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Filtering by Category: Narrative

Fierce Grace

Klara Miller

by Natalie Roberts-Mazzeo

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To my daughter Grace, you have embraced your sister in extraordinary ways. Thank you for bringing so much creativity, fun and joy to this new special needs life. I know it must have been hard to watch your parents try to navigate the early days your sister’s sudden serious diagnosis. You see, we were both hurting and grieving and sometimes it’s easier to stay angry, than it is to feel the raw pain and reality of Chiara’s condition and what that meant for her life and our family as a whole. You have come along to hundreds of hospital appointments and been by your sister’s side through casts for her clubfoot, EEG’s tests for seizures, AFO fittings, neurology, meetings, genetic appointments, speech pathology sessions and many post operation care visits. Sacred sistahood in action.

 Photograph by  @emmawisephotography

Photograph by @emmawisephotography

You have tested out all the equipment during trials for standing frames, wheelchairs, shower seats, specialised car-seats and feeding chairs with a huge smile of adventure, while I have tried to hide a mothers grief in trying to protect you all. Most of our family time has been spent in hospitals, waiting rooms, long and stressful car rides, travel both locally and overseas for intensive treatments. Yes, it’s been testing and sometimes harrowing but your level of connection, compassion and awareness to our situation always blows my mind. You have learnt such creative ways to play as a lot of our time has been taken up by Chiara’s additional needs – for which there are many. I wish I could give you more time; my heart sinks a little when I see all the games and toys you have been playing with quietly by yourself as I’ve attended to Chiara. You have included your sister into your world, proudly holding her hand as we walk you into school. I admire the way you effortlessly respond to your friends when they ask why your sister can’t talk, or sit or walk.

Grace, you have been blessed at a very young age (although I know you are a wise soul) to know the value of diversity and resilience. I know these two core aspects will put you in good stead through your lifetime.

 Photograph by  @emmawisephotography

Photograph by @emmawisephotography

The world may not always be so kind or accepting of Chiara’s conditions and you will (at some stage) come up against some conflict around disability. People might make jokes or comments that make you feel uncomfortable or uneasy about cerebral palsy or the like. Being different in our world isn’t always easy but it’s what makes us beautiful individuals of the light. It’s where all the treasures and blessings are hidden, so always stay true to you. Stay fiercely strong and proud of the woman you are growing up to be.

Grace, I know in my heart you will know how to respond and manage. All I can say is how proud I am for the love, care and pure acceptance of your sister and this new life we have. And when life gets tough – as it will as we all journey through the ups and downs, please remember you have a rare and precious gift. You have everything you ever need deep within your heart. Women who have walked before you, your aunts, your grandmothers, your great grandmothers and all the Goddesses that have risen like a phoenix out of the ashes, despite incredible challenges.

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If your sister Chiara could talk, I am sure she would tell you time and time again how much she loves you. But I’m sure you already know that right, you both seem to share a secret language together. Keep shining your light fiercely dear one, it’s only going to get brighter and brighter as the years flow by. And remember, no matter what life throws at you – there will always be love, beauty and fierce grace all around you and deeply within you, always.

Love you.
Mum x

Connect with Natalie through her Instagram @natalierobertsmazzeo

The Last Dance- My Journey To Freedom

Klara Miller

Written by Sex Trafficking Survivor & Advocate Jennelle Gordon

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The last dance, the time I thought would never come. The last time I let myself be abused, objectified, bought and sold all for my traffickers gain. The last time I ever wore six inch heels- lustfully dancing for a man, for his sheer pleasure and my excruciating pain.

This is a brief excerpt of my story of slavery, faith, freedom, healing, transformation and my mission to empower other women to do the same.

I was stolen. My faith in myself squelched, my love for myself hidden, and fear ruled my life. After suffering many traumas and being a ward of the state as a child, my traffickers found this vulnerability and pounced away at breaking me down to their weak subservient victim. If you have ever felt vulnerable, weak, uncertain, trapped, guilty, abused, oppressed or ashamed then this true story is for you.

