Editor’s Note: Nine years ago, pregnant with my second child, I followed a set of handwritten directions that took me through the curves of the backroads of Sonoma County, and eventually, after a number of wrong turns, lead me to my much coveted destination: a Birth Mandala workshop at the home of host Nancy Burns. On the heels of a first birth fraught with hospital interventions, I took Nancy’s workshop in the hopes of envisioning a more empowered kind of birth experience.
Back then, Nancy told me she envisioned putting her mandala work into book format. I’m so thrilled to be able to host some of Nancy’s words on the mandala process itself, as well as a sample of some of the images that appear in her book, “Birth Mandala: The Power of Visioning for Childbirth,” mingled with the words of the women who created the mandalas. I should also disclose that while I lost my original mandala in our last move, an early version of it appears in Nancy’s book. So lovely to see the fruits of your labor, Nancy, and to share them here. –Tania Pryputniewicz
Nancy Describes the Birth Mandala Method:
“Birth Mandala: The Power Of Visioning For Childbirth” is a unique and creative method to prepare for childbirth. The subtitle of the Birth Mandala book is truly the essence of this method of preparing for childbirth and should not be overlooked. The Power of Visioning is the ability to reveal personal strengths and weaknesses that influence the outcome of birth.
Just as the body knows how to breathe, digest and excrete food and perform all of its functions without the conscious mind directing it, the same is true for birthing. The body is naturally programmed to release the hormones necessary to begin labor and to produce milk to feed the baby, it does not need the conscious mind to tell it what to do. Then what gets in the way of the body doing what it knows how to do?
One of the greatest influences is a woman’s perception of labor and birth. Beliefs about childbirth formed by what we have seen, read or heard produce feelings of either fear or trust in oneself and in the process of birth. Beliefs affect emotions, and emotions trigger the body to release chemicals that support either a state of relaxation, or stimulation and constriction.
There is a chapter in the book entitled
I’ll Believe It When I See It, I’ll See It When I Believe It. In this chapter there are exercises to identify limiting beliefs that could interfere with the birth you want and to change them to supportive beliefs. To envision the best birth possible, some questions to explore are: What do I need to release? What strengths do I need to embrace? What do I need to shed to allow myself to be fully empowered? What am I needing to allow myself to be fully empowered? What does it mean to be empowered? This is a very personal and important question to contemplate. The purpose and intention of the book is for all women to be able to experience a deep connection with themselves, where trust and faith replace doubt and fear.
So, what is visioning and how does it support birth? Visioning is a process that allows clarification for what you are wanting. We generally focus on what we don’t want to happen or when we focus on what we do want it is too abstract a concept to produce the desired effects. Imagine walking into a restaurant and telling the waitperson all the foods you don’t want to eat? It is impossible for the server to get you what you do want to eat.
Or, imagine being in a restaurant that has a list of soups and you really want to eat some soup. If you say I want soup they are still unable to get you what you want. In the same way, being as specific and clear as possible helps you to get the desired results. To say I want to be relaxed is going in the right direction, however, relaxed is very abstract. For the body consciousness to know what relaxed means to you, it is important to describe the concept of relaxation in concrete terms by using your five senses: what would you be seeing if you are relaxed, what would you be saying to yourself or hearing from others; what sensations would you be feeling in your body?
I offer an example in the book from a client that was concerned about her mother being present during the birth of her baby. She said she regresses to a child around her mother. I asked her what she wanted? “To feel strong and in my power”, she responded. I then guided her to envision what that would look like, what she would be seeing that is different from what she is fearing. And guess what, that’s exactly what she was able to deliver (no pun intended!).
The process of visualization is then used to support the new beliefs and vision for childbirth. Visualization is like mentally role playing. Visualizing what you are wanting further imprints the vision into the subconscious mind and keeps the vision alive. There is a chapter in the book that guides a visualization of labor and birth. I also created a CD that is a visualization of birth that can be ordered. This is where the mandala for birth comes in. The process of creating a mandala for birth draws from both the conscious mind (goals and desires) and the unconscious mind (information that may not be available to the conscious mind). A mandala for birth is a visual representation of the positive birth experience you envision. It further clarifies what you want and acts as a reminder to help stay focused on your desired outcome.
Interview with Nancy Burns:
What was the seed or prompting for your work using mandalas to support women’s experience of birth?
At the time, I was co-facilitating a Sacred Wisdom Support Group for Mamas-To- Be with a midwife friend. We incorporated her knowledge of midwifery and birth with my knowledge from counseling psychology for birth. We were using art as a medium for their expression of various topics about birth. The idea for making a mandala for birth came when I was meditating. The idea of making a birth mandala began by having a visual image of a 10 centimeter circle to support 1st stage of labor. The mandala expanded to include a woman’s vision for birth through the use of images, shapes, words, colors.
How have you seen images in the mandalas of the women you work with translating into, or empowering, their experience of giving birth or how they view themselves?
This question would best be answered by the women themselves. The following are some birth mandalas and quotes from the women:
“Birth unfolds as a butterfly signifying metamorphosis, flowers opening up towards the light, owls wise and all knowing , signifying the relationship of the internal and external worlds/heavenly and earthly worlds. The inner goddess spirit that is in all women can soar and I draw upon her endless energy to bring new life into the world. The dancer of flamenco is there to remind me that birthing is a dance, as is all of life, and to remember my passion and flirtation for and with life.”
