Birth and Other New Beginnings – Deep in the Heart of Texas

The foundation of my future home

It’s hard to believe that a short two months ago, I was in India – or that one month ago, I was in Santa Fe. The 31-day span of August seemed to expand beyond its margins with more life-passage events than most months can handle. For starters, I picked up my life and relocated it to Austin, Texas; my brother and sister and I convened for our first-ever “sibling only” reunion (i.e., no parents, spouses or children); construction began on my future home behind my brother’s house; one of my dearest sister-friends celebrated her wedding; and last Monday, I witnessed the birth of my nephew, Marvel.

And marvel, I have. He was born at home, slipping into this world noiselessly and stunningly beautiful in a birthing tub in my brother’s home.  Equally beautiful were his parents working in coordinated single-pointed focus to bring him into this world of oxygen and gravity. That sight, the visual imprint of their powerful love for this new life and each other, will never leave my mind’s eye.

Since the time they discovered Jeri Lynn was pregnant right before I left for India, I have been planning to be here to support their family during this tumultuous transition. It seemed like too much of a happy coincidence that their second child would be born precisely when I would have no scheduled commitments and could devote a month to them. It is such a luxury in our culture to have a family member who can move in and help with the logistics of life maintenance for awhile after a child is born. The contrast is dramatic coming from India, where family members converge for weeks on end to help new parents. I honestly don’t know how any parents do it on their own.

In Ayurvedic terms, giving birth is one of the most significant disturbances of vata dosha that can occur in a woman’s body. When the uterus has grown to such an enormous size and then is suddenly vacated, the resulting empty space unsettles the tenuous balance the body has found. Vata dosha is the tangible expression in the body of the elements air and space, and since “like increases like,” this newly empty organ acts as an invitation to vata to move in and wreak havoc. Going through any major life change that disrupts order and predictability also increases vata dosha, so welcoming a new baby upsets vata for the whole family. The results of vata elevation can include digestive difficulties, constipation, pain, anxiety and fear, muscle spasms or tremors, insomnia or mania, and full blown panic. Ayurveda offers many specific recommendations in the days after birth to help comfort and restore balance.

One of the primary treatments for anyone experiencing a vata imbalance is abhyanga, the soothing oil treatment I learned at Vaidyagrama. While abhyanga is often translated as oil massage, a better translation is oil application. In Sanskrit, Abhy means “every” and anga means “limb” or “part,” referring to the application of oil to every body part. Massage is less important than completely covering the body, as oil has a direct calming effect on the tissues. Abhyanga effectively replenishes the buffer between the inside and outside world and quiets the nervous system.

While our plan was for Jeri Lynn to receive a daily abhyanga , we feel pretty accomplished when we fit one in every other day.  We leave the massage table set up right next to the changing table. I love doing it, knowing what an enormous difference it makes during this critical time. Jeri Lynn has said it is already restoring her strength and sense of reserve. We’ve only gotten Ian on the table once, but I hope to increase his time there too.

The second most important tool we’re finding to calm vata is establishing new routines. Jeri Lynn and Ian already swear by the sleep schedule they set for their two-year-old daughter.  When they are off by even fifteen minutes, they can feel it in her behavior and general disgruntlement. Routines communicate directly to the body and mind, creating a structure that helps everyone feel more in control and less anxious. Children are often more sensitive to the subtle movements of the doshas, and we would do well to take cues from them, knowing that our bodies are struggling with the same influences – we’re just more practiced at pushing through a sense of unease or feeling out of rhythm. We are trying to stick to the meal times they have already established, and new routines incorporating Marvel are already emerging.

My third focus in the past week, and my biggest joy, has been cooking. I feel so strongly about the power of food to heal and nurture, it has been incredibly satisfying to cook during this intense time. Food carries energy as well as nutrients, and the meals I’ve been preparing have been such a tangible receptacle in which to pour my love, knowing it would go straight to their cells and hearts. To calm vata, I’ve been cooking primarily warm, soft, moist, easily-digestible food like soups and stews, including the Ayurvedic wonder dish kitchari.

Another important part of our diet these days is ghee, which we put on everything. A form of clarified butter, ghee is an amazing nourisher – it boosts natural immunity, increases digestive power, lubricates all tissues, relieves and prevents constipation, calms vata and pitta dosha, and tastes like heaven. It is easy to make at home (try it!), so I have been keeping a ready supply on hand. Jeri Lynn gets a nightly cup of warm milk with powdered ginger and a spoonful of ghee.

Off to school

Stepping into this part of my sweet family has been an incredible inspiration for me. From my niece, Koruna, I have been learning courage. Not only has she gotten a new brother, she also started pre-school last week, just days after he was born. While her teachers confirm that she is having a good time during the day, each morning she has been anxious and tearful. But each day, she keeps putting one foot in front of the next. Her trust and courage in the face of her apprehension is so tender, it’s almost heart-breaking.

I have also been awed by my brother’s patience. While his wife recuperates, he has taken on the lion’s share of Runa duty – which he loves. It has been so touching to watch their relationship deepen overnight. Runa has been holding herself together incredibly well, but she has dissolved into angry explosions of tears and demands with a greater frequency than usual. My brother greets each outburst with the same steady, quiet patience. While not in the least surprising, it remains incredibly inspiring.

Marvel and his mama

From Jeri Lynn, I have been learning the depth of generosity that is possible even when one is completely spent. She continues to make room in her life (and in her bedroom) for people to come in and share their love with her family in such a physical way. From inviting me to be present at the birth, to inviting her neighbor’s children over hours after Marvel’s arrival, she just keeps opening the door wider. That generosity of self keeps rebounding, creating a loop of giving and receiving that fills a house up with warmth.