Vegas is all neon lights, glamour and glitz but few grasp the magnitude of the devastating problem of human trafficking in this opulent City of SIn. This is the main place my years of trafficking occurred, although there were other states and traffickers as well. Many inquire how this transpires, how does one go from college student to sex trafficking victim? The answer is simple- it’s science. It’s the science of knowing what a young girl is deficient in and then supplying that very need she is missing. My trafficker happened to be a mastermind, played into my insecurities, and in a short time I was working around the clock for months and years on end without a day off. The exotic dance clubs became brick and mortar for my product- me. I was selling the most lucrative product of all time- sex. The price was high and the stakes higher.

My years of captivity led to severe physical, emotional and mental abuse. I suffered numerous beatings, strangulation, concussions, teeth loss, and these are just the minor physical implications. A loaded gun to my head was a normality, things that most people only see in an action packed movie became my everyday life. The worst trauma I recall was being  thrown down a flight of stairs after being repeatedly punched in the face by a linebacker body builder, then strangled until I passed out, to which I awoke to more beatings and being thrown into the car window. After years of enduring this abuse, the emotional trauma followed in the form of IBS, severe anxiety, depression, panic attacks and the inability to sleep.

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There comes a moment in your life when your life blueprint catches up to your reality and the awakening that they aren’t the same overrides the fear of your current life circumstances, or the change that would follow. That moment finally occurred for me and I knew I couldn’t be held hostage to my fear of my trafficker any longer. The doctors informed me I could die with another concussion and I knew he would end up killing me if I didn’t escape. Most victims never can escape and end up a statistic..

I would love to say I escaped my trafficker and my life was a fairytale afterwards but that would be a lie and after living a lie for ten years, I only live the truth now. Truth be told, once liberated from my trafficker the road back to reality and integration into society was paved with turmoil.  I didn’t have a support system, as I was estranged from family and the more I resisted the life I was trafficked in, the more I found myself home in that very life. It truly was my unwavering faith in God that allowed me the grace to find healing.

The healing came in the form of yoga, holistic nutrition, and Tantra which focused me into the reconnecting with my sensuality and spirituality. I became certified in everything I mentioned and started my healing journey, quickly realizing the reason for living is giving and  all the trauma I had experienced had a purpose. With this realization, I was inspired to form Dance Om, my own unique concept for women’s healing and empowerment. It combines the healing aspects of yoga, energy, various forms of dance with world music to take women on an exotic dance journey to their sacred, sensual, spiritual Self.

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My almost three year old son was another aspect of that healing, as I chose to have a completely unmedicated birth, and move to Orange County to raise him as a single mother reintegrating back into society after being trafficked for nearly ten years, this was a huge feat. Today you can find me speaking out publicly on my experience as a human trafficking survivor and advocating for those still imprisoned who have no voice to do so. My latest venture is the non profit club I started at my college campus called Beyond Freedom. This group of students creates awareness about human trafficking not only on campus but in the community. Our main aspiration is to fund survivors education as this has been a tool in me regaining my power in life. After thirteen years out of school I returned to not only become an honor student but to become a leader on campus, lecturing for various professors and offering a message of connection to my peers through yoga and mindfulness. A highlight was when Tony Robbins reached out to me after hearing my story and personally invited me to his conference as his guest.

The most important lesson I have learned in my life is that healing is not a project to be completed at a certain date but rather a timeless journey. My journey is to inspire other women who’ve suffered traumas, that they too can overcome and be outstanding in life. My mission is to educate, empower and enlighten women to have a voice, to be bold, to be connected, to be passionate, to be prosperous, and to live life in a state of wonder- because this life is a dance of what we most desire and fear. For me, while living in captivity, fear consumed my life but the desire to be free and happy finally won in the end. I remember promising myself that once set free from my life of exotic dancing it would be my last dance, however the new healing modality I created- Dance Om, has me dancing for an entirely different purpose.

