Certified INNATE Postpartum Care Provider and founder of Beautiful Cervix Project
Sacred Postpartum Tending
Jessica [00:00:00] Hi everyone. Jessica here from Leiamoon. It’s been a while since I’ve posted a video chat, but recently an early backer of our Leiamoon steam site reached out to check on the status. Very rightfully so, and we got to chatting and she shared a link to her website and I immediately was like, “Oh, I would love to speak with you more!” So here we are with O’Nell. I’m also currently –look at the little side profile–thirty-seven weeks pregnant. So really what O’Nell does, is speaking to me very loudly right now. I know I really need to listen to this and I hope more of you out there are also really curious. O’Nell focuses her work around postpartum preparation and support, which is something I think a lot of pregnant women don’t really save a lot of time for. They’re focused more on pregnancy and birth… And then the postpartum period comes and it really is something to plan for. And if you don’t, you kind of find yourself in a scramble and you’re already in such an altered state. So I’m trying to prepare myself now just for certain practices I can integrate and be ready to have at hand. And that’s really what O’Nell does with the women she works with. She calls her carefully designed in-home treatments for mothers postpartum sacred tending sessions, which I love, focusing on those weeks and months after childbirth to ensure optimal healing and prevent postpartum depression. And one of the practices she offers to mothers is herbal yoni steaming. So this is how we really connected. So welcome O’Nell. Thank you for being here.
O’Nell [00:01:34] Thank you, I’m excited to be here…. I could talk for hours and hours and hours about this. So I’m glad to have your attention and your listeners attention because this is a topic that doesn’t get enough airtime.
Jessica [00:01:52] For sure! I learned that the hard way, I think, with my first pregnancy. So I’m really happy to pick your brain and share more with our audience for sure. So I guess we can start off by just learning more about you and what your path has been to lead you towards this really specific work that you do. If you want to talk bit more about where you’re from, or what your journey has been….
O’Nell [00:02:14] Sure. So what I do now is definitely like a conglomeration of many different threads and pieces that have come together in my life. So starting at the beginning, I grew up in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and my parents were teachers at an all girls boarding school. So I grew up around like a hundred teenage girls all the time. And my parents are educators. And I went to an all girls school, a different one myself. So being around women and educators has always been kind of just like part of who I am. And then when I went to college, I ended up studying holistic early childhood education. Because I was like, “What?” You know, when you’re in college, what are you going to do with your life and what’s most important? And I was thinking, you know, like, if I really want to help create a world where peace and love really are the foundation of it, I’ll start early with the children… And get them the good, you know, give them kind of good values to carry forth into the future. And I’ve always been very connected with children, you know, babysitting, babies. They’re just like my–I just I’m very resonant with them. So I studied that in college and then kind of my senior year I was like a nursery school teacher kind of. And then… somebody I was babysitting, they invited me to come photograph their home birth. And that blew my mind just to see that raw power and vulnerability and just incredible sweetness of her giving birth and the midwifery team that she had with her. So then I kind of was like, whooo! I could go even earlier than early childhood ed and do you know, pregnancy and newborns and become a midwife…
[00:04:25] So I kind of got on that path for a while and studied internationally a little bit, and here in California with a homebirth midwife, and studied with Robin Lim in Bali and Angelina Martinez Miranda in Mexico and…. Just like, I am so in awe of people giving, giving birth and the entire transformation that happens in pregnancy, birth, postpartum. What I love about the midwifery model is it is ideally very holistic, right? Like when we have these hour long prenatals, we’re not just measuring your fundamentals and checking the heartbeat, right? It’s like, what are you dreaming about? And and who is this little baby to you energetically? And what are your fears? And can we help plan your postpartum? You know, so it’s very broad. And then the follow up postpartum care is, you know, there’s a handful of of visits postpartum. So I love that. So did that for a while.
[00:05:27] And then I kind of got into fertility awareness, studying fertility awareness specifically, which is, is how I, I think and I think honestly, that was because I knew I wanted to get pregnant. And so then it became very–I just wanted to like dive all into that. And that is how I started the Beautiful Cervix Project, which is one of my websites. And it’s basically photographs of different people’s cervixes, like either throughout an entire cycle or, you know, different procedures or, you know, different ages. With the idea being that, you know, the more we know ourselves, the more power we can have right? And often the–you know, I don’t have to convince you, but, like this patriarchal over culture is sort of… You know, there can be lots of layers of shame or violation or confusion or miseducation around our reproductive health. So that was sort of like one little chapter. And then I had my daughter seven years ago. She’s seven now, a beautiful homebirth. It was incredible. It felt really, just amazing to know all the things I knew in my mind, like even anatomically as I was giving birth and to feel them in my body, like, oh, I feel my, my coccyx moving right now as her head is coming down and to… to really trust birth because I’d been to so many. And then I spent a few years kind of at home with her not working as much. I was doing postpartum, doing the work beforehand, kind of to supplement my fertility awareness and midwifery journey.
