Saturday, July 25, 2020

A Crack in the System



A couple of years ago, when I was deeply into my work at my cafe, and running longer and longer distances, I told my husband at some point "Yeh, The Man won." I meant that crippling internal conflicts had brought me to a decision to abandon my volunteer doula organization; that the arrest and conviction of unregistered midwives in Canada and around the world meant that women were left with less and less choices; and that my simmering suspicions about the nature of feminism were possibly true. 

So, I took pleasure in my cafe. I ran faster and had a load of fun doing races. I made new friends. I ignored the birth world, and only answered a call if one of "my" students had a question about a birth or a pregnant client of theirs. Occasionally I would check in with midwife friends around the world, just to check in. I was happy giving it all up. I put my doula bag away and forgot about my plans to go back to Greece to attend women in the camps there.

Then that crazy virus hit and I spent two month at home, with my family (husband, two sons, nephew). I made myself a small cocoon, and I crawled into it and meditated, thought, wrote and pondered. And then women started calling me. Women who had planned to give birth at home but whose midwives were forbidden to attend. Women who planned to give birth at the hospital but their doula were forbidden to attend. I gave advice, gave comfort, affirmed choices, made suggestions. 

I met with a few women who were planning to give birth in their own homes, without a midwife in attendance. I spoke to them after their births and got the idea I would interview them for an article or a podcast episode. Then I looked at the footage and I realized - you women are amazing by the way! - that I have some beautiful, inspiring footage. And then I realized, yes well, women experience less-than-optimum births and they're also worth interviewing....

So, now I have interviewed about thirty women, I have so much beauty on my Google drive and so many words of wisdom... so I'm making a documentary to celebrate our strength, tell our stories and let the world know that our care of the birthing woman needs change and needs it NOW!

There is a crack in our maternity care "system" and women are falling in. Luckily, the Covid crisis is a chance for us all to have a little time to check in with our reality and make some changes. Fast. 

Some questions to ponder:
  • Why are women expected to "reach for the top" in their professions and then called "too old" when they decide to bear children?
  • Why are women expected to go to the hospital to give birth? As we now know, hospitals are where sick people go. Pregnancy is not an illness.
  • Why are women threatened with the death or morbidity of their babies, while they are in labour?
  • Why are there so few midwives in Canada?
  • Why are doulas so expensive? Is a birth companion a luxury?
  • Why do women feel ashamed for their birth experiences?
And some mantras to reflect on:
  • Nature is not gentle, it is powerful and untameable.
  • Heal birth, heal earth.
  • Powerful women can change the world.
  • Just a reminder, when a woman gives birth, she is BIRTHING A NEW HUMAN! 
So, I have my work cut out for me, and I am feeling good.

If any one of you wants to participate in any way, let me know: do you want your voice to be heard? Do you want to be involved in production? Do you have an idea you want to tell me about? 

I'm listening!

Monday, July 13, 2020

Safe Birth Take Two

A couple of weeks ago one of my dear friends gave birth, at home, surrounded by her family and small community. She is a paragon of strength, but also a tower of gentleness, and she's funny, athletic, and creative. Her first son was born in the hospital, and from then she knew that she wanted to birth at home, without interference, peacefully.

I do know that the way she gives birth is not for everyone. In fact, the birth reality that I envision is very different from her reality. I see women giving birth in all sorts of ways, attended by all sorts of caregivers. But the most important thing about the birth experience will be that the woman giving birth is at the very centre of the experience. She is giving birth; it's her body, and she makes the decisions.

I've been talking to a lot of women lately, and I'm hearing some shocking stories. Don't misunderstand: I know that there can be mistakes, sometimes tragic and foolish ones, made by women and their caregivers who try to create more caring, gentler paradigms about birth. Believe me, I know that Nature is far from gentle; that babies and mothers can die; and that modern western medicine can and does save lives.

But, and this is the most fundamental and important thing, there exists in our maternity care system a systemic and pervasive misogyny that allows maternity caregivers to debase, abuse, destroy, demean, reduce, insult .... the women who come to them for care ... and this has to be ended! 

