Crossing the Portal, the Old School Way

I stood still in Pottery Barn the other week, in front of a phone that looked just like the lovely heavy black phone that we had when I was little. You know, the one with the rotary dial that, when you needed to dial 9-1-1, took such a long time for that 9 to rotate. No wonder they didn't stick with the British emergency code of 9-9-9. The emergency would have been over before the dialing was done.

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October 2, 1940

Hear my mother's voice

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

now
bombs
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
alone

say welcome to the new baby
in the hospital
standing
white
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..."

The Pact...or how to keep your family environmental footprint small

Most clients know that I like to do without too much “stuff”...evidenced by our gradual downsizing, leading to our ultimate purchase of a small loft in Vancouver. Our internal and external spaces are now filled with what we do, not what we have.

This shift wasn’t just driven by our need to find a personal solution to the environmental challenge on our planet. It is the continuation of a parenting plan that was born on the tidal flats of Point Roberts in 1982 - before our first was born, and long before the words “environmental footprint” or “sustainability” were commonplace.

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Why do babies come in groups?

Do they get inspired by other babies that have made it through recently, and decide to come early just to join in the fun? It's a funny image, but it kept coming to me recently as seven babies came in a steady stream. The due dates ranged from August 28th to October 14th...but they all decided to come in a 10 day period. So funny :)

When I have time, I'll write more about the amazing lessons that we all learned from these babies...

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Kaleidoscope

"For we live with those retrievals from childhood that coalesce and echo throughout our lives, the way shattered pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope reappear in new forms and are songlike in their refrains and rhymes, making up a single monologue. We live permanently in the recurrence of our own stories, whatever story we tell." - from Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje

Shattering reflective pieces of a kaleidoscope tumble in my mind's eye. These are a million moments of experience, random sounds from births - a cry, a laugh, tumbling beside facts, data, then mingling with sparkling words from literature, history, and art. Our experience of life is beautiful and complex and always changing.

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An Argument for Non-Linear Thinking

I just love how our brains work. Well, I actually only know how my brain, a woman's brain, works. And it's totally non-linear. My daughter's brain works like mine, and people laugh when they hear us talking, shifting from one subject to another without any apparent link. Ah, but we independently followed the link from five minutes earlier in our conversation.

Birth is also feminine, non-linear. It works like a woman's brain. There are multiple tasks being accomplished at any one time - descent, rotation, softening, opening. Almost ESP-like communication can take place between a woman and a wise caregiver - this is the "monkey-brain" or "reptile-brain" at work. Thoughts, memories, past experiences, and current understanding are accommodated, merged, drawn upon.

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On "Beyond Evidence: The Complexity of Maternity Care"

I must say that I've had a long-standing passion for Murray Enkin. I was first "introduced" to him in 1987, when he was an obstetrics professor at McMaster University, and was writing "A Guide to Effective Care in Pregnancy and Childbirth". His book became my "bible". The underlying thesis of the book is that evidence from well-controlled trials should encourage the adoption of useful measures and the abandonment of those that are useless or harmful. The full text of the 2000 Edition is available online, courtesy of the authors!

Dr. Enkin's insightful comments in the "Guide" made me respect his judgment. His pragmatic review of the research helped to guide me in my role as a doula. I would photocopy pages of the book to give to clients, to help them negotiate the best care during pregnancy. Over the years, I have always checked in on his current research, and tried to follow his teachings.

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To epidural or not to epidural...

That is the question...

I had two back to back calls the other day, regarding epidurals. The first was a last-minute possible client who called to say she wasn't going to need my services after all...because she'd just had her baby that morning (in very short order). She was quite surprised how quick and simple birth was - surprising since, as a family doctor, she'd been attending births for some time, and had anticipated...well, something more hellish than she encountered. She said she now understands that the decision to have an epidural isn't one that can be made before birth...it's all about responding to the needs of the day.

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Putting the Slow in Slow Birth

I'm going to have to time the ride to be more precise, but the trip from Vancouver Doula's new home to either St. Paul's or BC Women's Hospitals takes about...4 minutes.

Add that to the fact that the majority of my clients will now live within 15 minutes of me...and the result will be even better care.

