I just got my copy of Rediscovering Birth by Sheila Kitzinger, and it's an amazing read. Here's what she has to say about belly dance:
"A Bedouin Arab girl learns a pelvic dance during the puberty rites that follow her first menstruation and will belly dance to give pleasure to her husband and also when she is in labour. The belly dance is essentially a fertility dance. The night club version of the dance for the entertainment of tourists is a distortion of its meaning. The belly dance represents the power of women to produce life."
What a gift to learn something so beautiful and so useful at a time when a girl is feeling so awkward and unsure of her body. The fluid movements ease menstrual cramps just as they ease those cramps' big sister: the contraction. The sensuality brings an offering not only to her partner but to herself, allowing her a feeling of grace, other-worldliness, and pleasure in the movement of her body. Using the movements in labor after that practiced sensuality can't not help her feel loose and open during labor. What a beautiful and symbolic full-circle, too, from conception to birthing.
I am understanding in a completely new way how moms everywhere feel about their babies, whether the "babies" are 3 weeks or 30 years old. I always knew my mother loved me. I am lucky that I have never doubted it for a moment. Now that I have Claire in my life, though, I understand how deep and complete that love is, and I am beginning to see it everywhere I look.
Jon and I went to a wedding this weekend and left Claire at home with my sister. We could have brought her with us, but definitely would have gone home earlier, and it was in many ways a welcome experience: a late afternoon and evening of not balancing the feeding, bath, and bedtime schedule but simply enjoying the presence of friends and the union of two people we love. My arms felt strangely empty, though, and I found myself quickly gravitating toward the other parents who DID bring their little ones. We talked about nursing and sleep and the funny things our babies do. We talked about how much we love having these small beings in our lives. We talked about how beautiful we find them.
Toward the end of the evening I found myself in the hallway with the mother of the bride. Jon and I were getting ready to go home and I was already looking forward to opening the door to Claire's dark room and hearing her breathe. My friend's mother and I talked about what a wonderful evening it had been, and then we caught sight of the bride in her hand-made dress, flowers in her hair. "She's just beautiful," I said to her mother. "You must be so happy." She squeezed my hand and smiled ecstatically. And there it was -- that same glow of delight that us newer moms shine with, radiant with the love we never knew could be so fully woven through our lives.
I've been thinking of Claire's birth as a true rite of passage, not only into my life as a mother, but as a mother among mothers. It's as if in falling in love with our babies our eyes are opened to the love of mothers everywhere -- as if we were given a pair of mom-radar glasses that enable us to see that special bond, no matter how strong or tenuous. What an amazing gift.
Tomorrow is Claire's first birthday. This means that a year ago today, I had already been in labor for twelve hours. In the days before, I had experienced Braxton-Hicks contractions and thought, "piece of cake!" When the first real rush hit, though, I was stunned. I had heard about back labor and read enough descriptions that I knew that's what I was experiencing. A deep, sustained pain, centered in my lower back came on like a wave with each rush. It took my breath away at first, and then I started moving.
Belly dance is round. It massages and soothes. It brings the dancer in a spiraling motion ever deeper into herself. It eases the mind from sharp edges to sea glass softness. It offers a point of surprising stillness to focus on - the heart center? the cervix? something deep and internal - until the need is past and the body relaxes into its normal posture, a strange surfacing.
One of the glories of Maha al Musa's "Dance of the Womb: A Gentle Guide to Belly Dance for Pregnancy & Birth" is that the movements are so deeply intuitive. I am not a dancer. The only time I took a dance class, I was about three feet tall and wearing a borrowed tutu, and yet as soon as I started following Maha's instruction, I felt that this dance was inside me simply because I was alive. Does this give you confidence? It should. The first image conjured by hearing "belly dance" is not that of a woman with a preposterously pregnant belly, but it ought to be. Nothing feels more natural when those hidden muscles around the pelvis reserved solely for birthing a baby begin their intelligent tensioning than to move and twist with them, to sway around the globe of belly that for the laboring hours is the axis of your universe.
Not everything went quite how I anticipated it in Claire's birth. The birthing tub we had set up in our bedroom and filled with warm and fragrant water didn't feel at all right when I climbed into it. I couldn't sleep. I did eat and drink. I had a magical day with my husband, dancing and listening to music and walking. When he fell asleep sometime after midnight the second night, I couldn't understand how he could be so bone tired while I felt ready to do circles and figure-8s with my hips through whatever rush came at me. When the midwife checked my cervix the final time before saying we had to move to the hospital because I just wasn't dilating those last crucial centimeters and my contractions were slowing down, I was stunned. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen, was it? "Supposed to" drops away, though, when what IS is what happens. I was home for the first thirty hours of labor, and in the hospital for the last six. The doctors and nurses supported me in my desire to be unmedicated, and never uttered the phrase "C-section," though I'm sure they thought it. And I can say (though it would have been anathema before) that I'm grateful to Pitocin for bringing my contractions closer together and for the seasoned nurse who laid me on my side and asked me to breathe softly and close my eyes for a while.
I am still stunned at the amount of energy my body was able to generate and that when it finally came time to push, I didn't recognize a "normal" contraction because Claire had turned and was no longer pressing into my back. I almost laughed at the sensation, and would have if I didn't need all my breath to bear down and help move her out of my body. And when Claire was placed on my belly, wet, warm, and wriggling, I felt every cell in my body open up and fill with the most incredibly glowing energy that I knew to be living love.
When I look back at the tools that steered me unwaveringly through this most intense experience of my life, I am deeply grateful for the fluid motions of belly dance and to Maha for offering the teaching of "Dance of the Womb" to the world. I am so honored to be bringing this program to pregnant women and birth professionals in North America. Birthing my business on the anniversary of my entry into the world of motherhood feels absolutely perfect. Just as with Claire's birth, not everything has gone as I anticipated it - I was sure BirthAdventure would have been on its feet months ago, for one thing - but the most important elements always arrive just on time, and just on time is exactly whenever they arrive.
I look forward to hearing many, many stories like mine from those of you who find this program and use it. Wishing you all happiness, strength, and peace in your own birthing experience!