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."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

100th Blog-iversary

Wow, 100 blog posts already! Am I a windbag or what?! I only started writing this blog a few months ago, and here we are at 100 so soon.

To celebrate, I wanna send you all some sugar. To my enthusiastic readers, love to you! Your responses and stories keep me inspired. To my devoted sister bloggers, I read you voraciously and appreciate you deeply, even if I don't always have time to comment.

Thank you all so much for dropping in.

Love and light,

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fundraising Help to Realize the Madagascar Project!

Hi Everyone! As you know from previous blogs, this doula is destined for Madagascar. The cause? To fulfill a request from a group of mothers and midwives in the area of Mahatsinjo to help them empower themselves to improve the health of women and children. Many women do not give birth in good health and there is a high rate of infant death, often from preventable causes. The women want information on family planning and the midwives want some obstetric training, among many other things. We will work together to identify areas of need. We as the visiting group are very excited to talk to these women and learn from them. I am so curious to hear how they help a woman experiencing a long birth cope with pain and fatigue, and to know about some of the massage techniques they use to treat infertility. These are some very experienced traditional midwives, who attend many many births. But they lack equipment and some aspects of training that could potentially create better outcomes in challenging situations. Some equipment would also make their lives easier.

To any of you out there who know companies willing to donate equipment and especially funds, it would mean so much to us, the Malagasy and North American members of Taratra Reny sy Zaza.

We need:

Mechanical Hanging Scales (12 lbs, SKU0188) $67.00 (need 4)

D-Ring Flannel Sling (SKU954) $13.00 (need 4)

Rochester Pean Miltex® hemostats for cord clamping 7" straights

Rochester Pean 7" curved hemostats

Blunt/blunt scissors 7" (can be used for cord cutting, episiotomy and tongue - tie clipping etc.)

Fetal Stethoscope (SKU2055) $15.00 (need 4)

Portable Headlights - the LED kind

Retractable Tape Measure (SKU0361) $18.00 box of 6 (need 1 box)

Blood pressure cuffs (donation approved by Medical Exchange International)

Stethoscopes, of the regular cheap variety: can be used with the BP cuffs and for regular infant/maternal screening.

Gloves: Small and Medium (SKUSM112, SKUMD112) $10.00 (need 8 boxes) (1 non latex for me please!)

Watches: (need 4)

Old fashioned thermometers (last forever if they don't get broken, no batteries to replace, and more reliable even though they are slow)


Cord tape: the non-sterile ones listed come with a neat dental floss style cutter, but of course will need to be sterilized.

10 french vinyl catheters with the Luer style end to them - they can be used as an in-out urinary catheter, to assist infant feeding (either gavage or SNS style), and in a pinch can be hooked up to a syringe and used as a suction device (like a DeLee)


doppler gel...


pregnancy wheels

Pregnancy tests

"pee sticks"

rehydration salts

Drugs: Misoprostol, Ampi, Amoxi, Cipro

We need funds to purchase some tickets and supplies for the travel there (most of that is already funded by the African Woman's Development Fund, as well as this equipment.

So far, we have a comedy night planned for June 3rd (more info about that soon), we are hoping to hold a silent auction, and screen the film Premier Crie. But we need funds really soon for the ticket purchase. If there is anyone out there willing to donate funds to this project, please contact me at, or see more information on donations, check out

Any help and suggestions would be most welcome.

Thanks, all,

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Be Who You Are, Do What You Feel

There are so many "shoulds" when it comes to birthing and parenting. There are so many ideals, many of them conflicting, it is amazing women in the childbearing year aren't walking around with their heads literally spinning.

One of the "isms" I now find many of my clients getting caught up in is goal/achievement oriented perfectionism. They are terribly terribly worried they are not going to do something perfectly "right", and end up damaging their babies permanently. But what does "right" mean?