Connect with Jennelle through her Instagram- @jennelle_gordon

Reflections of an Indigenous Doula

Klara Miller

Written by Erynne M. Gilpin • Photograph of Karu Peruzzo Mineira by K. Peruzzo 

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“An empowered community is made up by empowered individuals and empowered families, and to me empowerment is feeling at home with who you are, and that begins with the moment of birth. So my own birth story is a great source of strength to me. And so when you ask the questions about our children, I have to go the long way around and say it begins with the way they get born.” (Mohwak Midwife Katsi Cook in an interview by Wessman and Harvey)


She was tired. Labor was coming on fast. Her contractions were strong, and she cried out for a moment’s rest, a moment of relief. “Ambe little one”. Her body takes over. Her partner’s strong hands hold her through the waves, and I place a cool cloth infused with sweet oils on her forehead. Breathing through. “Send your breath to him. Send your breath to him.” I sing the water song in my head. “Speak to him in the language. He is coming. Nipiy. Nipiy. Hiy Hiy Chee Migwetch Gitchi Manitoo….”

… and he was born.

For mothers and families around the world the ways in which we birth our young babies is an act of sovereignty, self-determination and ceremony. Here on Turtle Island (Canada), there are strong hands, hearts and minds which dedicate their lives to ensure that indigenous babies are born in ways which uphold culture, their language, ceremony, and the land. Sadly, racism is alive and well within health care institutions across Turtle Island, and it is paramount that indigenous families and mothers can access care from indigenous birth-workers, midwives and doulas (“aunties”).  Our family alone has lost more than one family member due to racist neglect and inadequate care in the Canadian health-care system and Indian Hospital system. As Western medicine, often male-dominated, took precedent over indigenous healing traditions (from the mid-1800’s and on), many traditional healers, often women and two-spirit, were removed from positions of healing authority. Our teachings, our medicines, our songs, our ways were regarded as alternative, less scientific, and ultimately inadequate for the delivery of healthy and safe births. The impacts of the removal of births from the home territories, waters, and hands of indigenous communities has had deeply “profound spiritual and cultural consequences, which are difficult to quantify. The loss of traditional birthing practices has been linked to the loss of cultural identity.” (NAHO, 2008)

As indigenous birth-workers, we believe that the woman carrying a child is profoundly spiritual and sacred. She is a spiritual entity which connects the elder Kokum-Pîsim to our home Kã wee ooma aski through the rush of nipiy. Our teachings remind us that our children are closest to the Spirit World and hold special authority in our communities. Women’s bodies are intimately interconnected to water, as it passes through with new life in child-birth, and shares the cycles of the moon with our own cyclical menstruation. (Anderson, 2000)

In upholding these responsibilities, women have the opportunity to inspire a relational accountability to the land and water and challenge younger generations to reflect about the ways that our ancestors protected the lands and waters. Birth does not begin with conception nor end at entry into this world; birth begins in the Spirit World and continues through the entire life of the being. The land provides the medicines to heal the little ones as they grow into strong healthy relatives, and the water allows the breastmilk to nourish their journey. Our existence is not separated from the land. Of course, our responsibility to the mothers, families, and little ones cannot be divorced from our sacred responsibilities to defend the land and waters and protect the sacred.

We, as birth-workers, regard those who carry life as those who also carry cultural teachings, relationship, and care for the Nation. Cherokee elder Marilou Awaiakta reminds us that carriers of culture are accountable to the well-being and strength of the entire community. Furthermore, in her book Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back, Annishinaabekwe Leanne Simpson explains that breastfeeding is a child’s first exposure to relationship based on reciprocal exchange, enabling  them to learn about “treaties, the relationships they encode and how to maintain good treaty relationships.” In this way, “the family is a microcosm of the nation,” and how we care for our families determines how we care for our nation. These ideals are not constricted to gendered notions of femaleness but rather require a personal commitment for all community members to protect and pass on cultural teachings to future generations. The fragmentation of family and the undermining of the role of motherhood through colonial political genocide has created a crisis and the need to rebuild strong families.