This systemic sexism is linked, of course, to the racism that we see around us to create a poisonous brew that is literally killing black women in the US (https://www.nationalpartnership.org/our-work/health/reports/black-womens-maternal-health.html). 

In the past week, I've spoken to women all around the world. I've heard tragic and disgusting stories. Doctors are doing unspeakable things to women. Doulas and midwives are deciding to leave at random times, women are being left alone when they most need attendance. It should be no act of bravery to bear a child. What I mean, is, of course it is a brave and courageous act to make the jump to bear a child, but that act should not be met with conflict and derision on every front.

"They didn't even look at my birth plan."
"My midwife went out of the country."
"They botched the c-section and told me I could have a VBAC, but I couldn't because they had made a hole in my cervix."
"The midwife left when I went into surgery."
"The nurse broke my bone."
"I told them it still hurt but they didn't believe me."
"The doctor jumped on my stomach."
"They wouldn't tell me what was going on."
"They didn't believe me when I told them the baby was coming."
"They didn't believe me when I told them I was in labour."

The are real women with real voices, telling real stories. They suffer immense trauma and feel pain, and grieve their loss of self-esteem. And do you know what they do? They love their babies, and raise their children, with love.

Women deserve more. Speak out! Let's start to talk about our experiences ... it's time to stop the slaughter of birthing mothers (literally, in the case of Black women). It's time to birth on our own terms. We need to seek out birth attendants who put the birthing woman at the centre of the birth event; who treat women as they are: the bearer of children. The vessels of life. The nurturers of our babies.


Thursday, June 4, 2020

Safe Birth?

These days, we have all become experts at reading articles in medical journals, or studies, and we casually use words like "exponentially" and "virus shedding" and "evidence-based". So, I am not going to go that route again, and quote this or that Cochrane review that will further convince you that I'm right. I don't even want to think in terms of who's right and who's wrong. I want to go deeper than that. Way deeper. I want to explore what makes birth sacred, and what keeps it sacred, and therefore safe.

I have witnessed three newborn deaths in my doula practice. Two in particular stand out for me. One took place in a birthing centre, and the birth was attended by midwives. I was the doula. When it was clear that the baby was in serious trouble, the midwives, in their fear and panic, became insensitive to the mother's emotional needs. They told me, the doula, to leave. Mother felt isolated, abandoned, and traumatized even more than she had to be. These midwives, don't get me wrong, did everything they should have done medically, to try to save baby's life. But they completely ignored the spiritual, emotional, transcendent nature of birth. Conversely, I was present when another baby died soon after birth in the hospital. The medical staff provided a space where the parents could hold their child and say goodbye. The parents wanted me there, so I hovered, as a good doula does. The fact that they even had spiritual needs was fully honoured by the doctor, the nurses, and the orderly. 

Both mamas lost their babies. Both mamas grieved. But both mamas were not traumatized for years. Because one mother felt safe during her birth experience, and the other did not.

So, what can we do to keep birth sacred? I believe if the sacred nature of birth is remembered at all times, then the attendants will be naturally drawn to keeping the mother safe at all times. Sacred. Just play with the letters a little bit. Scared. Being scared during childbirth is something that has a physiologic root. When our bodies release the stress hormones that initiate the "ejection reflex", our busy brains interpret those feelings as "scared". I have attended the most natural, undisturbed, physiologic births where I have seen the mother become afraid at that moment. It passes, it's transient because it's just a reaction to a physiologic event.

But I've also attended too many births where the birthing mother was actually afraid. She was actually made to feel afraid by the words or actions of her attendants. I often found my job as a doula to be one of shielding, holding the sacred space, creating a human sound barrier between the abusive staff and the birthing mama. Scared destroys sacred. It degrades sacred, pulls it down, tears it apart. Scared does not belong anywhere a mother is giving birth. Even if you're the primary attendant, and you are scared because of something that's happening, your priority is to keep that fear from entering the space.

If a birth attendant doesn't believe that birth itself is sacred, then we run into problems. If you think it's just another medical procedure, then it makes it more complicated. But every doctor knows that a happy patient heals quicker and better than an angry or lonely one. So even if we're not talking "sacred" because some people are scared by the word, we can still try to keep the birthing mother happy, right? And a happy mother feels safe.

