Sunday, April 25, 2010

Memories of England

I am blessed to have family in the UK. This means I get to visit England every couple of years, and LOVE visiting London and the English countryside. My sisters live in London, and so does my little nephew Antony...any excuse to visit him is a good one.

My father is originally an Englishman, born in the town of Goole in the Yorkshire region. The Everest family has apparently been there for around 1000 years or so. He came to Canada at the age of 14, and a few years later met my mother who herself was originally from Holland (born at home just after the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands ended).

I feel a strong connection to my English roots. My Great Great Grandmother Charlotte, whom I have spoken of here on occasion, was a doula in Goole many years ago. Obviously, the word "doula" was not used back then. My Nana was raised by her Granny (Charlotte) after the death of her mother, and Nana used to tell me stories of waking in the middle of the night to knocks on Charlotte's window. She used to keep a broom outside her house so the husbands or mothers of labouring women could use the end of the broomstick to tap on her upstairs bedroom window to fetch her. Charlotte was known in town as a wonderful helper to families. She wasn't a midwife...she was just the lady in the town the midwives consulted when they were having issues with babies not making timely appearances. From all accounts, Charlotte would come into the house, assess the situation, get the woman in some crazy position, and then the baby would usually come out soon after. She knew how to keep the environment calm. Midwives trusted Charlotte to labour-sit their clients when they were at other births and couldn't make it to the home yet. Often the midwife would show up to the house with the baby already born, the house clean, and food prepared. When someone died, Charlotte was called to comfort the family and lay out the body.

I would give anything to go back in time and talk to this Great Great Grandmother of mine, who was apparently an amazing story teller. I wish I could have sat at her feet as she rocked in a chair by the fire, soaking in years of wisdom, becoming rich with story. I have dreams of going to births with her, learning the nuances of her ability to hold a space with such calm.

My Great Great Granddad was apparently a bit of a lush, so after coming home from a birth Charlotte would sometimes have to dress herself in her husband's clothes, pull his cap down low over her face and pretend to be him, working on their barge which distributed coal and other goods. Without her taking over on these hungover occasions, they wouldn't have had any livelihood, as her doula work didn't pay more than a loaf of bread or cake now and then. My Nana told me when one of her husband's fellow barge drivers would pass Charlotte on the dock, they'd say, "Hiya, Ned," and she'd lower her voice, tuck her hat down a little lower over her face and answer, "Hiya," My Nana, also an exceptional story teller, told me Ned would wake up from his stupor and say, "Ah, Charlotte....for all thy faults, I love thee still." There is even a family story of Charlotte having been chased by Jack the Ripper in Leeds, but as Nana would say, "Ah, but that Charlotte...she could spin a yarn!"

What touches me most, is that Charlotte was completely uneducated. My Nana would see her pick up a book sometimes, but more often then not, she held it upside down. Her skills as a doula were gleaned from observation, common sense, and intuition...the very definition of MotherWit. Hence the name of my doula company, in honour of Charlotte.

My heart is full thinking of you, my doula sisters out in the UK, continuing the work of the traditional birth supporter like Charlotte, now within the new high tech birth culture. If you've ever encountered a soft, firm, reassuring voice in your right ear you can't identify when you're in a really sticky birth situation, feel your shoulders drop as a calm envelops you and you suddenly know exactly what to do, know it might be Charlotte, or perhaps even one of your own Great Great Grandmothers whispering down their support. Light a candle for her when you're finished, whisper back your thanks, and always trust that voice. As a Native American Grandmother said to me once, "We are the answer to our Ancestors' prayers."