Saturday, January 9, 2021

Gratitude Alphabet (2021)

I am starting another gratitude alphabet because I had some pandemic blues last week and started a good old Pity Party. 
So here is what I am thankful for:

A is for Avraham.

Weirdly, my husband tells me that when we first met, when he was only 20 and I was 25, I told him I wanted five children!!! To his credit, he didn't run or try to hide like many men (and women) would have done back then. We were leftists! Revolutionaries! We didn't do such things as plan families or have babies; we were destined for bigger things...

Anyway, we had four sons and lived an idyllic life on a small farm in Italy until reality struck and we moved back to Canada. In 2000, I thought I was done reproducing but I wasn't! I gave birth to my fifth son in 2001.

Avraham is the most laid back person I have ever met. He's the tallest of everyone in the whole family. He loves to ski. He makes films. He helps me with my podcast. 

I'm so grateful that he is in my life. This year has taught me a great deal about being content with what we have, and about how things can change on a dime, and about how we aren't really in control at all. Avraham always taught me about love, patience, slowing down, living to your own beat.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Midwifery and Bullshit


These are not midwifery tools, but they could be. 

I have started offering prenatal support and consultation to women who are looking to give birth in an autonomous way. Several of these women are being followed, or have been followed, by registered midwives here in Canada. I've also spoken to a few practising midwives in this country, and I believe our midwifery establishment is in crisis.

We were an unusual country. Midwifery was illegal in all of our provinces and territories until the 1990's, when provinces started to recognize that it would be useful to register and educate midwives in the medical model. During the twenty years from the 1970's until midwifery was legitimized and regulated, midwives worked illegally to assist mothers at home, and there were a few midwives who were charged with practising medicine without a license. 

During the 1990's, midwifery became regulated and legitimized in several provinces. Midwifery education programs were developed and offered in universities across the country. These programs were very hard to get accepted into, and required a formal academic background over life experience. Most of the original lay midwives who had been practising illegally before legislation were "grandmothered" in to the Colleges of Midwives, but the applicants who were accepted into the programs were generally younger and obviously less experienced. 

Midwives were and are in great demand. The supply is very limited, partly because of the restrictions that competitive educational options and limited employment options mean for anyone who is drawn to the practice. Provincial governments in Canada have succeeded in effectively reducing the number of potential practising midwives, either with restrictive educational possibilities, or by limiting the ways that midwives can practice.

Because of the lack of registered midwives, and because the available midwives were practising in the medical model, several women over the years in various provinces in Canada chose to give birth either unassisted or with Traditional Birth Companions. As well, midwives trained in the US or elsewhere started offering their services as midwives and attended women at home. This was risky, because with the creation of a College of Midwives, anyone offering restricted practices under the provincial midwifery acts could be (and were!) prosecuted by the provincial College of Midwives. So far, this has happened in B.C., Saskatchewan, and Quebec. 

The pandemic of 2020 changed the face of birth. Women who were hiring doulas to accompany them to their hospital births found that the hospital authorities had full power to limit the number of people present, and doulas were left at home in front of their phones, providing encouragement, support and continuity of care from afar (Hats off, shout out, Kudos to all you doulas out there!!!). Home birth was restricted or banned in some areas, and midwives were given even more rules and regulations they had to practice under. 

Hospitals were seen, rightly so, as places for sick people (hmmmm, isn't that what they always were?). A few women, certainly a larger number than in 2019, decided that they would give birth on their own. Others decided that they would continue with midwifery care and fill in the gaps with the council and support of other practitioners.

Here is a little account of what is wrong with midwifery today, gleaned from conversations I have had with women seeking answers, and why I believe it has gone wrong:

  • Newborn mothers and babies do not need immediate testing. They need skin-to-skin togetherness, if the immediate indications of their health is good.
  • Newborns do not have to latch on the breast like a champion within the first half hour of life. Again, they need skin-to-skin togetherness. Mother will need to eat and drink. Attendants should stick around with gentle attention.
  • If you say that you will offer a woman attendance at her home, and you visit her home and bring equipment and preparations ... she is not going to hear your quid pro quos and fine fine print at the bottom of your conversations. She will be deeply disappointed when you tell her that (for whatever reason, that has to do with YOUR infrastructure and organization of lack thereof) she cannot after all birth in the comfort of her own home.
  • Women over 40 are not inherently dangerous. They can carry a baby to term and do not need extra testing or worrying conversations about how risky their pregnancy is. That's why she chose you, a midwife, so they wouldn't have to be bullied.
  • Midwives have to learn to keep their faces pleasant. So many women have let me know that they got really scared when they saw a young midwife look at their lady parts with horror/fear on their face. A vulva or a newborn's head can look wildly psychedelic, but usually is no reason for alarm.
  • The word "should" doesn't belong in your vocabulary if you are attending a birthing woman. 
Women now, a small percentage but nevertheless a percentage, are choosing to give birth at home autonomously instead of seeking the attendance of a midwife or a physician. This fact makes me sad. Why? Because I believe that every woman deserves a safe and sacred place in which to birth her child. Some women want to birth in the hospital. That birth should be as respected and loved as a birth that takes place at home surrounded by a circle of women. Some women want to birth at home, and these women deserve respectful, kind, reliable, and legal midwifery care. 

There is work to be done!!!

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Meconium Happens

The more I live this life, the more I am convinced that the deal is, it is not what happens to you that matters so much, it's how you accept it (or not). I have been to births that have been really challenging and tough, where the woman accepts the labor and is thrilled with the whole experience. I have seen other women fight against labor and birth, one contraction at a time.

Today is December 6, 2020. A day like any other. Except not: it's the anniversary of the day when 14 women were killed by an armed killer.

It's a day when my friend had to go back into hospital. It's a day when thousands of people died from Covid-19.

It's a day when we have to, as always, take the joy from every moment and cherish it. And even when we are full of joy, and all comfy in our enlightenment and entitlement, shit will happen. Meconium does happen. A baby can suffer some small slight and poop. Or a baby can get their cord squeezed so much they poop a lot. Things break down, things break. People break. 

But where there's rupture, there's repair. A body's urge is to health, just as a plant moves towards the light. In the same way, the knowledge of women has always been towards healing. 

We can't do anything to bring those women back to life. But we can speak out against violence every single day. And, unfortunately, in my field (haha no, not in my my real field which is maternity care), violence against women is rampant, ugly, and expected. 

What can be done? Well, one thing that's happening is that pregnant women are rising up and saying "No more violence! No more treating me like I'm a child, that I don't have feelings, that I don't know my own body. No more speaking about me as though I'm not present. No more making decisions about my body without my consent. No more doing things to my body without my consent. No more lying to me!" And how are these women doing that? By withdrawing from the hospital system. They are giving birth on their own or with Traditional Birth Companions. 

Another thing that is happening is that doulas are continuing to support women who choose to give birth in the hospital. Or, more importantly, those women who don't actually have the choice and have to give birth in the hospital. Especially these days, it's hard to be a doula. Many hospitals have taken away the birthing woman's right to support by insisting that she choose between her partner and her doula. So doulas are providing companionship and support virtually. 

Medical staff in hospitals in today's world are stressed. They're overworked, tired, and they have all the same concerns on their minds as you or I. Suicide rates are higher for physicians than for the general population, and higher for female doctors than males. The medical system isn't working for anyone.

What can a doula do to relieve everyone's symptoms? Let me be clear: when a doula works to facilitate a mother feeling empowered in a situation where her power can be taken away from her at any minute, we are not talking about getting at the root of the problem. If a birth is an undisturbed birth in a place where the birthing woman is comfortable, safe, and respected, then the doula can do the work of being a doula: easing labour, providing encouragement, seeing to the birthing woman and her family's needs. But if a birth is taking place in an environment where the go-to routine is medication, management and directives then the doula can only provide bandaid measures within a strict and abusive system.

And these bandaid measures can work! Any number of women leave the hospital with their babies feeling joyful, even ecstatic, and satisfied with their care. But a huge number of women leave the hospital hurting.

Is it time to finally step away from an abusive system? What happens to a woman when she has a vision of a natural, normal birth and she arrives at the hospital and things start to go haywire? Is it possible to convince women to stay at home, at least until they are in active labor? What about the woman who feels every contraction, from the very beginning, like torture; the woman who can't separate her labor contractions from an abuse she experienced years ago? What is the role of the doula through this seismic change? What about midwives? Why are midwives still using the words "should" and "allow" when they speak about birth? 

Is it time to Rise Up?

