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The Ballast in Bereavement- A Reflection on Family

At 3:30am I said goodbye to my siblings and dad and by 10am I’d said my goodbye to my cousins who’d I’d met in middle Canada for a family funeral. In the rush of my everyday I rarely stop…this weekend in Picton Ontario there were many moments to take pause and reflect on what’s important. In a quiet lake setting we, as a family said goodbye to our Uncle Rob, my father’s brother, and a staple in our family. I looked to my left and right in the church pew and saw folks in quiet reflection honoring my uncle’s life…but what really got me was the legacy he left behind in my cousins and great cousins who played the piano, sang operatically and spoke with such cadence at his memorial. I held my sisters and brother and cousins ( and even baby great cousins) a little closer. I laughed to heartily watching my uncle Rob on old super 8 videos dancing into rooms with such aliveness and vitality for life. There were effusive tears, but also much laughter, and a cousin’s dance party until 3am which we know in our hearts would make “Uncle Bobert” so happy. He was that guy who always had a camera…capturing every moment and now I know it’s my job to get back at it and continue shooting video wherever possible and taking pictures…just like I did in my early years. I got that from him and the Steele bros.
This family is so close knit, we tell each other we love each other, we acknowledge and accept our unique…weirdness ( I’m picturing uncle Rob in the baby doll pajamas he extracted from a certain young woman’s room to don for the camera). If this funeral had of been happening in Timbuktu I’d of gone, to stand in solidarity with this family who is my reason for getting up every day and the reason I extol the importance of family to my daughter even though we live miles away from blood family.
We lost a fixture of our family this year, and we lost him fast, but we gained a “renewal of our family vow session.”
What does this have to do with any of you past or present birth clients? It’s just a call to action to keep in mind what your constructing when you begin or add to your family. You’re building the foundation to your heart and soul. Family can look unique and individual, family can take on many forms…..but family is the essence of our being….whether it’s a family of 3 or a family of 30. Lean on the people you consider family to nourish your soul. Do not be afraid to tell people you love them and you care about them…to their face. Raise your children to know loving kindness in a world where it’s a rarity.
Today I wish for you the same warmth and acceptance I felt and tried to give in the wake of death. Birth and death, the pendulum always swings, but in both occasions, celebrate life, celebrate kindness, togetherness, non judgement and strength.

Family 2017

Myself and all of my Steele Cousins and siblings, My uncle Robert’s funereal, June 2017




Sj’s Cardamom Bliss Balls

I’ve been saying for months I would share one of my Bliss Ball Recipes. Sure you can troll the internet and find a recipe or two but if you’re looking for a protein power ball that can see you through a nausea time in your pregnancy, long labor, or long breastfeeding session, this one is one of my favorites from the Salt Spring Experience. The Cardamom aids nausea, and after babe it is helpful for digestion and elimination. The Tahini is high in vitamin E and Calcium and the Chocolate…well, we all need a sugar spike sometimes.

From my Kitchen to yours- I give you

Cardamom KissesBlissBall

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup honey
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp cardamom
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup grated coconut

1. Grind the almonds fine in a food processor
2. Add the raisins and grind until they’re chopped up
3. Add the tahini, honey, cinnamon, and cardamom, and blend until everything is well mixed.
4. Empty the mixture into a mixing bowl, and hand mix the chocolate chips in.
5. Put the coconut into a shallow bowl or a plate.
6. Form balls form the mixture, roll them in the coconut, and arrange them on a platter.
7. Keep them refrigerated.

 

Bon Appetit, Bon Birthing and Bon B-Feeding

 




Triaged Toe and Togetherness- A Photoshoot and Gathering of some 2013/14 Families

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This morning I experienced something I likely should have started three years ago when I first ventured out in labor support….a gathering of the families I have had the honor and privilege to work for and with.

It happens, we labor support people meet the families, get to know them, join them start to finish for one of the most intense day (or days) of their life…and then we leave. We may have one to two visits with you to see how the family unit is getting on, assist with breastfeeding, but…then we do the sad job of leaving you to become your own family.

We are trained in letting go, leaving you to flourish as parents. But we think of you. We think of a moment we might have shared with you that is forever etched on our life’s template. Like when you look at us and say something like “ I just want to see the series of Breaking Bad before I have this baby,” or when you look at us and say “ Holy S*it, I’m a mum, what’s up with that?” For me, it’s those memories that make me chuckle in the aisle of the grocery store. You’re like a high school boyfriend that makes me smile for no reason….just at the thought.

