by Leslene della-Madre
As a young woman in the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s, I lived in the heart of the rising tide of change in Berkeley, California, where I was a student at the University of California. I feel it is important to include some of my background here because my journey to becoming a mother was shaped by my own experiences and explorations into consciousness transformation in those days. My real education at that time, however, was not in the classroom. It came from being in the streets, going to “love-ins” in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, dancing and “tripping out” at the Fillmore, adventuring in nature, traveling, using sacred entheagens and living in community. There was no time like the 60s in our recent history before or since. This time of tumultuous social upheaval was truly deep and profound in many ways. Everywhere I went people were into exploring consciousness and the true meaning of life. Much of this collective searching was reflected in the music and art of the time, with messages of “turning on, tuning and dropping out.” A synergistic awareness of going “back to the land” and “back to nature” as the “thing to do” swirled about in the air like clouds of incense smoke, wafting through every crack and crevice of our homes, thoughts and dreams.
This was a time when many people did, in fact, move back to the land and started communes. I went to The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee in the early ‘70s, which held itself more as a “spiritual community” rather than a commune, since communes were associated with many things The Farm was not—“free love”, “do your own thing”, nonchalant use of drugs and sometimes alcohol (though the 60s was not known for the rampant alcohol usage we see today) and sometimes irresponsible work ethics. The Farm was an intentional community that required one’s agreement on certain things like veganism, no using of alcohol, nicotine or caffeine and adherence to Farm-defined social mores— “courting,” “engagement,” defined by sexual activity and marriage, defined by pregnancy—all straight-laced values with some kind of christian orientation (which I thought was weird from the get-go, but not weird enough to keep me from joining), though we didn’t name it that way. In fact, we were more aligned with Zen Buddhism with a psychedelic flair than anything else. The big agreement was that one had to accept the “head” of the community, an ex-marine turned college teacher turned hippie, as one’s spiritual teacher. You could not join unless you said you did. It was kind of like saying “I do”.
I lived there for nearly eleven years, though I never felt that he was my spiritual teacher. I never felt I really connected with him, probably because I didn’t really want to, though I felt that I “should” have because I said I would. Anyway, I loved the land, the idea of collective living, and the sisterhood of women. In many ways, The Farm was a patriarchal, heterosexist hierarchy/cult, which I wasn’t able to name until much later, after leaving (my children were born there and I left when my youngest was four months old), getting divorced years later and becoming a radical feminist. There were no “out” people on The Farm. That would have been intolerable at the time for the powers that were. We also had very defined gender roles, and women wore long skirts most of the time—not unlike our neighboring Amish. In fact, our Tennessee neighbors referred to us as the “technicolor Amish”. However, much like the Amish, marriage, pregnancy and having babies were the touted goals to achieve. We got good at achieving these goals and published a primer in midwifery, Spiritual Midwifery, that paved the way for the acceptance of midwifery in the USA, and we became a haven for women seeking to give birth in a more spiritual way. We even advertised for women not to have abortions but to come to The Farm instead to have their babies and we would care for them. If they ever wanted them back, we would give them back.
But we never taught about population control (though we did publish a book on natural birth control, I see the issue of population control as being entirely different), or if it was even a good idea for women to continue to participate in the same old patriarchal values of the dominant paradigm. Nor did we recognize the extreme heterosexist nature of our community and the inherent second-class citizenry of women. In many ways, while we moved back to the land, and built a community from the ground up on 1,750 acres, which was an amazing feat for middle-class suburban English majors turned hippies, we nevertheless missed the boat on some crucial issues—which were also missed by the whole entire movement itself of the 60s. Women’s oppression, of course, being the most important.
For most of my life I never really wanted children. I had decided years before I went to The Farm that the world was too messed up to bring more children into it. It deeply pained me to think about bringing beautiful pristine consciousness into a world full of violence. However, after being on The Farm for a number of years, surrounded by my women friends giving birth right and left, I began to hear the whispers of two beings circling my aura, who seemed to want to incarnate. Hmmmm …this was a change for me. I had gotten married—the “thing” to do on The Farm—and it was looking like starting a family was next. So, I consented. Even though it took me a long time to get pregnant (perhaps my body responded to my thought processes and had prepared itself not to get pregnant), I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl when I was in my early 30s and another one in my mid 30s. Fortunately, I lived in a village. I had midwives, who were also my friends, and had support from the community. I felt fortunate that I could give birth in a loving way—at home surrounded by beautiful nature (we also had a medical clinic, doctors, ambulances, and EMTs as part of the community, so we had very good backup) with trained eyes and hands to help me. While I would choose to do it differently now, as the “midwife crew” had a kind of lofty, high, exalted status, with the male “guru” as the self-designated “head midwife”, and giving birth seemed to be more about the midwives rather than the birthing mother (For instance, the birthing mother could not choose who she wanted at her birth. The midwives decided who would attend. And the high “guru” could appear at any woman’s birth at any time, and touch her however he felt. Thank Goddess, he didn’t come to mine.), I am still grateful that at that time, I could do it the way I did it.
