Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Prayer for Ayla Jade

Moving and Beautiful Words and an Aspirational Prayer from my dear friend and Tibetan studies colleague, Damcho, who is ordained in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The below was composed for Ayla on her birthday, and published on Damcho's blog at on November 6, 2008.

wonderful new beginnings have already taken place today: it was with great, great joy that i learned that this world community has another member, who i am sure will contribute greatly to its beauty: ayla jade sylvia, the child of my dear friend (and fellow tibet site seminarian) leigh sangster.

i received word that leigh was in labor early this morning, but later in the day somehow found myself suddenly moved to express in words some aspirations for the child. when the message of ayla's safe delivery came through, i learned that this spontaneous aspirational prayer for her was composed just 15 minutes after ayla began her life outside the womb. (makes me wonder just what sort of karma baby ayla and i have together!)

in the hopes that you who read this will add your voice to mine in making this aspiration for ayla, i include it here:

dear baby, even before you develop the words to name this experience, may you always recognize that you are surrounded by love.
may you always carry in your heart the knowledge that this precious life you have now is only possible within a matrix of kindness and caring linking many, many others to you.
as you acquire language, may only the words for happiness, delight, love and joy be comprehensible to you, and may the words for suffering and unhappiness make no sense to you at first, because they do not match any of what you have known yourself.
just as you caused joy for many people in many directions today just by entering this world we all share with you, may you continue to be a source of joy and peace to all those around you, awakening love spontaneously in all who see or hear you.
may you live always within the embrace of that love.
may your actions always reflect the goodness that is your deepest nature.
may your life be long, and full of meaning and wonder.
may it inspire others.
may you be happy, dear baby.

Best and Worst Firsts (a selection)

Day 1… - too beyond words
Day 3 – First car ride; coming home from Alma Birth Center, sleeps through the car and introduction to her house and into the family bed.
Day 3 – first visitors, Auntie Deb and Auntie Dana!
Day 4 or 5 – Ayla loses her first eyelash! Alas, The degeneration of the human body! Woohoo, we make a wish for her!
Day 5 – Magical Mystery Poop! That she has excreted a massive amount of meconium-ish breastmilk-ish poop is evidenced by Jason's threefold changing of his own clothing before we can figure out how it keeps getting on him! She managed to propel it out the back of her diaper, on through between two blankets and out onto the (black and concealing) bedspread, meanwhile remaining completely clean herself.
Day 5 – meets her first baby friend, Elling Spiers!
Day 5 – Midwife Kate gives first in-home postpartum check-up.
c. Day 6 – smiling in her sleep. Is she remembering past lives? Remembering her last meal? She’s barely had her eyes open; how visual can her dreaming be?
Day 7 – Midwife Brandee comes for check-up and repeats weighing twice to double check and yes, she has regained her birth weight (minus one ounce) in just one week!
c. Day 9 – her ear cartilage is noticeably firmer, transforming from a perfect paper-thin pink wing close to her head to a perfect fleshy appendage
Day 10 – First time out of the house. Having (along with mama) hardly left the bedroom, we bundle up and venture out into the backyard. Stepping into a ray of sunshine, this Portland native girl squints her eyes and turns away.
Day 11 – First Bath! We should not have wondered how she’d handle it: Back in the warm water she curls into fetal position and relaxes.
c. Day 12 – vomit! Far more traumatic for mama than babe
Day 12 – We go to the Portland Saturday Market for Jason to pick out his ‘welcome to fatherhood’/’thanks for being such an awesome birth partner and life partner’ cedar flute. Ayla’s second car ride and first public outing. Maybe also her first time (aside from the trip home) being fully dressed in clothing (yuck).
Day 13 – Meeting and Blessing from Yangsi Rinpoche. Ayla’s first Tibetan lama’s blessing outside the womb, she is very open-eyed and calm.
Day 14 – First time back to Alma, this time for two week check-up! She’s reached 9 lbs 3 oz, and everyone remarks about her beauty, peacefulness, apparent vigor and enjoyment of the milk!
Day 15 – Grandma Miller arrives! they meet at the changing table; appropo of the weeks of laundry ahead
Evening day 15 – Yeast infection strikes baby bum! Pure Misery ensues!!
Day 15 – 19 – Total Number Diaper Changes = 112. Perhaps her first Guinness World Record.
c. Day 16 - face breaks out in tiny pimples. What, that radiant, luminous skin doesn’t last forever?!?
Day 17 – met her first newborn friend, Luis Filipe Martin Malcom Marley Wild-Camara, then 5 days old! She looks huge and so much more awake compared to him, and compared to our memories of her 12 days previous.
c. Day 20 – her eyes are increasingly focusing further away. Looking into them is less like a bottomless pool, she seems to recognize us by sight even more.
c. Day 21 – She's three weeks old and for the first time in months that we don’t go to Alma for a weekly check-in.
c. Day 22 – Dramatic feats of hand-eye coordination: seeing, focusing, reaching out towards and actually touching the diaper wipes box lid, then repeating with jason’s hand.
Day 23 – I feel twice that it was not a random jerking arm movement but rather a real hug I received.
Outgrows at least one brand of newborn/small diaper covers
Day 24 – Thanksgiving! Longest outing so far – 4 hours at two friends’ homes gatherings. Lots of love came Ayla’s way and she was very quiet, sweet and wide-eyed.
Day 25 – 24 hours recuperation from the stimulation of the day before, and also perhaps gassy
Day 26 - First for Daddy and Grandma Miller: whispered cheering for Georgia Dawgs as Ayla sleeps in grandma’s lap.
Day 26 - Stayed awake, alert and looking around for an entire neighborhood walk.
Day 26 – SMILED AND LAUGH-LIKE SOUNDS! We’ve believed we’ve seen smiles, or proto-smiles, already, but this was unambiguous! Mama and Daddy were laughing and she joined right in!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Motherhood as Bodhisattva Boot Camp