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Birth and Scars

As we grow, we absorb big and small shocks to our bodies and souls. We all know where our physical scars are, and we often assign stories to them. I remember when I was skipping school and the knife chose that day to slice my finger, so I had to get myself stitched up without (I dreamed) my mother finding out. I have a little white line on my finger that tells that story.

Some women have bigger scars, on their skin and their muscles, from birthing their babies. I hear these stories often when I am speaking to women about their birth experiences.

Other women have emotional scars that last for years. These scars have a way of aching and burning during pregnancy and birth. The doula can gently assist the woman when she is feeling these aches and pains. Doulas are not therapists so they do not have to probe, suggest, or hypnotize. What they do is provide a non-judgmental ear, if the woman wants to talk. They let her know that she is not alone, that she has support. They also remind her that there are other women who have traveled the same road and survived.

One of my students is accompanying a woman as I write. The woman has been in labor for most of last night and today. She does have emotional scars, and they are hurting. My student has been with her the whole time, supporting and comforting. And even though my student is a very inexperienced doula, she is still providing the essence of what a birthing woman needs. The expertise, medical know-how and scientific facts is not the realm of the doula. She is there with other skills: the skill of touch, listening, compassion, and presence.

With our world changing every day; with our experiences and our innate wisdom challenged every single day; with our routines and habits changing minute to minute, we are starting to see between the lines of our lives. We are starting to look between the cracks; to probe between the layers of darkness that we have been hiding behind. We, as women, are starting to see what has been hidden: that birth is a unique act, unique to women; that women's bodies are exquisitely designed for this task; that a woman births best when she is surrounded by a loving circle of care.

It is wonderful if that circle of care can include someone, an elder perhaps. who know about the vagaries of Mother Nature and her cruel jokes. But if not, chances are that everything will work out fine. And that is better than being treated like a child, when you are bringing forth new life.

So I see women and their partners and their communities going about their lives, far from hospitals and Covid regulations. And it makes me sad that with this huge machinery of health care that we as a society couldn't have created a safe and sacred space for women to birth in; but I understand why that isn't possible. Can you imagine what would happen if the power of womanhood was actually unleashed? 

Think about the biggest wave you've ever seen. Think about the most love you've ever felt. And the most beautiful place you've ever been. Imagine what it would be like if women grew babies in their wombs and birthed them with respect, honour, and love. 

Scars have a way of healing. With healing comes change, and growth. Womanhood has been injured and scarred for too long. There's a new era coming, so watch out!

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Healing the World, One Baby at a Time


"These are uncertain times, the empathy you share gives me so much hope that loving kindness prevails on Earth.  i wish your family may shine in health, safety, and LOVE."

 ~ in Peace, Ibu Robin ~ 

In 2012 I went to Bali to assist at Bumi Sehat birth center. 

I made friends with Robin Lim, the director, and with Erin Ryan who was the head visiting midwife. I also made friends with the Indonesian midwives who provide night-and-day care for the hundreds of mothers who come there for free maternity care. And I learned to ride a scooter!

I made friends with the midwives by being as helpful as I could: I washed gloves (long story, but necessary), I cleaned, I ran and got things, I watched and listened and kept quiet and never presumed to teach. I learned so much there, about gentle birth, and respectful woman-centred, family-centred care. 

Working with very poor and marginalized women in Montreal has always been my task, and I learned about the realities of many peoples' lives on my trips through the African continent in my younger days (another long story, stay tuned!), so I was not so surprised by the realities that the women we served were living. )

But you might be. And this is why I want to explain why it is so important that you and I open our hearts and our wallets and donate, even a small amount, to Ibu (mother) Robin's birthday campaign. Women come to the birth center in labour, riding on the back of a scooter for hours from rural areas of the island. Some families live in small one-room houses, the size of your bedroom. Some women work hard carrying bricks or stones and only eat rice. 

Your donation can pay for a Covid rapid test for a labouring mother (required by law before she can be attended by a midwife); help Bumi Sehat to pay their midwives (in Bali, Papua. Aceh, Lombok); help buy food for needy families.

I was honored to have a live chat with Ibu Robin on her birthday last week. She explained why she wants everyone to donate on December 1, rather than on her birthday. December 1 will be Giving Tuesday, and Global Giving will be amplifying donations made on that day. 