STACY’S REFLECTIONS ON HER MANDALA
“The relationship between creating life and creating art really manifested for me during the mandala project. Both take intention, mindfulness, love and patience. Verbalizing my intention helped me tofocus my creative energy and thoughts. Nature, especially water, represents the flow of life in me and around me and through me. The shell represents the sacred spiral and the path the baby will take to leave my womb. Purple is a powerful feminine energy color and the nesting flowers give birth to a perfect moon-like orb, representing my baby. The moon cycle on the bottom mirrors the opening of my cervix during labor and birth. Two spirit guides, the dove and the Virgin Mary surround me, reminding me that my higher power is always present, loving and supporting me. A golden halo-like semi-circle encircles where my head should be. It symbolizes the holiness of living in the present, which can happen when I remove my head as the barrier to surrender.
The gift was working through my mental barriers and fears to create the reality I desire for my birth experience. I intend to use my mandala to focus on what I do want: balance, centeredness, confi dence, peace, rather than what I don’t want to happen.
STACY’S REFLECTIONS AFTER BIRTH
“The birth mandala has a special place in my heart and birth story. It is such a beautiful journey. The birth mandala has been very grounding. Upon completing it, the mandala was hung in my bedroom with a beautiful scarf around it. I really wanted to create a sacred place to honor my intentions for the birth of my child. The theme of my mandala was surrender, and it was in full alignment with this pregnancy. ….The mandala was a constant source of gentle and loving reminders that I was not in control of this birth and to surrender to the moment…
…Throughout the labor I used it to ground myself in the rhythmic waves of tension and release. I envisioned my baby spiraling out of my body and into the water, just as I depicted in the mandala. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as life was being brought forth from my body and the warm maternal love of the Creator – symbols of which I had included in my mandala. A little past midnight on July 25, 2009, my daughter slid out of my womb, up through the water and onto my belly. Hazel stared at us with wide eyes and amazement and I knew I had just been part of a miracle.”
“When I was creating this birth mandala, I felt like I was giving myself courage and strength I never knew possible. I am more confident after this experience. I feel peace and a connection with my baby that is so deep and beautiful. I am now ready for an amazing, healthy and safe birth experience.
AMY’S REFELCTIONS AFTER THE BIRTH:
The mandala helped me go into my center and set intentions around the type of birth I wanted. I looked at it during my labor. I felt powerful and strong, just like I did when I was creating the mandala at the workshop.”
Nancy, in your role as a counselor in the birthing field for many years, what would you say are the primary concerns you’ve witnessed women wrestling with?
This is an interesting and important question and has taught me not to make assumptions. I thought for sure the issue of pain would be predominant, but women were expressing other issues of concern like: fears around single parenting, the addition of a baby interfering in the couple relationship, and financial issues. All of these concerns are so personal and important to be addressed, accepted and come to terms with. I included a chapter on Reframing Pain because my own personal experiences and the feedback from women who used self-hypnosis and other tools to have a non-medicated birth was very empowering and satisfying.
What has been the most surprising, rewarding aspect of running these workshops and writing the book?
The workshops begin by creating a sacred space; women sitting together in a circle; lighting a candle and expressing their intentions. I suggest they spend the day creating their birth mandala in silence, which allows them to stay focused and dive deep within themselves. This in itself is a wonderful preparation for childbirth and is very rewarding. I trusted in my own inner guidance to offer this work. When I received positive feedback from women about how the process helped with their birth, I was not so much surprised as delighted. It was at that time that I felt inclined to put the work in a book form to reach more people than I was able. I am offering workshops for childbirth professionals to be able to offer this work to their clients in a deep and meaningful way.
Any mentors or other resources in the field of birth and female empowerment you wish to share with us?
My greatest mentor lies within myself. That is what inspired me to co-create with Constance Miles, the CD; A Pregnant Pause. In this CD women are guided to find their ‘inner midwife’ that guides them and supports them in birth. It is my belief that we all have the wisdom within, we just need to unveil societies and programming from the media to get in touch with our own inner guidance. Writing the Birth Mandala book brought a very important lesson to me that is equally important to birthing a baby, or anything we are pregnant with. Another childbirth author cited my work in her book and people were contacting me to buy my book. I became anxious about completing the book quickly. Like birth, you cannot force anything. It ends up with complications. The book taught me to have patience and trust the natural unfoldment of its birth. When I felt stuck that is when I did the Mother Nature Mandala Collage to take my time and honor the process of birthing the book:
MOTHER NATURE MANDALA COLLAGE
Nancy's Mother Nature Mandala
As far as resources, there are many books and DVD’s available to empower a positive birthing. They can be found at the end of the book.
Nancy Burns is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in Northern California, specializing in pre and perinatal concerns. For over 30 years, she has supported pregnant and postpartum women in various capacities. She has been a doula, childbirth educator and prenatal yoga instructor. She has also been a presenter at the California Association of Midwives annual conferences.
Nancy invites you to join her for “a FREE unique evening that promises to stimulate a fresh vision of childbirth” on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 6:30 pm at Soul Shine Chiropractic – 440 So.E St., Santa Rosa, CA, and a Birth Mandala Workshop on April 20 and April 21, 2012 at the same location. For more information, e-mail Nancy: BirthMandalas@gmail.com.