For indigenous birth-workers, birth is an act of resurgence. Birth is an act of love for our people. Love for the lands that raised us and the waters that bring us forth. Birth is a process which binds us to one another in relationship and accountability. Birth is what connects us to our ancestors before us and to our generations to come. From the “Birthing The Nation Project” at HOʻOULU ʻĀINA in Kalihi Valley, Hawaii, to the “Seventh Generation Midwives” in Toronto, Canada to the “ekw'í7tl Indigenous Doula Collective,” to the “Indigenous Freedom Babies,” to “AMUPAKIN Achimamas” in Ecuador, indigenous birth-workers are birthing the Nations around the world. To us, the way we birth our little ones is an act of ceremony. Of governance. Of truth. Of resurgence. Of memory. Of life. Of joy. We believe that all indigenous families should have seamless access to indigenous care-takers. All indigenous families have the right to birth their children in ways which are culturally significant, safe and dignified.

I wake up at sunrise and bless nipiy before I drink her in. I smudge and give thanks. I ask that my hands may be steady and my heart strong. I ask that I may know how to best support and love the Mother in her time of labor, and offer friendship for years to come. In a few moons, my own sister-in-law will give birth. We will travel to southern territories and learn from birth-workers in Brazil. I hope my grandmother is proud of me.  I feel honored to be a part of this circle. This circle of blood, water, earth and memory. Hiy Hiy Chee Migwetch Bizindawiyeg. Mii Sa Go Minik.

About the Authour:
Erynne M. Gilpin is of mixed Saulteaux-Cree Métis, Filipina, Irish and Scottish ancestry. She is a PhD candidate of Indigenous Governance (UVIC) and Doula. Her research centers Indigenous land/water based healing traditions as emancipatory practices of contemporary governance; with specific attention to women’s leadership, body-governance birth-work traditions as decolonial praxis.

Connect with Erynne via Instagram @erynne.michelle

Weaning With Love

Klara Miller

Words by Denise Watkins

Breastfeeding was never a question for me. I always started immediately in the hospital after my children were born. None of my children have ever had formula and did not drink milk from the bottle (except for on a couple of random occasions). I was always on tap. Always on call. We were attached at the nip.

I’ve never questioned the nourishment breastfeeding provides. There is nothing better for a child than their mother’s milk. I was fortunate that my body produced a great quantity which allowed me to breastfeed. And at 20 months, baby girl was still reaping the benefits.

And the bonding! Being able to provide such nourishment and comfort. We spent a lot of time in close proximity to each other. The twiddling. The acrobatics. The snuggles. The love. I never hesitated to feed my baby whenever she was hungry, whether that be in church or at the mall or in my home or yours, wherever, whenever.

Baby girl was 20 months old and still waking up a couple times a night for a feeding. And throughout the day she was nursing around the clock. I have tons of videos and pics of the smiles we exchanged, the blinking game we played, the falling asleep, the soothing when she was sick or needed comfort, and the poses she’d end up in – oftentimes upside-down or hanging off the side of the couch. There were countless doctor appointments, trips to the store, visiting guests, playdates, you name it, in which I was feeding throughout. And I snapped pics. Every. Single. Day. I cherish these times.

THE DECISION

I had no intention, no date in mind to stop breastfeeding. I had been ready though. And I knew baby girl was ready too.

We had gotten to a point where I was breastfeeding all day at any place. Even while I cooked or answered the door. We spent most of our time together. And usually if we were in close proximity to one another, I was breastfeeding even though baby girl ate table food very well. Breastmilk was no longer her main supplement but more of a snack.

Some children could be weaned to one or two feedings a day until gradually reducing. But with Eden it was all or nothing.