I was sitting in a cafe with my new student Kat, who is a circus performer among other interesting things, and I just loved the way she described her concern about the "swinging of the pendulum, from one extreme to another." Which is a poor mama supposed to do, unassisted birth where she is to trust Nature implicitly and believe any issue that arises is a reflection of her deep seated emotional traumas, or a scheduled C-section to bypass all potential obstetric concerns? Should she exclusively breastfeed until child led weaning even if she feels revulsion in her very core every time the kid eyes her boobs because it is emotionally damaging to impose weaning upon a child, or should the child be well versed in bottle feeding immediately after birth so as not to become too clingy? Is "middle ground" too "suburban"? What is middle ground anyway? What will my friends think? Will my mother-in-law judge me? Which book is the right book?

I have women telling me they are afraid to put their hopes anywhere because if birth goes awry and they end up needing an intervention, they don't want to feel disappointed in themselves. Why would they feel disappointed in themselves?! We are so afraid to become disappointed in ourselves if we veer from our own sense of ideal. Why are we so hard on ourselves, especially in an arena that is as unpredictable as birth and mothering? The arena in which we are the most vulnerable and needing tenderness is sadly the one in which we are so judgmental of ourselves and others.

Every woman's birth and parenting experience simply is what it is. I don't have any answers as to how it should be for any given woman. For example, women are expected to be full of love and awe for this baby flying onto their chest immediately after birth. Yes, it is true, the vast majority of women are over the moon to receive their babies in their arms right after birth...but the occasional woman needs a few moments to come back to herself before embracing her child. And what is wrong with that? It's not exactly natural for a baby to be "delivered" onto us after birth, as nice as this image might be. Without people between our legs to catch the infant, we'd probably kneel or squat on the ground, give birth, and take the baby to us when we were good and ready, which may be in a minute or so after birth. We must not allow this mom who feels a need to take a breather before receiving her baby to feel like she's defunct and lacking in maternal instinct.

Another example is the "breast crawl" rage. I do love a good breast crawl, but it is something I never knew about when I was having my own babies. My gut maternal instinct was to take my babies to my heart and offer them my breast when they seemed ready for it. I don't think I did anything "wrong" because breast crawl is "supposed" to be the be all and end all. By all means, if this is what a woman wants to do, this is her prerogative, and I fully support that as an amazing start to breastfeeding. But again, it is an ideal. Others may find it a bit intellectual to watch the cool crawlie thing the baby happens to be able to do.

I am tired of a generation of new mothers feeling like they're failing every time they do something that veers from their or another's version of "ideal". We do our best. If a mom really wants a natural birth and ends up receiving an epidural, the last thing she needs is my judgement. Why don't we focus on the really positive aspects of her labour instead? If a nurse or doctor sweet talks her into giving her baby a bit of formula in the hospital after I've left, even though it was against her better judgement (but she was told she was starving her baby with her inadequate boobs), yes we'll hold the space for her to express her feelings about this when I talk to her postpartum. And then we'll move on, because really, in the grand scheme of things, it's not the end of the world that in a fit of desperation the baby received a "dose" of formula. No, it's not a good situation at all, and yes, the hospital shouldn't have done it. But what's done is done, and wallowing in the quagmire of "I should have" or "If only I had been strong enough to.." leads to a lack of presence for the situation at hand, which is to mother a new baby . Getting too hung up on our "failures" heals nobody.

Besides, there are so many little perfections to achieve in the realm of birth and mothering, it's impossible for us to please every expert, every friend, every family member. And really, that's quite a good lesson in letting go of the "pleaser" impulse within many women. Mothers need to be strong, and to protect their sense of "rightness". This is often why new moms are very strong advocates of what they do, and I think this is a beautiful thing. But it's important to temper that passion with wisdom, knowing that what is bliss for one mother may be trauma for another, and doing what our hearts tell us is where it's at. If my client chooses an epidural and feels proud of herself for how she gave birth and is a really happy mom, I'm nothing but happy for her. If I come to a new mother's house 8 days postpartum, the mother has a baby with a pacifier in his mouth, and she's gleaming with pride telling me she tried out the binky by chance and found everyone got an extra hour of sleep and her milk production/sore nipple issue improved with that rest, I say, "Bravo!" even though pacifiers are not "supposed" to be used in the first six weeks after birth.

