Thursday, December 15, 2011

Montreal Doula Trainings

MBC volunteer doulas had a potluck meeting the other night, and the subject of doula training came up, as it always does when you get a few doulas together.

Here in Montreal, we have a good selection of opportunities for would-be doulas - but more about that in a minute. First, the whole question of training. We do not need to be trained, any more than doulas are "coaches". One reason why we have to keep using terms that we perhaps don't agree completely with is the grip the internet and its rules has over our choices. "Training" is a keyword that many people will use. Many doula "trainers" will agree with me, this is not an exact description of what we do, but for now, that's the word we agree to use.
Suggestions? Doula guidance? Flaky. Doula program? Could work. Doula course? Too limited.

A good doula training will include teaching, guiding, role-play, hands on experience, and, exceptionally, teaching by example. Usually, the course will have some kind of text, or at least some handouts, to follow; some physical demonstrations; and a role-playing segment where the students can get a sense of what it is really like to assist a birthing woman.

Montreal doula trainings come in two flavors: French, and English. The English programs seem to be few and far between, but most of the would-be doulas here usually find their fit. DONA, the international doula organization, does doula trainings very rarely here, but I have met a few women who have travelled to Ottawa to do their trainings. They cost around $400 for a weekend, and do not include shadowing or mentorship, but do give a good basic foundation. Alternative Naissance also does trainings in English twice a year.

The most well known, and the most comprehensive training in Montreal is the one run by Motherwit. Most of the English speaking doulas in town have graduated, or in the process of working on, this training. It gives the student an excellent preparation for working within the Montreal health care system - which is no easy task! These classes are run two or three times a year, and fill up fast. Mentorship and shadowing is also possible within the program. This is a great course run by a wonderful woman.

I also take on apprentices and run quirky doula courses. I am organizing one in Barbados for the third week of February, in conjunction with the Birth House in Bridgetown.  This summer, in July, I will be teaming up with Lewis Mehl-Madrona to lead a retreat in a fantastic spot in Italy, Casa della Pace. This will be a retreat opportunity for birth workers, writers, and any one interested in healing through story.
I am often approached by would-be doulas for shadowing and apprenticeship possibilities, and I am very open to those. I have four apprentices working with me now, and one in particular is doing a self-directed program using my book as a foundation, in preparation for midwifery training.

If you are interested in any of these possibilities, please email me for further information.

One question the women had the other night was "What if I do the training - and none of them are free! - and then I find out I don't want to be a doula after all"?
My answer is this: "Learn and keep on learning." You will not waste the money and effort doing a good doula program. So much of it prepares you for life, not just for working as a doula. I have learned so much over the years working as a doula that I hope to apply to how I live. Of course, it is important to find the right teacher, and you will know that right away. The choice should be made that way, however, not by price, effort, or convenience. Find a mentor, learn from her. Talk to other doulas. Volunteer. Keep an open mind and an open heart.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Never Give Up





Never give up

no matter what is going on
Never give up
Develop the heart
Too much energy in your country is spent
developing the mind
instead of the heart
Develop the heart
Be compassionate
Not just to your friends
but to everyone
Be compassionate
Work for peace
in your heart and in the world
Work for peace
and I say again
Never give up
No matter what is happening
No matter what is going on around you
Never give up

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet

Never Give Up





Never give up

no matter what is going on
Never give up
Develop the heart
Too much energy in your country is spent
developing the mind
instead of the heart
Develop the heart
Be compassionate
Not just to your friends
but to everyone
Be compassionate
Work for peace
in your heart and in the world
Work for peace
and I say again
Never give up
No matter what is happening
No matter what is going on around you
Never give up

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bridges

Even if you're a doula, stuff happens unexpectedly and you cannot be available for your clients. When my father went into hospital six weeks ago I had to leave town to go and see him and help my mother. One of my clients gave birth while I was away, and of course she was well taken care of by my backup, but I was sorry I missed her birth.

Then last week I had to go again. I was definitely worried because I have three ladies due in the next couple of weeks. But luckily the babies were kind and no one missed my attendance at their birth. I did miss meeting up with a lady who is looking for a doula, but she found someone else and I know she will be in good hands.

When I went to visit my father a month ago, as soon as I walked into the hospital I felt like I was slipping on a comfy old sweater. I knew what to do. I helped my father with the little things, like rinsing out his mouth, putting an extra pillow under his head, making sure he could reach his iPod. I spoke with the medical staff about his care and helped translate some of the information for my mother so she wouldn't feel so frightened and anxious.

There was a lady in his ward who was having hallucinations because of a bad reaction to one of her medications. I spoke with her about the bug she saw in my father's ear, and the mice that were climbing up the wheelchair. I made everyone laugh when I threw one of my father's special drinks in the garbage can. He wasn't allowed liquids so he had been given a bright red "solid water", which I thought was like Jello. It wasn't. As it hit the bottom of the garbage can, it splashed up all over everything. That took everyone's mind off their pain, for a little while.

Another gentleman was having trouble getting his slipper back on. I went over and asked him if he wanted a hand. Only after I explained that I am often seen putting people's socks on, being thrown up on, and generally helping out, was he happy for me to lift his foot and put it into his slipper. He asked me if the women ever got mad when they were giving birth. I had noticed that he had been pretty frustrated with himself, his immobility and in turn with the nurses. I told him that I had seen several women get angry during labor, and often just breathing it out could help.

During the next few weeks, after I came back home, I found I was often back at the ward with my father. I spoke to his nurses and doctor on the phone, and I found myself getting frustrated. I knew that my frustration was because life is so unpredictable, but I felt myself being upset with the vagueness of their answers. I realized that I sounded like the first time mother when she is thinking that she will be pregnant forever.

My father was very sick during that time. The doctor told me later that she was surprised that he made it through. Finally last week they said he would be going home, so I went back out to help get everything ready. gain, when I went into the hospital I put my doula cap on. Of course, I was more emotionally connected than a regular doula would be, but I found myself tidying up around his bed, organizing the things on his table, making sure what he wanted was in reach, covering him with the fleecy from home.