(I've decided to make public some passing thoughts on the spiritual path as related to motherhood, as a few friends and I try to start a community of women for discussions and support in Portland, and since I have felt in my own pregnancy, birth and early postpartum that there is a dearth of positive stories and models in our culture. Sharing some honest reflections maybe is a step I can take towards more realistic, and affirming, understanding.)

Glimpses of a Spiritual Path from My Wanderings in the Deep Postpartum Forest, or, Motherhood as Bodhisattva Boot Camp

Labor and birth are easier than the third week postpartum

In labor, there is a very clear goal, only one ‘right’ result and one job to do. When the baby cries, there is no one answer, or maybe there is no answer, for ‘what’s wrong?’ or ‘what do I do?’ Unlike labor, when the baby cries, there is no team of cheerleading experts coaching, supporting and, once on the other side, congratulating me on a job well done. The exhausting efforts of birth are less than 24 hours of exertion, and followed by life-altering emotional (and hormonal) highs! But the cries of her painful yeast infection, endless diapering and sore nipples last for days and days and bring only more sleep deprivation.
For a spiritual practice, surely there is no better place than motherhood, where there is no more place for attachment to results, rewards and praise.

Heartbreaking Love

Pema Chodron and others have spoken of the heartbrokenness of the bodhisattva path, the wounded, tender heart. I have never really understood this presentation; loving-kindness, compassion, and virtuous interactions with others are feel-good things. The presence of lamas and their tangible good qualities is restorative and inspiring to me, and in my imagination my future self who has cultivated compassion and generosity and the other paramita emits joyousness without clinging. ‘Heartbreak’ has sounded too much like suffering.

But when my baby has cried, and I mean really from her depth expressed some utter misery and appears as utterly inconsolable, I have had a taste of this heartbroken state. I cannot but sob with my urgent, intense need to end her suffering, impervious to any other considerations.

I think it is the other side of the spontaneous, uncontrollable, immediate, unwavering and un-diminishing intense love that is ignited in that sacred first week. I felt blessed, fortunate, full of joy to have experienced such unselfish and unmediated love.

These moments of purely spontaneous feeling of love and compassion for the other must be akin to those attributed to the bodhisattva. I am awed when I think of beings like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, whom I have seen stop mid-sentence to weep, so moved by his practice of Shantideva’s teachings on compassion and bodhicitta in this world, who have this kind of spontaneous, selfless feeling for all beings, not just their own child. It now seems, in comparison, as though any past experience I have had moved by suffering or motivated by compassion has been merely cultivated, generated, produced through some process of thought and cumulative reflection. I also acknowledge that the spontaneous, genuine response of the new mother in me is fleeting, limited to this one little being who has never harmed me or been selfish, and is subject to my degrees of sleep deprivation and patience. Nonetheless, it is a tremendous gift to cultivate, and I am sorry that Ayla offers me such precious opportunity for growth at the expense of her own comfort. Perhaps my attempts at awareness and contemplation will go some way towards re-paying her.

