Orion?

I will leave you to ponder.

 

 

Until next time,

Blessings be on the Mothers xo

 

 

 

 

Addendums and continuing thoughts:

 

^ A 2013 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that bioactive peptides in cow’s milk do indeed induce mucous production in the neonatal rat jejunum (small intestine). The response appears to be a protective mechanism. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/133/11/3499/4817930

 

^^ It is now recognised that mouth-like openings known as ‘tight junctions’ exist in the gut membrane. Opiate-like proteins (bioactive peptides) such as those found in Gluten stimulate the release of a hormone called Zonulin which controls the opening and closing of these tight junctions, and this stimulation can give rise to gluten-sensitivity as the continual consumption of gluten-containing products keep these tight junctions open via the constant release of Zonulin, which then leads to an inflammatory response due to the entrance of the large foreign proteins in Gluten products that bypass normal digestion. Mammalian milk, whether from a cow, dolphin, or human also contains similar bioactive peptides that act like opiates in the body. This opiate like effect is evidenced by the ‘punch-drunk’ expression of a baby satisfied after a full feed from her mother’s breast, and why babies have a tendency to fall asleep whilst feeding. Further research is perhaps needed to determine whether these tight junctions in the newborn gut are permanently open and kept open by the continual supply of Mothers milk, or the perforations exist between the cells themselves and the tight junctions are not yet in operation until the teeth erupt.

Birthings

From Pointing the Bone to Story Medicine

 

Because from out of the mouth, the heart speaks.

 

A really good storyteller casts a spell. Whether through the written or the oral word, the storyteller takes the listener captive and transports them to another place that transcends the reality they currently inhabit.  And the story can do this because of the words that the storyteller chooses to use and the exquisitely sensitive emotions and unmet needs that these carefully chosen words trigger and invoke. In indigenous cultures, the story might be known as ‘pointing the bone’, or we might say, it plants a seed. Someone particularly astute once said that when you change the meaning of a word, you change the culture. Words are symbols, imbued with well-trod meaning, which whether used as socio-political propaganda, or used in individual relationships can change the culture, or story, of that relationship. It changes trajectories and affects outcomes. And I could wax lyrical about how religion has done this, and how politicians do this, and how the gazillionaire puppetmasters who really rule the world do this – and have you noticed how it starts as a subtle tweak, here or there? Changing the meaning of words like Love, and God, and Choice, and Privilege. (No? Maybe that’s just me.) But this post isn’t about that. It’s about the words that we as individuals choose to use and how they ripple through other people’s lives. In this regard, we are all storytellers. But where does the story we tell come from? And what is its purpose?

 

Whoever guards his mouth and tongue

Guards his life from distresses” (Proverbs 21:23)

 

This story begins at a point during the birth of my youngest son. I had been labouring for about 19 hours, managing well – I’d done this before and so far, the labour was unfolding as expected and surprisingly much the same as my first birth with my eldest son exactly three years and 51 weeks before. In the lead up to this birth however, I had been working as a doula for about two years and had been mindful of the influence of other women’s birth journeys on my own, because someone once said, ‘worry is the work of pregnancy’. That is, women at this time of their lives are particularly vulnerable – not just physically but also psycho-emotionally. It is during this time, more than any other, that supressed emotional traumas – whether lived or inherited, and the beliefs they generate, tend to surface, and other people’s stuff can trigger it, thus adding to the burden. With this in mind, I embarked on some self-nurturing via the means of guided relaxation and visualisation techniques (The ‘hypnodoula’ process as I had learned to facilitate from my mentor Denise Love.  The process is more commonly known as hypnobirthing.) throughout the pregnancy. By the time labour had established itself, I was somewhat relaxed even in spite of a hot water system breaking down in the midst of filling the birth pool, and the arrivals and departures of various family members that invariably always show up during my births. My mother still remembers me making Steiner-inspired dolls in between contractions, stopping only to breathe and let the wave pass, before picking up from where I left off, cutting and sewing wee felt outfits.

Birth is a journey of going inward. Of leaving the thinking, analytical brain behind, and dropping into the instinctive, primal cradle of the womb. It is a truly embodied process, and it has to be this way. If we look at it through the lens of mythology, it can be likened to the hero’s journey of descent into the underworld, to a place where our deepest fears are confronted and overcome, and we emerge the triumphant warrior into the glorious light of a new hope, bringing with us the dawn of a new era. It is during birth that we learn to be mothers, whether it is our first or our tenth baby, where a new facet to the archetype – to our role, is also born. The birth process follows a specific design, or pattern. Of ripening and blossoming, of contracting and expanding, of working and resting, of opening, of surrender, of breathing and letting go. And always, at some pivotal point the process – of facing the Void. In my previous post on working with the forbidden, I likened the journey of walking with cancer to walking with birth. At some point, a surrender to the design must be acknowledged in order to be strengthened and move forward in the journey. I reminded readers that this doesn’t equate with defeat or giving up. On the contrary, surrender in the form of allowing the process to unfold, to be able to read its terrain and work with it – rather than against it – is paramount to survival.