The more perfection experts put out there, the more judgement there is upon that mom who discovers that her baby may have different needs from her neighbour's baby, who follows the rules to a "T" of whatever "The _______ Whisperer" book is all the rage at the time (insert whatever you can think of in that blank, "whisperer" being the mot du jour for "expert"). I would like to write a book for new parents called There Is No Master Plan. There are as many ways to birth and parent as there are parents and babies.

I have heard enough criticism of women over the years to make me step back and see that fellow mothers can eat each other alive when armed with a load of ideals. I was at a birth once in which the mother's friend said, "well, I don't know why you yelled like that. I was focused inwardly, and was really quiet." My plump, vigorous newborn was blissfully nursing at my plump, vigorously spurting breasts and a friend walked in and said, "you shouldn't be holding your breast like that." I've had mothers try to talk the doctor into forcing their daughters to take an epidural during labour. It's hard to come out unscathed with all of these intense belief systems being projected onto our unique relationships to our babies from every angle.

Let us also remember that babies are resilient. Yes, they are tender and vulnerable, but they are STRONG. If a baby ended up being separated from his mother for awhile after birth and the mother discovers later in life that this was a "bad" thing, it does not mean she's irrevocably damaged her child with her "ignorance". People find healing from releasing the wounds of the past and focusing on the present. A baby who has been separated from his mother will heal from loving, focused presence NOW. You can't go back in time, really. You can go back with therapeutic techniques, and this can be a great thing for some wounds, in mothers and babies alike. But sometimes focusing upon something that may really be small in life's grand order may just make it all bigger than it needs to be, rather an attempt to assuage guilt from not being perfect than an impetus for true healing. That's for the individual to determine, not an "expert".

I'd like to remind people that whether you're shooting ideals from the left or shooting ideals from the right, shooting at people is still violent, and you can end up injuring a vulnerable being. Instead, let us mother authentically, being who we are, and doing what we feel...and allow others to mother in their own authentic way. There are many paths to enlightenment.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Don't Underestimate Your Power

I ran into the midwife of my fourth birth this weekend at a workshop. She had just popped by for the end of it, so I only encountered her briefly. I haven't seen her for a few years, and when I did my heart gave a little flutter. The emotional connection you forge with someone who has been with you for a short but very intense, intimate event in your life is bonding. You don't bond with everyone who may see you birth. I didn't bond with the nurses or doctors at my second kid's birth, as lovely as they were. But I bonded very strongly with my midwives, as I chose them to be the physical and emotional keepers of my birthing space.

People who know me well know I usually keep my emotions pretty close to my heart. It's not that I'm not an emotional person...I most definitely am, perhaps even more than the average person. I am moved deeply. It's just that I'm not emotionally effusive. In public anyway. Most of my bestest friends have not even seen me cry before, even in the face of some pretty intense things. I don't think my mother has even seen me cry since I was 14. I tend to hold it in until I get space alone. I have always been this way. I remember hiding under tables as a child to sob inconsolably when I heard a sad story, and didn't like people looking at me and calling attention to it. I'm just sort of private that way. As a student of psychotherapy, most students took the opportunity to do a session with the trainer while the rest of the class observed, and most were absolutely transformed, having felt safe and enveloped by the group's loving energy. We who observed learned so much and I was always grateful for those brave souls who could bare their innermost selves so easily. Yet I never took that opportunity to be observed in session, as I just felt like my emotional expressions were not something I wanted shared in a group. So if you ever see me in a very emotional situation but don't see me being emotionally expressive, please don't assume I'm unfeeling. I just process it in a more solitary way.

Anyway, the relationship with the one who holds the space for your birth is a different thing. My midwife knows all my physical and emotional history. A woman's social masks are let down throughout the natural birth process, and we become raw. There's not much of me my midwife hasn't seen. She knows the dynamic between my husband and me (having seen us labour together), she knows first hand how I respond to pain, stress, and fear. She understands my deepest needs as a woman to express my birth authentically and undisturbed. She has seen pretty much everything my body is capable of emitting up close and personal. We met my son at the same time. There is really nothing more intimate than that.

