The Pain of the Grandmothers

What are the epigenetic impacts on the bodies of people conceived in states of trauma and un-wantedness?

Sex is usually not something we consider in the historical context of our ancestors’ lives. Sure, it obviously happened (lots of people have been born over the years), but beyond that basic acknowledgement, I don’t think most have ever considered how our ancestors navigated sexuality and the complexities that Western, Judeo-Christian culture infused into the topic.


Recently, I had a very beautiful experience that was prompted by a discovery I made for a client while researching his ancestors in Mexico. I located a civil birth record for his great-grandfather that revealed he was born to a single mother and recorded under her surname. This was a surprise to the client, and it helped explain why he continued to experience difficulties building his tree beyond this great-grandfather. However, as any genealogist knows, this scenario is encountered often.


What really struck me, however, was the fact that the mother was recorded as “age 17 and exposed.”


I had never seen this word before in a Spanish record, but when I read it, my body experienced a deep sickening in my gut. I could feel the shame the record-keeper meant to convey, and the shame, guilt, and pain this young girl had to endure from many in her family and community.


Historically, Western communities often branded children born to single mothers as “bastards” or “illegitimate,” and historical documents reflect this. As I mentioned previously, it is quite common to find these scenarios in just about any family tree. Sadly, the religious cultural framework for most of the Western world did not hold much compassion or tolerance for unmarried women who bore children, and the children would, in turn, suffer the ramifications as well—often being permanently labeled (as if they had any say in the matter!).


Finding children borne to single mothers is common enough in genealogical research, but what I find to be even more common now-a-days with the advent of DNA technology is the fact that many people find surprising instances of what the genetic genealogy community calls a “misattributed paternity” or “non-paternal-event.” These terms describe instances where the biological father is either unknown or different than what a person may suspect—or even what a historical document may claim. DNA doesn’t withhold truth, and sometimes even historical records project folks’ attempts to hide or cover up something they deemed as shameful.


Anymore, I find it unusual if people DON’T find a “misattributed paternity” within their immediate five generation family tree after taking a genetic DNA test! That even goes for people who THINK they know all their male ancestors (yes, I’m even talking about those with “devout” religious ancestors).


I don’t want to dwell on navigating these surprises here. I’ve written elsewhere about that. What I want to focus on, however, are the things we generally don’t think about when considering the experience of the women involved in these situations. Over the years, I have observed that we generally default to only one narrative—that some woman (or girl) was a bit “loose” and “provocative” and just happened to end up getting pregnant. We have been taught to put the blame (and shame) on the woman alone. We even tend to discuss these scenarios with a bit of a chuckle and a smirk. However, our society has taught us to avoid looking at the deeper truths and other possibilities. Historically, women were made to shoulder the full burden of shame for “out-of-wedlock” pregnancies. The men involved rarely ever had to take responsibility or be held accountable.


Recently, during a morning reading and ritual session, I read a few things that got me thinking about the aforementioned record I encountered and I soon found myself feeling very emotional and connected to my ancient Grandmother Guides. I had this deep realization that many women (more than we realize) throughout history conceived children through rape (whether violently or otherwise). This is not news, per se, but the way in which it hit me was very impactful. I could sense that so many women, even in married relationships, had to endure forced intercourse, whether by physical force or psychological coercion. Even some married women had to endure violent rape from men other than their husbands. Again, this is not new information, but I don’t think we talk about it or acknowledge it enough.


For many women throughout history, sex was not a pleasurable experience for them—even if they were married to good men. Women were taught to be subservient to men and men were taught to “rule over their wives” (thank you, Bible). This belief permeated into the bedroom as well. As a result, I would dare say most men never even considered how women felt when it came to sex, which means most women probably never experienced much pleasure during intercourse. It was rarely, if ever, discussed even among married couples. The shame and secrecy that Christianity entangled with sex prevented most Western people over the centuries from having the awareness and the space to safely and healthily explore such a crucial part of their human experience (let alone enjoy the full physical and spiritual pleasure that can come from meaningful and embodied sex!). Yes, I’m sure there were plenty of instances in history where true love and passion for both partners resulted in pleasure, but I think they were the exception, not the rule.


