ghost ranch birth story listening retreat shadows

In November 2018, a group of amazing birth workers gathered at Ghost Ranch, in Abiquiu, New Mexico to journey deep into the world of Birth Story Listening with our fearless guides Pam England, Nikki Shaheed, and Nicole Tricarico. We came from all corners of the USA and around the world.  We brought with us expertise in birth, yoga, body work, breastfeeding, nursing, psychology, education, and health. Our paths intersected in a powerful location, seemingly set apart from the real world. We felt safety in this place, as the cliffs and mesas created a container for the shifts that occur when we dig deep. Even the light at Ghost Ranch was different, bringing the colors and textures of the landscape into sharp focus. It illuminated our work as we explored the shadows that show up when we begin to delve into birth stories and life stories.

In Birthing From Within, the framework of our understanding is that birth can be a powerful initiation, transforming a person into something completely new.

We recognize that many birthing parents are called to dig through layers of who they thought they were in order to explore who is underneath, like discovering the layers in the cliffs that surrounded us at Ghost Ranch. We know that parents find themselves needing to do things they never envisioned, overcoming obstacles and pushing through sometimes difficult terrain. Birth Story Listening is an extension of that understanding. It is a process intended to help parents and birth workers explore and integrate their story of initiation in a way that serves rather than limits.ghost ranch birth story listening retreat rocks

With this foundational belief, we followed our Power Journey into new realms, creating new layers of understanding. First, we explored how birth stories, particularly difficult birth stories, are often held in the physical body, even if they have not been expressed aloud. We looked at different ways of using this knowledge to help parents reframe their stories, either through examining current thought patterns and then drawing attention to any resulting physical shifts, or through working with the body and then drawing attention to any resulting shifts in belief. Many of the women present had expertise in yoga, rhythmic movement, dance, myofascial work, rebozo, and other bodywork modalities. So as our conversation developed, the possibilities became endless when considering ways to incorporate a physical understanding of trauma stories into our work.

We also spent time examining how people come to us in different stages of processing their story. As parents process their birth experiences over time, their stories shift, as do the ways in which they tell them. Different pieces come in and out of focus, and the organization of the story transforms over time. We studied these changes in great detail so that in the future we can respond from a deeply compassionate place and guide our clients more effectively towards creating a narrative that promotes healing and wholeness.

Finally, we supported each other in honing our skills during birth story listening clinics. We practiced listening to stories. We took a magnifying glass to the different physical responses that indicate that a birth story teller is building new insights. And with the understanding that some of us will go on to teach Birth Story Listening to other professionals, we began learning how to coach and support each other in professional growth.

ghost ranch birth story listening retreat group

The norm at a Birthing From Within training is that below the fascinating intellectual work, there is an underworld of personal investigation happening.

The beauty of BFW training is its recognition of the fact that our professional work IS our personal work, and that professional growth cannot come without inner growth.

Holding this philosophy, we always incorporate rituals to mark our learning processes, using storytelling, visualization, symbols, and other ceremonies to embody our own initiations. We inevitably discover great power when we participate in these rituals with a community that is deeply compassionate and truly intentional about forward momentum.

We all came to Ghost Ranch with our own stories of conflict, suffering, or inadequacy. We walked and talked together, witnessed each other, laughed, cried, laid down our griefs, and learned to deeply recognize our own reflections within each other’s faces. In doing so, we created a deep sense of connection and motivation to continue fostering these relationships as we each move forward on our individual paths. For, just as birth is an initiation, so was our Power Journey through Ghost Ranch.

And, after the ritual, what we are each left with is our own story.ghost ranch birth story listening retreat sunset


About Shannan Williams

Shannan Williams is a professional birth, postpartum, and sibling doula, a Birthing From Within Childbirth Educator, and a trained Birth Story Listener. Her approach to birth involves supporting parents’ knowledge of birth along with their intuition to help them develop a holistic set of personal skills for navigating both the emotional and physical journey of birth. She is passionate about offering compassionate and affirming care for diverse populations through the full spectrum of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum possibilities.

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