[00:07:23] And then, you know, when she was about two or three, I took Rachelle Garcia Seliga’s Innate Traditions Postpartum practitioners course, which really empowered me to kind of pivot my work towards focusing on the rite of passage. This sacred piece for the birthing parent, for the mom. And while I did feel like I got some of that in my own postpartum, even having a midwifery background and being a postpartum doula, there was so much that was happening within me that I didn’t even, like I hadn’t even learned about, you know. And so this was like a deep dive into that. And also, like, to be honest, I do enough laundry and cooking in my own house now and I could not go and do it for other people anymore. But somebody needs to do that for postpartum women. But it is not me. And so. So. Yeah. So then… bringing the ceremony pieces, which I’ve been doing and women’s circles kind of since college and various versions of that and then, you know, kind of like priestessing, maybe you would call that. And then the anatomy and knowledge in that way from the midwifery world and then sort of the early childhood ed… And like the way to be, like just to be with children, and anybody really and hold the space for all of it–which I felt like I got started in college with like the mindfulness education… And my own postpartum experience just definitely included a lot of postpartum anxiety, which even though I was a professional, like I didn’t even know that’s what was happening. But having to deal with that and really sit with that in myself and get a lot of resources, I felt like, expanded my capacity to do that with other people. And so I’ve been doing that for a handful of years now. And like the way the the the offerings that I have, kind of what I love about it is it changes depending on who the family is, what that momma needs. And kind of what’s up for her. And then I also do ceremonies and kind of like daylong retreat process things for people, not just in the postpartum. So in the postpartum I come to your home but like also so for example, you know, I had a client who had had an abortion and she wanted to, you know, do some physical and emotional and spiritual processing around that and really honor that chapter for her… Or another client who three years postpartum, realized that she was still had all the rage around her birth trauma. And so we did a rage ceremony and a grief ceremony and just kind of spent the whole day in that–processing that, moving that, witnessing that, honoring that as part of her journey so she can be more present for the next, you know, for what actually is happening in her life. And so, yeah, it’s kind of what I do is, is diverse in that it’s always different. So in a way, it’s a little hard to explain, but I’ll give you more details coming up. But yeah, that’s where I came from and now I’m here.
Jessica [00:11:02] It makes a lot of sense that it would be really unique to everyone’s particular situation around birth. And birth doesn’t necessarily always have to do with new life. You know, it [can be] a death and it’s a grieving and it’s all these things. But it does feel like yeah, like what you were witnessing even from the first time you were taking these photographs was that it’s like a hyper, like, spiritual space where like there’s such a breaking open. So it’s whatever happens with within that like moment in time, it can be very different. But, but whatever it is, it’s such a raw like receptor for all of this stuff. So I do feel like the processing on the other side of that can look so many different ways. But I think everyone’s experiencing this real closeness to, like, where we came from and where we’re all headed and where the babies are. You know, it’s just like that’s such a rare event and we spend most of our lives like, not really that tapped into it… or we kind of are stepping further away from it… And being pregnant and in giving birth it’s such an honor know that, like, that precipice is right there for sure. But I think it is very common that we don’t have a lot of ritual, as much as maybe we did in civilization periods in the past, around just looking into that more. So I think the more people are aware of it, probably the more healing we’ll experience, and the better moms we’ll become or women we’ll become our next iteration. So I think it’s great that you’re focusing on that very specifically.
O’Nell [00:12:44] And I mean, I think like different cultures, you know, even within the United States or in other areas, they do still have very strong and intact postpartum traditions or even ceremonial ritual, religious, spiritual traditions. And there are a lot of us maybe in like a dominant culture that sometimes have forgotten or have had it ripped away from us. And so we’re finding our way back to how do we… finde the pause and the meaning in the mundane life so that we can sort of grow as souls, as… you know, spiritual beings, I would say. And you’re talking about birth–it’s like, yes, what I what I love about birth and even the postpartum is it’s completely spiritual. Like literally our brain. Your brain waves change. You get DMT in your brain, which is like the, you know, it’s like a a drug. You can use it as a drug to experience spiritual states, but really it’s also produced in ourselves when we’re giving birth and–that was my experience when I was giving birth, I was like, Whew! When I could really trust it, I felt so cosmic. Like, I was both simultaneously, like in outer space, like collecting my daughter’s spirit. Like, so kind of abstract and not really here, but also at the same time, it’s a very physical, normal process that happens all over the world to people all the time, like every 20 seconds or whatever, you know. And so that’s what’s so cool about it is it’s like it’s both and, and really like–in my mind–we are both all the time as humans, but birth, early, postpartum, death, like these transitions are times where we can be potentially… Where I think we are blasted open, and if we’re aware of it and and kind of wanting to access that, then it’s like we can remember that… We can remember our power, our connection, whatever, in the normal, mundane times because we have that imprint in us. But yeah, and not to say that obviously not every birth feels that way and is, you know, feels empowering or sacred or whatever. But but I think the physiologic possibility is there.
Jessica [00:15:33] Yeah. I know, it’s really amazing to think about it. I mean, for both of us as moms, we’ve experienced that and then it feels really distant. But you’re right, there is definitely like an imprint there that carries us. It’s fun to talk about it because, like, the memory comes back really quickly. Like it’s in your bones.
O’Nell [00:15:57] Yeah. What was your birth like the first time?
Jessica [00:16:02] I homebirthed with my daughter. And I mean, I think because it just feels so foreign, like what’s happening in the body is…. I just felt so shocked, I think, in the beginning that this is what it was feeling like for me. And I also understood that it probably feels very different for every body, and that it’s hard for us to share exactly what that feels like until we are embodying that experience. But I also felt like that the, the breaking open and the cosmic nature of it. And I think that was what was so, like, that just what threw me, was it feeling so visceral and so much a part of my own, like physical breaking open as it was also like a spiritual breaking open and like the birth of myself as a mother. But also my daughter was born en caul, so her sac remained intact. So it was a very unique, amazing birth and I felt really supported by our team and I’m really glad it was able to unfold that way. But it was also like extremely difficult and messy and confusing… It’s just like you’re going through all of these different sequences of, like, mental strife and joy and tears and like just the spectrum of emotion is so great. So all of it is like, yeah. And in a sense too, it’s like, I know I don’t fully remember everything about it and I’m about to go through that again and it’s probably going to look very different again. And I just have to be present with that and let it unfold how it should. And I’m here for it…. I don’t really have a choice, which is what I love about it, too. It’s like I trust, like my body is doing something. I can’t really stop it. I could–I think there’s certain drugs and interventions that can change its course, but my path has been just to trust that my body’s going to do most of that work, and I’m here, like, as a soul in my body to just kind of trust that it’s unfolding just as it should. So I’m looking forward to it. But yeah, it was amazing.