Our maternity care system is broken. Too many women go into the experience with no understanding, and they trust their medical caregivers of course, because why not? And they are sadly betrayed. They're told all sorts of scary things: your baby is too big, you're too old, you have a something percent of this or that horrible thing happening, you won't be able to stand the pain, your baby is too small, you live too far for a home birth, there are no midwives, you have to pay $10,000 before you can even think of birthing here, and on and on. Many, many women give birth just fine within the medical system, often with the loving attendance of a doula. These women are a testament to the strength of the birthing mother. But too many do not give birth just fine. They leave the hospital or the birthing centre traumatized and confused. Some traumatic birthing experiences literally take years to recover from. Other women live their whole lives with feelings of inferiority and a damaged sense of worth. Still others spend their whole lives to make the birth experience sacred and safe for other women (Yours truly!). 

There is a growing number of women who are taking the situation into their own hands, and their own homes. They are saying "no" to maternity care that is based on fear, and they're giving birth on their own terms, in their own homes, with people around them who they trust. Keeping birth sacred. 

I don't believe a normal pregnancy and birth belongs in a hospital. Hospitals are places where you go when your health is at risk, or you need surgery. Normal birth is sacred and belongs at home. The undisturbed mother feels safe, and everyone around her participates in the sacredness of the event. This has become clear during the current crisis, where the role of the hospital has been clarified by the event. 

But if we bring birth home, where it belongs, then are we sacrificing another kind of safety? If we don't have midwives who are trained in the art and science of attending Sacred Birth, then every home birth will be a "freebirth". Which is fine for those mothers who want that. But many birthing women want to have someone present, who knows about the things that can and do happen during birth, when it is important to have someone attending who knows how to respond.  

I'm asking questions. I don't have practical answers yet. I am grateful for you doulas out there who are still attending births in the hospitals, and I strive to support you as much as I can. I am grateful to the birthing women I attended throughout my practice, who taught and continue to teach me so much about Sacred Birth. 

Let's talk this out! Let's strive for answers! Let's change birth and keep it Sacred!


Wednesday, June 3, 2020

I am Listening for a Heartbeat

When Ahmaud Arbery went for a run in February, he was shot and killed. In the running world, a global campaign went up to run 2.23 miles to remember his birthday, February 23, which was a few days after he died. Later, I noticed the #runwithmaud hashtag on my running feeds, so I checked it out.

On Instagram someone I follow had proudly posted a picture of a 2.23 mile run, with the hashtag. The comments were in the hundreds. Having time on my hands, more time than usual anyway, I scrolled down a little until I got to something interesting, and terrifying. There was actually a conversation going on about whether or not Arbery was a "real" runner, since according to the poster, he was wearing khaki shorts and boots (he wasn't, actually, but anyway). The conversation proceeded about "who is a runner?" and "do you have to wear fancy expensive clothing if you're a runner?" (By the way, the answer is no, you could run naked if you want.) No, but that's not the point, is it? The actual argument was: if he wasn't wearing "runner" clothes, and he was wearing "thief" clothes, then somehow that made it alright to shoot him twice in the chest? Because he was a Black man running?

Most people by now know about the most recently famous racist atrocity to come out of the U.S., and I'm sure there have been more in the interim, and before, and after. The fires are burning, the people are on the move, justice is being called for. Lives are at stake. We know that "I can't breathe" was not something someone said when they were ill with Covid19. We know that George Floyd was murdered by a white man, and that the end of his life he called out to his mother.

As a white person, in fact one of the last colonialists in Africa (I was born in Kampala in 1956, when it was part of a British Protectorate), I am fully aware of my privilege. I am also fully aware that, as a feminist, I am offended and supremely annoyed by the spectacle of a man declaring how much of a feminist he is, and explaining my politics to others. A man cannot understand why I am a feminist down to my core. That's that, end of discussion.

That discussion feeds my understanding of exactly how I should approach the movement, the resistance against racism (institutionalized and personalized), the demonstrations, the anger. I am not going to shout out my support. Neither will I say that racism goes both ways, or that it's us, the people, against them, the racists (and colour doesn't enter into it). No, I don't want to be in the limelight as that amazing white woman who supports Black Lives Matter. I don't need to fill the limelight so that the people who really have something to say are, again, silenced. 