I strongly urge any woman who chooses to become a mother to give birth at home where you can create a beautiful and sacred environment. And I would also suggest inviting belly dancers to the birth, as this dancing originated to support women in labor. How magical it is to restore our cultural womanist traditions! (I did not have them at mine, but in retrospect, I know I would have loved it!) I am also of the ilk to keep the space of birth totally in the hands of women. While this may sound radical, I strongly feel that the change we need to see on our planet is about putting our life back into the hands, hearts and minds of women, so starting with birth seems fitting. And, this has been practiced by “matriarche” cultures such as the Berber in North Africa for centuries. Quoting from my own article, Societies in Balance, “The entire birth process is seen as a totally female reality–it is completely linked to the moon. The mother ‘meets’ the moon, prays to the moon and is washed in water that carries the sacred shimmering reflection of the moon. Men are not allowed to be at the birth, as it is a time for women only to experience the creation of life that ‘cannot be translated into a manly experience.’ (Dr. Milika Grasshoff, oral presentation, International World Congress on Matriarchal Studies, 2003.) I thought, Wow! I gave birth in a community in Tennessee called The Farm where we prided ourselves on the fact that men participated. She reported that Berber women who had been in the U.S. were infuriated at Western birthing practices that included men. I am still pondering this complete and total difference from what I have known and experienced in my life, and how things would have been different for me had I had the Berber experience.” (www.midwifingdeath.com)
I feel it is important to bring back the essential womanist values of the original “matriarche” in all things. (I use “arche” instead of “archy” as the latter has become more associated with systems of governance, and for me, the former is a reflection of a deep female cosmic reality, matriarche means “mother as the underlying source of the being of all things” and so is beyond any kind of governing structure). Creating female realities in every aspect of our lives radically changes the world from a violent, patriarchal, insane mess to a sacred place of beauty and love. I feel that mothers can pass this way of being on to our daughters in an unbroken lineage provided we are strong enough. (You may be asking, “what about sons?” Though I have two, this is a different subject and not addressed here.) I think it is of vital importance to understand that having babies is not about personal fulfillment. I found nothing romantic about it. Many women have babies because they think the baby will fulfill them—fill them up with love or fill some kind of emptiness created in childhood by a lack of love. Having a baby can never do this.
The decision to have a child needs to be a clear decision made by a woman who is in her power. Anything else is not fair to woman or child. If you are not ready to put your needs second to those of another being, I don’t recommend having children. This can be very tricky because as mothers in patriarchy, we can easily become enslaved to our children while we think we are being good mothers. Giving into demands of a child without teaching that child to ask respectfully is a recipe for much heartache for both child and mother—beginning with the breast. It is not a good idea to stick the breast, nor a pacifier into the mouth of a crying child. I recommend gently soothing the child (i.e., by gentle rubbing on the cheek and speaking in soft tones), helping her to calm down and stop crying, preparing her to receive nutrition. If you do the put-the-breast-in-the-mouth thing to stop the crying you will be teaching the child that she must screech in order to get her needs met. This generates anger as the child grows.
In the event that a woman decides she wants to go forward with this decision to become a mother, I feel there is much to prepare for. Because motherhood is not valued in patriarchy, a woman must know her own worth and be willing to stand for change in the face of a woman-hating culture. In my case, I felt these two beings, whom I intuitively felt were female, strongly enough to allow myself to become their mother. We have all agreed that we had a prior contract to incarnate now, as a trinity, together. The work we do in the world now reflects this. Some people have told me that my youngest daughter exhibits such close energy to mine that she might be parthenogenetic! We are all dedicated to helping women—my daughters through their music (www.goddessalchemyproject.com) and myself through my teaching, shamanic healing practice, writing and the hosting of a cable television show .