What arose in me from all of this, however, was a question: what is the energetic and epigenetic impact on people who are conceived in such a state of trauma? After all, they literally come into the world being unwanted! Then, what are the energetic and epigenetic ramifications for women’s bodies who have to endure unwanted sex and pregnancies? How do those epigenetic impacts in their bodies affect and impact the bodies of any future children they may carry and birth?


These are questions for which I am simply holding space. I don’t have specific answers. But simply asking the questions causes my body to sense the general nature of them—and I think you can too.


Now, juxtapose these scenarios from our Western culture with the ancient traditions of certain African tribes who have a very beautiful practice where women are the ones to decide when it’s time for them to become pregnant. The woman first senses the spirit/energy of the being who wants to incarnate long before her cycle begins, and she gets a sense as to which man in the tribe is to be the father. She then begins hearing/sensing a song for the new child. She then teaches it to the father and the two eventually sing it together while they have sex and conceive the new incarnating human. The mother continues to sing the child’s song during her pregnancy and she even teaches it to the midwives who then sing it during the birthing. Can you imagine the vibrant energy of belonging and wanted-ness that would infuse the body of a person born into these conditions?!!


If so many people in our White western culture have been conceived into states of unwanted-ness, it’s no wonder so many people are broken and infused with trauma and pain from the very beginning of their lives! (And I would offer my opinion that this plays a HUGE role in why so many broken people have committed so many vile atrocities against other beings over the years).


This is why I believe it is so important that women (and other people with wombs) have sole and express sovereignty over the choice of bringing other humans into the world! At its core, this is why protecting reproductive rights is so important. There’s much more to the story than our society has ever realized!


Moving back to my ritual experience, as I contemplated all of these thoughts, I sensed a strong connection with one of my Grandmother Guides. I leaned in a bit deeper and felt a strong pain surface in my body that was connected to one of my close female ancestors. I sensed she was conceived by her mother in a moment of forced sex from her father who was in a drunken state. Then, during the pregnancy, her father would constantly express to the mother how the child “better be a boy.” So, this woman (my close ancestor) was conceived and brought into the world not being fully wanted by her mother; then, on top of that, she felt rejected by her father at birth because she wasn’t a boy. Sure, he eventually learned to accept and love her, and yes, he eventually improved his life and gave up alcohol, but those initial pains and feelings were never dealt with or discussed. As a result, the impacts and effects never healed or resolved, and instead even passed onto her children as what I call “emotional DNA.” This is intergenerational trauma.


I shed so many tears over this and was moved to provide some kind of offering to the grandmothers. I lit a candle, offered prayer and immediately sensed that I was to offer fresh yarrow, rose petals, and hollyhock in my stone bowl of water at the base of a tree in our orchard. I did this while listening to soft Celtic meditation music. As I went outside at 8:00 AM on the cool, fresh, autumn morning, it was such an amazing and beautiful experience (not to mention that one of our rose bushes had graciously offered one, last, final rose of the season for me to use)! I felt very close to the grandmothers and sensed their love. I was guided to then offer ritual prayer at the base of the tree and felt their desire for me to write and share these thoughts with you.


A critical part of Ancestral Lineage Healing is learning more about the pains and traumas our ancestors passed on from their bodies to their children—and ultimately to us. Then, we release these traumas by reclaiming more of our natural human-beingness, shifting false beliefs, and standing in our own power and sovereignty—things those same ancestors were not able to do. By doing this, we release the energy from our own bodies, which, in turn, releases any entangled energies from the lineage as a whole.


I hold the framework that the human parts of our soul lives on after death, and that the dead can still experience healing and change in a disembodied state. As we come to embody more and more healing within our body and reclaim connections to Mother Earth and our “capital-A” Ancestors, we help those in our lineages who died being disconnected to become woven into the fabric of those we refer to as the Well & Wise Ancestors (or “capital-A” Ancestors). The more of our lineage ancestors who become woven into that wellness, the more vibrant our own wellness becomes, and the more we are then able to express and manifest the unique gifts we embody as faces of our people. Then, as a more well, vibrant, and alive human, we are powerful and effective in offering our unique magic and medicine to the world and help to bring about greater healing and abundance for all!