We had tried once before – spent a few days away. But when we got back, she picked up right where we left off, brought my milk supply right back, lol. And that was ok at that time. She wasn’t ready.

How do you know when your child is ready? You’re the mama and you know. You just know.

It was a Thursday night. I had this terrible nagging cough that kept me up most of the night. And in the minutes where my throat was calm, Eden had a restless night, woke up four times, then up for the day at 6:30am.

I knew then that I would not be able to function throughout the day if I were to nurse as usual – for us this would be around the clock, especially because baby girl hadn’t gotten much sleep and would nurse for comfort the majority of her waking hours.

This would drain the little energy I had left and I wouldn’t be at my best for myself and my family. I knew then, at 6:30 on this random Friday morning, that our breastfeeding days had come to an end. This wasn’t the reason why we stopped, just the indication.

PREP

We had a talk. I told her that she’s a big girl now and that she’d no longer drink milk from mommy’s breast. She said ok and just like that, my baby had grown into a big girl.

Truthfully, if she didn’t agree and actually make strides toward this, I’d still be breastfeeding today.

I felt that it was important to engage her and talk about this with her. These have been her breasts for almost two years. She’s a big girl now and it was important to respect that. I made it our decision, not just mine.

TRANSITIONING

Now, don’t get me wrong. There were tears involved. She had one fit. It was about an hour or so after our talk. I think the reality had set in. She wanted it and I didn’t give in. I reminded her that she was a big girl and mommy’s milk was all gone. I held her and asked if I could hug her. I rocked her in my arms and she was soothed. The last thing I wanted to do was rip her comfort away. So I made sure to provide her with the same level of comfort and love to ease the transition. I had plenty of snacks and small meals prepared to offer her at the times when she’d normally be ready for her milk. And I gave her plenty of hugs and snuggles. I even made up and sang a “big girl now” song.

POST CARE

The breast discomfort during this phase is similar to that in the first few weeks of beginning to breastfeed.

Stopping cold turkey has its challenges on the body. Milk just doesn’t stop automatically, though it does slow down to a gradual end. The first day was a breeze. On the second day, my breasts were getting full. And on the third day, I was engorged. I pumped a little to ease the discomfort on those two days – just enough, around 1 ounce. I also wore comfortable sports bras with nursing pads. After that, I didn’t feel my milk coming in anymore. By the fifth day I felt like I had rocks in my chest (clogged ducts). I had 3-5 of them in each breast as my milk slowly leaked out over the course of ten days. Each day I’d feel the lumps travel closer to my nipples then leak. To help ease the discomfort, my husband gently massaged them each night before bed. By the morning they were noticeably better and I had some leakage throughout the day (Days 5-9). On the tenth day I woke up and had my breasts back. No more sensitivity, no more lumps, no more milk.

NEW ROUTINE

The other day baby girl had a flashback and said “milk?” and I replied “You’re a big girl now. No more mommy’s milk.” And she laughed and fell into my chest and gave me a big hug. Just memories now. Great ones.

She’s eating more foods now, but she’s also getting hungry now. You see, throughout our breastfeeding journey, she always had my milk on demand – as soon as she’d wake up, before bed, between naps, in the middle of the night, at Target, on the plane, at Disney, you name it. She had never been hungry before. So, physiologically her body is going through changes that she may not emotionally understand yet. She’s had a couple of fits of frustration, not realizing that she was hungry, particularly in the morning between the time when she’d wake up and breakfast.

I thought nap time would be a challenge because I’d normally nurse her to sleep, but it wasn’t. We’ve replaced the breast with hugs and snuggles. And I have to say – she falls asleep faster, not necessarily in my arms, is so much more independent, and seems a lot happier. She was ready for this! Instead of feeding her to sleep, I simply hold and snuggle her and she falls asleep in minutes! I didn’t want to go from feeding her to sleep to just putting her in bed cold turkey; I want her to know that mama’s love is still right here accessible to her.

