Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Midwifery and Bullshit


These are not midwifery tools, but they could be. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is work to be done!!!

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Meconium Happens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it time to Rise Up?

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Birth and Scars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Healing the World, One Baby at a Time


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

 ~ in Peace, Ibu Robin ~ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Giving Tuesday Global Timetable:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Sovereign Womanhood and the Misappropriation of Reproduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to come on board? Come along!

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

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

What is to be done?

You can listen to the Baby Magic Podcast for inspiration.

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

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

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

For those of you who have a legal interest:

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

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

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

2. Managing labour and conducting spontaneous normal vaginal deliveries.

3. Inserting urinary catheters into women.

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

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

6. Prescribing drugs designated in the regulations.

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

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

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

10. Intubation beyond the larynx of a newborn.

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

Saturday, July 25, 2020

A Crack in the System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm listening!

Monday, July 13, 2020

Safe Birth Take Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Safe Birth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

I am Listening for a Heartbeat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 15, 2020

Support Your Local Business! Update!

and more...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 10, 2020

COVID19 in-house Day 56: The Corona Virus Blues

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

Today is "be grateful for V" day.

I'm not grateful for the Virus.

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

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

I'm grateful for my health.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm grateful I can survive financially.

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

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

Turn, turn, turn.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

COVID19 in-house Day 51: Grateful for W

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 30, 2020

COVID19 in-house Day 45: Grateful for X

I started a gratitude alphabet but I'm starting from the end of the alphabet and moving up towards the beginning. It seemed like a good idea in these topsy-turvy times.

Today's gratitude letter is "X".

What is X? X is all those times when you felt bad. The missed opportunities, the broken promises, the betrayals, the words said in anger, the lost friend, the sick child, the lies, the fear, the sneer and the disdain.

Oh, what? Why am I grateful for all these things?

Let me turn that around and ask: would I only be grateful for the "good" things? Should I only be grateful for the things that make me happy? The things that feel nice? 

Or is being grateful a state of mind and a quality of spirit that endures, anyway. In qualunque momento e ovunque. Anytime, anywhere. Because, fundamentally, being grateful implies that you are aware that there is a world that's bigger than you can know, and you are grateful for that world, and open to its possibilities, to the extent that you admit that although sometimes the possibilities are manifest in an unpleasant or downright horrific and traumatic way, you decide to remain open, and to remain grateful.

Grateful for X means that I accept that awful and horrible things can happen in my life, or I can witness those things happening in the lives of others, and I don't have to either pretend they're not happening, or allow those things to destroy my belief in the power of love. 

No, I'm not talking about "everything happens for a reason." Reason has nothing to do with it. People with an intense, firmly rooted religious life might be able to believe that everything that happens to them is part of God's plan. This isn't a reasonable choice, that is, it isn't based on reason: it's a choice based on faith. You decide to have faith, and then you just have it, come what may.

It's the same with gratitude. Like a long marriage, I'm not going to only stay with my spouse when things are fun, sexy, and fulfilling. I'll also stick around when my spouse is acting badly (I'm not talking about actual abuse here), has the flu, gets old, or is having a life crisis. I will decide to be grateful, and then I'll just be grateful. I'm not only going to be grateful for the good, wonderful, fulfilling things that I receive. I have to be grateful for the whole bundle, or my gratitude isn't worth anything at all.

How do we continue to be grateful in these difficult times? I'm disturbed today. It's pouring out, so the streets are empty which means I can go for my 8 k run, so I'm grateful that I can run. But I have things on my mind: a friend lost her child last week - why? Why should someone who escaped persecution and death in Syria, who fled through Turkey, survived the rubber dinghy ride over to Greece, survived the camps, .... then lose a child in his sleep? I can worry endlessly about my kids for various valid and not valid reasons. I worry about my running buddy who is recovering from chemo. Of course, there's this virus out there that is not a hoax or a conspiracy, but is actually a dangerously infectious virus that can kill people. There's another thing to torment me.  I'm worried about my business: when can we open? How will we open? How will I hear what people are saying if they're wearing masks? (I'm a little hard of hearing and often rely on lips).

But I HAVE to be grateful. For the good things, and for the snakes and toads. 

Grateful for the flaws, the dark patches, the cracks, the scars. Grateful for lessons. Grateful for the black crow, glasses too full, mysteries.