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). (https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/91m31)"

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!

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Baby Magic Season Two: The Birth Conspiracy


I birthed my new podcast on August 21, 2020 ... commemorating my 64th journey around the sun. A couple of weeks ago Season One came to an end with Episode 8, where I chatted with a volunteer doula from Montreal Birth Companions, the greatest, most radical volunteer doula organization ever that met its untimely end in 2016. 

Just last week, a couple of lovely colleagues and friends, Sylvia Otvos and Jenny Bee,  invited me to chat with them on their show aptly titled Wombs with a View (maternal musings with Jenny and Sylvia). They wanted to ask me about my views on hospital birth, freebirthing, home birth and why women should or shouldn't give birth in the hospital.

The Birth Conspiracy is the title of my book. It's also the title of Episode One of Baby Magic, Season 2. Listen up and you will hear what the conspiracy is all about!

So, should women give birth in a hospital? Actually, I believe that hospitals should be reserved for sick people. During pregnancy, birth and postpartum, of courses, sickness happens. But pregnancy and labor are not sicknesses and do not belong in the hospital. 

Where do they belong? Certainly not in any space at all where the woman does not feel safe, whether that is a hospital where overworked and overtired staff members just want to get the birth over with in the least amount of time, and preferably in the quietest manner possible. And neither all by herself at home, where she has decided to give birth because she's scared of going to the hospital and wants a midwife but can't find one. Nor in a birthing centre, where the midwives are so controlled by government regulations that they regularly send healthy labouring mothers to the hospital to give birth where they didn't want to in the first place.

Birthing women, as the creators of new life, belong wherever they damn well please. We should be working hard to provide safe, respectful, sacred care for mothers and babies everywhere. Home, hospital, center; all of these places are appropriate for birth. It's what we fill the spaces with that is so much more important than what the space is. Hospital birthing rooms should be safe, respectful, and woman-centered. Informed consent means that a woman is explained what her choices are, objectively and truthfully, and then she makes her choice, and then that choice is respected. Sacred care means that the whole of a birthing experience is respected: the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health of the mother and baby are held in the highest regard by the care providers.

Home birth spaces should have that same access to safe birth practices: a midwife shouldn't have to lie to the hospital staff if the birthing mother needs medical care. Access to midwifery care should be universal, and regulations surrounding midwifery care should be created by midwives, for midwives. 

Some women choose to give birth completely on their own, or with their partners and other children. This is a sovereign choice and should be respected as such. But a woman should only make the choice to "freebirth" or give birth "unassisted" if it is a positive choice, that is, it is a choice FOR freebirth and not AGAINST her other limited options. 

Of course, I'm not imagining that it's going to be easy to change our broken maternity care system. It's not. When women are birthing with our sovereign power, in our spaces, with our sisters, and feeling the energy of creation moving through us, the world will tilt on its axis and life on earth will change. Don't imagine any different. When we birth standing up, squatting, lying down, crawling, surrounded by our sisters in loving-kindess, a new life will emerge. 

It's time, sisters, to say out loud what you want. Do you want to go to the hospital during the times of Covid and bring your doula and your partner? Let's find a way! Do you want to birth your twins at home? Let's find a way! Have a VBAC at home? Let's find a way NOW!

Monday, October 19, 2020

Birthing in Love with MBC Radical Doulas

"attending a birth is a political act"

Montreal Birth Companions 

radical doula organization

In 2003, I started a doula training program with my then business partner, Lesley Everest. Over the first year, I realized that our volunteer requirement had the potential to change the lives of women, and I founded Montreal Birth Companions. During the summer of 2003, two of our first doula course graduates attended 14 births. These doulas accompanied women to the hospital to give birth throughout that first summer, without any compensation except the experience and the knowledge that they were honoured guests of the families that were bringing a new life into the world. Montreal Birth Companions, or MBC as it affectionately came to be called, was a radical, unique, inspiring organization that survived for 13 years because of the power and love of the women who served there. We never got funding, although occasionally a private client would give us an extra bit of money and one of our hard-working doulas would get a small stipend. Over the years, we served hundreds of families who would never have been able to afford doula care if we had not provided it. We accompanied many women who were completely alone, and others whose partners needed to stay home to care for other children, or who needed to work. As time passed, we started to gain recognition in the non-status communities and we served many, many women who were living without legal immigration status, and hence without health insurance. It was essential for these women to have the support and guidance of a doula, so they could give birth with as little intervention as possible and thus avoid huge charges (our most expensive birth was $30,000, which was the culmination of an induction, several days in labor, an epidural and various other interventions and medications. Of course this money couldn’t be paid up front, and the woman spent months trying to pay it back.) MBC fell apart in 2016, after some internal arguments about political views. It turned out that some of the doulas wanted a traditional organization with a board, meetings and all that. My view was always that the only mandate was to provide free doula service to marginalized families in need. So what was the need for having meetings or creating unnecessary structure? Well, it turned out, the need for structure is so that if a crisis occurs, you have a predesigned way to deal with it. Starhawk talks about this in her book Truth or Dare, where she explores all sorts of things, anarchist organizations being one of the oxymorons she shines a light on. Because when two of our doulas were sexually assaulted by one of our client’s “friends”, we had no structure to deal with the fallout; no one person who was in charge of crises; no list of things to do. And so I took it all on, and decided that I had failed everyone, and I stepped down. But now, looking back, I realize that it was an amazing moment in history! We accompanied women to have their babies in love, with companionship, within a circle of care and held space that they would not have had otherwise. We did this out of pure love, a dedication to women, a desire to give the marginalized folk amongst us the same basic rights (yes, having a circle of caring women around you when you give birth is a right!) that we affluent women do. We did all this without money or financial support from anyone, which gave us the freedom to do what we needed to do. It was a fine time, and I am still getting calls from women without health care who are seeking that support. I spoke recently with Julia Gordon, who was one of our volunteers, about what it meant to be part of such a life-changing, radical group of women. Here is our chat:

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Raise Love Consciousness with Maha Al Musa

When I asked Maha to give me one word to share her message with the world, she gave me three. Raise Love Consciousness.

I was thrilled to have a couple of hours chatting with Maha about childbirth, consciousness, sovereignty, feminism, bellydancing and her work liberating childbirth, women and babies.

You can reach her on Instagram, Facebook, or check out her website

Are you pregnant and looking for a guide to uncover your inner power? Are you a Birth Keeper who wants to learn more? Maha's unique birth preparation program is for pregnant mums who innately know that giving birth is meant to be a sacred, instinctual and an embodied experience and who are seeking an immersive and expansive experience as they flow through their 9 month journey. It is also for birth keepers wanting to reframe birth's purpose, be inspired by a view of birth that will raise human consciousness and understanding the journey from a sacred, wise lens to share with mums-to-be.

I am so honored to have the chance to speak with powerful BirthKeepers, Educators, Mothers, Artiists, Rebels ... Baby Magic is magical!