[00:18:14] Maybe we should touch a little bit on like what the postpartum period is, which maybe sounds like a basic thing, but I’m curious how you would define it and if it has like a specific length or if that also is very particular to the person and their experience.
O’Nell [00:18:29] Yeah. So I would say that postpartum is the time after any pregnancy. So whether that pregnancy ended in an early miscarriage, or a loss, or an abortion, or a full term pregnancy or whatever… There is a period of time afterwards where we are having all of these physiologic changes, but also these… Identity, spiritual changes that are happening as well. And so like, in different traditions, they have sort of different lengths of time that maybe they consider to be the postpartum period. Like I know in Ayurveda it’s like a 42 day sacred window, or in Mexico it’s the 40 day quarantina, or sometimes it’s six weeks. Or if you think of it as the fourth trimester, which it’s sometimes called here in America, it’s like, okay, well, each trimester in pregnancy is like 12 to 14 weeks. So then, is it about three months postpartum after the birth? So I don’t exactly, like, have a specific day where I feel like it ends and NOW you’re transitioned, you know, but having the concept that like at least the first 1 to 2 months, maybe even three months postpartum after you’ve given birth or a pregnancy has ended is like a time when we can potentially replenish ourselves in a deeper way… Like we are still open so that we can both integrate what has happened into our souls as well as like literally replenish our bodies so that we’re not going into depletion going forward. And so it’s not an instantaneous like overnight, oh, you gave birth and now you’re a mom and now everything’s good like, you know, out the door, off to the mall you go on day two postpartum, you know?! It’s like really allowing the body to heal, allowing bonding to happen if you’ve got a little baby with you or starting a grieving process, if that’s not how things happened.. Or, you know, it’s like there’s so many levels of what’s happening. And so I don’t have a specific end point, you know. And then in the work I do with moms… Usually I’ll come in maybe around two weeks, between one and two weeks, four weeks, and around 6 to 8 weeks.
[00:21:14] But also, you know, sometimes I have moms really want to mark the transition, maybe when they go back to work at four months or something… Like where they really feel like, oh, this first chapter where I’ve got a little newborn is shifting into maybe I’ve got an infant or I’m feeling my feet under me a little bit better, you know? Just kind of coming back out into the world in a more grounded, hopefully place. And also the other thing I say to moms, too, is like you’re postpartum for the rest of your life. So, you know, like there’s really no end to it. If you’ve given birth or had a pregnancy, like, yeah, you’re changed for the rest of your life in some ways. And that’s part of it is like letting it change you. And I think that’s a really big piece that I work with is like, there’s no going back, you know, ever. So, how do we integrate what we had with what we have? And what are we letting go of? And who are we becoming? And where is the wisdom there that we now can share with our families, with our communities, with our children, with ourselves. Letting it be big, letting it be profound in any direction. You know, sometimes it’s grief, sometimes it’s like total celebration and pure, massive love, and sometimes it’s both. And, you know, it’s like it can be many things. And it’s it’s just about kind of letting it be and witnessing it, and peeling off all the shame and confusion around it so we just can be more present with ourselves.
Jessica [00:22:58] I’m sure, too, there are a lot of moms out there that–especially first time moms–like planning to go back to work right away, or kind of thinking when you’re on the front side of it before giving birth, like, Oh, I think I’ll be okay to do that in like two weeks. So that’s going to be how I plan my postpartum. And then maybe like months after that, they’re kind of experiencing burnout and they may reach out to someone like you to help that… to just sort of acknowledge that they just had a baby because they didn’t really know, I guess, in advance to plan for that massive transition. So I’m sure it could kind of happen out of sequence in a way, where it’s like your postpartum period, maybe you tried to like skip it in a sense. And I mean, it’s a postpartum period. It just managed in a very different kind of way.
O’Nell [00:23:47] Exactly. And and it’s not ,you know, our culture overall does not value mothers, I would say or children very much overall just and so yeah. So if you’re at a job where you have to go back to work two weeks postpartum, that is literally like…nobody’s body is ready to do that, you know, but we have to because we live in a capitalistic society and like all the things, you know? But, I think, yeah, a lot of the work I feel like that needs to be done is education prenatally or just in general in the culture around like what would be most beneficial and most helpful for this family as they become themselves. And also, you know, I think a really big piece I want to focus on here is like, sure, we can have these idealistic ideas of, you know what would be “best” in the postpartum? Oh, having this much rest or having this these kinds of foods or body work and… Yes, yes, 100% that would be amazing if everyone got that. And not everyone does. Very few people can either because of money or whatever. And it’s like, okay, so then we work with what we have… And so maybe we just, you know, get a meal train and get our friends to bring us food so that’s just one less thing off of our plate. Or we, you know, if we have a choice between a cold smoothie or like a warm glass of tea with ghee in it, okay, we’ll just choose that. But if you don’t have a choice, who cares? Just drink it. And, you know, like there’s this kind of… I don’t want to add on another layer of guit or shame around, like I did it wrong and that’s why this thing happened… You know, like, that’s not what it’s about for me because there’s already enough pressure on moms and people to “do it right,” right?
Jessica [00:25:49] I know, it’s very easy to think, like, I didn’t do enough or there’s more I could have done. But it’s true. Like there can be really simple things to integrate… Or even just simply acknowledging that it is this like hyper special moment in life to be revered. I think that that part could be very simple and really special to know.
O’Nell [00:26:15] And even the people that you’re around. Like if they knew that, if that was more culturally common to know that, even the questions they’d be asking you, when your friends come over to meet your baby. Not just like, “Is she sleeping through the night?” Like, sure, that’s important, but really, like “How are YOU?” and “What’s changed?” and “How does your body feel?” and “What are you loving about this?” Like really giving attention to that, to all of the layers. And not just for the birthing parents. If there’s a partner them too, or if there’s other children, or even the little babe, checking in with that little being who’s just come in. Right. “How are you, my friend?”