My questions to the doctor were also familiar to the doula: what is going to happen? Will he survive? Can he stay home? What if...? What if...?
These are the questions a doula deals with all the time, not only from her clients, but from partners, and their mothers and fathers. We feel so vulnerable in the face of life's events. Each chapter comes as such a surprise. I didn't think I would live past 31 (when John Keats died). How could I now be taking care of my aging parents? How could my father have gotten sold so suddenly?
New parents feel the same way: "I can't believe I'm actually going to have a baby! How can I take the responsibility for someone else's life? Will everything be okay? Will I survive?"

The doula is there to answer questions, and to let the woman (or her partner) know that some questions are unanswerable, and that that's okay too. She may just be there to provide a shoulder and a box of Kleenex. She is the companion that we take with us when we have to cross a bridge, whether its a bridge into life or away from it. She accompanies those who are here, waiting for someone to come in or someone to leave. She is probably the most important person on the care-giving team. She accepts and assists, and she knows that some questions cannot be answered.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Friends


I was so grateful to a dear friend the other day who offered me an opportunity to try to put things right between us. I had been at fault and I made the opening moves, but she was gracious enough to accept them, conditionally.

When you are working in such an intense field as birth, it is so important to have friends around who understand what you are talking about when you need to discuss how you feel about a birth, or a woman you are working with.

One of the doulas I work with summed it up the other day: she had been present for a family who had a difficult and potentially traumatizing experience. Everything was fine in the end, but during the stress of difficult events, one of the family members took her anxiety out on the doula, who chose to receive it in silence and then process it elsewhere.

She did that successfully, but during the few days we spent talking about it, she told me how strange it was - she had gone out with friends, been with her family, lead her life normally amongst people, but she did not feel that she could discuss what was really bothering her until she spoke to another doula.


Community is so important. Please, reach out to someone you have experienced a break or a rift, or perhaps you have unjustly dealt with in the past. I promise you, we will all be better off for it, and the community itself as a living, breathing entity, will be healthier.

Friends


I was so grateful to a dear friend the other day who offered me an opportunity to try to put things right between us. I had been at fault and I made the opening moves, but she was gracious enough to accept them, conditionally.

When you are working in such an intense field as birth, it is so important to have friends around who understand what you are talking about when you need to discuss how you feel about a birth, or a woman you are working with.

One of the doulas I work with summed it up the other day: she had been present for a family who had a difficult and potentially traumatizing experience. Everything was fine in the end, but during the stress of difficult events, one of the family members took her anxiety out on the doula, who chose to receive it in silence and then process it elsewhere.

She did that successfully, but during the few days we spent talking about it, she told me how strange it was - she had gone out with friends, been with her family, lead her life normally amongst people, but she did not feel that she could discuss what was really bothering her until she spoke to another doula.


Community is so important. Please, reach out to someone you have experienced a break or a rift, or perhaps you have unjustly dealt with in the past. I promise you, we will all be better off for it, and the community itself as a living, breathing entity, will be healthier.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dear Doula

Dear Doula,

You will need to be strong, because you will be accompanying women at any time of day or night. Sometimes you will have to leave your "private life" for what seems like days at a time.

You will need to be gentle, because sometimes you will be with a woman who needs the most gentle, loving touch of all.

You will need to be firm, because sometimes someone will want something that will not be the right thing, and you will have to be the one to say no.

You will need to be kind, because everyone will not always agree with you and you have to be able to step into their shoes.

You will need to be open, because everyone isn't you, and they all have different ideas, priorities, and make different decisions about their lives.

You will need to be respectful.

You will need to be honest.

You will need to be humble, and you will need to keep on learning.

Sometimes you may have to say you're sorry. Sometimes you may have to admit you were wrong. You cannot work from ego.

It's like being a mother, and just as hard and heartbreaking sometimes, and just as rewarding at others.


You need to know when its time to say goodbye.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Volunteer Birth Companions

I am very happy my book is selling - by the way, people, it would be a very nice Christmas or Hanukah gift for any of your close friends or relatives who are expecting a baby in 2012.

Please visit Amazon to review or "like" my book.

I want to tell you about the Montreal Birth Companions. This is a group of very special women who accompany underprivileged women  during their labor and birth experiences. Most of our doulas are just starting out, but some of them have been working with us for years. They are all volunteers, working out of their own pockets and from the goodness of their hearts to help other women have a joyous birth experience.

One of "my"doulas has been volunteering for months, doing her own research, studying,doing courses with different organizations and waiting for her time to accompany a woman in labor. Finally, yesterday, I got a call from a nurse to tell me that one of their patients who is alone here in Montreal was in labor and wanted a companion.

Our doula rushed to the hospital, where she witnessed a beautiful natural birth and was able to provide comfort and companionship to a birthing woman. She is hoping to be accepted to midwifery school this year, and I hope she gets in. She is a natural!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Buy the Book!

Support Canadian publishers!

Buy The Birth Conspiracy directly  from the publisher, at Curioso Books. You can also log onto Amazon and rate the book.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Launch Success

The Birth Conspiracy is now available for sale either through Amazon or directly from the publisher. 
Support independent Canadian publishers by buying directly from Curioso Books, then if you have a few minutes, please go to Amazon and rate my book....every star counts!
 

I would like to thank everyone who made it out to the book  launch. It was a lot of fun, and I felt honored to have all of you there. It was a different type of book launch - a real family event, with lots of babies and kids, pregnant women, and of course with my own family fully involved (well, some of them anyway).

Pastries by Giacomo
Meet and Greet
Making Friends
Lovely Mother and Babe







Launch Success

The Birth Conspiracy is now available for sale either through Amazon or directly from the publisher. 
Support independent Canadian publishers by buying directly from Curioso Books, then if you have a few minutes, please go to Amazon and rate my book....every star counts!
 

I would like to thank everyone who made it out to the book  launch. It was a lot of fun, and I felt honored to have all of you there. It was a different type of book launch - a real family event, with lots of babies and kids, pregnant women, and of course with my own family fully involved (well, some of them anyway).

Pastries by Giacomo
Meet and Greet
Making Friends
Lovely Mother and Babe







Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Launch Tomorrow

It's finally here. My book is written, illustrated, edited, proofed, and printed. It is ready to go, and tomorrow night we will be celebrating.
I hope all of you in Montreal will be able to come and celebrate with us. The launch will take place at 6767 Cote des Neiges, from 7 to 10 pm, and of course children and babies are welcome.

