When my daughter and her husband were married, a strand of beads was held in their hands. From a crystal bead that came from Great-great Grandmother Sarah's necklace to a stone from their favourite beach, each token holds a message from those who will support them in their marriage.

Just like birthing beads in Africa, where each woman attended by a midwife adds a bead to the midwife's strand, increasing its power and significance, this strand of beads gains its power from the wishes and love of each person who contributed a bead.

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The Baby is Breastfeeding - Not the Mother

Hot off the press! In the March 2008 issue of Birth, check out the article "The Baby is Breastfeeding - Not the Mother" by Dr. Lennart Righard. The ending sums it up:

"In natural birth the woman is moving around in upright positions trying to find the most comfortable position and turning to herself to find her own inner strength. Such a woman is not so easy to control! She follows her own impulses and intuitions and her own body’s signals. She relies on nature. The same is valid for breastfeeding. The mother does not know how much her baby is eating, she has to rely on nature. This is the secret of success in the triad of reproduction (coitus, giving birth, and feeding from the breast): rely on nature, relax and let go, and you will be amply rewarded."

Then, take some time to view the WHO/UNICEF Breast Crawl video. Perhaps we all need reminding that instincts work! 

Body Surfing Mama

We were sitting on the sand at Po'olenalena Beach in Wailea, taking a break from snorkeling and boogie boarding. I looked up and saw a pregnant woman. She looked about 6 or 7 months. She must have been having the "last fling" holiday. There she was, boldly heading into the surf with her husband, just glowing.

She lined up with the other couples trying out body surfing, waiting for that "just perfect" swell. She went for it on a big wave, and got totally tumbled in the surf. She came up for air, laughing and laughing, then bounded back into the water to wait for the next wave.

It was glorious to see her, tummy shining, fearless.

I sent her a wish that, on the day of labour, she draws on that fearlessness, and leaps into the waves just like she did at Po'olenalena Beach.


This Madonna collage will always remind me of the couple (both artists) who gave it to me as a gift after their daughter's birth. It's a treasure. It will always remind me of all the births I have attended - the layering of experience, the significance of cherished objects, the importance of history, the value of memories, the power of nature.

I see an old family portrait, a pomegranate, the impermanent dandelions, the water lily, the doll I had as a child, that special bike, that beautiful floor fragment, a cupola with light streaming through to the ground. We each see those things in the collage that hold meaning for us.

Labour is like this. Fragments, layers, images - all confusing, deeply challenging, yet breathtakingly beautiful. Our births are not "the pain." Our births are not physical. Ultimately, they are not of the body, they are of the mind. They are personal, they are dependent upon perception, they are ours. We birth as we live.

Birth is not "paint by numbers." Each birth is like a collage - totally different for each woman, each birth.

I've been at 5 births in the past three weeks, with each teaching us new lessons to draw upon. I will look at the collage and name a part for each woman.

- With love and thanks to Tanis and David

Walking the Labyrinth

"You are a gift to me beloved
trust my body
trust my baby

Last night, friends and family painted the labyrinth in the living room of a woman in early labour, hoping that she would have a chance to walk the labyrinth as the labour progressed. But her labour skyrocketed and her baby was born sweetly before the paint had time to fully dry!

But I think she had been metaphorically "walking the labyrinth" for a long time and was fully ready. There were no blocks. She trusted her body, trusted her baby, and held firm and fast to her husband, whose hands held the baby's head as it slid out into the flickering light of a candle.

With a labyrinth there is only one choice to be made. The choice is to enter or not. With the smooth and quick birth of this beautiful boy, the choice was made. What a joyful entry to the world.

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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The Divine Blessings of Bread

Okay, so it's been one crazy week.

When I had my first few hours to do what I pleased, my husband asked what I'd like to do. "Well, let's go for a walk by the water first...then...I feel the need to go to Meinhardt's."

The walk by the water is pretty self-explanatory after all the water births, rain, water breaking, etc., this week. In Vancouver, we all feel drawn to the water. I had to go there.

But Meinhardt's? It had been in a dream this week. I'd run into the store, picking out lots of little things. And bread. I had to get bread in the dream.

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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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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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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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Oh, Maggie!

The wind blew the clouds and rain away, giving her the sun’s heat upon her back, and showing her the first snowfall on the mountains.

We stood, with the tourists, at the Queen Elizabeth Park viewpoint. She stood, leaning over the bench, pointing out the dried candle wax, the other pregnant woman, the babies, not really looking like a woman in labour.

But she was…

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We wrestle angels

On my way to see a client the other day, I drove past the beach, and watched the sailboarders fly through the October waves. Last night, the image returned as I listened to Michael Symmons Roberts on the radio, reading from his own poem about observing sailboarders:

"These men wrestle angels. Each now sits on / an enormous wing waiting for the winds to rise"

For me, it always comes back to labour. For, in labour, we wrestle angels. We struggle to blend reality with expectation. We skim the ecstatic knife edge between pleasure and pain. We emerge, changed utterly.

Thanks to Deb, Elaine, Sheena and Betty - the four midwives who helped me wrestle the angels

Groaning Cake

In a book club meeting, we discussed The Birth House, by Ami McKay. We ate groaning cake, talked about birth, the medicalization of women's bodies at this most natural time, history, social change, and our own lives. We were strengthened by the stories of these women at the turn of the century in Canada, their sisterhood, and the quiet yet bold way in which they kept their commmunity together. I hope you read this book.

The tradition of the groaning cake at a birth is an ancient one. Wives' tales say that the scent of a groaning cake being baked in the birth house helps to ease the mother's pain. Some say if a mother breaks the eggs while she's aching, her labour won't last as long. Others say that if a family wants prosperity and fertility, the father must pass pieces of the cake to friends and family the first time the mother and baby goes to a public gathering.

2 1/2 cups flour
3 eggs
2 t. baking powder
1/2 cup oil
1 t. baking soda
1/2 cup orange juice
2 t. cinnamon
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 t. ground cloves
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups grated apple
1 t. almond extract

Sift dry ingredients together. Add apple. Beat eggs. Add oil, orange juice, molasses and sugar. Add to dry ingredients. Mix well. Add almond extract. Bake at 350F. for 35-40 minutes. Makes two 9x5 loaves or 18 muffins.

Lambing time...

My husband and I are back from a spur-of-the-moment trip to the UK (he's still a romantic about wedding anniversaries after 26 years!), to hike, see the new lambs, stand on cliff edges, and drive the one-track roads in Derbyshire and Yorkshire. I saw twin lambs feeding, bouncing their mother up in the air with their forceful suckling.

We also cheered as our son's band won the Grade 2 band competition at the World Pipe Band Championships.

This was our first trip without the kids in 23 years. 

Now that we're home, the phone calls have been coming in thick and fast with updates on all the most recent babies. I'm going through the emails and calls from women due 7 or 8 months from now. I've been fielding questions about pooping, breastfeeding, throwing up, whether grunting is normal, how to introduce solids, parenting 2 year olds, toilet training.

My clients call up years after they have left toddler life behind. I say "I am always yours," and I really am.

The busy Fall baby season approaches. Truly lambing time...

"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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"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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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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