When I saw Isabelle this weekend, she came up to me and gave me a huge hug, and it just felt SO good to be in her presence again. I have been fully myself before her in a way nobody else (except for those who attend my birthings) has seen. I am absolutely safe with her. I chatted with my midwife for a bit, and she told me how she had such fond memories of Finn's birth, that her apprentice learned so much by attending a birth that was "held" as opposed to "managed". I said to her, "You said something to me that I will never forget. You told me I was a woman who owned my birth...I'm not sure why, but that moves very deeply, resonates through all my cells, and I am just SO grateful for those words." And as I said that, tears arose unchecked, and they could, because it was Isabelle who was standing in front of me...there is no point in my hiding anything from her. There are probably not that many people I trust more.

Isabelle told me she always teaches her students to be so careful with the language they use. She said, "The words that come out my mouth could potentially be somebody's magic words." She certainly spoke mine.

As doulas, midwives, nurses, and doctors, it's important to never underestimate how deeply entrusted we are with someone's most vulnerable, raw, authentic self. We witness their heroic journeys, see them emerge with their babies, hearts wide open, and a few words gleaned from our observations can support or warp their impressions of themselves for better or for worse. This is an emotional responsibility unlike any other. We must always remember to hold our ladies (and their partners) tenderly. We must be so gentle with their vulnerable, fledgling mother/father selves. Our words and actions could potentially hold some powerful magic. They may stimulate a healing impulse, or soothe away deeply embedded self-doubts. Isabelle's words touched my spirit in such a profound way, they create waves of power and strength within me each time I utter them them to myself...years later. Nobody can ever take them away from me. I am a woman who owns my birth.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