In the meantime, life goes on. I am waiting on a lady who is going to call me any minute now to accompany her during her labor and birth. I have another lady due in a week or so, and I am hoping that baby doesn't decide to arrive tomorrow night.

My mind and dreams are now full of my next book, so watch this space....

And I went to visit my father last week and did the doula in the geriatric ward where he was staying. The doula approach, how we utilize our skills, how we "do the doula", is the same whether we are attending a woman in labor, an old man in hospital, or a teenager having a meltdown. We wait, watch, listen, sympathize, fetch ice, carry water, sit still, put hands on, keep hands off, speak when spoken to, make eye contact.

A hearty thank you and much gratitude to all of those who have allowed me to be present at their births, and to all of the doulas out there who continue to do this challenging work.


Book Launch Tomorrow

It's finally here. My book is written, illustrated, edited, proofed, and printed. It is ready to go, and tomorrow night we will be celebrating.
I hope all of you in Montreal will be able to come and celebrate with us. The launch will take place at 6767 Cote des Neiges, from 7 to 10 pm, and of course children and babies are welcome.

In the meantime, life goes on. I am waiting on a lady who is going to call me any minute now to accompany her during her labor and birth. I have another lady due in a week or so, and I am hoping that baby doesn't decide to arrive tomorrow night.

My mind and dreams are now full of my next book, so watch this space....

And I went to visit my father last week and did the doula in the geriatric ward where he was staying. The doula approach, how we utilize our skills, how we "do the doula", is the same whether we are attending a woman in labor, an old man in hospital, or a teenager having a meltdown. We wait, watch, listen, sympathize, fetch ice, carry water, sit still, put hands on, keep hands off, speak when spoken to, make eye contact.

A hearty thank you and much gratitude to all of those who have allowed me to be present at their births, and to all of the doulas out there who continue to do this challenging work.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Seven Billion!!

I heard today, as many of us did, that the world's population is estimated to have reached 7 billion people!

Let's not speak of low resources, climate change, and gloom and doom, but let's celebrate this 7 billionth baby's birth with a cheer and a toast, to good health, happiness, and longevity for us humans. I'm sure we can find a way to make it all work.

More interesting to me is the likely fact that this baby was probably born at home, with the attendance of a traditionally trained midwife. I do not advocate going back in time to the days when women died in childbirth, but I do believe that home is the best place to conceive and the best place to give birth. I offer a vision of birthing the future from my book:

My vision is one of most women giving birth at home, with full medical back-up available to them if needed. Midwives would provide prenatal care and accompany the laboring women through labor and birth. They would assist with the postpartum period and help the new mother adjust to life with a new baby. If there were problems, the midwives would refer the woman to a doctor, who may in turn refer her to a specialist, an obstetrician. Full emergency support would be in place for the rare occasion that it is needed, so that the midwife would know that she is covered in the case of an emergency. 
The women who chose to give birth in the hospital, in my dream world, would be there because of clear medical or social need. The hospital birthing centers would provide specialized medical care for the few women who need it. Occasionally, there would be a woman who needs the extra emotional support of a doula, but the doula would be well-integrated into the hospital system and would be on call in these situations. Sometimes a woman would want to give birth away from home, and she could go to an independent birthing center which, again, would be fully supported in case of a medical emergency. 
I do not believe that this vision is so far off in the future, or that it is out of our reach. For now, however, our reality is that most women in the developed world are giving birth in hospitals, and many of these hospitals have different philosophies about birth than many of the patients they are there to serve. In Canada, the philosophy of any hospital must be to provide the best care for the greatest number of people. This may translate into an epidural for every woman, especially if there are not enough nurses to support each woman individually. In the USA, hospitals are run as profit-making enterprises, so the word philosophy may not apply. We do know, however, that cesarean section rates are skyrocketing, and that the general consensus is that a national rate of about 15% may be optimum. Personally, I believe that the rate for emergency cesarean sections can be held to 5% without putting the mothers or babies at risk.

The doula is the interface between the birthing community and the medical establishment. This puts us in a difficult position. I have spoken to  women who thought that I would leave them to give birth alone if they decided to take an epidural (this is beyond cruel). I have been yelled at by a physician who thought I had removed an intravenous drip (the nurse hadn’t had time to put it in). I have been looked upon as a knight in shining armor (I don’t even like horseback riding) by women who had not yet understood that the birth work is done by the birthing woman.
     I have also been thanked and cherished by hundreds of women who have been happy to have me by their side as they go through the experience of giving birth. My task, our task as doulas, and in a bigger sense, our task as human beings in the 21st century, is to “humanize” birth. To me, that means affirming that all of us are different, and that we all have needs, desires, and histories that cannot and should not be judged. My job as a doula is to create a space in which a woman can reclaim her knowledge of birth and give birth according to her own birthright.

Seven Billion!!

I heard today, as many of us did, that the world's population is estimated to have reached 7 billion people!

Let's not speak of low resources, climate change, and gloom and doom, but let's celebrate this 7 billionth baby's birth with a cheer and a toast, to good health, happiness, and longevity for us humans. I'm sure we can find a way to make it all work.

More interesting to me is the likely fact that this baby was probably born at home, with the attendance of a traditionally trained midwife. I do not advocate going back in time to the days when women died in childbirth, but I do believe that home is the best place to conceive and the best place to give birth. I offer a vision of birthing the future from my book:

My vision is one of most women giving birth at home, with full medical back-up available to them if needed. Midwives would provide prenatal care and accompany the laboring women through labor and birth. They would assist with the postpartum period and help the new mother adjust to life with a new baby. If there were problems, the midwives would refer the woman to a doctor, who may in turn refer her to a specialist, an obstetrician. Full emergency support would be in place for the rare occasion that it is needed, so that the midwife would know that she is covered in the case of an emergency. 
The women who chose to give birth in the hospital, in my dream world, would be there because of clear medical or social need. The hospital birthing centers would provide specialized medical care for the few women who need it. Occasionally, there would be a woman who needs the extra emotional support of a doula, but the doula would be well-integrated into the hospital system and would be on call in these situations. Sometimes a woman would want to give birth away from home, and she could go to an independent birthing center which, again, would be fully supported in case of a medical emergency. 
I do not believe that this vision is so far off in the future, or that it is out of our reach. For now, however, our reality is that most women in the developed world are giving birth in hospitals, and many of these hospitals have different philosophies about birth than many of the patients they are there to serve. In Canada, the philosophy of any hospital must be to provide the best care for the greatest number of people. This may translate into an epidural for every woman, especially if there are not enough nurses to support each woman individually. In the USA, hospitals are run as profit-making enterprises, so the word philosophy may not apply. We do know, however, that cesarean section rates are skyrocketing, and that the general consensus is that a national rate of about 15% may be optimum. Personally, I believe that the rate for emergency cesarean sections can be held to 5% without putting the mothers or babies at risk.

