A friend online recently shared her struggle to conceive, and the thread of comments that followed was enormous: support, commiseration, books to read, foods to add, foods to eliminate, therapies to try, drugs to consider, websites to visit…. my own suggestions were among them. I realized as I took a step back though, how incredibly overwhelming it could be to sort through everything just in that single thread, let alone how it would expand once you actually started exploring the suggestions. And then I remembered an assignment from my doula training with Birth Arts International.
Susun Weed is an internationally renowned herbalist specializing in women’s health, and she authored two concepts known as the 3 Traditions of Healing, and within that, the 6 Steps of Healing. I realized that an understanding of these concepts could bring clarity and illumination.
(If you have a few minutes, I encourage you to pause here and read Susun’s own words in their entirety – they are far more eloquent than mine. )
If you don’t want to read the whole thing right now, here are some key excerpts to set the stage:
“The three traditions of healing are the Scientific, the Heroic, and the Wise Woman. The scientific aspect wants facts, the heroic aspect wants to be told what to do, and the wise woman aspect smiles and offers you a bowl of soup and some bread and cheese she made herself.
The Scientific Tradition defines truth as measurable and repeatable. The whole is the same as its most active part. Herbs are reduced to standardized extracts; only the active ingredient is important. Healing is fixing. Linear thought, linear time. Good and bad, health and sickness always at war. Nature is mechanized. Bodies are machines. Anything that deviates from normal needs to be fixed. Measurements determine deviation; drugs insure normalcy. Plants are potential drugs, safe only in the hands of licensed experts.
Predating the Scientific tradition, the Heroic view sees that the whole is a circle made up of all its parts -- body, mind, and spirit. Sickness is caused by pollution of the body, mind, or spirit. Healing is the removal of the corruption, the detoxification. Puking, purging and bleeding. Removing curses. Cleansing the colon and the aura. Making everything light. No pain, no gain. If it tastes bitter it is good for you. Food is the first addiction, learned at the mothers' breast. Control yourself. Control your thoughts. Control your appetites. Control your desires. If you want to get to heaven, follow the rules. If you are sick, it is your own fault. You were negative. You were bad. You ate the wrong food, thought the wrong thought, sinned. You stepped outside the charmed circle. The Heroic healer saves the day thanks to rare substances, exotic herbs, and complicated formulae.
Then we have the oldest of them all, the Wise Woman Tradition. Its symbol is the spiral. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Life is a spiraling, ever-changing completeness. Disease and injury are doorways of transformation. Each one of us is inherently whole, yet seeking greater wholeness; perfect, yet desiring greater perfection. Whole/healthy/holy. Substance, thought, feeling, and spirit inseparable, intertwined. Good health may be freedom from disease, but it is also openness to change, flexibility, and compassionate embodiment, even when dancing with cancer or healing from a serious accident. Uniqueness rather than normalcy. Not a cure, but an integration; not the elimination of the bad, but a nourishing of wholeness/health/holiness. Nourishment of wholeness/health/holiness is invisible, simple, grounded, holographic, both/and, ever-changing, woman-centered, and compassionate.”
No one of these methods of healing are better or worse than the others – they each have a role to play in our lives and we each embrace all three traditions of healing at different times. Today I want to explore the 6 Steps of Healing from within the Wise Woman Tradition, and how they can be used in your journey to conception and birth. As you become familiar with each step as a tool, you will certainly find yourself using these tools in other areas of your life as well. Sometimes all you have to do is take Step 0, while other times you will journey all the way through to Step 6. If it is an emergency you may even find yourself going straight to Step 6. The key is to be open to learning, changing, and growing at each step as healing may be found in any of the steps along the way. You may choose to go through the steps one at a time, or embrace them all together at once. You may stay in each step for a moment only, set a time limit on how long you will spend in each step, or simply be open to staying for as long as you need. This journey is your own.
Step 0 – Do Nothing.