The Great Lady Birth was kind today. As doulas, we all want our clients to have wonderful births, obviously. But occasionally a birth comes along as a blessing for a person who is particularly worthy of it.
I attended the third birth of a lady today. I was present for her first and second births. Those births were hard. To say the least. Due to anatomical issues, this lady is unable to have an epidural work for her. Not that she's necessarily into them, but it can be scary for many women to know if, on the off chance something comes up and surgery is necessary, birth will be under general anaesthesia. To make things even more challenging, this lady's first 2 births were induced. The first birth was over 24 hours of the type of labour that is not riding waves, but being slammed with mechanical Synto contractions with barely time to breathe between the onslaughts. It was white pain, the type that makes it impossible to relax and find resources within. This is not a woman unfamiliar with pain, due to health issues in her life, and this "practice" was undoubtedly in her favour, as she heroically birthed her baby vaginally. An epidural by the most experienced anaesthetist in the hospital was attempted several times, but to very little avail, so at some point she just accepted this as her experience and went with it. Residents and nurses would come in to check in on her, and would leave the room looking white and pinched, as there was very little they could do to help with pain that was beyond the scope of normal birthing sensations. Her husband and I stayed by her side, just being present, and so thankful when it was time to push, as at least that went smoothly. She welcomed her baby with joy, but was left quite shaken by such a difficult birth.
Between babies one and two, there were experiences of potentially life threatening illness, and a terrible loss. Conception was difficult, but finally baby #2 was on his way. This birth was just like the second, though only half the time, thank goodness, but still terribly difficult. This lady remains thoughtful and kind throughout her labours, though where she finds the strength, I don't know. Baby 2 was born vaginally as well, even though she had been offered the opportunity to birth via C-section because of the nature of her last birth. Unfortunately, she had to be separated from her baby soon after because of an emergency which arose for her after the birth. This was the most traumatic part of the birth for her. Still, she weathered these situations with equanimity, always, as a very spiritual person, figuring she must be a pretty strong woman to have the universe send her such challenges. No feelings of victimization for this lady, which after all she's been through, demonstrates what a strong character she truly is.
She called me again a few months ago saying she had just found out she was pregnant...around 4 or 5 months pregnant! This was a shock, as she had been told the possibility of getting pregnant again was pretty much nil. She felt she had fully reclaimed the health and strength of her body, was in a great place with her kids and husband, and needed to take some time to adjust to the idea of having another baby. But in her usual style, she dug deeply, and looked forward to the arrival of a new baby, though the thought of giving birth again was scary. This is a lady who associates hospitals with illness and suffering, and so didn't want to have to give birth there again, but because of her history, there was just no other feasible way for her to feel truly safe. We met prenatally and had a good pep talk, and she told me a few different ways she wanted to approach labour. She wanted to avoid being induced this time if she could (due to physical concerns, it's not something easily debatable at all after a certain point), and found a wonderful Naturopathic Doctor to do some homeopathic magic with her. She did a lot of emotional/spiritual work, and took extremely good care of herself, keeping fit and healthily nourished.
Another induction was set up, but lo and behold, I got a call at 3am today, and she told me she was having some good contractions. They were not too long and not too intense, and was hanging out with her hubby and mom. She told me she'd call later. I felt a little nervous for some reason, not able to go back to sleep....when this happens, I usually call back to check in, because sometimes these little niggling concerns are intuitions. I was reassured that all was well, but that she really wanted to stay home for longer. Fair enough. I went back to sleep. At 6am I checked back in, and labour was definitely stronger, but she sounded great. She was happy. She was going to wait at home until rush hour passed. Of course I was thinking that we had an hour drive, that labour sounded strong, and her mother and hubby were becoming antsy, but she was insistent. She knew what she was doing.
I went over at nine, and she was sitting on a birth ball in a dark room full of candles, vocalizing beautifully. She looked at me, took my hand, and her eyes filled with tears. "Lesley, I don't want to go to the hospital." This being in natural labour was so different from the inductions. She didn't have the same tension in her body and fear in her eyes. The energy of Synto can be dark, making people feel like they're in a bad trip instead of a dreamy endorphin trance. She had hated that place. It had suffocated her while she was tied to a bed, IV, and monitor. Now she was labouring...well, naturally, and doing beautifully. My heart ached for her, because I wanted nothing more than to just stay there and hold the space for her and her husband to give birth peacefully and undisturbed, the way she had always wanted. But that is not the role I have signed on for. Besides, even though she was expressing this love of being home, she was resolved about going to the hospital. I think she just needed to grieve a little. We got ready to go, and in the car she could feel the baby moving down. She was still chatty with me between the contractions, so I knew we were not in a mad dash to the hospital.
My client was feeling really awful about getting out of the car and being exposed to all the people in the hospital who would stare at the vocalizing labouring lady. She was also really scared of being examined by an unknown resident. So I shielded her as best I could. Of course, the elevator was acting wonkily, and we had to wait for awhile. She just snuggled into me, vocalizing into my shoulder while her husband parked, and it just looked like we were two friends hugging, so nobody bothered us, trying to get her into a wheelchair. Finally we walked into the elevator, and lo and behold who was there? Her beloved doctor! They hugged and the doctor expressed how happy she was to see her in labour. She suddenly felt much better about being on the elevator. I mentioned to the doctor she seemed to be in pretty active labour, and a few good strong contractions proved that. It was lovely seeing Doc L., who is an incredibly compassionate, dedicated OB, really invested in her patients personally. It was also pretty great to see her do a little labour support, rubbing my client's back, and having her slow her breathing down.
As my client prepared to be monitored for the standard 30 minutes, she said, "that's pretty amazing we ran into Doc L., isn't it? That makes me feel good." I also reiterated how nice it was that her own trusted doctor was going to do a vaginal examination instead of someone she didn't know. The doc checked her gently, and said she was 4cm. At first she was a little disappointed, but the doc reassured her that the cervix was completely thinned out, and this made her a lot happier.
After being admitted, which took awhile with questions, etc., my client finally got up and really got things going. She was getting to a place where she was wondering if she could do it, and we reminded her of how well things were going, of how different the energy was from the last times....much lighter and more expansive. We went to the jacuzzi room, which is dark, warm, and humid....a perfect environment for a labouring lady. As she was standing, having contraction after contraction, coping gorgeously, I heard a little grunting happen....ever so subtly... if you weren't listening carefully you might have missed it. She really wanted to get into the bath, and I thought," hmmmmmm....I know they don't like catching babies in there, and I know she is showing signs of being in second stage....and it's a third baby....conundrum." She said she felt hot, so I ran back to the birth room and grabbed some cool washcloths. When I got back 15 seconds later, there was a puddle of brownish amniotic fluid on the floor and a clearly pushing client. The nurse popped in, and my client announced she would NOT be moving. But as the waters were brown, the nurse wanted me to get her to come back to the room. It wasn't far, so between contractions we shuffled over. Her mom was in the room and looked at us with surprise, realizing the baby was coming. My client got on the bed and of course, was being told NOT to push, though it was clear there was nothin' gonna stop her.
I just whispered into her ear to let her body follow her baby. My client really didn't want the resident present to examine her, and the nurse told him to leave her alone, that if the baby was going to come, it was going to come, and an exam wasn't going to change anything. The baby's head birthed by itself the next contraction, and the resident caught the body and lifted a pink, yelling little boy into my client's arms. No tears. Easy placenta birth. Minimal bleeding. Great start to breastfeeding. A beautiful, yummy baby, born 1 hour after arriving at the hospital. My client looked at me with a huge smile and said, "I MOSTLY did it at home!" We were over the moon. I said, "Hon, everyone deserves a great birth...but you REALLY REALLY deserved this great birth." She said, "Yup, I sure did. And I'm SO proud of myself. I love my baby."

