“I know the heart of life is good…”

"Pain throws your heart to the ground
Love turns the whole thing around
Fear is a friend who's misunderstood
but I know the heart of life is good..."

I don't think John Mayer was thinking about birth when he wrote this song. But I played it over and over again on my drive home from a beautiful birth last night.

Why was this the song I needed to hear after such a joyous and swift birth? I just knew that this was going to be a powerful week. There was going to be sadness to balance the joy. I could feel the phone call coming...

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"Tears and Rain"

Okay, I’m going to share some secrets about what goes on behind closed doors. Before pregnancy, no one tells women that there are going to be a lot of tears. All they see are the groups of shining skinny women pushing strollers (complete with a sleeping baby) along 4th Avenue, Starbucks cup in hand, laughing. What they don’t see is the anxiety, the tears, the loneliness, and the loss that women can experience as a result of this enormous change in their lives.

I’m glad pregnancy is nine months long. It takes that long to work through the issues that crop up...family boundaries, financial pressures, relationship issues, old wounds, loss of mobility, body image, career choices, birth worries... Women look to their baby’s birth as the end of the process, only to find out that it’s just the beginning. Then all the same issues resurface, in addition to a general sense of loss and loneliness...oh, and a crying baby.

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Lilongwe calling...

Funny to think how small the world is becoming...yet how deep the divide between the first and third world remains...

I just had a call from a new client. Typical, right?

After her initial email, I had written that perhaps it might be easier for us to chat on the phone. Little did I know that she couldn’t just pick up a phone and call me. No...she had to travel from her “village of mud huts” to the capital of Malawi, and spend the afternoon at the British High Commission waiting for me to wake up on Pacific time, then call from a satellite phone. While she waited, she read this blog. Wild!

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The Meaning of Pomegranates and Northern Lights

Birth imagery is everywhere, from the paradox of the pomegranate in ancient writings to the joyful and whimsical life-giving nature of the Northern Lights found in Native storytelling. Whenever I have been challenged by a birth, or face great joy or loss in our own family, I go to my books. Research is my way of coping with challenges. I haunt creaky-floored second hand bookstores, sit on the floor of the library, or google my way to new understanding.

This month, I started with Tomson Highway's prose, both profound and profane. His imagery of the spirit child who is formed in the Northern Lights and tumbles to earth is magical. There is a bubbling life-force in his words. Then I moved on to reading tales of Persephone and the pomegranate; stories of the potency of life. Seven stars on the tiara created a fetus. Seven seeds of a pomegranate forced the eternal union between Persephone and Hades, creating both life and death in the seasons. I seek connection in these writings...

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On Memories

"So much of our early gladness vanishes utterly from our memory: we can never recall the joy with which we laid our heads on our mother's bosom or rode on our father's back in childhood; doubtless that joy is wrought up into our nature, as the sunlight of long-past mornings is wrought up in the soft mellowness of the apricot; but it is gone for ever from our imagination, and we can only believe in the joy of childhood."
George Eliot, Adam Bede

Conscientious parenting begins before our children are born. Writing a pregnancy and birth journal can help to create wonderful memories for our babies. My own children loved it when I read my journals aloud at bedtime.

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Intuition, Trust and Red Flags

It’s funny how, over the years, I’ve only been given the births that I can handle. Each birth prepares me for the challenges of the next. What amazing gifts these women give to each other.

When I began my life as a doula, I was still breastfeeding my one-year-old son. I knew that I could only manage six hours away from him. For me - I couldn’t stand the breastmilk backlog! For him - hey, he needed me. For the first year, the births were amazing. I was never needed for more than six hours. I was only faced with long births once my son was able to go longer between feeds. Though I do remember pumping midway through long births for a few years...

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An Education in Care

If you want to get the inside scoop on birthing practices in BC, stand outside a kindergarten classroom just before the end of the school day. You’ll find a group of young mothers, with babes in arms, waiting to pick up their 5 year olds. They’ve been through the system - probably a few times - and are only too happy to share their hard won stories. Ask about their first birth experience, and you may hear stories of disillusionment, loss of dignity, overcrowding, or lack of continuity. They’ll tell you they wish they’d been better informed, and had known enough to find great caregivers.

Then there will probably be one woman in the group who shares her second birth experience, and shyly admits to feeling joy. “What a difference my second birth was!” she’ll say. “It was like night and day!” You might hear her talk about empowerment and laughter. What was the difference from her first birth, you ask? “Oh, I changed caregivers...and I hired a doula.”

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Bountiful Beautiful Blissful

 

While you're pregnant, I hope you take some time to browse the shelves at Banyen Books. My favorite book of 2005 is "Bountiful, Beautiful, Blissful", by Gurmukh. Don't be scared off by thinking it may be too flakey - it's not, and incorporates many of the words and concepts that I use when working with pregnant and labouring women (I even sang "Row, row, row your boat" to myself during my second labour in 1987). When I read Gurmukh's book I feel as if she and I know each other intimately, and have been using each other's phrases for years. So, have a good read!

"Mi muchacha salvaje" My wild girl

Birth is something you know. Can you imagine arriving at the age of 30, and having your body throwing you an entirely new experience - something without a reference point? It’s just not that nasty.

Birthing is a lot like lovemaking...and Buddhist teachings, for that matter. It involves surrender, letting go, release, acceptance, and total trust. It also involves passion and power, which, for some, can be overwhelming. For others, it can be a process of awakening, change and growth.

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So, what’s the best birth book to read?

In 1982, I was obsessed with everything to do with babies. I ducked into every book store for months before I got pregnant. You’d find me sitting on the floor by the Pregnancy and Childbirth section, surrounded by books. These weren’t “Earth Mother” books. I started with the encyclopedic books, looking for the ones authored by doctors with the most letters behind their names... FRCP, etc. You know, the books which scare you half to death with descriptions of all possible things which can go wrong. Then, I went to the university medical bookstore to look at obstetric textbooks. I even studied an obscure Swiss method of breathing for labour, which I photocopied from the main library. This method left me exhausted, out of breath, and very, very confused. It didn’t help when my husband and I went to prenatal classes and pretty much “failed” breathing. And when the nurses at the hospital asked us what our “birth plan” was, we just said “to have it go well”, and then I asked if I could blow-dry my hair before the obstetrician started my induction. Yikes! Over-prepared with book knowledge....under-prepared with inner knowledge.

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