I'll be able to pop over to check on clients having long prodromal labours, do emergency breastfeeding visits, actually get to meet former clients for tea (right, Brooke?), or even walk to "meet and greet" visits on South Granville or in Kits.

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Statistics for the Utterly Confused

I usually wait for a full year to pass before doing my client stats, but a lot of doctors, nurses, doulas, childbirth educators, and clients have recently been expressing concern about the high epidural rate (reports are as high as 80%) at local hospitals. A recent article in The Vancouver Sun also reported that the cesarean rate in B.C. had climbed to almost a third of all births, far in excess of what the World Health Organization deems acceptable.

So, here's a glimpse into my own client outcomes from January 1/07 to June 7/07. Now, remember, these are not a special group (i.e. highly motivated multips under age 30 with a history of fast births). These are 30 women with an average age of 36, most (73%) having their first baby, who hired me to help them and their partners. The majority entered the process without hard and fast expectations about the birth experience. They all hoped to "do their best on the day", some wanting an epidural at the door (and not needing it), and some wanting to avoid a cesarean (and needing it). They are all capable and amazing women.

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Lessons from a Happy Flying Baby (Advanced Level)

Did I tell you that I think that labour lasts as long as you need to learn all the lessons required for this particular child? There’s perhaps a little extra time added to work through some particularly tricky past life experiences. The baby’s personality has a lot to do with this...

One of the family doctors I know, said that all three of her boys had labours to fit their personalities. One came flying so fast that his cord broke. And that’s how he goes through life - flying headlong into things (both physically and emotionally). Another son takes his time, considers all his options, then considers them some more. As a result, his labour took a long, long time.

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Birthing from Above

From the desk of Jacquie's daughter

Growing up surrounded by my mum's work in childbirth, I had a slightly different introduction to the subject of reproduction than most children. Instead of reading "Where Did I Come From?" I looked through a plethora of illustrated Sheila Kitzinger and midwifery texts. I thought it was fascinating that the egg that was fertilized to make me was in my mum's ovaries when she was born, and was thus formed inside my grandmother! Wild. When she taught prenatal classes, I would come along and play with the infant-sized dolls in her teaching materials, using the plastic pelvis as a cradle. Then, as she began to do more labour support, I would act as her secretary and run into the kitchen to intercept calls before anyone else, often to hear a flustered dad drop the phone, with his wife moaning in the background -- "Mum, it's for you."

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"We go intertwined..."

Hello Jacquie,

I have been thinking about you today so I thought I would email. Today I was especially amazed by the miracle of Ethan and the amazing little person taking shape before my eyes. I was just on your website reading your wonderful writing and I realized what gratitude I feel for having had your warm presence at my labour. I will never forget the feeling of your sure hand on my foot. Just recently I find my mind wandering back to Ethan’s birth and wanting to dwell.

Well, Jacquie, I hope you are well and it amazes me that every day of your life is spent supporting, and surrounded by, the beauty of birth. You are truly blessed.

- Jolene

Expectation (ek'spek-ta'shn)

n.
1. a. The act of expecting. b. Eager anticipation: eyes shining with expectation.
4. Statistics b. The mean of a random variable.

Hmmm... I love the various meanings. It suits labour and birth, doesn't it? People even say, “She’s expecting...” when a woman is pregnant.

So, is expectation a positive or a negative thought process? Does it help us to realistically anticipate the event? Or can it set us up for the possibility of failure and guilt?

One thing that I discuss with clients are their anticipated “roles and expectations” - of themselves, of each other, and of their caregivers. Clients share their dreams for birth, however varied. Then we compare their expectations to the many potential realities.

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Room 8

Was it just this week that I attended two labours in Room 8 at BC Women’s? Was it just this week that my daughter came with me for the first time to attend a birth?

Midnight on New Year’s Eve came while we were in the assessment room, during a contraction. Nurses blew horns while my client laboured. The nurses station was laid out with food. It was surreal.

Throughout the labour, my daughter held the space like women did a long time ago - knitting, crossed-legged, low to the ground - bearing witness to this sacred event.

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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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