Tag Archives: infertility

A Burst of Emotion: Kukaniloko Birthing Stones Sacred Site

13 Aug

(We recently cruised around the Hawaiian Islands.  This is the first of five blogs about my favorite spots.)

Fertility, pregnancy, healthy births, all topics that are important even today.  Childbirth is, at times,  life threatening for the mother and for the infant.  In ancient Hawaiian times, women went to sacred spaces in an effort to safely give birth.   In Oahu, there is such a space dedicated to the women of the royal family.

Fertility for those who cannot conceive is also a painful topic.   At the Kukaniloko Birthing Stones Sacred Site, these two quests: a safe and pain free birth, and the request for a pregnancy come together.

img_8786

Before we arrived at this sacred site, our guide pointed out part of the Wai’anea Range on Oahu.  As you drive along the Kamehameha Highway, part of this mountain range looks like a giant sleeping pregnant woman,  the “Wahine Hapai.”  You can see her head, then breasts then pregnant belly rising to the sky.  She embodies fertility and health.

He told us that Wahine Hapai overlooks a sacred site that many tourists do not go to but thought we would like to see.  (Perhaps because my husband is a pediatrician.)  The  Kukaniloki Birthing Stones Site is unmarked and is not easy to find.  There is just a small indentation of an  entrance off the highway, with a gated road.

Before we walked down a bright red dirt road to reach the site, we read the warnings that this was a sacred site and we should respect it. “Do not sit on the stones. Do not move or wrap the rocks. Do not trample the plants.” These were the top three rules.  I thought I was ready to visit.  But in reality, it was much more emotional than I thought it would be.

img_8794

It is a quiet spot, an oasis of trees and stones in the middle of a field. The first indication that you are entering the sacred site, is two stones standing by the entrance.  These were two of the birthing stones: One to sit on and one to lean up against. They have been moved from their original place in the grove of trees.  Just past these stones are two parallel lines of smaller stones, leading to the tree-shaded main site, where the trees surround a group of large stones.  Behind the site, watching from above is the Wahine Hapai, the pregnant woman, helping those in labor.

img_8801

In my effort to know more, I looked up information on line when I returned to the ship.  I read that the two line of stones were for the chiefs to sit on, while a royal woman gave birth.  The chiefs came to help her through this time. It is also said that women who gave birth here felt no pain.

My husband and I were not alone in our visit.

img_8802

Walking along the two lines of stones, I noticed a woman squatting by each stone, touching her forehead to the stone and praying.  She went down each line, holding the stones between her two hands, resting her head, then moving on.   I was not close enough to hear what she said. I tried to give her space, but I knew in my heart what was happening.  I could almost hear her prayers for a pregnancy and for a child of her own. And my heart opened.  I began to pray silently with her.  Sending my positive energy to comingle with hers.  Hoping perhaps a stranger who knew her pain could add to her prayers.

Do Not tell me this is a ridiculous quest. 

I too suffered from infertility and prayed to become pregnant.  I spent days, weeks, months and years wondering why everyone else was able to get pregnant but me.  I hated family gatherings, where all the new babies would be the center of attention and people would ask me when I planned to start my family.  Little did they know of the emotional pain I was in just being there.  I lost my faith for a time.  At the high holidays when we read about Hannah, I left the service.  It was just too difficult to bear.

Although I am now way past the age of giving birth, and I do have two children, I carry that black hole of pain in my heart.  I keep it covered.  I try not to visit it.  I moved on, I believed.  But watching this woman in her prayers removed the cover I keep over this abyss of pain, and I felt tears rise to my eyes. No one could truly help her.  No words can ever make that pain go away.  Watching your friends and relatives get pregnant is a slap. Each month a new cycle is just a reminder that you failed once again.  It is an enormous, deep black hole of grief.  And I saw that grief on this woman’s face.

She was not alone.  A young man squatted close to the square enclosed area where the trees and many birthing stones were assembled.  You cannot enter this sacred area.  But he sat just outside the roped off area, watching.

