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By Shandus Parish  
I attended the BirthWorks Childbirth Educator workshop on February 1-3, 2013, in Huntsville, AL, with facilitator Sally Healey. Although the weekend was packed with challenging exercises and conversation, I had a wonderful experience engaging in self-reflection, learning a great deal about myself, and forging deeper relationships with a group of women I previously knew mostly as acquaintances. I expected to learn the nuts and bolts of facilitating discussion, become educated on a variety of birthing topics, and generally learn about leading a class. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this workshop involved something much more complex – nitty-gritty, emotional, soul-searching.
I was inspired many times that weekend, particularly in response to the visualization exercises. I’ve always struggled with this kind of exercise because I find it difficult to stay focused on something that felt forced and, frankly, a bit hokey. However, the exercises we used in the workshop did not feel forced, I think because they were structured in a way that required full participation from our inner consciousness. I was astonished by my responses to some of them, coming up with answers that I didn’t even know were in my head. For example, during one visualization we were instructed to imagine a maypole with many colorful ribbons attached to it. In our mind, we were to visualize grabbing hold of one ribbon and to reflect on how that ribbon symbolized ourselves. I expected to see a strong, thick, sturdy ribbon, but instead I immediately imagined a crinkly, fragile-looking ribbon. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get that ribbon to morph into anything else. It revealed to me a deep sense of fragility that I didn’t realize I still had.
Another inspiring activity involved writing about our own birth story from our mother’s perspective and then to analyze any negative assumptions that were revealed in that story. I expected this to be an easy, fairly objective exercise, but as I wrote and then shared with the group, I sobbed uncontrollably as I sympathized with the deep embarrassment, hurt, and abandonment my mother felt at the time of my birth, due to actions of my father. I grieved for my mother and the experience she had, and developed a strong sense of gratitude and understanding of the strength she must have had to mother me so well, despite her circumstances.
In general, I was inspired by how powerfully the births of our own children (even our ownbirths) influence our personalities, emotional responses, and ways of interacting with the world. Conversely, the culmination of how we were raised, the experiences we had as children and young adults, and the relationships we’ve had with significant others and friends can have a tremendous influence on our birth experiences. To ensure the highest likelihood of a positive, empowering birth, expectant mothers should intentionally explore and process through those experiences so that they can begin to own them and transform negative circumstances into empowering memories.
For my own life, the workshop reminded me to trust my instincts more often, not just when giving birth, but in every moment of my daily life. Our inner consciousness knows far more than we can ever realize! I was reminded how important authenticity is in my life and relationships, and to embrace my true self, regardless of how others may receive it. Additionally, it taught me to be more aware of how others’ experiences have shaped their behaviors and how they respond to the world. That is, I should be gentle with everyone, because I may never know what struggles they have to work through.
The workshop will influence my teaching in several ways. For one, I will research and practice ways of responding to my students’ answers so that I can be prepared for any response. I have facilitated many group discussions in the past, and I know how easy it is for a discussion to end too quickly when a facilitator isn’t skilled at helping individuals process difficult emotions and at drawing out responses from those who tend to be quiet and non-participatory. I will also make myself engage in activities that may seem silly or uncomfortable to me, because at the workshop I found that when I was faced with an exercise that made me feeluncomfortable, I had a great deal to learn about myself and about why that discomfort was there. Pushing past my comfort zone was always rewarding. Because of that, I will embrace those uncomfortable, challenging moments in my classes, knowing that if we can all push through that wall, we may discover something momentous.