Bonding and Letting Go

The birthing process is showing up in reverberations elsewhere. In Ayla’s struggle to get out a poop there is strain, possibly pain, and discomfort, holding her breath and panting, movement to ease or stimulate the process: labor. The co-existent dichotomy of intense bonding and letting go is sure to be another throughout our lives together. In giving birth, the yearning to bring out the baby is not merely as an end to the physical torment but too the desire to finally cradle, see, hear, smell the little being that’s been occupying my belly, dreams, thoughts and conversations for most of a year. The ordeal resolves with that fulfilled desire only through surrendering, letting go, refusing consciously and deliberately again and again to give in to the instinctive reaction of wanting to avoid displeasure and seeking self-protection. I have struggled to allow moments of letting go of the intense attachment I feel to Ayla just to let others, even her father, hold her. I know she needs some undisturbed time ‘alone’ to discover her body and her world for herself, requiring me to let go of my need for her, even as that bond gives her the security and confidence to explore.

Detached or Overly Identified, It’s Still an Ego Bruising

When Ayla cries, I feel proud when I can quickly and calmly and tenderly soothe her. More often, my ego gets challenged by feelings of inadequacy when the cries ratchet up rather than fade away. I feel guilty and cold when I react as a detached witness, analyzing possible causes and alleviations of her situation, hardening to her sounds of distress to preserve my own capacity to respond, my own emotional stability. I feel too vulnerable to be her protector when I become too identified with her, and her wails are met by my own unleashed flood of tears. I have to ask myself how much my motivation to get her to calm down is to alleviate my own annoyance, frustration or pain, and to what extent I genuinely care only for her happiness. I don’t expect to only feel the later 100%, but I am embarrassed to catch myself weighted to the former sometimes.

mama in training, october 25, 2008

Giving Thanks

To everyone who thought of us throughout our pregnancy, labor and birth, and first two weeks with Ayla, we extend our heartfelt Thank You!

I've felt so supported and encouraged by everyone, and the belly received so much love as it grew and wiggled. I have no doubt that your positive contributions were among the causes of the ease of the pregnancy and the safe happy outcome of the birth. During the hours of labor I was also aware of the presence of those who love us; Ayla and I worked hard, but did not suffer.

I'm sorry to have not replied personally to each of you yet, but your emails and calls have been very much appreciated. In the first week it was especially sweet to stay in bed with our daughter, napping and starring at each other and enjoying Jason reading your notes to us. As infatuated as I've been with the little bundle of snuggling delight, days in bed can still be a bit lonely, and so hearing from you, and knowing even just her picture was bringing joy to others too, meant a great deal. We extended the precious cocoon of sacred, peaceful, intimate time into the second week, as my healing continued and Ayla didn't seem to mind lounging around, milk dripping from her chin, getting even more squeezable chubbiness. A special expression of YAHOO! for those portland friends who've keep our refrigerator well stocked and belly's happy with their visits that nourished us body and soul. We've now begun to venture out into the world again a little, and some of the charm of reveling in her every breath and gesture is wearing a little thin in those middle of the night fussy hours….we're making the transition from 'newborn' to 'baby' (already!). This week my mother is here achieving unprecedented feats of copious laundry and cooking, and holding the babe a couple of hours a day so I can enjoy a long shower or trying to remember which of my pre-pregnant jeans was largest. Ayla continues to unfurl and emerge in the most stunning ways, engrossing her papa and I for countless hours, but we aspire to be not only good parents, but also remain good friends to those we love, and hope to stay in touch well with you all.

The Best and Worst Firsts, Why Labor is Easier than Week Three, Bathing Beauty Video, and other parental musings on some memorable landmarks of the journey so far, will appear at There is also a link from there to photo galleries of "the precious one", to which Jason has been regularly adding updates, which is . Please make a note of/bookmark these addresses if you'd like to keep up with us this way; we won't be jamming your inboxes with future notices of new posts.

Lastly, we were gravely remiss in that first email announcing her birth and naming to not have dedicated several gushing pages of praise to our three midwives and the birthing center. I feel so incredibly fortunate to work with them; truly blessed to have experienced their transformative and empowering model of pregnancy and birth. You probably all know that since I and baby are healthy ("low risk") we were able to plan an all natural 'home birth' (at their house, not ours), drug-free, with lots of movement and time in the warm water. Though it turned out to be a difficult labor due to the baby taking the scenic route or whirling dervish way down and out, I never have questioned the safety, beauty and power of our birth team or our ability to welcome our baby in a calm, supportive, loving environment. Melissa, Kate and Brandee at Alma Midwifery have taken extraordinary care of us – I simply cannot express how amazed I am that what they do and offer even exists, and then how incredulous and unjust it is that every woman doesn't have the experience I have had, doesn't even know to expect it as a normal, healthy way to birth. If anyone out there is considering birthing options, or wants to know more for any reason, I'm happy to share more of my experience and research. It's my new favorite subject!

Very best wishes to you all, with Lots of Love and Bountiful Gratitude at this Thanksgiving time,
Leigh (and Jason and Ayla)

Monday, November 24, 2008