Jessica [00:26:56] Are there certain boundaries that you recommend women set around this period–I mean, work as one we talked about–but even around like relationships with other people that might be starting to kind of like close in on your family unit? It is hard to know, I think in advance what you’ll be comfortable with, but I think some of the boundary setting stuff is, is interesting to me.
O’Nell [00:27:20] Yeah. And what I find is I love to do a very long prenatal meeting with the family that I’ll be working with that includes a lot of education… Because I think some of that’s part of it. Like either the birthing parent and/or if there’s a partner, don’t understand the importance of why, you know, having a ton of visitors or distracting visitors can be overwhelming to the mom and the baby. So part of that is education. But, in terms of boundary setting, it’s like it’s so complicated because often if you’re dealing with family dynamics–both within, say there’s a couple, like one person might want one thing, one person might want the other–and then their families and what their expectations are… or friends or communities or whatever. And then each person, you know, depending on maybe how introverted or extroverted you are… some people love having company in the postpartum, and if you’ve got friends or people who can come over and be with you, and really be with you in a place where if you’re dripping breastmilk or bleeding or crying, that you feel safe and and wonderful, then great! It’s great to have people like that around. I’m not saying that it needs to be like this totally quiet bubble, but for some people there’s so much happening that they want that quiet bubble, and they need to let their people know, ideally beforehand, that that’s what they’re going to need and that they’re so loved and they will be welcomed in. And/or these are the ways that you can support our bubble in the early days: please come in, do our laundry, or take our laundry and bring it back. Walk our dog, bring us food. You know, we’re going to be nesting for this first few weeks.
[00:29:09] So I feel like one of the things I do is kind of help people envision like what would feel good to them. But I also definitely do bring in a lot of kind of reality checks, especially if you’ve never gone through it, but I guess just [also] leaving a lot of padding for the unknown. So, like, yeah, maybe you want to have your mother-in-law come if you feel comfortable around them and maybe you want them to be on call in case you end up having a four day labor and then a cesarean, and then you really actually need even more support than you thought, and you’re just happy to have someone there making you food when you weren’t anticipating that. Great. Like, who are the people that can be your community then. And it’s got to be beyond just your nuclear family. That is a set up for burnout out on all fronts. Yeah. Yeah.
Jessica [00:30:10] Sure. And even developing the skill of like asking, explicitly, for what you need.
O’Nell [00:30:17] YES!
Jessica [00:30:17] And I think that’s so hard for a lot of women and new moms. And being able to do that with your partner is probably the first point of contact where that practice is really important. And then they can kind of be the one that reaches out if if you’re kind of focused on other things. But I noticed that that was something for me. I was like, Oh, I get to ask people for what I need now and, like receive. And this is the time [for that]!
O’Nell [00:30:48] Yeah. And really receive it. Like, asking is often hard… First of all knowing what to ask for, then actually asking for it, and then accepting it… They’re like three very tricky things, and also so beautiful to learn those skills because we will need to have those skills multiple times in our lives, you know, ideally so that we’re not burning out. And also one of the things I feel like that does is, while initially sometimes it does cause a stir in the family dynamic, like, “What do you mean I can’t come into the bathroom when your baby’s 1 second old?”, you know, “I’m the grandma!” or whatever. It’s like, yeah maybe you will make some waves, and you are creating the culture of your family. And sometimes that means, like, breaking up with some things that that feel toxic to you or feel invasive. And that’s good practice, too. But I do think often what I’ve seen is, either in the education early on or I work with a lot of families whose–say mothers or mother-in-laws or extended family–come in at some point in the postpartum to be of support. And then I’ll also be there during one day, you know… And so many of them, especially like this last generation, like the parents, say to me, like they’re kind of in awe when they actually see what I do or how it affects the family. Or they’re like, Wow, and they want to process their births and what happened to them and what they didn’t get… how, “I had no idea1” So in asking for that and setting those boundaries and getting the care that you need, you’re also giving permission to other people to do that themselves. And it’s it’s inspiring, you know, and even maybe giving permission for your parents to heal their own wounds.
Jessica [00:32:51] I know. It’s pretty great to be that vulnerable together as a family unit and to model, you know, what you need with your parents, who you’re kind of working on receiving from. Even on the other end, with this newborn baby that has so many needs that they don’t yet have the tools or language yet to communicate it… You can kind of see this other being that’s working so hard to get what they need, and to communicate that to you as the mom. And then you get to do that with *your* support crew and you have the tools to more easily do that in some regard. But I think that just seeing all those links and metaphors… and the whole package is really…it’s like such an amazing time.
O’Nell [00:33:43] Yes, like that.
Jessica [00:33:47] So in your postpartum tending sessions, which I fully understand must be so diverse depending on the people you’re working with, and even the timing of it, because I think you probably come at different intervals depending on how things are going… and I saw on your website that there’s a list of different offerings, just like as a sprinkling… I’m sure some of them are ones that you’re designing too that aren’t necessarily coming from something that’s carried through the ages specifically…. But if you could, maybe just describe some of those practices for us?