The doula is the interface between the birthing community and the medical establishment. This puts us in a difficult position. I have spoken to  women who thought that I would leave them to give birth alone if they decided to take an epidural (this is beyond cruel). I have been yelled at by a physician who thought I had removed an intravenous drip (the nurse hadn’t had time to put it in). I have been looked upon as a knight in shining armor (I don’t even like horseback riding) by women who had not yet understood that the birth work is done by the birthing woman.
     I have also been thanked and cherished by hundreds of women who have been happy to have me by their side as they go through the experience of giving birth. My task, our task as doulas, and in a bigger sense, our task as human beings in the 21st century, is to “humanize” birth. To me, that means affirming that all of us are different, and that we all have needs, desires, and histories that cannot and should not be judged. My job as a doula is to create a space in which a woman can reclaim her knowledge of birth and give birth according to her own birthright.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Clean and Sparkling

It has been a bit of a difficult time for me recently. It's not smooth sailing once you get grownup - the old questions still haunt you and as your children grow, you see that they are haunted as well, and life goes on. Was I ever going to make peace with myself? See the truth? Figure out what it is all about?
When I am troubled, I turn to housework - at least the house can be sparkling and all the material things in their places, and a brightness to the air, a fresh smell, even if your soul is in turmoil. The other day I was hanging out the laundry.
There's the laundry line - and there are most of the people I love.
But they had gone back to their respective tasks, and I was alone on the hill, stretching the clothes and cloths tight so as to maximize the sun and wind's potential to dry and brighten the material. And the smell of the laundry soap, the smell of the wind, the feeling of the sun on my face; the feel of my son's anima in his work jeans that he left - the memory of the day on the beach in that Sponge Bob towel (who on earth left that here?); and then I remembered that, of course, we have been hanging out our mens' clothes for decades, centuries, dare I say millennia? And the love, peace, and longing that is there in our hearts as we birth them, raise them, and love them, is there for me in the simple act of hanging out the stuff they wear, the material they lie and dream in, the T-shirt my son wears when he wants to look good, when he wants to attract and maybe take part in the next generation of love and longing.

Laundry hung, I went in to prepare lunch. And I chose to cook some of the potatoes that "Mountain Lady" brought us from her garden. When I say garden, I mean that in the loosest term. A patch of forest, dug and planted, stolen from the wild boar, badger, and deer. And of course, as I peeled those mountain tubers, I felt again that sense of stretching back. It wasn't just me, who finished lunch and went to check my emails. It was also the beauty who was hiding in a cellar, the sailor, the old lady preparing a potato for her husband, the new bride who could only boil.

Giving birth is that way. I met a couple yesterday who were looking at my book, and they started telling me their birth stories - aggressive and rude midwives, cervix closing up, the man feeling impotent....

Giving birth, doing laundry, peeling potatoes, these are our tasks, and they are begging to be done with attention, with presence. Do not give these tasks away to others! Peel a potato! Fold the laundry! Take back your own birth and do not allow rudeness, aggression, or ego in your birthing room! All of the women through history will accompany you as you labor.

Clean and Sparkling

It has been a bit of a difficult time for me recently. It's not smooth sailing once you get grownup - the old questions still haunt you and as your children grow, you see that they are haunted as well, and life goes on. Was I ever going to make peace with myself? See the truth? Figure out what it is all about?
When I am troubled, I turn to housework - at least the house can be sparkling and all the material things in their places, and a brightness to the air, a fresh smell, even if your soul is in turmoil. The other day I was hanging out the laundry.
There's the laundry line - and there are most of the people I love.
But they had gone back to their respective tasks, and I was alone on the hill, stretching the clothes and cloths tight so as to maximize the sun and wind's potential to dry and brighten the material. And the smell of the laundry soap, the smell of the wind, the feeling of the sun on my face; the feel of my son's anima in his work jeans that he left - the memory of the day on the beach in that Sponge Bob towel (who on earth left that here?); and then I remembered that, of course, we have been hanging out our mens' clothes for decades, centuries, dare I say millennia? And the love, peace, and longing that is there in our hearts as we birth them, raise them, and love them, is there for me in the simple act of hanging out the stuff they wear, the material they lie and dream in, the T-shirt my son wears when he wants to look good, when he wants to attract and maybe take part in the next generation of love and longing.

Laundry hung, I went in to prepare lunch. And I chose to cook some of the potatoes that "Mountain Lady" brought us from her garden. When I say garden, I mean that in the loosest term. A patch of forest, dug and planted, stolen from the wild boar, badger, and deer. And of course, as I peeled those mountain tubers, I felt again that sense of stretching back. It wasn't just me, who finished lunch and went to check my emails. It was also the beauty who was hiding in a cellar, the sailor, the old lady preparing a potato for her husband, the new bride who could only boil.

Giving birth is that way. I met a couple yesterday who were looking at my book, and they started telling me their birth stories - aggressive and rude midwives, cervix closing up, the man feeling impotent....

Giving birth, doing laundry, peeling potatoes, these are our tasks, and they are begging to be done with attention, with presence. Do not give these tasks away to others! Peel a potato! Fold the laundry! Take back your own birth and do not allow rudeness, aggression, or ego in your birthing room! All of the women through history will accompany you as you labor.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Illegal Midwives part 2


 The bureaucracy in Quebec has decided to remove another hurdle for women who choose to give birth at home without the support of a registered midwife. There aren't enough birthing centers or registered midwives to go 'round, so more and more women are giving birth "unassisted" or with the attendance of an unregistered midwife.

The women who choose to have their babies at home with  "illegal" midwives pay a price: registered midwives are free, paid for by provincial medical insurance. The other midwives charge around two thousand dollars for their services, which is a great deal as it includes sometimes months of prenatal care, personalized and attentive labor and birth attendance, and comprehensive postnatal support.