I felt the spirit of their prayers around me.  It would be hard not to feel it.

We did not spend too much time at the site.  I took a few photos, and then told my husband it was time to go.  I wanted to give them the privacy they needed. (I learned later that although tourists might not visit it, the site was well visited by locals who celebrated the birth of their children or who were wanted to have children.)

As we walked away, my memories and my prayers rose up.  I hope that the Kukaniloko Birthing Stone Sacred Site, and the energy of life and birth within it, helped her move forward.

This was my most memorable spot in all of Hawaii.

The Art of Kintsugi is Changing How I View The River of My Life

12 Mar

I recently learned about the Japanese way of repairing broken ceramics through a process called kintsugi.  When a beloved pot or plate or mug or bowl or vase breaks, we usually throw it away.  There is not good repair for these items. But the Japanese developed a way to bond them together and make them more beautiful.   After a resin used to bond the broken pieces together and the edges are smoothed, the repair is completed with gold (kintsugi) or silver (gintsugi) painted into the mended areas.  They form golden veins.  This ‘Golden repair” makes the object more beautiful than before.

When I first read about kintsugi, I had one of those moments of epiphany that occurs when two totally different areas of my life combine.   I was going to be facilitating an evening class with my friend.  We had 19 women signed up to do a project called “the River of Life,’ which is part of the Wise Aging program designed by the Institute for Jewish Spirituality.

My friend and I participated in a two-day workshop to become instructors several years ago.  We had taught a full class on the topic of Wise Aging, but this was our first class in a while.  We were only going to touch on this one area where participants look back through their life, remembering the stories that were important to them, while seeing the threads and trends that impacted how they journeyed through life.

Sometimes people have a difficult time looking back on their lives. Events occurred that bring them distress because they have been unable to overcome the emotions that those memories bring to them.  They cannot get past and cannot move forward.  They see this as a broken thread; an unresolved flaw in their river.

img_6566

Although not Kintsugi, the turquoise embedded in the bowl’s cracks and flaws makes it more beautiful

It was while I was preparing for this class that I was reading a book for my job called, “The Growth Mindset Playbook, A Teacher’s Guide to Promoting Student Success.”  In Chapter 5, subtitled as “Failure As A path to Success,” the authors ended the chapter with information about kintsugi. In the book the authors wrote, “These restorations are not seen as a flaw in the piece, but as part of its history and something that makes it uniquely beautiful, and more interesting and valuable than before.”

YES!  The journeys we take in our lives are like the rivers with bends and falls and excitement, thrilling moments followed by peaceful floats.  Events occur that we cannot control.  We can only control our reactions to these events.  We have some control of the boat and the steering, but oftentimes events shatter our world.  We feel broken.  But we, like items repaired through kintsugi, are actually more beautiful and interesting because of our experiences.  We learn through each event we see and experience.  We become wiser and we can provide so much guidance.

Through failure we learn.   But is it really failure?  I think not.  Each episode or event in our life enriches our understanding of ourselves and of others. Empathy and compassion for others is increased when we can see the world in their place.

I am feel emotional attachment to those who suffer from infertility, because I too suffered though this.  I also underwent procedures and surgeries in an effort to have a family.  I feel what they feel.  But the golden veins of repair have helped me be a compassionate friend.

I saw kintsugi as the perfect way to explain this philosophy to the class.

The important aim, for me, is to always keep positive.  I want to see my life’s journey completed by golden and silver streams of repairs. Each one making me stronger and more lovely.  My outlook on the world might be different then before I needed the repair. When I look back at my life I want no regrets.  I want to believe that all that happened made me stronger, just as the repairs increase the strength of the broken ceramics

I believe, like kintsugi, each of our journeys through the river of our lives is uniquely beautiful.  It just takes us opening our eyes and seeing the best and not focusing on the hardships that will get us through.