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I didn’t give birth here. But it’s the type of place I envisioned when I was giving birth. Photo by M.Carnochan 2017

 

As is my primal wont – as it is with most mammals – my body slows labour until such a time that I can birth my baby in peace, quiet, safety, privacy, and stillness. For my first two babies, this occurred just on the breaking of dawn, for my third it occurred at sunset, all in the comfort of my own home. During my second birth, after some 19 hours of labour things were still moving along at a slow but steady pace, so I went to bed around 11pm to get some rest for the harder work ahead. Around 3am I was awoken by stronger contractions and so I woke my husband to let him know and he graciously went to stoke the fire in the loungeroom, and then check on the warmth of water in the heated birth pool (the hot water system had been fixed the previous afternoon), so I could labour in the glow of the fire in peace and quiet whilst our eldest child and my mother slept on. As the waves started to intensify, we decided to call our midwife, who was also a good friend and colleague. She arrived about 40 minutes later, and we sat and chatted as she watched me labouring in my comfortable little nest that I’d made out of one of our beanbags, breathing into the contractions and breathing them out as they diminished, and then carrying on our conversation. At one point I remember saying to her that I felt a little nauseous. After about an hour, she said, “I think you’re still only in early first stage. You should go back to bed and get some rest for the hard stuff ahead.” I remember thinking, “no, I’ve been labouring for the last 23 hours. I know I’m well into established labour now.” I didn’t voice this, but my husband did. They debated back and forth for a bit, my husband being deeply in tune with my birth rhythm knew where I was at, but my midwife had come in mid-story. The point that she had observed me in, was during the transition phase.

The Transition phase can last anywhere from for a couple of minutes to an hour or more. It is known as Transition because it signals the changing nature of the birthwaves from contracting and expanding and opening the cervix, to the contractions that push. And sometimes during this transitional phase, labour can seem to slow right down or stop all together. Oftentimes, a woman may feel nauseous like she is about to throw up (she may simply voice this, or she may do it), or she may suddenly say that she doesn’t want to do this anymore and she wants to go home, or she may suddenly get really scared as somewhere deep in her subconsciousness she is standing on the precipice staring into the Void – the abyss of the unknown. Will I live or will I die? Will my baby live or die? Am I ready to be a Mother? How will I cope? What if I’m not good enough? These are all worries that confront us in this phase. The reality is about to hit us that very shortly we will be holding a baby and our whole life will have permanently changed. For many women, especially when we have supressed and unresolved emotional wounds, this is a huge confrontation, and requires a huge leap of faith.

But leap we must. And the story begins to birth itself.

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Magnolia flower. Photo by M.Carnochan 2016.

 

The debate ended with our midwife deciding that her observations were sound and that she was going home. She lived a 25-minute drive away across a meandering gorge. And so, with that, she got in her four-wheel drive and left.

And then several things happened seemingly all at once.

“I think [the midwife]* is wrong.” I said. “I know she is.” said the husband.

“I need the toilet” I said, as I lumbered as quickly as I could up the stairs from the loungeroom to the landing where the bathroom was. As I sat on the toilet, an overwhelming urge to take all of my clothes off took over and I shouted out to my husband that I needed to get into the birth pool, but I needed his help. He came in and helped me into our spare room which was right next door to the toilet, and where we had set up the birth pool. The urge to bear down that I began feeling on the toilet became stronger once I had settled into the warm water. My husband said that he was going to go and call our midwife to suggest that she come back, and so off he went back down to the loungeroom. Left by myself, my body began to push in earnest. I had learnt that with the change in contractions from opening to pushing, to also change my breathing. I began to pant to help my body relax and, in an effort to steady the power that was now surging through me. I could feel the pressure grow between my legs, so I reached down and felt a huge bulge in my perineum. Suddenly, an odd thought crossed my mind, “What in the world could be causing that bulge? Is my uterus falling out?” You see, in my vulnerable state during transition a seed had been planted. ‘But I’m only in first stage’ I thought. ‘The baby can’t be coming yet. It’s too soon.’ I began to feel very dazed and confused. I reached down again, and I could feel the top of my son’s head. Suddenly I got my wits about me, as if a switch had been flicked. I was back in my body and my body was telling me that my baby was crowning. This was the moment of truth.