And Marvel. He’s teaching me to drop whatever I’m doing that’s so important, to sit still and be present with every fiber of my attention, to dip into the deep well of wonder that I tend to forget is our inborn gift. He is indeed well-named.

20 Replies to “Birth and Other New Beginnings – Deep in the Heart of Texas”

  1. and having witnessed first hand your gentle grace as you beautifully prepare meals, offer comfort where it is most needed, i want to say how much i honor who you are and the gift that you are to this world, let alone your family, love, psi

  2. Ivy this is just so beautiful and insightful of you. You have an amazing ability to capture with words some of the most intimate moments in life. Ian and Jerri Lynn and the kids are lucky to have you. Enjoy this time. Monique

    1. Thanks so much Monique. I feel so lucky to be present for such an intimate moment of this family’s evolution. I am certainly enjoying it! I hope all is well with you and your sweet family in Atlanta.
      Much love to you,
      ivy

  3. Congratulations!! your wonderful writing/ blog made me feel a part of this wonderful journey.i remember having conversation on this topic when i met you the first time in Vaidyagrama.Hope your sis-in-law and family are doing fine.I am sure your knowledge in Ayurveda will help your sis-in-law a lot in getting back on her feet.

    Your observations are amazing and you are very articulate.Please do keep sharing such wonderful experiences and i feel very fortunate having met you in Vaidyagrama ( although i could not interact much ). hopefully we get to spend more quality time on our next visit.

    Hope you are settling down to the new place well and i am sure its a matter of time only.

    take care and lots of love and prayers for you and your family.

    1. Thank you Satya! Yes, we did talk about this at Vaidyagrama, and I have taken some of your wisdom and shared it here! We have wrapped Jeri Lynn’s belly (but not with a sari!) and in fact her midwife encouraged doing that too. I hope you are settling down in YOUR new home as well – a matter of time for all of us, I’m sure! Peace and love to you…

  4. AAAAAAHHHHH. . . . so well writ and expressive. . . thank you for that blog excerpt! Congratulations to you and the whole family. What a wonderful thing to experience birth there in the home environment, at your own pace, with full respect to the wishes of each family member. Lots of love from bean town Sky

    1. Thank you Sky! Yes, birth at home certainly allows a lot more freedom and ease in many ways. Of course, Ian and Jeri Lynn were also thankful that a hospital is close by if it was needed, but in cases where it’s not needed, boy, it sure is lovely to be at home! Sending lots of love your way….

  5. “Vata dosha is the tangible expression in the body of the elements air and space, and since ‘like increases like,’ this newly empty organ acts as an invitation to vata to move in and wreak havoc. Going through any major life change that disrupts order and predictability also increases vata dosha, so welcoming a new baby upsets vata for the whole family. The results of vata elevation can include digestive difficulties, constipation, pain, anxiety and fear, muscle spasms or tremors, insomnia or mania, and full blown panic.”

    This is soooooooo interesting.

    1. I think it’s fascinating too! One of the things I love about the Ayurvedic perspective is that it’s verifiable through personal experience. I have FELT how the disruption of routines during a life change makes EVERYTHING feel a little off. My teacher Dr. Lad says that Ayurveda, at its root, is about increasing awareness – about anything and everything in our lives. By becoming aware of how we are affected by the world around us, we increase our ability to manage the changes we are bound to encounter with a little more grace and ease. Ayurveda just gives us a little heads-up about how we might be affected. Then we get to watch and see what’s true for each of us individually.

  6. thank you for your beautiful observations and love expressed,ivy. you,too, are a marvel! i will reread this translation whenever i want to experience calm and nurturing love. and i am looking forward to joining you all soon. love mom

  7. There aren’t too many people capable of narrating “the deep well of wonder,” you are the master of the art. And how lucky they are to have YOU loving them as you do. I LOVE seeing the construction photo. FWIW, all us Ingrams have building/construction going as we speak!

    Not sure if you got to see this bit of DE-construction at the original “House of Ingram” :

    One House of Ingram goes down, and another one pops up on Rae Dell, Austin TX. Oh yeahhh! Piggybacking Dana Moore ahead of me in line, “I am inspired.”

    Much much love,

    1. Thank you, Flo. Sometimes I fear words are poor vessels for carrying the emotional weight of times in our lives like these… and other times, capturing something in words is therapeutic and transformative in itself, bringing me closer to the act of wonder-ing.

      No, I hadn’t seen that image – so sad! But yes, one goes down, another goes up… beginnings and endings are all wrapped up together, aren’t they? What is YOUR construction project right now?

      Much love to you!

      1. “What is YOUR construction project right now?”

        The 3rd, and last, bathroom [which Don insists on doing himself, every single step from complete gutting/demo to finish, including plumbing, electric, tile, insulation, AC, installation of all fixtures, all of it himself]. Guess who his assistant is. He’s like Papasita, he can do anything, but not without an assistant; like Ian was/is to Papasita, I am to Don.

        I get asked: “How could you DO that? how can you LIVE like that [in the midst of construction]?” I can do it because I insist on the 5 o’clock rule: at 5, all saws and compressors and hammers stop, the 2 workers get cleaned up, the assistant does a quick sweepup/wipedown/pickup, the wine tray gets set out w/ pretty glasses, dinner gets prepared in the first/last quiet of the day…..

        “Sometimes I fear words are poor vessels for carrying the emotional weight of times in our lives like these…and other times…”

        I don’t know of anyone better at the business of mining the head and heart for verbal nuggets of wisdom, for personal truth than you. Truly.

        xxx & ooo

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