This is the link to the Bumi Sehat Page on Global Giving:  BumiSehatGG


And this is a message from Ibu Robin and her team:

"Please accept our love and gratitude. May your families be safe and well, may the heart-storms of this challenging time on Earth, pass quickly. " Love, Ibu Robin and Team Bumi Sehat.


Giving Tuesday Global Timetable:

1 December,from 00:00 to 24:00 ET aka New York City, Peru, Toronto, Montreal time.

California, Seattle, Baja Mexico, time ~ 9 evening of 30 November, to 9 evening 1 December. 

Midwest USA, Mexico City time ~ 11 evening of 30 November, to 11 evening 1 December. 

Moscow time ~ 08:00 morning 1 December until 08:00 am 2 December.

Bali and Singapore, Philippines  ~ 1:00 pm 1 December  until 1:00 afternoon 2 December. 

Jakarta/Java time/Bangkok ~ 12:00 noon 1 December until 12:00 noon 2 December.

Tokyo time~~ 2:00 pm 1 December  until 2:00 afternoon 2 December. 

Paris, Copenhagen, Milano ~ 06:00 morning 1 December until 06:00 am 2 December.

Edinburgh, London ~ 05:00 morning 1 December until 05:00 am 2 December.

Perth, Australia ~ 1pm 1 December until 1pm 2 December

Darwin Australia ~ 2:30pm 1 December until 2:30 2 December

Brisbane, Australia ~ 3pm 1 December until 3pm 2 December (Adelaide add 1/2 hour)

Melbourne & Sydney, Byron Bay, Australia ~ 4 pm 1 December until 4 pm 2 December

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Sovereign Womanhood and the Misappropriation of Reproduction

We DO have so much power in us. So then how do we end up filing into our hospitals with our birth plans and coming out cut or broken, with a baby in our arms?

All over the world, and especially all over North America, women are finding new ways to birth in their own sovereign power. This can be terrifying. It can be fulfilling. It can be both.

I am speaking to old women who are attending birthing mothers as Traditional Birth Companions. I speak with younger women, mothers of young children themselves, who are devoting their time to attending the births of the women in their communities. I am speaking with women who have said "No!" to the maternity care system we have installed in our countries, and who are giving birth alone or with their families. I see sisters helping sisters. I see communities that are thriving, attending each other in birth, as in life.

Here in Canada, we have very strict regulations about what constitutes someone's right to provide care to a woman during her childbearing year. If you perform any of these restricted practices, without an officially regulated midwifery license, and without being employed by and liable to the health services establishment, then you are practising midwifery without a license.

Billie Harrigan is a Traditional Birth Companion in Ontario. She does not perform restricted practices, and she does not call herself a midwife. She says that Vaginal exams are rude, but also that they constitute a very clear message that our reproductive life and our bodies are not our property: they are the property of the state, and only people mandated by the state can invade them. Number 7 of the Ontario Midwifery Act states that vaginal exams are a restricted practice. In other words, you cannot put "an instrument, hand or finger beyond the labia majora or anal verge during pregnancy, labour and the post-partum period."

Ok, don't get me wrong here. I don't actually WANT to do vaginal exams. I also think they're rude. Not only that, my doula students have heard me say for years that the only reason for so many endless vaginal exams is that medical professionals are not taught about how sexual birth is. The sexuality and the mind-blowingness and the all-out intensity of birth is sublimated into rituals such as vaginal exams (actually, it is absolutely amazing to feel a baby's head in someone's vagina. Just saying. But I keep my hands to myself.)

But my point is, that women have been regulated for far too long. Our bodies have been misappropriated by a maternity system that pretends it is doing things to us for our own good, and it is not. Why do you think many a woman going into the hospital wants (or discovers she needs) a doula by her side? Because the doula can try to prevent some of the grosser abuses from taking place. But not all. And certainly not enough. Not enough to make the difference to so many, many women who feel that they have been violated (and they have!) when all they wanted to do was to give birth to their child.

So, what is happening? Just when the pandemic started making our lives more restricted and difficult, women started wanting to birth away from Covid-infested hospitals. We all, as our lives changed, started to take deep breaths and realize that we don't actually want to go back to the old "normal". I am getting weekly calls and emails from women who want to learn about new ways of birthing. I'm connecting with women around the globe who are moving forward to change the face of birth; to change the world, starting with birth.

Want to come on board? Come along!