O’Nell [00:34:22] So like I said, we have a pretty intensive prenatal session, at least one where I’m really kind of getting to know the family and helping them envision their postpartum, and also finding out like what resources do they have. I mean, financially too, but more just like what helps them center and ground? Are they religious? Do they have a meditation practice? Do they need their communities? Do they love to sing? Like what are the things that they already have that I can help remind them of in the postpartum, when they’re feeling overwhelmed or disoriented, to come back to their center? And usually there’s like a few of those. And then maybe in the postpartum we add on some more tools or I offer some in the prenatal. So that’s just sort of one piece. And also then there’s a little relationship that’s established because it is, as anybody who has been in the postpartum knows, it’s a very vulnerable, raw time. So to have an essentially, a stranger come in (a very friendly, loving stranger, but nonetheless) come in to your space and see you and your most like, intimate moments is really tender. So I really like to just make sure that it’s clear what my role is, what my intention is, what my energy is, so that they can best receive my care, and that I also can craft something that is relevant to them. So that’s the prenatal. And then postpartum, like I said right now I’m doing it in a package of three visits. And each one, yes, is slightly different, but almost always a few components are the same. I’ll come usually with like a botanical, a hot cocoa, or golden milk or herbal tea or some some kind of a warm drink that maybe sometimes a snack too, that I share with the mama and kind of just start asking questions like: How are you doing? How’s your heart? How is your body? What’s up for you right now? You know, I’m also scanning the house, like, What does it look like in here? What’s the energy in here? Is it total chaos? Is everything like OCD organized? Is the partner asleep on the couch or are they, like, bouncing off the walls? You know? So I’m kind of like gathering data, both from what they’re saying and from kind of what’s happening. And asking How’s the baby? How is the birth? You know so, kind of getting some information there… But also sometimes even just having somebody ask those questions can bring up huge emotions just right there in the first 20 minutes, right? Like, “Ooh, nobody’s asked me how the birth really felt.” And there’s a lot going on. And so just kind of depending on what’s happening.
[00:37:31] Then, the next thing I do usually is the yoni steam. And I bring a stool and a bunch of different herbs and kind of craft a blend depending on like… Are they having cramping? Or did they have a tear? Or they just need some centering or, you know, depending on what they need I craft a little blend for them. And then I set them usually in front of something beautiful. Hopefully, like maybe they have an altar, or we create a little altar, even just in front of a bouquet of flowers and a picture of them and their baby or whatever. And put on a little soothing music and just wrap them up and, you know, maybe do a little ground meditation with them, and then just give them time to be by themselves for a few… maybe 20 minutes, which is kind of amazing in their early postpartum. I mean I guess if somebody wanted me to be with them, I absolutely would be. But what I find is it’s like, the invitation is to like tap into their center, into their pelvic floor, into their part of their body that just grew and birthed this human…. And kind of warm it up, like physically as well as energetically and kind of doing that deep listening. And then as they come out of that–wait I do want to say, of course, all of this is can be completely interrupted at any point by a baby who needs to nurse and cuddle for 5 minutes or 45 minutes. So it’s a long session. It usually ends up being about 5 hours, but it’s not like it’s 5 hours hands-on time, because we’re in baby time, which is very fluid and you know, we go with the flow. Okay. So that being said, then I usually move into kind of a pretty long body work session. I bring a warm table and… A lot of this is intuitive what I do, but I do sometimes use cupping or gua sha or warm stones with the idea being that it’s warming, moving the lymphatic system. Helping moms with this nursing neck hunch thing that we get, and then just in their hips too and sciatic and just like all the expansion that’s happened helping them kind of warm and close just enough so that they feel not too vulnerable. And in that usually, you know some mommas they’re totally quiet and in between sleep and experience, and some mamas there’s a lot of either emotional process or question-and-answer, you know? Brainstorming too. Sometimes I will ask questions to kind of get them to hone in on maybe where in their body a memory is stuck or an experience got paused that needs to be integrated, or something that wants witnessing or holding or warmth.
[00:40:55] And then when I use warm activated oils that are specific for the postpartum. And then when they turn over I do offer breast or chest care. So I’ll actually, if they’re open to it, do warm compresses, massage, and warm stones on the breast. And also teaching them how to take care of their breastfeeding breast so that they don’t–like in the prevention of mastitis and clogged ducts–like keeping things moving. And then coming to the abdomen and often I’ll have them put their hands on their belly first and just take some breaths. And sometimes, especially if the birth was hard, it’s like the first time they’ve even–or if there’s been a cesarean section or something–where they’ve even connected to that part of them. You know often during the pregnancy the whole time, you know, you’re rubbing your belly, right? And then it’s, like, all about the baby. And so the whole thing is like coming back into yourself, into your center, into your body. And then after that, you know, at some point in there, usually there’s a bigger meal. And then some of the other things I offer are an herbal bath. So I brew up some strong herbal tea and put the mama in a bathtub with Epsom salts or a milk bath and flowers, and then sometimes even bring the baby in if the baby’s awake. And sometimes we do photos, just like, you know, informal on my iPhone, but just this beautiful tender moment where it’s like return to the womb, you know, but they’re both in there together. And I’ve found that a lot of parents, like, don’t realize they can take a bath with their baby. I mean, without even the herbal stuff and all the flowers, you know? And it’s such a sweet way, like, most babies really like it. Not all, but…
Jessica [00:43:03] That was like the only way I took a bath, I think, when I was bathing my child.
