October 2, 1940

Hear my mother's voice

Maurice was born
during the Battle of Britain
gave birth to him in a basement
nurses helping
having walked to work
after going to the pictures

falling on the engineering works around the hospital

the babies were put in boxes
pushed into the cabinets in the wall
of the morgue

the new mothers sat together
in their nighties on the floor
incendiary bombs falling

dad took us
to the bottom of the road
‘that’s where your mother is’
as we watched the flames
all red
rise in the dark sky
across Manchester

the next day
we walked
to see the new baby
walked the road
five miles past the burning
past the rubble
past the children running in pyjamas

say welcome to the new baby
in the hospital
all by itself
in the city

This is just one of the many family stories of birth that I have collected over the years. My own mum told this story about her brother's birth during one of the heaviest bombing raids on Manchester during the Battle of Britain. As a child, I loved hearing this story because it told me that the people in our family are strong, resilient.

I used to love hearing that my grandfather kept his family together. He wouldn't let the children be evacuated. "If we go, we all go together." I like to think that our family is stronger as a result - that my own children are stronger because of this.

But it also told me that we are profoundly impacted by the stories of our births - that we believe certain personality traits are borne out of our experience of that day. Is Maurice constantly nervous because he was born in a bombing raid? Or is he nervous because it has been an expectation of the story that has been told over and over again? What are your family stories of birth? What stories will you be telling your daughters and sons? Are they stories of resilience and empowerment? Are they stories of loss or victimization?

I hope that we carefully frame the stories that we tell, so the listeners will find strength in our words. We need to especially watch the particular words that we use when we talk to our daughters about birth, remembering that these epic stories will weave themselves into her thoughts as she is giving birth. I know that I saw visions of the bombs falling around the hospital as I gave birth to my own children. It didn't make me fearful, it made me strong. "Gran did it...I can do it... Gran did it...I can do it..."

On the necessity of overseas travel

You'll notice, if you've read enough of my blog, that we generally take off to Europe each year. Since I mainly work solo, I am on call 24/7 for most of the year.  Even when I'm not attending births, I'm doing prenatal and postpartum visits, tea visits, and fielding calls/text/emails from clients old and new.  Even if I have a week without births, I am still on call (I promise to be in town for each client's 38-42 week window), so I can't take off on an impromptu getaway. 

So, what's my solution? I book off a 6 week block, most summers, turn my iPhone to Airplane Mode, and hide overseas with my husband (and maybe some family). It's the perfect way to recharge my batteries. Most clients hold on to their questions until I return. Some clients do send me a few non-urgent emails, but they are content to wait a few days for a response. It's all about finding balance. I try to go totally off the grid, but as a solo doula, my work can't really stop 100%.  

So, where do we go?  Scotland, England, France, Italy, Spain are the main go-to's. Most of my family still lives in the north of England (Cheshire, Derbyshire, Manchester).  My husband's family come from the north of Scotland (Berneray and the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, as well as Laggan in the Highlands.)  We love hiking, cycling, genealogy, history, windswept moors, searching for hidden castles and standing stones. We don't go to many different places on each trip - we take it slow.

This year, it was Scotland.  Within 48 hours of arriving home, two new babies had already arrived. They were waiting for me to come home!

One bonnie boy made a dramatic entrance. I had a phone call - "Something came out of me!"  She had just gone to the bathroom, her water had broken on the toilet, and one of her baby's legs had slipped out! So, after a fast ambulance ride (I arrived at her home in Ladner at the same time as the paramedics), her baby was safely born at BC Women's hospital. It was a spontaneous vaginal footling breech - with less than 2 hours of labour from start to finish.  She hadn't even known that her baby was breech. What a night!

Then another boy arrived less than 12 hours later - almost 9 pounds of him. Another speedy delivery. I think I can now change from Greenwich Mean Time to Pacific Time.

The August 2005 trip to Scotland was the best yet! My son's band won the Juvenile World Pipe Band Championship title, Best Drum Corps, and Best Bass. Our Alex, as lead drummer, went up before 40,000 people to accept the trophy for best drum corps. What an amazing day!

And the views of Stirling from the iron age fort on top of the Dumyat in the Ochil Hills, the sheep, the castles, the ferns and heather...they will be missed.  Until next time.