They also pay with hours of bureaucratic nonsense, when it comes to getting their new baby a birth certificate.
It may be that raggedy old hippies or sneaky foreigners on tourist visas come to mind when you are imagining the women who choose this route. But they are more often highly educated, professional women who are used to doing things "their way" and do not want to go outside their own home to give birth.

I have heard stories of women being threatened with the police and child protective services if they did not present themselves and their hour-old baby at the hospital to do their paperwork.  This new directive is a small fairy step in the right direction:
Quebec bureacracy

Monday, October 3, 2011

Killer Mama

The other day, yesterday in fact, we lit the woodstove for the first time and stayed inside like the two children in the Cat in the Hat and watched the rain. Of course there was laundry and cooking and homework and computer tasks and all that, but when it's pouring outside you do feel like you are just sitting looking. And it did pour, great grey poodles of it.

So when the ten year-old suggested a movie, we adults jumped to it and we all set off to see Spy Kids, even though on one site it had a dismal rating of three. Movies are great! Especially when it's wet and cold, and it's a matinee so you know you aren't spending thirty dollars, if you include a drink (what am I saying - a drink for two people for four dollars?). The warm smell of popcorn, everyone running in without their raingear on yet because it's still October, kids yelling, a young man with his older parents laughing and joking with the cashier. To the movies!

Spykids is about a step-mom who is actually a spy. The step-kids are having trouble with the blended family and ... don't want to spoil it for you. But the most hilarious scenes are at the very beginning, when spy-mom is beating the bad guys, seriously beating them - don't mess with the spy-mom. The thing is, though, that she's about to give birth to the blended baby - product of the new marriage.

This is a bizarre scene presents a beautiful sexy yummy-mummy, dressed in tight leather with belts and things, pregnant and actually in labor, beating off the bad guys with high-powered karate kicks. She says things like "I still have time"   kick, whirl ... "my contractions are still only three minutes apart"... jump, punch, kick, ..."was that my water breaking"?

She leaves the bad guys lying on the ground (kids' movie - they just fall down, no muss, no fuss) and hops into a conveniently waiting ambulance. Next scene, she is rushed into the hospital where she disappears into a room and all you can hear are terrible screams of absolute deathly pain, then whaaaa! A baby!

Oh, dear. I can't begin to unravel the cultural tangle that I observed yesterday in that movie house.I don't know why we are so interested in the image of beautiful women acting aggressively and why we try so hard to silence them in labor. Why don't most women say "My contractions are still only three minutes apart?" 

I do know, though, that I was laughing the loudest when I saw that lovely woman being physical, upright and downright active in labor.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Conspiracy

Conspiracies abound: are we are being controlled  by giant lizards? No, most of us would agree that we are not. Is the exhaust from planes flying above the Italian skies affecting the Italians, making them doll-like and unable to oust Berlusconi? A surprising number of seemingly rational people I have met actually believe this. Did man reach the moon? What evil was behind 9/11? Is Big Pharma out to drug us all, whilst stealing our life savings?

Of course not! We are rational, sensible human beings. Then why do we believe that the simplest task needs a multitude of experts? From conception to birth to early childhood education and beyond, we are confused and abused by lowly-qualified experts telling us which way is the right way.

The Birth Conspiracy is this: an understanding, created by all of us, that we cannot function without experts. We cannot give birth without birth experts. We cannot labor without assistance, without classes and checklists. We cannot make our own decisions, or accept consequences for our own actions. It is a way we can avoid responsibility for our lives. Those of us who are experts want and need to control the process. It is very hard to sit on your hands and wait while a woman labors. It is much easier to interfere, to preach, to suggest, and to control.

The doula sits uncomfortably on something between a fencepost and a pillar here, protecting the birthing woman from well-meaning experts who do not understand the truth about birth. She is in great danger of becoming an expert herself, and there is only one way for her to prevent this from happening. She should gain as much knowledge as she can about the birth process and how it unfolds in different environments. She should take this knowledge with her to every birth, to every meeting, to every workshop. With all of her knowledge and experience, she needs to remember only one golden rule, that is, that the woman she is accompanying is going through HER experience. The doula can hold her hand, literally or figuratively, but she needn't teach, judge, or convince. Then she is overstepping the bounds of the Birth Companion and becoming just another expert.

Conspiracy

Conspiracies abound: are we are being controlled  by giant lizards? No, most of us would agree that we are not. Is the exhaust from planes flying above the Italian skies affecting the Italians, making them doll-like and unable to oust Berlusconi? A surprising number of seemingly rational people I have met actually believe this. Did man reach the moon? What evil was behind 9/11? Is Big Pharma out to drug us all, whilst stealing our life savings?

Of course not! We are rational, sensible human beings. Then why do we believe that the simplest task needs a multitude of experts? From conception to birth to early childhood education and beyond, we are confused and abused by lowly-qualified experts telling us which way is the right way.

The Birth Conspiracy is this: an understanding, created by all of us, that we cannot function without experts. We cannot give birth without birth experts. We cannot labor without assistance, without classes and checklists. We cannot make our own decisions, or accept consequences for our own actions. It is a way we can avoid responsibility for our lives. Those of us who are experts want and need to control the process. It is very hard to sit on your hands and wait while a woman labors. It is much easier to interfere, to preach, to suggest, and to control.

The doula sits uncomfortably on something between a fencepost and a pillar here, protecting the birthing woman from well-meaning experts who do not understand the truth about birth. She is in great danger of becoming an expert herself, and there is only one way for her to prevent this from happening. She should gain as much knowledge as she can about the birth process and how it unfolds in different environments. She should take this knowledge with her to every birth, to every meeting, to every workshop. With all of her knowledge and experience, she needs to remember only one golden rule, that is, that the woman she is accompanying is going through HER experience. The doula can hold her hand, literally or figuratively, but she needn't teach, judge, or convince. Then she is overstepping the bounds of the Birth Companion and becoming just another expert.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Just Visiting

I have always traveled a lot. From the time I was born I have traversed oceans, flown in small rickety planes over the desert, walked through Africa, hitchhiked countless times back and forth across the country I found myself growing up in. I love to see how we humans live our lives. Do you know, at this very minute, there is an old lady walking through a chestnut forest, on her own, looking for mushrooms that she will dry for the winter? And there is another woman, cooking a small pot of corn meal over a fire made from waste crude oil she collected from the stream near her home. She is waiting for her husband to return, annoyed with him for keeping her waiting but full of love for her man. On a train, there is a family from Belgium, staring at the immensely beautiful scene that is spread before them.

