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There are several books I’ve been meaning to review on this blog, but I’m only just now getting around to it. I have so many herbalism resource books that I adore—the pages full of fingerprints, hand-written notes, earmarks, bookmarks. But they are wonderful reference books—not as apt to be read, shall we say, recreationally? For excellent herbal resource texts (as well as some durn fine reads), I’ll refer you to the bibliography.
The Natural Pregnancy Book by Aviva Jill Romm is exceptional. It is the book that happily fills the gap between What to Expect When You’re Expecting and the work of Ina May Gaskin. Romm’s writing is at once warm and practical, providing an appropriate blend of succinct information on the experience of pregnancy balanced with a buoying tone of empathy and sisterly sharing. A midwife and herbalist herself, Aviva Romm also encourages women and their partners to take ownership of their journey, educating themselves about the various options and decisions of which they may not even be aware.
As you can see from the picture, my copy is filled with tabs marking wonderful herbal therapies and preparations, but this is not just a book for herbalists. This may be one of my favorite aspects of the book. Many women feel great creative urges when pregnant, and the self-care tips and the herbal preparations and the myriad suggestions for connecting and being present throughout the journey of pregnancy, all of these provide a welcome outlet to the mother and her partner. They are intended for use by pregnant women, any pregnant woman, as one more sacrament for nourishing and building connection.
The explanations of symptoms, the different trimesters, the birth process, and issues that may arise, are all described with candor, but do not bludgeon nor (pardon the pun) belabor the point—there is no fearmongering here. Issues such as miscarriage and breech birth, as well as morning sickness or swollen feet, are dealt with in such a manner that the woman has knowledge to be aware of herself and the power to chart her own course. It is not harped on till it terrifies her, as some pregnancy books seem to do.
The great message of The Natural Pregnancy Book is to impart such knowledge and resources and encouragement to the woman or the couple to take it into their own hands, make their own path, and be involved; that pregnancy isn’t just something that happens to you—it is something you participate in.
I’ve recently been spending some time brushing up on my knowledge of the female cycle. It’s an area of herbalism that I’m particularly drawn to, as a woman, but also because it’s one of nature’s great orchestrations, like the movements of a concerto, each with its own nuances, yet flowing together, woven into a cohesive, exquisite whole. As with a concerto, one group of musicians will deliver the notes and the rhythms slightly differently from another, placing stronger stresses on this or that passage, drawing out those bars a little longer. And it’s a miracle! Our bodies go through this amazing cycle each month, all so we can conceive and bring life into the world. It’s mundane, yes, and some find the topic embarrassing… I find it stunning.
And somewhat hilarious. A friend of mine recently commented to me that we spend so much of our lives trying not to get pregnant, but once we decide we want to, it’s suddenly so… complicated.
And that’s the thing. Most OB-Gyns just say if you want to get pregnant, count from the first day of your period, and have sex on day 14 and every other day for the next week. The flaw with this rule is that it is a rule—no two women are alike, and so no two women’s cycles are alike. The most empowering thing for a woman or a couple trying to conceive is to learn and celebrate the nuances of her individual cycle, the dominant themes and recurring melodies.
So I’ve been reading articles on foods to eat, substances to avoid (sugar, caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, *ahem*), ways to maximize fertility. And my friend Pamela sent me a link to FertilityFriend.com—brilliant! The site offers a free online course on understanding and charting your own cycle (which is really interesting even if you aren’t trying to conceive), support communities, amazingly comprehensive FAQs, story sharing, and cycle calendars (and yes, there’s an app for that) that allow you to graph or predict different dates in your cycle, enter all kinds of data, overlay graphs for multiple cycle to view trends, the list goes on and on. And yes, I tend to geek out on this sort of thing. I find it exciting and empowering, at age 31, to be getting to know my body and my cycle so well.
Gilbert Chesterton said, “A woman uses her intelligence to find reasons to support her intuition.” I have a hunch he may have meant this to be a less-than-generous statement, and yet I take it as a compliment. I’m 31 and just figuring it out—it’s generally been a taboo topic, I guess, or at least not one commonly discussed among my female friends and family—and I’m finding it a joyful experience! Wendell Berry spoke of not having a TV or computer because he found all those voices, all that noise, interfered with his ability to hear his own voice, and it can get pretty noisy in this world of ours.
A great gift we can give ourselves: to pay attention, take note, listen, and learn from what our body, our one-of-a-kind, magical, perfectly imperfect body, has been wanting to tell us all along.
(As an aside, please forgive my exuberance: it’s spring. LAAAAAA!!!)
I love tincturing. I thoroughly enjoy blending teas. But by far my favorite way to take (and make) my herbal medicines is in the form of food. If you’ve ever visited my other blog, The Purple House, you know that my better half and I are more than slightly food-obsessed—we both love to cook, we love to cook together (the fact that I happily share kitchen space with this man speaks volumes), we love discovering new foods, and we love knowing where our food comes from, having a relationship with our local farmers and raising a lot of our food here at home.
This morning I was turned on to a wonderful upcoming online course on Culinary Herbalism from LearningHerbs.com, and I am so excited to participate! I am constantly looking for more new ways to eat my medicinals. They’ve got one video already online, about 18 minutes long, and if it is any indicator, this online course is going to be great! If you’re interested, visit the Culinary Herbs site and sign up to receive e-mail notifications about the course and other learning opportunities. Once you’ve registered, you’ll be able to view the first video, featuring an herbal meal prepared by K.P. Khalsa, President of the American Herbalists Guild. Damon and I prepared the greens recipe from this video tonight—we had a TON of collards, kale, spinach, and mustard from our garden and our co-op.
LearningHerbs.com also has several free publications, videos, and online courses. I haven’t checked these out yet, but I plan on doing so very soon.
Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs for free and affordable herbal education? Please feel free to share them in the comments… And have a beautiful day!