Your Heart Just Gets Larger

26 Jan

Recently my cousin uncovered a photo, I had never seen before. When my Grandma Esther died, my Dad and his siblings divided up the family photos.  My cousin is now investigating the ones in her Dad and Mom’s album. This photo actually had something written on the back of it.  And I am the one with the story, because of my story.


When I married, I never expected infertility. I was in love, we were healthy, there were no problems. So when decided to get pregnant, I was devastated when we seemed unable to have children.

After the first year , I was sent on to a specialist and started on years of tests, surgeries and medical treatments.  Throughout this all, I had one major supporter, my Grandma Esther.  In her late 80s, Grandma was not one to let me give up. During a time when long distance phone calls cost extra before 11 pm, Grandma became my late night phone call.

I lived in Kansas, so when my phone rang after 10 pm, I knew it was an East Coast call. If it was not my parents, it was Grandma Esther with advise!  Her first calls were to tell me that she also had problems when she first tried to have children. She told me to stop stressing and go to the ocean. She and grandpa went to the ocean and she got pregnant with my uncle.

Well, I could not go to the ocean from Kansas. But I felt the love. Over the next few years Grandma’s phone calls came with more involved medical advise. I could see in my mind’s eye, multitudes of grandmas sitting around and coming up with cures.

Eventually I did have a healthy baby girl. My Grandma was so excited. At age 88, she flew to Kansas to be here for my daughter’s naming. Grandma’s advise did not end. Having nursed three infants, she was an expert. She announced one day that I was doing it all wrong. “If you are going to nurse, you need to do it the right way,” she said. With in minutes she had placed cushions and a footstool around me, and nursing became so much easier.

I wish I could say that was the end of my struggles, but it was not. I was unable to have another pregnancy. But I was not done with motherhood. My husband and I turned to adoption.

It was not easy. We had two strikes against us. One, we already had one child. Two, we were Jewish. Agencies in Kansas were basically religion based. We were told we could register, but when a better qualified (Christian) family came, we would be put to the back of the line.  We tried private adoption. But two weeks before the baby was born, the mom changed her mind. Again difficult.

Finally we found the Adam’s Center, a local agency that helped Jewish families.  No longer in existence, it helped about three dozen families adopt babies. Not all were Jewish.  We were one of the fortunate ones, and our son arrived.

My Dad was a bit nervous about this. On his way home from a business trip in California, he stopped in Kansas to meet his newest grandson. My sister called in advance, “Dad is nervous that he won’t love him the same.”

No worries. Dad arrived. I put the baby in his arms. My Dad looked up and said, “how could you not love that punim, that face.”  And then he told me, “With each child and grandchild, you do not split the love you have. No your heart just gets bigger and bigger.”  My parents had big hearts.

Dad was still nervous about how his mother, my Grandma Esther, would react. As far as he knew, there had never been an adoption in the family. How little he knew.

Grandma was now 92.  She did not fly out, but she called. She was so happy and told me the story of her cousin, Messuganah Esther.  She told me  in the old days, early 1900s, people, who had no children,  often adopted orphan children. Most of the time they were related. But sometimes, they were the children of friends. I must say that orphan sometimes just meant one parent had died.

In any case, my Great Grandmother Ray, had a sister, Chamka.  When Chamka finally made it out of the Bialystok region to join her siblings in the USA, she was a widow with three young children. And she was pregnant.  What was she to do?  Her sister Sarah had no children. and Sarah had a good job and could support a child.  So when Chamka gave birth, the daughter Esther, was given to Sarah to raise. Because so many girls were named Esther, she received the nickname, Meshugganah Esther. (See previous blog, Too Many Esthers.)

The photo is touching. It shows Chamka (Champy) holding Meshugganah Esther’s daughter, Lenore.  And it tells part of the story on the back.


Needless to say, when I brought my son back East for the first time, my Grandma Esther showered him with the same love she gave every great grandchild. She had a handmade afghan waiting for him as she did for all 18 of her great grandchildren. Because in my family, with every child, grandchild and great grandchild, you do not divide your love, your heart only gets larger and able to hold more love.