Thank you, oh Great Lady Birth, for your benevolence today! You couldn't have picked a better person to bestow such kindness upon.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Today's Workshop

I'm just back from the Birth and Healing workshop with Lewis Mehl-Madrona.

He was such a sweet, gentle presence...very down to earth, well spoken, and obviously very committed to his work in healing.

It was powerful to be in a circle of women who have such a profound respect for the process of birth and for the women in their care. Lewis demonstrated how to do a narrative interview, skillfully and subtly evoking the story surrounding a traumatic birth experience of one of the workshop participants. Later, he did some guided imagery work to help a woman deal with grief. What I loved about his approach was his cathartic button pushing, no big dramas...just a suggestion to stagnant energy to begin to flow. Lovely.

As always, it was SUCH a breath of fresh air to hang out with old, good friends. I don't get enough time with Rivka and Sarah. When we get together, we get to be our cantakerous old gossipy selves, not having to show our virtuous faces to the public, until we laugh so hard our worry lines melt away.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Grand Openings, Salons, Sugar Shacks, Writing, and a Birthday Girl

I attended my friend Sarah's grand opening of her and her and her friend Alysia's store L'essentiel et les Petits Riens. It was SO nice! I left with a much lighter wallet, scoring some homeopathic remedies that you are unlikely to find all in one spot. I also bought some essential oils I was low on, and some treats for myself, like powdered goat's milk (to wash my face with), organic rose hip oil (to moisturize), and some yummy black licorice (not the crappy processed kind). It was a great evening, and I'm glad to see lots of people were coming in and out. I wish them total success, and am happy I have my official "doula bag" stocking one stop shop. They also sell some of the most exquisite cloth diapers on the planet. My friend Ilana and her business partner Amy are the ladies behind the incredible line of Applecheeks reusable diapers. Learn more about them at Check out L'essentiel et les Petits Riens at

More friends are having a grand opening! Marie-Maude and Renee, 2 sweet and wonderful moms and lactation advocates, are holding the official opening of their space on Monday night, which is super convenient for me, because I'll be teaching the last class in my MotherWit Birth Essentials Prenatal Education series there. The name of this space, which is a combination cafe/breastfeeding friendly parent and baby hangout/breastfeeding resource centre/store/carrier of hard to find breastfeeding support paraphernalia, is called Melons et Clementines. Can you imagine a cuter name for a center which focuses on breastfeeding?! And when you say it with a Montreal French accent it sounds chic and saucy too. Marie-Maude told me she and Renee came up with the name to celebrate all kinds of breasts. I keep forgetting to eye their chest areas to determine who is the Melons and who is the Clementines in that team, but I'll figure it out one day. I am so happy for them, and I wish them too all the success in the world. They are meeting a lot of the community's needs. I hope to see you there!