Then tonight, on our three week anniversary, I held her before bed. Two minutes in, she leaned away, pointed at her bed, and wanted to go to it. So I gave her a big ole hug and kiss, said goodnight, and tucked her in.

WHAT’S NEXT

My big girl is so much more independent now. She’s eating more and trying new foods. She’s more receptive to leaving my lap and trying new things. She’s falling asleep on her own. I’m looking forward to new milestones. I couldn’t grasp the idea of potty training before; now it doesn’t seem so challenging.

Connect with the author through her Instagram @loccrush

The Spiritual Significance of the Placenta

Klara Miller

Written by Andrea Takacs-Carvalho
Photograph by Meghan Harlow

The moment a baby is born a mother is also born, since the woman who birthed was initiated in a sacred ceremony; she is not the same maiden who carried the baby in her womb. In that moment she experienced a Rite of Passage - a physical and Spiritual transition that changed her core and her identity. In preparation for this process, her body already loved that baby so much that she created a full organ from scratch to sustain the baby’s life - the placenta: a sacred organ that supports and develops new Life, and the fetus’ only source of food, blood, oxygen, and nutrients. That powerful woman sacrificed her own substance so that Life would pass on to another. She then discovers her own strength when she births her baby and the placenta, and indubitably also herself, in the most memorable experience of her life. In that same moment the placenta completes its cycle and dies to allow the baby’s first independent breath.

Traditions from several cultures have been treating the placenta with respect and admiration for its accomplishment and meaning, and many cultures around the world have specific ceremonies for handling it - a strong contrast to how Western medicine treats placentas as human waste. In gratitude for the gift of fertility and the birth of the baby, most cultures respectfully bury the placenta, returning the nutrients and its sacred energy back to Mother Earth, the creator of all physical life. Chinese culture has been carefully treating and using placentas for thousands of years, acknowledging its intrinsic nutritional value by preparing the placenta for consumption. The practice of ingesting pills with the mother’s placenta that has been cooked, dehydrated, ground up, and placed into capsules is called placenta encapsulation. After birth, the woman’s body undergoes drastic changes in hormones, organs shift, blood levels decrease, and more; the placenta contains hormones that can ease the postpartum period, improve milk supply, and even prevent postpartum depression. I chose to have my son’s placenta encapsulated, and it effectively aided me during postpartum recovery, especially because I experienced hemorrhaging after a procedure called cord traction. If consuming the placenta doesn’t align with you, you can still bring it home and perform a burial ceremony, or at least do a respectful disposal filled with intentions for healing.

 Art by Stepha Lawson  @DoulaScienceAndSoul

Art by Stepha Lawson @DoulaScienceAndSoul

Many traditions believe that placentas have their own spirit, and the known rituals created to care for them indicate the existence of an energetic body of the organ. Similarly to how our bodies store sentiments in specific places of our anatomy, the placenta also holds rich emotional and spiritual stories. The placenta is part of the consciousness of the whole mother-baby unit; therefore, the emotional and physical shift caused by the experience of giving birth may cause women to feel a genuine sense of loss of literally giving part of themselves for new life to exist. This feeling may be mistakenly masked by the euphoria of finally embracing the newborn, yet, it indeed becomes imprinted on the mother’s soul. Placenta burying rituals have the power to create closure of the pre-birth physical connection, and end any potential unhealthy emotional dependence between mother and child. It can be even more powerful and meaningful when done in conjunction with a milestone, such as a blessing, a birthday, or the return of menstruation. The ritual is so important that it can be done with the capsules if the placenta was treated, or alternatively without the placenta if the organ is not available to the mother. In place of the placenta, the mother can create a fabric pouch and fill it with items representing the emotions and memories of her childbirth experience.

Creating a ritual to show gratitude for the child’s life, and surrender for our limitations as mothers, has a long-term healing impact on the baby, the mother, and their lineage.