So, I couldn’t in good faith let another year pass without seeing your breath-taking babies and you again. You, parents, need to know that you are what makes my work thrive. I believe I was meant to work with each family that chooses me. Because you chose me, my life is richer; because you choose me I don’t scowl at my phone when it rings in the night…instead I smile and think “ Here’s another woman, or family I’m gonna love even more after the next 24 hours passes, I’m about to get a lot more connected to what loving your purpose and work is.”

And so I asked all of my 2013-2014 families to join me for a morning of lemonade, bliss balls and a group photo.

As the cars rolled into the parking lot at Gyro Beach at 10am this morning, I just kept thinking, “ Have they even had a chance to have coffee?” “ Have I interrupted baby’s morning nap?”…I had a niggling feeling of guilt for having made the families come all this way just so I could ogle them and get a group photo. But you emerged from your vehicles all smiles, ready to connect with other families, maybe with a babe born the same month as yours.

Me? I just stood there and had a Grinch moment; you know that scene where his heart grows exponentially bigger every time he sees an act of kindness? Every hug I had, every baby who just smiled up at me four, five even ten-month’s later. When I left most of these babies they were barely holding their head’s up. Now, they’re smiling, charming, chunky little people. I have a terrible memory but I remember vividly the moment each of them came into the world.

Last night I planned what I would say to everyone who came. I’d tell them that meeting them and being a part of their birth experience has been the fulfillment in my life I never thought I could get from my work. I’d tell them that each of them had taught me so much about what makes a solid relationship between two people or between a mother and their child. I’d tell them that just by showing up on a sunny Sunday morning when there was a World Cup game fixin to start, just warmed my heart to bits. I’d finish by letting them know that I can look at each and every one of them and relay a heartfelt moment we had shared on “ Birth Day” and how that solidifies my view that we are all meant to share these moments with each other as human beings in our life time. Instead, I felt myself overcome with emotion and felt I might burst into tears and be the “loser doula” who lost it in front of a bunch of smiling, gurgling babies. So, I kept it simple, which is just as well as I’d opened up my left toe a few minutes before on something menacing in the sand. I needed to get it looked at by one of my nurse clients who knew how to doula the doula ;)

What I will now say is true, authentic, raw honesty comes forth from a woman and their partner on the day a child is born. And, then we all surface and move on with our lives. Thank you for letting me be there and support you through your first or third time at the “true- authentic-honest rodeo“.

Today, I just wanted the opportunity to let you know I hold you all in my thoughts long after my service is done with you. You may never really know the joy that radiates throughout my whole body when I see you on the street or in gatherings like today. You affirm that I’m on my chosen path even if my parents likely think I need to go back to a “real job.” You are my real job!

Once this toe heals up I’ll be up in the night to serve more families, but client’s past… you’ll all be etched in this “Grinch” Doula’s heart.

 

 




Entering the spiritual dimension of birth

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‘Spiritual birth recognizes that each and every birth is the birth of the Christ child. The Birth support person’s job is to do her best to bring both the mother and child through their passage alive and well and to see that the sacrament of birth is kept holy,” writes the great American midwife Ina May Gaskin. When I visited Gaskin’s Farm in Summertown Tennessee earlier this year it was to further my training as a doula – a birth support person.

My first birth experience after my training with Gaskin was with a woman who had an older child and was preparing for her second. This woman remembers loud noises, and being directed what to do when she had her first birth experience. She recalls being tense all over which, she says, made labor pains worse. She had a fear of that same experience with her second child. Being mindful of this I made sure to allow her the space she required as she found her ritual of walking in circles, stepping in only when she needed to be guided physically.

She paused every few steps and we’d rock back and forth together as she hummed and swayed. She was somewhere else right now. A deep and spiritual place, it seemed.

She was completely at one with herself to the point that I knew that even if an intervention needed to happen in her labor, she would stay in this sanctuary she’d stepped into. She continued to hum and rock to the beat of her own internal rhythm

An intervention never came.

This got me thinking…there is something ritual about labouring and something ceremonious in carrying a child from the great unknown into reality.

In her book “Spiritual Midwifery,” Ina May Gaskin extols that if a woman allows herself to enter a spiritual realm in labor her pain will be felt less, she will reach a new high, and she will cross over from one part of her life into a new dimension.

I have to say reading those things before I had a child seemed wildly presumptuous. But, as I attended more and more births as a Doula, I began seeing these crossing over’s more often. There seems to be a marked point in labour where if a woman has enough of a connection to her spirit, she goes inward to an ethereal place.

Almost all religions have some sort of ritual whether it’s the ceremonial and symbolic drinking of wine, chanting, reciting, or singing. It’s that ritual that keeps the follower of a select religion coming back. It represents something meaningful… comforting.

Labor is an intimidating and scary ceremony to step into, but this mother I speak of hummed her baby into the world. When the baby was born she just stared straight ahead, breathing, with a fixed gaze. After what felt like an eternity to me, she just readjusted her eyes and looked at her baby with a smile that took up her whole face. She had come out of her spirit den as it were.