O’Nell [00:43:09] Oh, sweet! Right?! And you can learn to nurse in there. And so just like offering that is like a bonding activity, you know, to do. And capturing that. I do like to take photos if the family is open to it. Because… This is an assumption, but oftentimes the mom is the one who’s taking all the photos and she’s never in any of the photos or the photos are just of the baby, you know? So that’s one thing I do. Another thing is a “closing the bones” ceremony, which is…. It’s a traditional ceremony for the postpartum that I learned with my midwifery mentor, Angelina Martinez Miranda, and also Rachelle Garcia Seliga teaches that in the Innate training. But what I’ve learned about it is that versions of this sort of postpartum sealing ceremony where you are bound or wrapped from head to toe, are done in many cultures all over the world, and they’re called different things. And so how I do it, honestly, is both an honoring of what I learned, but also sort of bringing in my own, you know, the other things that I have gathered or what I intuit that this parent needs…. But it involves them being on the floor, usually on a mat. We’re outside. Sometimes I do it outside if the weather’s nice, which is amazing! And I have maybe seven rebozos, which are like large Mexican, for lack of a better word, like shawls that I wrap…one around their eyes and then their shoulders, ribs, belly hips, thighs, cavs, feet, and tie them in a knot so that she ends up being swaddled essentially from head to toe. And this, is like, physiologically feels really good because there’s so much and your hips are open, your ribs are open. Like it feels really like it’s like a hug, your bones are like AHH. But also energetically–and I will guide them through this, like in a meditation, sort of–It’s like, just remembering that you are held. Whether that’s by God, if that’s what they believe in, or Goddess, or your community, or your family, or just the energy of the elements, or whatever it is to just kind of calm the nervous system. It’s like why many babies love to be swaddled–because it’s like a full body hug. And it’s also an opportunity to sort of release that which doesn’t serve anymore or what that you want to sort of close and from those last few weeks. And then literally imprint into ourselves like the beauty, or power, or intensity, or honoring of whatever their experience was. And I’ll sit with them while they’re in that space. Sometimes I’ll play music or have music playing or do chimes or tapping for, you know, ten or 15 minutes or so. And then as I unbind them and sing a song… Sometimes in that, which I love, is when like a partner or another child wants to participate, so they’ll help me bind the mom or pull the mom together. Or this little toddler the other day, who was like, you could just tell she was so intrigued, you know? So she’s walking around with these chimes, walking around her mama. And then at the end, I had them undo it and I was like, okay, so now’s your time to give Mama some kisses and tell her you love her, you know? And she just comes up and smoochies the mom, you know, and, like, going on to her heart, too. And it’s just like creating beauty and sweetness. And like those things where you wrap people, whether it’s just their hips or their belly or…. People can do that with a sheet or sarong. And so if a partner is there and just learns that, then they can do that when I’m not there, you know? It doesn’t have to be a whole long process; it can just be just part of the body. Or when you’re anxious, you it can help to literally swaddle any person of any age, really. So that’s one of the things I will offer. And then sometimes it’s a… I really love creating ceremony. And while I would say like the entire day is a ceremony of sorts, sometimes we create more intentionality or opening and closing of the day with a song, or calling in of whatever resources they [want]…the elements, the directions, their gods or goddesses, their ancestors…and kind of reminding them of those layers of support. And then sometimes there’s a family ceremony where we honor whoever else is in the family too and how they have changed. Or welcoming the baby to earth and placing them on the earth for the first time. Or like, there’s so many things that it just depends on what they want. But I’d say that those are sort of the main elements. So, yes, it does always involve some kind of body work. Usually a yoni steam, heart to heart, soul, work, music. It’s like a multi-sensory ceremony ritual time. I also have this incredibly beautiful–I’m looking at it right now–copper bowl that we can do like a footbath in. And like I say, if a mom’s had a cesarean birth and we can’t do that, we’ll do that. Or if she has had a cesarean birth, one of the things later on in a later session, is I’ll teach her about scar tissue massage so that she’s not getting the scar tissue growing more internally or affecting other parts of her body once it’s healed and…. So yeah, lots [options].
Jessica [00:49:37] I was thinking, oh, you kind of space these out. Like of the three sessions that you do, you know maybe one is the yoni steam, the next is closing the bones, and the next is some other ritual design. So I just think that’s so immersive to have 5 hours-ish of just, like, full attention on mother. And allowing… whatever other pieces of her family or life need to kind of interject in that and integrating those instead of pushing them away. And that’s a good learning for the mother to to know, like she can still kind of be in this self care space even when other pieces of her life are calling to her. I just think, wow, what an awesome thing. Can you please come to my house? Are you ready to fly to the East Coast, to your roots to do this one?!
O’Nell [00:50:35] Just to respond to that real quick. You know, I recently did one where the partner was supposed to be there for this final closing ceremony and they ended up having to work with the grandma who was there, her mom! And I was like, great, we’ll do it with her. And it ended up being this really sweet, like three generation opportunity.. the new mom got to reflect to her mom how she appreciated her in a different way, and like they they just got into this deeper space together. So yeah! And, and I do say–and this is a HUGE lesson in motherhood that I have learned and I’m still learning–how we spent our time before we had kids is so different. Like, that is the biggest change. Like, you can’t just always follow your own whims, you know? And so how we do self-care or–you know, sometimes it’s boundary setting, you know, sometimes I realize it’s not just like taking a bath–but we we have to go back and forth. And they have to sometimes be micro, like, small, like, “Okay I just took three breaths, that’s my thing right now,” or “I’ve had one cup of tea,” and they all add up. But like, to go back and forth between “The baby just interrupted me when I was in my meditation zone,” okay, and “How do I come back?” or “How do I be with the crying baby while I’m in my meditations zone?” Absolutely, that’s like such a strong lesson. And the reason I do them as a longer series of things is because… It can take a while, especially because of the interruptions, often to really get back fully in. And so some of the layers, I feel like some of it is the emotional processing that needs to be touched on eassed. And some of it is the physical stuff that needs to be released so that we can flow better. And some of it is the spiritual things…. To me, I like doing it all. But I feel like it’s absolutely wonderful if you just want to get a postpartum massage and do that piece, like, yes, please do that. But like, that’s not just what I do. I feel like I don’t just do that. I want to do the whole thing because that’s what is so rich for me. And them I think.