In order to protect the precious nature of a sweet daughter in patriarchy, the mother needs to own her mother bear aspect, even if it is denied by the greater culture. Not only does she need this bear energy, like Artemis, to protect her daughters, she also needs it in order to model it for them because it is denied. Carla Osborne in her article about Artemis, Different Aspects of Artemis, writes, “The mother bear is one of the most formidable animals in the forest for her size, strength, agility, and fierce defense of her young. Today the mother bear is still regarded as a fearsome beast for these reasons. Bears know how to find herbs and roots to heal injuries and illnesses they suffer. They incubate their young during hibernation, protecting vulnerable cubs from the cold. People used to place their children under the protection of this great force to protect and heal. To this end, infants were placed on bear skins soon after birth to invoke that power, a practice continued from the Neolithic.” (Carla Osborne, www.amazonation.com)
For a mother to be able to do this, she must not be subservient or co-dependent in any relationship. She must not be owned by her husband, if she has one, or by anyone. This may seem obvious, but to actualize this truth is far more difficult than it sounds, for women’s enslavement through the institution of marriage is indeed treacherous and all-too-real, and has taught us that very often co-dependency is linked to our survival. I have come to realize over time that all of the world’s major patriarchal religions forbid this mother SheBear fierceness, as christian-inanity has, for example, merged it with men’s anger as one of the seven deadly sins. Without a mother’s protective anger/fierceness, which is completely different from men’s anger, life does not thrive. This edict is a way to control this aspect of women, as the patriarchal mind is afraid of it, and does not understand it. So, women’s SheBear fierceness has been made wrong, as have women and femaleness in general.
I strongly recommend educating your daughters very early on about sexism. I pointed out inequities whenever I could—in books, movies, school curriculum, TV, behaviors, language, etc. I exposed them constantly to my vision, meeting them at their level and using wording they could understand. However, the trick is to do this without being controlling. This is why a mother needs to be in her power, because she will know how to be discerning with her own energy as she imparts it. I think it is imperative to teach while simultaneously affirming your daughter’s own innate intelligence and sense of Self. Otherwise, no matter how wonderful your values are, you will be imposing them and pushing your daughters away.
I allowed my daughters to experiment. I was very clear, however, about not entertaining any violence in the home in language, books, TV, video, games, etc. I also kept clear boundaries about how I needed to be treated, as this so-called culture we live in is built on toxic disrespect and since males are the dominating force, they embody it the most, thereby giving it rampant permission. Girls will internalize this disrespect and hate themselves. I insisted on respectful communication. I urge you to not allow sarcastic tones, meanness, negative facial gestures, or out-of-control expression. Respect is the bottom line. However, when anger reared, I allowed my daughters to have their anger, as well as all their feelings, not making them wrong for what they were feeling, and instructed them to feel and to get to know what they were feeling and find ways to communicate without being abusive. And I had to deal with my anger and not project it. They learned about actions and consequences. My main job was to watch my own triggers in the face of their young reactivity and not project, blame or shame. If I did, I would apologize, modeling for them that I honored equality and that adults don’t always know everything. I strongly encourage you to watch vigilantly for the dominating hierarchical conditioning that can often emerge when dealing with children.
As my girls got older, I encouraged them to think for themselves. If they wanted to see a movie I objected to, I told them of my feelings and let them go anyway (age appropriate). Then, at times, I would find a way to see the same movie and then ask them how they felt about how the girls and/or women were treated in the movie. They would have to ponder and think about it and usually they could see the rampant sexism—seeing it on their own and telling me about it was much better than me continuing to tell them because at a certain age, they start to impatiently roll their eyes with that “oh Mom” expression, which I would address while at the same time figure out how to allow them more space to unfold.
When my daughters went into menarche, meaning “to take reign”, I created a circle of initiation for them. They had a little resistance at first, because none of their friends did such things, but since they were raised with a woman-only sweat lodge in the backyard, they knew that their mother was unusual from the get-go and they could respect my offering to them. I feel that honoring a young bleeding woman and bringing her into the sacred circle of wise women is something that has lasting life-long effects—for both mother and daughter.
Our girls need to feel and see the reflection of their own beauty, which is deep and vast, and unknown by patriarchy. They need to learn about not giving their power away to boys and men. This education is a formidable task, as once they are in the hands of this culture, male domination lurks with a vengeance. They must learn vigilance and know that their worth is not determined whatsoever by what boys and men think. And they must know that they were not put on this female Earth to please men. When we, as powerful SheBear mothers can hold this space for our beautiful daughters to thrive in, we will succeed in maintaining the sacred mother/daughter bond that has been torn apart by the jealous and raging patriarchal mind. The unbroken lineage of mothers and daughters will once again re-store the community (“muni” is Latin for “gift”) to a place of beauty, bringing from deep cellular memory the matriarche cultural values of our original African mother, as feminist cultural historian, Lucia Birnbaum has revealed—justice with compassion, equality and transformation. (Birnbaum, dark mother, 2001, back cover).
Grandmother Agnes, chairwoman of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, says “Leslene has an important message and many people need to hear it.”