The life of a tourist is a hard one. There you are. You have saved for this small chunk of time for a while - perhaps all year. You are in a place where you probably don't speak the language. You don't know the customs. The food is different. You suspect you are getting cheated most of the time. You miss your own bed. The place smells funny. Your spouse has decided that it is NOW that you have to figure out your problems. The children are either sick or adolescents.

But the place is beautiful! You don't have to get up early! You are really in love with your spouse, especially when you get some time alone to walk on the beach in the moonlight. You imagine selling everything and moving here. You would wear comfortable clothes every day. Your wife would wear those sexy sandals and that little dress. Your kids would be all tanned and happy.

It doesn't usually work out that way though.

I live in two places these days. Most of the time I am in a big city, and for three months I am on top of a mountain far away from everyone. I always imagine I will spend those three months really sorting everything out. I will come back all transcendent-looking and calm. But, like the midwives say, meconium happens, and life does tend to keep going. The vacation, the holiday, the three-week all inclusive, ... it's all just life, and why should it be otherwise?

And so it is in life, it is in birth. It is one of the most important days of a mother's or father's life - and of course the most important day of a baby's. But at the same time, life does continue, before, during, and after. So, as in life, it is not the hugely transcendent, mind-blowing experience that it is the important thing. It's not the orgasm, the blinding flash of out-of-body-ness, that is important. It's the quiet, day-to-day, pleasant (yes, even when you're in labor!), humdrum traveling that is important. Let us turn to Cavafy for some wisdom:

Ithaka

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
 
Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
 
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
 
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
 
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard. (C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

Just Visiting

I have always traveled a lot. From the time I was born I have traversed oceans, flown in small rickety planes over the desert, walked through Africa, hitchhiked countless times back and forth across the country I found myself growing up in. I love to see how we humans live our lives. Do you know, at this very minute, there is an old lady walking through a chestnut forest, on her own, looking for mushrooms that she will dry for the winter? And there is another woman, cooking a small pot of corn meal over a fire made from waste crude oil she collected from the stream near her home. She is waiting for her husband to return, annoyed with him for keeping her waiting but full of love for her man. On a train, there is a family from Belgium, staring at the immensely beautiful scene that is spread before them.

The life of a tourist is a hard one. There you are. You have saved for this small chunk of time for a while - perhaps all year. You are in a place where you probably don't speak the language. You don't know the customs. The food is different. You suspect you are getting cheated most of the time. You miss your own bed. The place smells funny. Your spouse has decided that it is NOW that you have to figure out your problems. The children are either sick or adolescents.

But the place is beautiful! You don't have to get up early! You are really in love with your spouse, especially when you get some time alone to walk on the beach in the moonlight. You imagine selling everything and moving here. You would wear comfortable clothes every day. Your wife would wear those sexy sandals and that little dress. Your kids would be all tanned and happy.

It doesn't usually work out that way though.

I live in two places these days. Most of the time I am in a big city, and for three months I am on top of a mountain far away from everyone. I always imagine I will spend those three months really sorting everything out. I will come back all transcendent-looking and calm. But, like the midwives say, meconium happens, and life does tend to keep going. The vacation, the holiday, the three-week all inclusive, ... it's all just life, and why should it be otherwise?

And so it is in life, it is in birth. It is one of the most important days of a mother's or father's life - and of course the most important day of a baby's. But at the same time, life does continue, before, during, and after. So, as in life, it is not the hugely transcendent, mind-blowing experience that it is the important thing. It's not the orgasm, the blinding flash of out-of-body-ness, that is important. It's the quiet, day-to-day, pleasant (yes, even when you're in labor!), humdrum traveling that is important. Let us turn to Cavafy for some wisdom:

Ithaka

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
 
Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
 
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
 
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
 
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard. (C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Passing of a Wonderful Lady

My aunt was a wife, a mother, an aunt, a grandmother, and she loved to have fun, to entertain, to laugh.
She liked to have happy people around her so, to that end, she was happy and always had a smile waiting.

She didn't have it easy. She was widowed suddenly and too early. She had health problems from when she was in her forties. But she always had a positive attitude, and wasn't kept down for long.

A few weeks ago, she spent the day with her lifelong best friend. They did what old friends do, talking and traversing their time together. In the afternoon they came home and got themselves ready for dinner. They got dressed up, and gave each other pedicures.

They went out for dinner with a group of friends. After drinks and the first course, my aunt put her head down on the table and left us.

She is gone but remembered with joy. All of us should hope to go out like she did, not with a bang, not with a moan, but with a gentle sigh.


Passing of a Wonderful Lady

My aunt was a wife, a mother, an aunt, a grandmother, and she loved to have fun, to entertain, to laugh.
She liked to have happy people around her so, to that end, she was happy and always had a smile waiting.

She didn't have it easy. She was widowed suddenly and too early. She had health problems from when she was in her forties. But she always had a positive attitude, and wasn't kept down for long.

A few weeks ago, she spent the day with her lifelong best friend. They did what old friends do, talking and traversing their time together. In the afternoon they came home and got themselves ready for dinner. They got dressed up, and gave each other pedicures.

They went out for dinner with a group of friends. After drinks and the first course, my aunt put her head down on the table and left us.

She is gone but remembered with joy. All of us should hope to go out like she did, not with a bang, not with a moan, but with a gentle sigh.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Birth Companion Doula Course

Birth Companion Doula Course
A knowledge-based, hands-off approach to accompanying woman during the birthing experience.

I am very excited to propose a new series of courses designed to assist women to attend births as companions, as friends, as knowledgeable and respectful assistants.

I will not be training or offering anything novel or out of the ordinary. We will be developing our innate skills as women - patience, kindness, strength, care - and these skills will lead to confident, non-judgmental companionship.

The courses are thirty hours and of varying schedules, and they are priced reasonably. The participants will receive lessons and interactions on theory, practice, and healing during the childbirthing year.