We all posted a black square on Instagram today. With the unfortunate use of the hashtag #blacklivesmatter, we inadvertently covered up important information that is covered by that hashtag. I believe that is a metaphor for what white people are always doing, with our louder voices and our automatic membership in the club of privilege. 

I think we all need to take a good look at ourselves, an honest look with a touch of humour, and figure out what exactly we are doing with our support. Are you giving money? Or are you posting a selfie of yourself at a demonstration and taking up space? Are you providing care for your black friends, or are you proclaiming to everyone about how many black friends you have? Are you clarifying stuff for your white friends, or are you keeping quiet and letting black people speak?

So, here I am, with all my black, brown, yellow and beige friends, patting myself on the back and being oh so PC. But I really only wanted to say one thing: 

I worked as a birth attendant for twenty years. I've listened to hundreds of heartbeats; I have looked into the eyes of hundred of birthing mamas; I've witnessed hundreds of babies being born. Every single baby is a special being; every single birth is a miraculous event. We are born the same: naked, from our mother's wombs. From the moment we are born, we have the potential to love each other or not. Choose love! White mothers, it is up to you to teach your children well. A naked, tiny baby doesn't deserve to be taught how to hate. And a naked, tiny baby doesn't deserve to be hated. 

I'm not prepared to pat myself on the back right now so that I can feel better about how I'm not part of the problem. The problem is such a stinking, complicated mess that OF COURSE I am part of it. For what it's worth, I support the fight for justice, for peace, and against racism. I submit my support with the understanding that no one needs or wants it. That your anger may be greater than my "support". In the meantime, I'm going to continue to work towards a world where every baby can grow up loved, cherished and fulfilled. Where mothers of babies can be loved and honoured and valued. Where people are not measured by the colour of their skin. Let this pain be the final labour pain in the birth of a just world. 

I am dedicating this to the innocent black people killed in the US, and to the innocent babies who want to grow up free, and to the mothers who have lost their children, everywhere.


Friday, May 15, 2020

Support Your Local Business! Update!



OPENING MAY 25, MONDAY TO FRIDAY 12-5PM
ONLINE ORDERS, PICKUP AT THE DOOR
GOURMET GROCERIES
SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTS
and more...

On Friday, March 13, we had a nice busy morning. We cooked up a storm and prepared ourselves for a busy lunch rush, which never happened. We looked outside around noon and cars filled the street in front of the cafe, like it was the afternoon rush hour. That was the beginning. Everyone had been told to go home. We packed up the food and we, also, went home. Back at home, my son and my husband, both at different colleges, had also been sent home.

On Sunday, March 15, we came back to the cafe to give it a "final" cleaning. We figured we'd have to be closed for a couple of weeks, and we planned to keep cooking for take-out and delivery. Over the weekend, our wizard chef decided to come and live with us. He brought his 20 year old chihuahua, his pet fish  and his cooking skills. My nephew who was studying at McGill also moved in with us, and so our household started the long period of staying at home. 



We cooked - a lot! We ordered in groceries. My sons went out to get stuff we couldn't order in. We argued about safety measures. We cooked and ate, and made cocktails. I increased my weekly mileage, and kept up my 2020 run streak. One son started a new career project. The other tried to study film, without being able to attend class, or do group projects, or leave the house on public transit. Of the five of us, my husband was the only one who could continue working (prof). 

One thing I know for sure: Caffe della Pace will survive! But from riding high, being busy and having fun, we are now wondering how our cafe is going to adapt to the new world we are looking at. And we will adapt! We're good at it! Our cafe has grown organically since we opened - as our public grew and changed, so did we! 

And now, we need your support! We know that you miss hanging out with your friends, lovers, colleagues and family in our warm, welcoming space. We do too! But for the next little while, we will be accepting online orders, for pickup only, so that you can eat our lovely, loving food at home.

Check us out online, choose your meals, and come on down to the Peace Cafe where you will be welcomed with love; food ready; smiles ready ... until we can get back to our intimate, boisterous, warm, human way of cooking, serving and eating meals together.