“Come, come, whoever you are. 
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. 
It doesn't matter. 
Ours is not a caravan of despair. 
Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. 
Come, yet again, come, come.” 

And, if you are one of us who has indeed experienced trauma, abuse, and despair during your birthing, even more reason for you to move away from that reality, bring your scars and hold your head up high and cry out: "Enough!"

What is to be done?

You can listen to the Baby Magic Podcast for inspiration.

You can join our monthly virtual Full Moon Women's Circles.

You can reach out to me or to any of the fine women on our podcast for community, information, wisdom.

You can reach deep into your womanhood and remember that you are strong! You are magical! I love you!

For those of you who have a legal interest:

Here are the restricted practices in Quebec:
"Any act the purpose of which is to provide the professional care and services required by a woman during normal pregnancy, labour and delivery and to provide a woman and her child with the professional care and services required during the first six weeks of a normal postnatal period constitutes the practice of midwifery. The professional care and services concerned consist in
(1) monitoring and assessing a woman and her child during pregnancy, labour, delivery and the first six weeks of the postnatal period, and include the provision of preventive care and the detection of any abnormal conditions in the woman or child ;
(2) conducting spontaneous deliveries ;
(3) performing an amniotomy, performing and repairing an episiotomy and repairing a first or second degree perineal tear or laceration.

In addition, in an emergency, while awaiting the required medical intervention or in the absence of medical intervention, applying suction, conducting a breech delivery, performing manual placental extraction followed by digital exploration of the uterus or performing resuscitation procedures on the woman or newborn also constitutes the practice of midwifery."
In Ontario, they are much less vague:

"1. Communicating a diagnosis identifying, as the cause of a woman’s or newborn’s symptoms, a disease or disorder that may be identified from the results of a laboratory or other test or investigation that a member is authorized to order or perform on a woman or a newborn during normal pregnancy, labour and delivery and for up to six weeks post-partum.

2. Managing labour and conducting spontaneous normal vaginal deliveries.

3. Inserting urinary catheters into women.

4. Performing episiotomies and amniotomies and repairing episiotomies and lacerations, not involving the anus, anal sphincter, rectum, urethra and periurethral area.

5. Administering, by injection or inhalation, a substance designated in the regulations.

6. Prescribing drugs designated in the regulations.

7. Putting an instrument, hand or finger beyond the labia majora or anal verge during pregnancy, labour and the post-partum period.

8. Administering suppository drugs designated in the regulations beyond the anal verge during pregnancy, labour and the post-partum period.

9. Taking blood samples from newborns by skin pricking or from persons from veins or by skin pricking.

10. Intubation beyond the larynx of a newborn.

11. Administering a substance by injection or inhalation as provided for in subsection 4.1 (2). 2009, c. 26, s. 16 (1). ("

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Happy Birthday Ibu Robin!

In 2012, I went to Bali to volunteer in the birth centre Robin Lim created, Bumi Sehat. I became friends with her and she stayed with me in 2013 when she came to Montreal to raise funds for her birth centre. 

In 2014, she wrote to me after my mother died. I had just received my Certified Professional Midwife credentials, and she wrote a beautiful note to me about doors opening and doors closing, midwifery, birth and death, and Love.

Ibu Robin is a mother and grandmother, a midwife, and a mover and changer of hearts and minds. She does what she does to heal Mother Earth, through birth, through Love, and through action.

Every year, on her birthday, Ibu Robin sends out an email like the one you can see here.

Ibu Robin is turning 64!!

At the end of November Ibu Robin will become 64! You are our Circle of Support, and many of you ask me what Ibu Robin  would like for her Birthday.  All She ever wants and needs is help for Bumi Sehat.
Bumi Sehat has been embraced by GlobalGiving. December 1st, will be Giving Tuesday. Donations made on that specific day, will be amplified by Global Giving. If it works for you to put Birthday contributions through on December 1st the benefit would be significantly more. This is the link to the Bumi Sehat Page on Global Giving:  BumiSehatGG
 Please accept our love and gratitude. May your families be safe and well, may the heart-storms of this challenging time on Earth, pass quickly. 
Love, Ibu Robin and Team Bumi Sehat.

I am very happy to be chatting with Ibu Robin live on her birthday on the Baby Magic YouTube Channel.

Tune in at 6pm EST on November 23; 7am Bali time on November 24 to listen live!