The first of these will take place in Montreal in mid-October 2011 and several are upcoming internationally throughout 2012.

Places will be filling up fast so if you are interested in attending please let me know as soon as possible.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Illegal Midwives?

"Illegal" is a word that brings to mind outlaws, bandits, drug runners, hoaxters and jails. I prefer to use the word "underground" when I am talking about the midwives I know who are working outside the (extremely limited) system of registration, colleges,and paperwork that is in place in most of Canada. I joke that they are underground - they'll only assist a woman in an underground parking lot or a basement. Ha ha.

In fact, the women working outside the system are not allowed to assume the title of midwife or sage-femme, which is why many of them describe themselves as birth attendants or even as birth activists. The Montreal Gazette's story about this phenomenon presents some bare facts and portrays a sympathetic, sensible woman who has chosen to assist women who would otherwise be giving birth in a hospital with a doula, or alone at home. Not so say that giving birth with a doula isn't the choice that most women ultimately make. The doula's job is often a difficult one, because of this. She has to straddle compromises that are often unbearable to watch.

"Brave" and "courage" are often words I hear about the women who choose to give birth at home with a qualified, if "illegal", attendant (or "stupid" and "selfish"). But I think a woman is much braver who knows exactly the kind of treatment she may receive in a hospital, after she has already had an unnecessary cesarean section, and chooses to go back into that environment with a doula at her side, in the hopes that she will be able to give birth with dignity and autonomy.

The sad thing is, birth shouldn't have to be about bravery, about ego, about choices, the law, surgery, or drugs.Here is an excerpt from my upcoming book:

The other day I was at a birth. My client was a third-time mother and she didn’t want to be in the hospital for too long, but her previous two births had not been that short. So as she kept in touch during the day I agreed that she didn’t have to rush to the hospital. It was mid-morning when she decided to go, after having a bath and making sure her kids were settled. When the doctor examined her, she was almost ready to give birth. The birth proceeded very quickly, and afterwards, the obstetrician said “Oh, ladies like you will put me out of business!”

I would like to be put out of business. I would like the system to change so much that the privately hired doula is a thing of the past. Certainly, there will always be women who do not have anyone to accompany them at their birth, and for these situations we will have the volunteer doula associations that already exist today. My vision is one of most women giving birth at home, with full medical back-up available to them if needed. Midwives would provide prenatal care and accompany the laboring women through labor and birth. They would assist with the postpartum period and help the new mother adjust to life with a new baby. If there were problems, the midwives would refer the woman to a doctor, who may in turn refer her to a specialist, an obstetrician. Full emergency support would be in place for the rare occasion that it is needed, so that the midwife would know that she is covered in the case of an emergency.

The women who chose to give birth in the hospital, in my dream world, would be there because of clear medical or social need. The hospital birthing centers would provide specialized medical care for the few women who need it. Occasionally, there would be a woman who needs the extra emotional support of a doula, but the doula would be well-integrated into the hospital system and would be on call in these situations. Sometimes a woman would want to give birth away from home, and she could go to an independent birthing center which, again, would be fully supported in case of a medical emergency.

I do not believe that this vision is so far off in the future, or that it is out of our reach. For now, however, our reality is that most women in the developed world are giving birth in hospitals, and many of these hospitals have different philosophies about birth than many of the patients they are there to serve. In Canada, the philosophy of any hospital must be to provide the best care for the greatest number of people. This may translate into an epidural for every woman, especially if there are not enough nurses to support women individually. In the USA, hospitals are run as profit-making enterprises, so the word philosophy may not apply. We do know, however, that cesarean section rates are skyrocketing, and that the general consensus is that a national rate of about 15% may be optimum. Personally, I believe that the rate for emergency cesarean sections can be held to 5% without putting the mothers or babies at risk.

The doula is the interface between the birthing community and the medical establishment. This puts us in a difficult position. I have spoken to  women who thought that I would leave them to give birth alone if they decided to take an epidural (this is beyond cruel). I have been yelled at by a physician who thought I had removed an intravenous drip (the nurse hadn’t had time to put it in). I have been looked upon as a knight in shining armor (I don’t even like horseback riding) by women who had not yet understood that the birth work is done by the birthing woman.
I have also been thanked and cherished by hundreds of women who have been happy to have me by their side as they go through the experience of giving birth. My task, our task as doulas, and in a bigger sense, our task as human beings in the 21st century, is to “humanize” birth. To me, that means affirming that all of us are different, and that we all have needs, desires, and histories, that cannot and should not be judged. 

I fully support those women who choose to give birth at home, who choose to assist others at home, and who choose to follow a different path. My only condition, however, is that birth attendants keep their egos, their pride, and their ambitions out of the birthing room, and indeed, out of the process. That way, knowledge of the craft can be the highest priority, assessments can be made honestly, and difficult decisions are not clouded by personal needs.

Two of the most famous midwives, Shifra and Puah, were "illegal"; they disobeyed the Pharoah of Egypt to assist women at home ... power to the women who follow in their footsteps! May we merit to be midwives to a better way of giving birth.




Illegal Midwives?

"Illegal" is a word that brings to mind outlaws, bandits, drug runners, hoaxters and jails. I prefer to use the word "underground" when I am talking about the midwives I know who are working outside the (extremely limited) system of registration, colleges,and paperwork that is in place in most of Canada. I joke that they are underground - they'll only assist a woman in an underground parking lot or a basement. Ha ha.

In fact, the women working outside the system are not allowed to assume the title of midwife or sage-femme, which is why many of them describe themselves as birth attendants or even as birth activists. The Montreal Gazette's story about this phenomenon presents some bare facts and portrays a sympathetic, sensible woman who has chosen to assist women who would otherwise be giving birth in a hospital with a doula, or alone at home. Not so say that giving birth with a doula isn't the choice that most women ultimately make. The doula's job is often a difficult one, because of this. She has to straddle compromises that are often unbearable to watch.

"Brave" and "courage" are often words I hear about the women who choose to give birth at home with a qualified, if "illegal", attendant (or "stupid" and "selfish"). But I think a woman is much braver who knows exactly the kind of treatment she may receive in a hospital, after she has already had an unnecessary cesarean section, and chooses to go back into that environment with a doula at her side, in the hopes that she will be able to give birth with dignity and autonomy.