Simply be still. Be open to all that is possible. Meditate. Pray. Be mindful. Be present. Observe whether anything even needs to be done. Just be, with what is, without judgments, labels, or opinions.
Step 1 – Collect Information.
Collect all sorts and styles of information. Facts, figures, and statistics are easy enough to gather in today’s information age, but they aren’t the only way of knowing. Listen to your dreams and your intuition. Listen to stories, consult spiritual mentors. Make a list of people you trust whom you can turn to at any time, and turn to them often.
Charting your cycle through basal body temperature, as well as cervical position &/or cervical mucous will provide you with important information about how your body is working. Toni Weschler’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility is a great book on the topic. There are also apps and online sites such as Fertility Friend or Fertility Flower to assist you with charting.
Step 2 - Engage the Energy
Sometimes a subtle shift in energy is all it takes to turn the tide in your healing. A hug, a smile, an open window, a long walk, prayer, meditation, visualization, homeopathic or flower remedies. Make kindness, gratitude, and giving a focus in your life *every* day and your focus *will* shift. Not only will your mental and emotional focus shift, but your body will shift as well.
Reflexology, yoga nidra, reiki, and therapeutic touch would also be options to consider in Engaging the Energy. Be sure to work with a practitioner who is knowledgeable about women's reproductive health. You could also consider yoga nidra to assist you in the Do Nothing stage.
Step 3 - Nourish and Tonify
Nourish yourself in body mind and spirit. LOVE yourself – especially the parts you despise or are ashamed of. Demonstrate that love to yourself through lifestyle changes such as dietary modifications (including the use of herbal teas) and exercise if needed. Doing these positive nourishing things over time is tonifying – they increase the energy available within you.
Herbal teas such as Full Moon Rising; working towards a healthy body weight through moderate activity that you love to do; exploring food intolerances and the harmful effects of inflammation in the body either with the help of a naturopath, holistic nutritionist, or the books Meals That Heal Inflammation by Julie Daniluk or Naturally Knocked Up by Donielle Baker would also be options to consider in Step 3.
Step 4 - Stimulate & Sedate
Here is where you explore the use of therapies known to stimulate or sedate the body: herbal tinctures, acupuncture, hot/cold therapy for example.
Reflexology, massage therapy, chiropractic care, etc could all come in this category as well as in Step 2 or Step 3 depending on the approach of the practitioner and your own goals for the therapy.
Step 5 - Use Supplements/Drugs
Supplements are foods taken out of context. Herbs which contain standardized extracts also fall into this category. Drugs are the category where the medical profession steps in with standardized synthetic medications designed to provoke a specific response within the body.
Some feel that high dilution homeopathics fall into this category as they are only available from a Homeopathic Doctor and may have a more pronounced action in the body than lower dose homeopathics available over the counter.
Using Robitussin to increase cervical mucous or taking Clomid to increase the number of eggs released in a cycle would fall into the drug portion of Step 5, while taking a high quality fish oil like Nutra Sea and whole-food prenatal vitamins would fall into the supplement portion of Step 5. As you can see, even with each Step there are degrees of intervention.
Step 6 - Break & Enter
This step includes surgery, invasive diagnostic procedures, psychoactive drugs, and invasive or harsh alternative therapies. Step 6 approaches ALWAYS have side effects and cause harm even as they strive to bring healing. That being said, you have to decide if the benefits outweigh the risks for you. While step 6 interventions are rarely my first choice, there is a time and a place for them and they may be exactly what you need.
Step 6 would include all assisted reproductive technologies.
If you are one of the many women who wants a child and is struggling to bring that dream to life, please be assured that you are not alone in this journey; that it is NORMAL to feel angry, jealous, sad, discouraged, depressed, anxious…; and most importantly be assured that there IS hope. No one knows what the future holds but I do know that there is a path forward for you which can bring you peace and joy even in the midst of grief and struggle.