This March marked one year since I created Quetzal Community Birth Work. The year started off intensely. On February 27 I said goodbye to my job as a family support worker at Family Building Blocks and two days later I began an challenging, nourishing and joyful week of Sacred Doula Training. A week after that, I took my family to Mexico, where I had the incredible opportunity to meet with birth workers, both traditional and modern. It was a favor for my friend Judy, but I really feel that I was the one who had been given a beautiful gift. As that powerful month came to an end, I sat down and got to work on creating a business that I had been dreaming for many years. This is where the different paths I have taken in my life somehow come together: studying art, anthropology, and Spanish; learning the craft of teacher, interpreter, and mentor; practicing yoga and meditation (here and there) and then becoming a mother (yoga and meditation suddenly essential lifelines.) This is where I struggle each day to do the personal work that I both yearn for and am terrified of.
In honor of this anniversary, I want to talk about the name I chose for my business. Although the name is rather long, and maybe hard to pronounce, I chose each word to represent an important aspect of the work that I do and the directions I dream of traveling in the future. This post was going to be about all four words, but the first, Quetzal, apparently has a lot to say and wants this entire post to itself.
The Resplendent Quetzal is a Central American bird, known for its long, green tail feathers. In case you’re not sure how to pronounce it, the English version is KET-sl (remember the wise old dragon on Dragon Tales? Like that.) The Spanish version is ket-SAHL. You can say it either way.
Connecting two cultures
I chose this bird to represent my business because it symbolizes many things that are important to my work. It represents the fact that it’s a bilingual business, serving both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking families. For two decades, I studied and made a living teaching Spanish. The time came when I felt called to use that skill to give back by removing the language barriers that make services difficult to access, and also including latina immigrants in the ever-growing birth options available in the U.S, which can include the best of both cultures. When I visited the maternity ward of a hospital in Zihuatanejo, Sara, the social worker that was showing me around, enthusiastically announced to everyone we met that I attended births at an American hospital where they practice “parto amigable” (friendly birth). Her dream is that her hospital will one day do the same. It’s ironic that part of what is making American birth more “friendly” is the growing acceptance of traditional techniques, like the use of the rebozo, which were originally learned from Mexican midwives, yet are not available in Mexican hospitals, where “progress” means a Cesarean rate of around 50%. (Read Judy’s book for much more on the changing landscape of midwifery and hospital birth in Mexico!) By being a bilingual doula and childbirth educator, I can interpret and inform about policies and options as well as help create a comforting birth environment.
Another reason the word quetzal resonates with me is its connection to mythology, which plays a big part in Birthing From Within classes. When we look deeply at any Great Story, myth, or folktale, we can see important moments of our own life reflected in the hero’s adventures. This can help us see the significance of our own experience. I have found mythology to be a powerful tool for processing and creating meaning in our birth experiences.
Quetzal is associated with the Mayan warrior and Guatemalan national hero Tecún Umán, the last warrior to fall in the battle against Pedro de Alvarado’s forces. His spirit guide, Quetzal, flew down and rested on his body, forever marking its feathers with the warrior’s blood. A warrior is one who lives passionately with no attachment to outcome. Women are warriors in childbirth, doing whatever needs to be done, and are forever marked by the experience. What form do your red feathers take? What do they represent to you? Wear them proudly.
It is said that the spirits of women who die in childbirth -and warriors that die in battle- become hummingbirds. While birth does still carry the risk of physical death, it is also true that the ego, our self-concept, is embattled and faces death during childbirth. It is an unusually intense time of transformation. Now, when I see a hummingbird, I think of the parts of myself that I have surrendered -sometimes joyfully, but more often after putting up quite a fight- as a part of the process of becoming a mother. When I see hummingbirds I honor these parts of myself, the strength that it took to release them, and the beauty and knowledge that eventually blossomed from that sacrifice.
The word quetzal means “feather”, “precious”, and “beautiful” and appears in Mesoamerican mythology in the name of the goddess Xochiquetzal and the god Quetzalcoatl. Xochiquetzal (Beautiful Flower) is the goddess of fertility, female sexual power, beauty, pregnancy, childbirth, and and is a protector of young mothers. She is also the Mesoamerican representation of Rainbow Mother, “the energy of the poet, dancer, weaver, and seer” - who mothers by inspiring her children (Lynn Andrews. Jaguar Woman, p. 48-9).
She is accompanied by colibrí, the hummingbird, and adorned with butterflies. A butterfly’s metamorphosis mirrors the transformation that heroes and mothers go through in the midst of their journey. What lies between caterpillar and butterfly appears to be a hopeless mess - a not-caterpillar/not-butterfly. Mothers can take heart knowing that there is a complex intelligence to that mess, eventually resulting in a perfect butterfly.
Quetzalcoatl (Feathered Serpent) is a god of learning and knowledge, and associated with the legendary 10th-Century Toltec ruler, Ce Acatl Topiltzin.
The term “Toltec” is considered by some to refer to the pre-Aztec culture centered in Tula, Hidalgo. For others, such as Carlos Castaneda, Don Miguel Ruiz, and Allan Hardman, “Toltec” is a lineage of spiritual wisdom, passed down from ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica. In his popular book, “The Four Agreements”, Ruiz offers practical wisdom for cultivating personal freedom. The Birthing From Within approach draws from these and other Toltec teachings. Personal freedom is really what Birthing From Within is all about: Freedom to wholeheartedly embrace the events of your birth, no matter what happens. Freedom to create your own story. Freedom to look your fears in the eye. The resplendent quetzal is a bird that represents personal freedom, both because it famously cannot be held in captivity (without becoming merely a shell of itself), and because of its association with the warrior Tecún Umán, who embodies this verse of the Guatemalan national anthem, “Antes muerto que esclavo será” (“Death before slavery”).
Stories of the trials and tribulations of heroes and warriors give us clues about what our own process of gaining personal freedom might look like. All cultures and religions have stories of this kind.
Honor your resplendence!
There is so much more I could say about the Resplendent Quetzal, so many tangents I could happily follow. Perhaps it is enough just to say that it is my dream that all pregnant, laboring, and new moms know and feel that they are resplendent- beautiful and precious. That you know you are strong even in your times of weakness. That you feel free even when the yoke of motherhood weighs heavily on your shoulders. That you are living a story that is much bigger than the one that our society expects to hear from you.
Christy is a doula and Birthing From Within childbirth mentor committed to strengthening families and communities through storytelling/storylistening, meaningful celebration, mindfulness, and reflective work.