The sad thing is, birth shouldn't have to be about bravery, about ego, about choices, the law, surgery, or drugs.Here is an excerpt from my upcoming book:

The other day I was at a birth. My client was a third-time mother and she didn’t want to be in the hospital for too long, but her previous two births had not been that short. So as she kept in touch during the day I agreed that she didn’t have to rush to the hospital. It was mid-morning when she decided to go, after having a bath and making sure her kids were settled. When the doctor examined her, she was almost ready to give birth. The birth proceeded very quickly, and afterwards, the obstetrician said “Oh, ladies like you will put me out of business!”

I would like to be put out of business. I would like the system to change so much that the privately hired doula is a thing of the past. Certainly, there will always be women who do not have anyone to accompany them at their birth, and for these situations we will have the volunteer doula associations that already exist today. My vision is one of most women giving birth at home, with full medical back-up available to them if needed. Midwives would provide prenatal care and accompany the laboring women through labor and birth. They would assist with the postpartum period and help the new mother adjust to life with a new baby. If there were problems, the midwives would refer the woman to a doctor, who may in turn refer her to a specialist, an obstetrician. Full emergency support would be in place for the rare occasion that it is needed, so that the midwife would know that she is covered in the case of an emergency.

The women who chose to give birth in the hospital, in my dream world, would be there because of clear medical or social need. The hospital birthing centers would provide specialized medical care for the few women who need it. Occasionally, there would be a woman who needs the extra emotional support of a doula, but the doula would be well-integrated into the hospital system and would be on call in these situations. Sometimes a woman would want to give birth away from home, and she could go to an independent birthing center which, again, would be fully supported in case of a medical emergency.

I do not believe that this vision is so far off in the future, or that it is out of our reach. For now, however, our reality is that most women in the developed world are giving birth in hospitals, and many of these hospitals have different philosophies about birth than many of the patients they are there to serve. In Canada, the philosophy of any hospital must be to provide the best care for the greatest number of people. This may translate into an epidural for every woman, especially if there are not enough nurses to support women individually. In the USA, hospitals are run as profit-making enterprises, so the word philosophy may not apply. We do know, however, that cesarean section rates are skyrocketing, and that the general consensus is that a national rate of about 15% may be optimum. Personally, I believe that the rate for emergency cesarean sections can be held to 5% without putting the mothers or babies at risk.

The doula is the interface between the birthing community and the medical establishment. This puts us in a difficult position. I have spoken to  women who thought that I would leave them to give birth alone if they decided to take an epidural (this is beyond cruel). I have been yelled at by a physician who thought I had removed an intravenous drip (the nurse hadn’t had time to put it in). I have been looked upon as a knight in shining armor (I don’t even like horseback riding) by women who had not yet understood that the birth work is done by the birthing woman.
I have also been thanked and cherished by hundreds of women who have been happy to have me by their side as they go through the experience of giving birth. My task, our task as doulas, and in a bigger sense, our task as human beings in the 21st century, is to “humanize” birth. To me, that means affirming that all of us are different, and that we all have needs, desires, and histories, that cannot and should not be judged. 

I fully support those women who choose to give birth at home, who choose to assist others at home, and who choose to follow a different path. My only condition, however, is that birth attendants keep their egos, their pride, and their ambitions out of the birthing room, and indeed, out of the process. That way, knowledge of the craft can be the highest priority, assessments can be made honestly, and difficult decisions are not clouded by personal needs.

Two of the most famous midwives, Shifra and Puah, were "illegal"; they disobeyed the Pharoah of Egypt to assist women at home ... power to the women who follow in their footsteps! May we merit to be midwives to a better way of giving birth.




Monday, August 22, 2011

WWOOF Italia

I got a call from Ninni the other day. She was the first Italian Wwoofer we had years ago on our farm. Her and her boyfriend drove up from Sicily, held hands while they picked stones from the wheat, which I then ground and made our bread and pasta, and were generally a lot of fun to have around. Even though I could hardly understand a word of what Ninni said when she got excited and slipped into full Sicilian.
Talking to Ninni got me reminiscing about WWOOF Italia, and thinking about volunteers and the difference they can make to people’s lives.
We bought a crumbling stone farmhouse and seven acres of land, part vineyard, part wooded, with a pond and a spring, when I was expecting my fourth child. What a time those boys had! When we were in the fields or up on top of the roof, they were fighting battles, rafting in the goose-ridden pond, and making wooden schooners next to the chicken coop.
We had many helpers over the years. Our youngest was a seventeen year-old from England who came, took one look, and asked to be taken back to the station. Our oldest was a lovely woman who had done with family and children, and wanted to explore the world. They helped weeding the garden, picking grapes, building stone walls, cutting hay, … in return for a place to stay and three good meals a day.
Wwoof has changed over the years. In 1991 there were two or three hosts, now there are hundreds. The typical host was like us: lots of children, a small mixed farm, no money, and lots of energy and determination. There are still many hosts like we were, but there are also large “agriturismos”, which use volunteers to change beds and set tables.
And the volunteers have changed too. Back in the day, they were mostly travelers, or people in search of a different lifestyle, or curious about farming, or wanting to get away from their city-based life. Now, especially in the summer, we are inundated with young tourists, who are looking for a cheap place to stay, and consider a little farm work to be a good way to get some exercise. Winter is generally better, when tourism is down.
Still, it is a good way to get experience, and a wonderful way to meet people, and learn or practice languages. The hosts still benefit from a helping hand, and tolerance and generosity are generally the order of the day.




Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rites of Passage

Today is my birthday - I am 55 years old. I am finally a grown up. It didn't happen when I was fifteen and I left home. It didn't happen when I was twenty-five and met my true love. Neither did it happen when I had my first child at twenty-seven. Nor when I had my fifth at forty-four. It just suddenly happened on the long stroll up to fifty-five. It feels good!

L'chaim! To life - I hope you all have a wonderful birthday day.

Rites of Passage

Today is my birthday - I am 55 years old. I am finally a grown up. It didn't happen when I was fifteen and I left home. It didn't happen when I was twenty-five and met my true love. Neither did it happen when I had my first child at twenty-seven. Nor when I had my fifth at forty-four. It just suddenly happened on the long stroll up to fifty-five. It feels good!

L'chaim! To life - I hope you all have a wonderful birthday day.