Jessica [00:52:58] Yeah, I think I can only imagine having that, that you’re just dropping in deeper and deeper and deeper, like throughout the day with having that guidance that you bring. So I think, yeah, what a gift. That’s amazing. I also very serendipitously experienced the closing the bones ceremony, which I hadn’t read about or known anything about, with somebody passing through our town that was a friend of my friend’s. I think she flew in from Israel, but she was of French heritage…. I think that is what’s so fascinating about it. It’s like there’s something really resonant with people all over the world with these practices. And you’re right, there’s pieces of them that come from so many different cultures. So I really love that part of it too. But she just happened to be passing through and she was actually teaching this to some people I knew that were massage therapists and they were like, “Oh, Jessica just had a baby. You should contact her and maybe we can go by.” And so some of my friends were also kind of like being mentored by her as she was going through this with me. And I think I was about three months postpartum at the time and hadn’t really had that deep of a dive with my female community and with my own body yet… You know where, you’re right, like the swaddling and the holding and then even the releasing part of that was so… extremely emotional and I really needed that release. Yeah, on all levels, metaphysical and physical I think in my body. So I just was like, Wow, I am glad I was around for this because it didn’t just feel like it came to me when I didn’t really know how to ask for it. Kind of what we were talking about before. Like I, I didn’t know that was something I really needed until I was being offered it and I was open to receiving it and then it kind of showed up. So I’m really grateful that I had that opportunity. But yeah, that’s an amazing ritual, I think, to integrate and I’ve been trying to pass it to my sisters also.
O’Nell [00:54:59] Yeah, I feel like, you know… So much of this traditional wisdom or these roles that, you know, maybe a few generations or centuries back or maybe thousands of years back, were sort of just in the in the community, right? like the community midwife or your aunties and sisters would know how to do all this, and they would just come and be with you and take care of your other kids and make you the special food, and…. You know, we’re having to re-remember that and find that in different ways and a new version of that right? Because we do mostly live in nuclear families and you know, maybe our parents or families are farther away or we’re not that close to them… So it’s like, how do we call in our support team in the postpartum? Sometimes I say like, Oh, well, I’m kind of like your sister, an auntie, or a midwife or a grandma or somebody who’s just been through it before who’s like on the other side of the tunnel. Like, “You’re amazing. Come this way. We’re so glad you’re here.” And everybody sort of needs something different, you know? And…yeah, I have a lot of experience and knowledge, sure. But also with great curiosity and humbleness for what this mama-baby-family is bringing. And like, letting them find that, right? Like I that’s what I really want is to empower them to find their own center, their own intuition, get connected with their little one, and see them for who they really are, as they essentially promise to them for their lives to support them and be with them. And so just, I am forever humbled by my experiences and even what I keep learning. And these like incredible little beings and powerful families that just keep showing up really, and being vulnerable and healing and being raw and being brave and just like…. It’s so… the authenticity is so inspiring to me.
Jessica [00:57:27] And it is such like a literall attractive time to for mom and baby, just with the release of, like, oxytocin and all these other hormones that are actually like calling a lot of different energies closer. And what I think are great…for me at least, I have two younger sisters and they came to my home at like 5am few hours after I gave birth. And I feel like they were immediately like swept up in that… energy. I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but I think because I birthed in the space that they were entering to, like it was this huge like wave that came over them and they had never experienced that before. So I feel like I got to share something with people that are really close to me. And I think they they learned a lot. We didn’t have to say anything. I just think that part is so beautiful.
O’Nell [00:58:20] Yeah. It’s like a palpable… And some of that you could say, oh, that’s the hormone. Like oxytocin is kind of contagious. Like you could sort of explain it in that way. And sure, that’s one level of looking at it. And it is this palpable, like, expansion that you’re talking about, or magicness, or sacredness is another way to say it, you know, that, if respected, is SO transformational and, yeah, also very attractive. So that’s why it’s important, like going back to why it’s important to have the boundaries because sometimes people come in and just want to only stay in there and like almost like take it in, but in a like sucking it away from you vibe. As opposed to like, wow, being in it and respecting it and amplifying and for you, you know? Yeah, we don’t want any of those oxytocin vampires out there…
Jessica [00:59:21] [Sucking it up] with their straws!
O’Nell [00:59:21] Exactly.
Jessica [00:59:23] I don’t want to take too much of your time, but I do want to touch a little bit more specifically on the yoni steaming, because I know I know for a lot of people… That I that’s a big part of what I practice and what I try to share. And I do share, I should say, not try. But tI guess I say it in that way because it’s something really foreign to a lot of women. And I think sometimes after childbirth, yeah, there’s a lot of pain or sensation that’s like discomforting. And the idea of steaming, which is more again of a release or an opening, can maybe seem conceptually counter-intuitive. So I’m just curious how you present that to mothers that have just given birth and how receptive they are to that practice.
O’Nell [01:00:11] Yeah. So usually I offer…If someone’s given birth vaginally, I offer either a sitz bath or a yoni steam, depending on how far out they are postpartum or what their symptoms are. And yeah, I would say most of them have not heard of a yoni seen so again, education. But a lot of my clients are like, oh God, everyone’s just already like… What used to be private is like not private anymore. Like I just had like 20 people looking at my vagina. So like, there’s like almost this opening, like, “Sure, I’ll try that!” you know? And you know there have been a couple of guess, studies… Or you can sort of talk about the physiologic benefits of like, lowering your blood pressure, or the way that the specific herbs can help in the healing, or even just the bringing warmth and heat to that area, which does aid in bringing blood flow and lymph to helping heal the tissues, or clearing out the womb, or having 20 minutes to yourself to breathe.