There are instances where the laboring woman can go to a place of divinity. It takes faith, support and the desire to know one’s spirit better, trust it, and let it lead you.

When her labor was over, there she was, back in this world with her newborn child feeling as though she’d rushed toward the center of her spirit for 12 hours and back again, reborn with a newborn.  What a blessing it was to witness.

sarah-jane-steeleSarah-Jane Steele is a Journalist, Mother, trained Doula and Yoga Teacher. She hails from Halifax and now lives in Victoria with her family. You can contact her regarding any of the above at sarahjane@birthspace.ca.

*This article was published in the print and online edition of the Times Colonist Faith Forum page. 

You can read more articles on the interfaith blog Spiritually Speaking HERE




Stop! And Smell the Poses – Originally featured in the Times Colonist Newspaper

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They look statuesque. Some look difficult. Some look impossible. Some look absurd. None of them look particularly spiritual.

Postures. One of the biggest challenges of the new yoga student is the physical practice of yoga. They come to yoga seeking fitness and if spiritual awakening happens as a by-product then…bonus. I’m sure you’ve all seen the adept yoga poser on the mat next to you, though you know you should keep your eyes on your own mat….you find yourself staring, thinking to yourself “ I wish I had core stability like that…I wish I could look that good while standing on one foot.”

In that moment you’ve already lost the point, and I bet you’ve lost your balance and fallen out of the posture.

What if that person you’re comparing yourself to isn’t thinking about their core, what if they’re just at one with the posture, and its meaning?…it’s deeper meaning.

Let’s use the pose warrior two as an example. It’s one many would recognize so seems fitting to use it as the archetypal yoga posture. Often on yoga posters at studios-the picture of the warrior features the thriving, determined face of the yogi delegate. It’s the pose that symbolises being alive and vibrant. The form it takes can be beautiful, but its function is the real essence.

Warrior two or Virabhadrasana  (veer-ah-bah-DRAHS-anna) ) the name of a fierce warrior who was an incarnation of Shiva (One of three Hindu gods believed to be the deity of dance, and destroyer of the universe…in a good way). Shiva is described as having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet, wielding a thousand clubs, and wearing a tiger’s skin. Maybe you feel you are the embodiment of all that when you’re in warrior 2, or maybe you just feel a thousand muscles burning.

With the front knee bent, the yogi sinks their hips, which causes both legs to become active. Eventually they get a nice butt from the butt work and toned quads from the legwork. But the bottom half of the warrior, your legs, also symbolises a base, ground, a foundation (here comes the real legwork). Above the base the yogi is spreading their arms outward from their shoulders and expanding and opening their chest valiantly. The yogi lifts through the crown of their head to lengthen the spine. But through this expansion, in the words of Yogarupa Rod Stryker “The pose ultimately becomes an invitation to fully and completely expand both the body and the mind and thereby enliven the essential qualities that inspire us to grow, thrive and evolve.”

Bam, there it is. Evolving means being our best self. Performing a pose means squat (no yoga pun intended) if we don’t know what its higher function is. So, we know warrior two works our legs and bum, opens our chest, lengthens and strengthens the spine. But we’re also creating a duality of base (foundation and solidity) paired with lightness (expansion).

It’s great to feel strong and solid in a yoga pose. But, if we can find a lightness in some part of our postures we can feel an expansion in our physical body that radiates out to others. This in turn, fights the fighter in all of us- the one who needs to always be right, the one who can’t let their guard down for even one moment, the one who fights to move out of places of discomfort before they’ve even hung up curtains.

It’s good to be a warrior in life. We often need to be a foundation for others, and ourselves. We also need to be able to fight in times of hardship for others and ourselves. The Warrior is said to help us combat our own ignorance and ego in doing the former, not others. No one’s saying that is easy, but it is a facet of the spiritual practice of yoga; doing it does bring us closer to our own divine spirit.

Warrior pose offers you the chance to ponder how you can be more grounded while maintaining a sense of open lightness. This coupled with breath and the other observations, or the limbs of yoga offers us the ability to be free beings, unclouded and awake in our postures and in our life. Food for thought for your next practice. You wouldn’t just wolf down a gourmet prepared meal without first savouring it or asking how it was prepared and what makes it special, why treat your poses any differently…..or do you?

Sarah-Jane SteeleSarah-Jane Steele is a Journalist, Mother, trained Doula and Yoga Teacher. She hails from Halifax and now lives in Victoria with her family. You can contact her regarding any of the above at, sarahjane@birthspace.ca.

You can read more posts from Spiritually Speaking HERE





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