I am very excited to be attending the fundraising event for my dear friend Rivka's organization Montreal Birth Companions tomorrow, a workshop by Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona (author of Coyote Medicine and other great books) on Birth and Healing. This workshop is going to be AMAZING, and the proceeds will be going to support a crucial cause Rivka champions, which is to provide good doula care to women of need. If you haven't registered, come anyway and pay at the door.

Yesterday I stopped by the Salon Maternite Paternite Enfants (Parent and Baby Fair), a yearly massive event held at Place Bonaventure. I was invited to hang out with the gang at the Boutique Bummis stall. I was honoured, because Bummis is a Montreal institution. It was a godsend to live so close to their Mont Royal store as a mother of young children. It is where I've bought most of my diaper covers (I still have my little cow covers with the red background and the beautiful blue fishy motifed onces...they make me sniffle with nostalgia), baby carriers, nursing bras, teething necklaces, baby slippers, great baby sun hats, and all of the sundries that make conscious shopping for Baby fun. Betsy and Shirley, the owners, run an incredible business. This is a store that truly supports attachment parenting. They are very generous, constantly giving so much to the community, and lending their support. Bummis has been at the heart of the Montreal attachment parenting community for longer than I can remember, and are champions of causes pertaining to mothers and children. So it was a lot of fun to hang out with the girls there. Jamie, Director of Retail Operations of Bummis, is tireless in her promotion of attachment parenting, bringing her kindness and enthusiasm with her everywhere she goes. She has a real gift for bringing people together.

While the Bummis girls tended to the endless streams of customers, doing demos of baby carriers and cloth diapering, I got the opportunity to hand out hundreds upon hundreds of samples to the mothers and mothers-to-be passing by. There were samples of products from Earth Mama Angel Baby (which are heavenly....just smell them), and Bummis cloth breast pads for breastfeeding moms. I thought these pads were BRILLIANT give aways. Women would take them, ask what they were, and I'd get to explain they were reusable cotton nursing pads. People's eyes would light up and they'd say, "wow, that's so practical...and so cute!" and were really happy to receive such a nice gift. If they weren't breastfeeding, they'd say, "I'll keep them for the next baby," or "I know a friend who'd love these."

What was so interesting, was that the majority of people coming to this Salon were not attachment parenting types. I could not believe the barrage of SUV like strollers! They clogged up everything, and looked so cumbersome, yet are considered to be essential items! It was amazing to see moms and dads with their car like proportioned strollers encasing tiny babies watch demonstrations of the various baby carriers Bummis sells, and to hear them say "wow...what a great idea!" It is a misconception that the average baby is too heavy to carry for hours on end. With the wraps and carriers that are so beautifully designed for comfort, it seems so much less trouble than lugging around this ginormous baby pushing contraption. I have carried all four of my babies 'til they were 3 (and sometimes more). I was given a jogging stroller once because I thought I needed it, but truly, only used it a few times because it was just so difficult to navigate in buses, stores, etc. After that experiment, I never bought anything bigger than those simple umbrella strollers. Those things are hardy! I could carry 40 pounds of groceries over the handles of those suckers, I kid you not. They were so easy, once the kids were too big to carry but too little to walk at my pace and for the crazy amount of time I walk for, to boot up Metro stairs with, and took up almost no space on a bus. When people decided they needed these monster strollers, I have no idea, but they are EVERYWHERE!

Another interesting thing about this Salon were the formula company kiosques. Sadly, they had line-ups. I tend to be very diplomatic when putting forth my beliefs, and hope there is room for everybody. I know people have had to resort to formula when there were challenges with breastfeeding, and I know not everyone has a lot of good education regarding breastfeeding. But I just cannot understand how breastfeeding can be in good conscience a "lifestyle" choice. I know there are circumstances in which for whatever reason, a woman may hate breastfeeding. Okay, fine, she needs support, not judgement for her choice. But to not want to try breastfeeding at all because it's ugly or inconvenient? I just don't get it, and can't find a clear place in my heart from which to support that.