We need you! And, come on, admit it, you need us! Share the news, check us out, get in touch! Stay safe, stay well, #spread love. 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

COVID19 in-house Day 56: The Corona Virus Blues

Like I said before, gratitude is a state of mind. But I'm not going to fall for the easy peasy lie-down-and-take-it bullshit that every cloud has a silver lining. So, no, I am not grateful for the Virus.

Today is "be grateful for V" day.

I'm not grateful for the Virus.

I'm grateful for the love that I have and share in abundance.

I'm not grateful that the Virus has killed tens and hundreds of thousands of people. Every single one of those people was born, and had a life and love.

I'm grateful for my health.

I'm not grateful that the Virus has appeared to reduce people's senses of compassion, love, and courtesy.

I'm grateful that I have a warm, comfortable house to hide in.

I'm not grateful that the Virus has put a huge strain on our health care systems, all over the world, and that our health care workers are suffering.

I'm grateful that I live in a country that has not taken advantage of the crisis for political maneuvers.

I'm not grateful that I haven't been able to visit two of my sons, and they can't visit me.

I'm grateful for the technology that allows us to "see" each other every day, if we want.

I'm not grateful that I have to close my cafe, which I love, for an unknown time.

I'm grateful I can survive financially.

I'm not grateful that I had to cancel my retreats ... and I paid back my deposits.

I'm grateful for the future, when I'll be back on my mountain.

Turn, turn, turn.


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

COVID19 in-house Day 51: Grateful for W

I've been thinking about which "W" I should be grateful for. This has been one of my themes while I'm out running. I've been arguing with myself, not out loud I hope... Words? Women? Or Wine?

Back in 1991, when I was pregnant with my fourth son, we were looking for a farm to buy and live on. We were living in a medieval tower in a small village at the time ... yep, there it is. Long story, but anyway we moved into this tower with no anything except the ghost of the poor guy who had lived in the top floor and drank himself to death, and a lot of birds, and we fixed it up, got some electricity and running water, and made a bathroom and fixed the roof, and made friends with the village people and ... eventually sold it to an artist from LA... 


So, in March 1991 we found our farm and moved there. 7 acres, a vineyard, fields, a spring where I got our 18 litre jerry can of water every day, a pond for the ducks and geese and for the kids to almost drown in... and a big stone farmhouse, and all that.


What I am grateful for today is wine. Yes, we had a vineyard and we had all the fun connected to that: the vendemmia, the pruning in April, the days in the fall when we would go down and wander through and eat grapes, the hot smell of sulfur when it would be time to spray the vines to protect them against mold...

I am grateful for pleasure, and fun, and being together with friends and family, and good meals with a glass of wine, and I'm grateful for the earth, and for the vineyard that we had, and for grapes, those bundles of sunlight encased in skin and jelly, and I'm grateful for the smell of sulfur, and the smell of wormwood that rose up from the earth on long hot days in the summer.

I'm grateful for the smell of the grapes as they are being crushed, and then when they are being pressed ... the click, click of the press as it is turned ... I am grateful for the acrid sweet taste of the mosto ... and then the taste of the new wine in January.

And, mostly these days, I am grateful for the fleeting pleasures we are given. I've had so many, and uncountable, and undeserved I'm sure. Now, more than usual, I am conscious that we have to take pleasure in the "now", and fully open to the possibilities of the "now". I don't mean tumbling into hedonism. I mean living fully with what we have now. A small glass of wine with dinner. The smell of a freshly squeezed lemon, and the cold surprise of homemade lemonade. The crispness of an apple. The comfort of a piece of bread (coincidentally, I made an awful loaf yesterday ... it is now nourishing the compost bucket...). The warm goodness of soup. The taste of a frozen pizza, eaten while watching a cartoon.

Because? Everything passes. Our vineyard, just over an acre of mostly red San Giovese, and some white... well, that place got all bought up when we left and now it's swimming pools, fancy houses, summer terraces. No more chicken coop, pond, wheat fields... and the vineyard is getting covered by creeping forest.


So, today I am grateful for wine, friends, love, summertime, wintertime, dinner, breakfast ... I am grateful... and I'm hoping you are too.