[01:01:29] So, the feedback I get from my clients is, like “Wow. That felt really good.” And what I notice in them energetically, like their nervous system drops down a few notches. And they will often say that, sort of the little itchiness maybe that was happening as their stitches were healing or the soreness has shifted afterwards. And some of my clients like continue to do it when I’m not there and some of them just do it on the days I’m there. But what I have seen is that it does seem to… I mean, maybe prevent some infections….The other thing too I feel like that it does, is it kind of opens a connection to that part of themselves. And often they will then ask me questions like, “is this normal?” or “How do I deal with this this tear in my perineum?” or “When will I be able to have sex again?” It’s like they they tap into it and realize there are these things that need to be tended in that zone. And I also feel like, personally, like as I gather the herbs, some of which I have in my garden or some are dried, you know… It feels like this way that I can bring in the healing of the plant world and the the way that our earth and we are so the same, and kind of honoring that. And the way moms who have just given birth are also so very earthy…. and the smell of the herbs, like it’s just so multi-sensory. And aromatherapy, you get that that part of it going… So I don’t know if that really answers your question, but I feel like it’s such a crucial part of them coming back to their center and finding their new center and appreciating… Or not appreciating, or realizing what’s in there and where they got violated and where they need some more tending. Just just bringing sort of like warm, warm witnessing to that zone, right? Through to the whole pelvis. And then we can kind of take it from there. Like what needs tending there.
Jessica [01:04:25] Yeah. Yeah, no, that’s that’s how I feel about it, too. And I think right after birth, the way you’re describing it, where it is this like, physiological healing. But at the same time, it’s like this energetic grounding or just like focused attention on… this portal that just really like expanded and is working towards, like, contraction. I guess the uterus is probably still working its way down. So even just like the physical release of the lochia, or just the energy, again, to “back to Earth.” I just love all the metaphors about being in the birth space of… Connecting to the stars, you know, to kind of carry in your baby through the spirit realm into the physical plane. That’s kind of what yoni steaming also is doing. It’s like this. Wow. Yeah. It’s just really–it’s hard to describe, but I think it’s really universally felt from people that have experienced yoni steaming. So I think it must be such a great tool to use postpartum, and I’m glad most of the people you’re working with are reflecting that back to you.
O’Nell [01:05:33] Yeah. And they always want to. Even the ones who are like, “Oh, not this time.” And the next time they’re like, “Can I do that again?” And I, I’m really excited actually about the Leiamoon seat because the ones I have… One of them, it like makes the mom’s legs fell asleep or something. Like the way that the wood is, it’s like too hard. So that’s a bummer. And then the other one that I handcrafted out of a chair is good, but it’s like so giant and bulky, I’m literally bringing a giant chair in. And so I’m excited about the the ease of this and also possibly, like, you could have this in your home and do this not just on the days on here, you know? It’s so much easier because that’s part of what’s hard. It’s like, you know, you try to describe to a postpartum mom like, oh, do a sitz bath. It’s like, “I can do that.” It’s like, “No, no, no. You need to have somebody who’s boiling the herbs, who’s straining the herbs, who’s putting it in your cup, who’s was cleaning it up afterwards. Like you’re not supposed to do any of that except for like SITTING, right? Same thing with the yoni steam…. We want it to be as easy as possible so that it gets done and you are resting.
Jessica [01:06:37] Yeah, for sure. I mean, that was like our inspiration and we were like, Oh, this is kind of like cumbersome to figure out how to set up. So for someone that’s just doing it for the first time, they might not even do it the first time because it just feels so complex to get it going. So we just yeah, we’re really, really excited and it’s been a long winding road, but definitely worth it. And we’re doing it despite these crazy times we’re living in where everything is just getting harder and harder and harder now. But yeah, we’re–just like childbirth!– we’re here for the challengeand we’re really super committed to getting it out there. So I am excited to have that in your work… And that it’s going to be used in these five hour incredible sessions that you you’ve designed for so many very lucky moms. Like I said, I wish… I can transport you out here!
O’Nell [01:07:36] Right. Maybe when my daughter gets older. The next iteration is like the… Mobile. You know, going to someone is getting more intensive, but for now, I can’t leave my kid over six yet, so…
Jessica [01:07:52] In some holographic future this makes sense. Even this feels like such an earthy, physical thing, I’m sure we’re having a hard time even just accepting that we have to do this in Zoom. I wish I could sit right across from you and hold your hands! And I know it’s not fully something you could do virtually, but but even just hearing all of your words has definitely affected me and in my planning and remembering about how to take care of postpartum. And I hope for so many other people that are watching this that they, too, have their minds open now to so many other practices for postpartum tending. So just so we know, too, how do we stay in touch with you or what are ways that people can follow your work?
O’Nell [01:08:41] Well, one of my websites is beautifulcervix.com if you want to see pictures of cervixes or buy a self-exam kit, speculum/flashlight to look at your cervix. And tthe other way is my website is www.onellstarkey.com. And that’s mostly about my postpartum sacred tending and some art. And then I work in the San Francisco North Bay area doing the sacred tending through a company called Birth Realm, which is postpartum care, postpartum doulas and sacred tending photography. So there’s some on the birthrealm.com website, too, under the sacred tending tab. So yeah, and on all of those websites, I think there’s phone number/email if folks want to get in touch there.
[01:09:41] I also just want to say, first of all, like, thank you so much for your dedication to this… slice of tending to our sacred beautiful bodies and for your passion and stick-to-it-iveness, for lack of a better word, like despite all the challenges. I’m really admiring that. And also, I just want to say gratitude to all of my many teachers, both those who I’ve officially studied with and then all the families I’ve worked with, and the babies and the plants and the Earth, and my own self, and my own beautiful daughter for…. uou know, just the ways that they have helped me help others. I fell very, like, on my soul path. And I love seeing people on their soul path. And I just am feeling just feeling gratitude right now. So thanks for the opportunity.
Jessica [01:10:44] Yeah, same. I’m really glad that you reached out and I was like “Oh, this is someone I want to get to know and we will share more of that. So thank you!
O’Nell [01:10:54] May you be supported on your birth and have a beautiful and supported and well-celebrated post partum.
Jessica [01:10:59] Thank you very much. Have a good one.
O’Nell [01:11:01] Thanks. Take care.