I called out to my husband to tell him that the baby’s head was crowning. He rushed into the room, along with my mum and our eldest son just as I was lifting our second son out of the water to lay him on my breast. It was an extraordinary experience for all of us. Our midwife did come back and swallow her words. I think we all learned a very valuable lesson that day.

The lesson that I learned from that was indeed about the power of words and what we say and when we say them. We affect the story. Oftentimes, we say the words because we don’t listen, we don’t read the terrain. Most of the time, this is because we are projecting our own needs, or our own interpretation on things through a lens that might not match the reality.

Since that experience, I’ve supported numerous other women, and have heard even more birth stories from others. I am constantly saddened by the disconnect that occurs and the changes that are made to people’s stories by the words of their caregivers. Fear-based policy becomes more important than listening to women, to what they say and what they don’t say during their process, or how they sound and how they move. Caregivers are losing valuable old-school skills like observation, the ability to read the terrain, and a trust in the process. I listen to the stories of ‘birthrape’ and loss of autonomy, loss of a vision, of the depression that follows and the acceptance that this is ‘normal’ – at least we have a healthy baby, right? (sure, we’ll only need a few years of therapy when we’re in our forties to deal with the inherited trauma and its aftermath)

But what about a healthy Mother?

And I see the cascade of intervention. (Would you like an epidural? What about pethidine? What about now? I bet you want drugs now, right?  Or how about, ‘Oh you’ve laboured for 6 hours and you’re exhausted, quick we need to induce you now or the placenta will fail and EVERYONE WILL DIE!’ Or my personal favourite whilst a woman was actively pushing, “I’M NOT QUALIFIED TO ATTEND A WATERBIRTH! QUICK!  PULL THE PLUG AND GET OUT OF THE BATH NOW!! GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT!!) And I hear where the words changed the story. The caregivers no longer realise the depth of meaning that their ironically care-less words convey.

Sometimes, there is more healing, more encouragement in saying nothing at all. Just sit, watch, and listen. Really LISTEN. Learn to listen with something more than just your ears. Listen for the intangibles. To walk with a woman throughout her pregnancy and birth and those precious weeks that follow is an extraordinary privilege. Indeed, to walk with anyone within a therapeutic setting is an extraordinary privilege. We don’t pull them along behind us, and we don’t push them in front. We walk alongside and we entrain our footfall to theirs. We learn to listen with our hearts. This is also called empathy. And at the same time, we hold space for their story to be told.

And the story will always, when allowed, follow a pattern. In birth, it is a pattern of contracting and expanding, of opening, of surrender, of breathing, and of letting go. If the story stalls or gets carried away on a tangent, we find our way back to the pattern and keep going. A lovely, and relevant example of this, is the entrainment that occurs between a mother and her newborn. The newborn’s heart beat and breathing rhythms are irregular and erratic. By staying in constant contact with the mother after the birth and in these first few weeks, the baby’s rhythms entrain to the mother. The mothers body ‘teaches’ the newborn’s how to find its own inherent pattern.

When I’m attending a woman during birth, I don’t say a lot. I sit, watch, and listen. If I hear her vocalisations begin to move into the shrill of fear, I match them with my own, gently guiding her down the octaves and back into that deep, primal base note of the Wombsong. This deep intonation that comes from the belly relaxes the jaw, which in turn relaxes and opens the sphincters. If she holds her breath, I breathe alongside her, finding the rhythm of the wave so she can ride it out. I offer a drink, a massage, or a change of position by way of gesture – depending on what her gestures have told me. Birth is a dance, which is not mine to lead, but I do know it’s choreography.

With great power comes great responsibility.” ~ Voltaire.

The cry for freedom of speech and the right to be heard for every vulnerable minority under the sun has typified our society in this Orwellian era. (Should I point out that there are 7.5 billion vulnerable minorities on the planet?) Everyone has something to say, but no one wants to take responsibility for the things that they speak. Perhaps this is the problem.

So perhaps, we should instead not only listen to what others are really saying, but also listen to what comes out of our own mouths. Is it coming from a place of love or fear? Of care and concern or self-interest. Of patience or impatience?

The mother entrains her baby through the deepest love a human can give. It is instinctive, protective, nurturing, and mindful. The Holder of Sacred Space works the same. We are all vulnerable, but imagine if we were all Holders of Sacred Space.

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Beauty.  Photo by M.Carnochan 2017

The words we say can be a balm to the soul, or a poison that we will, in time, have to swallow ourselves. Therefore, don’t point the bone. Instead, let us choose our words wisely.

 

Many Blessings,

Michelle

 

*the Midwife’s name has been withheld out of respect.