“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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650

I completely missed it. I passed the six hundred and fifty baby mark a while ago, but didn't stop to think about how many babies that REALLY is... Well, they're not all babies now. Many are heading off to high school or university, but close to 70 wee ones are still waiting for their first birthday.

Photos arrive as each baby reaches his or her birthdays. Christmas cards arrive showing long-limbed children I hardly recognise. But I never forget a labour. Those flashbulb moments remain strong in my memory.

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Picnic at BC Women's

I was concerned that she'd think I was crazy... "Let's meet at the hospital, on the hill across from the emergency entrance. Bring a picnic and a blanket." It just seemed the right thing to do on this beautiful day in August. How else could I create a sense of safety, close to the hospital, yet far away? High up on the hill, with lovely green grass all around, trees to lean on, a hill to climb, a place to labour without being watched.

I arrived, and there they were, looking just like a couple on the hill having their lunch. Lovely cheese, crackers, fruit, sparkling juice... A soft blanket and a lap to lean on... Contractions every five minutes. She'd rest on her side for a while, then walk for a while... We'd talk about what to expect...how second babies take their time at first, then fly out. We were in the perfect place, ready to dash inside whenever the labour became stronger.

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Into Dad's Hands

Dad caught the baby.

The mum writes to me...

"I haven't called as there have been no questions, no stress, no concerns. It has been unbelievable. I was prepared for chaos and tears and frustration and there hasn't been any. Just lots of quiet time getting to know one another, long walks in the neighbourhood in the early evening and tons of smiles. I still have moments where I have to pinch myself when I look at him, he just seems so unbelievably perfect to us.

I want to thank you so much for being there with us during his birth. There were many times throughout the experience when I was so relieved to have you there with us. It was an enormous comfort. You had the words I was looking to hear and I thank you for them. I was very lucky to have had my path cross with yours. I know we will have another opportunity to work with you again in the future and I look forward to it!"

- Cohen's mum

Summer Heat

I've just realized that I haven't written about any of the births this month. It must be summer...

Six strong women. So many stories...

Andie's birth - Her mum was described as "enchanting in labour" by the gentle doctor. Memories of flowers, swishing water in the tub, jokes at 9cm... Such a joyful day with all the family waiting...laughter...

Weston's birth - Standing, moving, power...then those shoulders, such a challenge. Mum's grace and strength in the middle of a medical whirlwind... Finally, safety and peace.

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"Stumble into a pocket of grace"

A sand dollar lies beside my computer. It will remain there to remind me of this day of grace.

I witnessed a joyful first birth this morning - a triumph over fear. A testament to the wisdom of living in the moment, and taking each breath as it comes. The moment that will remain with me comes after the birth, while she was showering. We debriefed as she scrubbed her legs, just like it was a regular day. “That was a good day,” she said, shining and proud of herself. Her newborn son was in her husband’s arms in the other room. The “boys” voices could be heard beyond the sound of the water. Yes, that was a good day.

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Birth is a challenge of the mind, not the body

Think of all the challenges that you have faced in your life - physical, emotional, and intellectual. You have been preparing for this for all your life. You will need to draw on all your life lessons to make it through labour. You don’t need to have experienced extraordinary pain - this isn’t like breaking a leg, or undergoing surgery. All you need is to have lived, faced difficult times, and struggled through to the other side.

Have you ever walked out of your house, and been amazed that everyone is walking about, laughing, doing their shopping, unaware of the challenges that you are facing? You have been facing such a trial that you have stepped out of space and time for a while. You ask yourself, “When will things go back to normal?” This happens in labour.

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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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“There’s snow! That means it’s winter, so the baby must be coming!”

...to paraphrase an excited older sibling (age 4) this morning...

Her logic worked so well. Mummy and daddy have said for 9 months that the baby will come in the winter. It snows in the winter. Today it is snowing. Therefore, the baby must be coming today.

And the baby came. We drove through snowy streets to the hospital. What joy to find that my client, on arrival, had already surpassed her last labour’s final dilation! What a triumph for her to labour without intervention or medications (other than nitrous oxide gas - which doesn’t count, right?) and birth a glorious 9lb 1oz baby girl after only an hour of pushing.

This VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) was the talk of the hospital today. Congratulations!

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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Full in the hand / Heavy with ripeness

For Maddox

To feel a baby's head for the first time
full in the hand
heavy with ripeness
is a sacred act

To feel the vernix slick
the fontanelles molded
the marble-hardness
the heat of it all

The sensation remains in my hands still
more than twelve hours later

Necessity made me reach down
to slow this baby's arrival
to make him come gently

I called for her to touch her baby next
and she did
but she should have been
the first
to feel her baby touch the air

a sacred first

I will guard this feeling

the baby's wisdom remaining
on my fingertips

“Full in the hand/heavy with ripeness” are two lines from a Marge Piercy poem. I have always loved these lines, and thought that they could also refer to a newborn at birth. But I had never fully experienced that connection until I held Maddox’s head in my hands. Until then... I was never moved enough to spill the remaining lines of my own onto the page. 

The Doula Solution

Here's an article from the Winter 2001 issue of
Western Living Magazine about my doula service:

When the contractions begin and even Dad starts screaming for drugs, a little backup is a good thing.

Six hours into labour, Dad's feeling like a third wheel at the bedside. He wants to help, but he's not sure how.

"What does it feel like?" he asks his wife.

"Sour!" she hisses.

Sour? He has no idea what that means.

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Effects of the full moon, waning sun, or NHL strike?

It’s been a wild month at hospitals in Canada. At BC Women’s Hospital alone, there were 1000 expected births, with 500 being the norm. You could attribute the increase to the effects of the moon or the sun, or you could put it down to the NHL strike. Who knows! But on Wednesday of this week, all hospitals west of Saskatoon were on diversion - that means NO BEDS ANYWHERE!

There I was, early Wednesday evening, at a client’s house. She was getting deep into her labour, so I had called her doctor just to give her a “heads-up.” She told me something I didn't want to hear.

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