Nestle's formula company had this massive, round kiosk pretty much smack in the middle of the whole event. It was so weird. There were all these funky little Quebec eco baby clothes designer stalls, natural products, lovely wooden toys, many attachment parenting promoting stalls, Melons and Clementines, La Leche League, and the Quebec Association of Midwives had stalls...and then this huge formula promoting thing! It would be as weird as if you were in a Celebration of Sexuality Fair....full of all kinds of cool little stalls with fun, sexy lingerie, yummy massage oils, nifty toys, important information on STD and conception prevention, kiosks celebrating all kinds of diverse expressions of sexuality, all in the spirit of love and fun....with a massive VIAGRA stall smack dab in the if all of these small, beautifully intentioned, supportive people were overshadowed by this giant wheel hub whose message was, "This is all very well and good, but we expect your body to fail at some point, and we will be here to pick you up." And oh, the price for succumbing to this message! Sigh, it was very frustrating.

I felt like I was handing out those reusable breast pads, Jamie was promoting those diapers, and the other girls were demonstrating those baby carriers with a serious purpose. It was fun, lively, and friendly, but make no the looming shadow of that unsavoury giant, Bummis and all those others folks with their eco/parenting friendly products and services, were out there to change the world. I felt very proud to be there. A few times I even felt emotional about how important all of the amazing women I have mentioned in this post are to our community. I wasn't at the Salon long, and was so happy to come and to have fun hanging out with Jamie and answer any doula like questions that may have come up from customers, so I was so surprised when Jamie said, 'I want you to pick out an Origami Wrap to thank you." GASP?! All of you MotherWit Blog fans are deeply aware of how much I have wanted one of these beautiful, soft, organic cotton jersey wrap shirts by Lilla P. And here it came as a gift! I chose a beautiful, rich Iris coloured wrap, and my daughter Oona and I had great fun playing with it all evening, trying out the different ways to wear it. I am SO grateful, Bummis ladies! Thank you, thank you, thank you! For everything.

Today was the annual pilgrimage to the Cabane a Sucre (Sugar Shack) with my husband's work. If you are not from these parts, I have to give you the low down on this campy but fun Quebec Springtime ritual. Quebec is a major producer of maple syrup. We have tons of Maple farms, and in the spring, the sap flows and the new batches of syrup are canned and bottled. For a couple of months of the year, these farms act as Sugar Shacks, which is sort of a celebration of the syrup harvest. This is how a typical trip to the Cabane a Sucre goes: You park, and wait in a holding area for 30 minutes or so until your group has gathered. Finally, you are sat at a massive picnic table which takes up the length of the room (there are rows upon rows of them, as these places get packed). On the table there is white bread, and toast, with little plates of creton (head cheese), mason jars of pickled delicacies, and jugs of maple syrup.

After nibbling upon these snacks, you are given a bowl of traditional pea soup (it's super good), and a steaming cup of coffee that you sweeten with maple syrup. After the soup, there are plates of egg pie. Not quiche, just a dozen or so plain eggs stirred up and cooked in a pie plate. There are also bowls of plain steamed potatoes, farm made sausages that look like cocktail weenies, ham, and Oreilles de Crisse (translation: Ears of Christ), which are deep fried, smoked pork jowls. All is to be smothered with great gobs of maple syrup. For dessert it varies, and today we had soft ice cream (which you are supposed to slather with syrup), sugar pie (which is so good, I can't even describe it), pouding chomeur (translation: unempolyment pudding), and usually pancakes (which we didn't have today for some reason, but they're supposed to be there). To accompany your dining experience, there are strains of traditional Quebec songs, which are made up of a sort of a mixture of French and Celtic fiddle music that you could stomp around in your boots to, and have titles like "Chez Ma Tante Gervaise" (At My Aunt Gervaise's Place).

After you pull your overfed bulk from behind the table, you can go take a hay ride, or a trip through the petting zoo. There were Indian Peacocks, strange black and white turkeys with red and blue heads, white geese which looked like they had puffy brain like things on their heads, stumpy little ponies, and manky sheep. After that, you give a nice man a ticket, and it buys you a popsicle stick. You are led to a trough filled with packed snow (whence the snow comes, I don't know, and don't want to know), and upon this snow is placed lines of tire (pronounced teer, which means "pull"). Tire is maple syrup that's been boiled down, and it's thick and taffy like. When it's ladled thinly in lines on the snow, it hardens. You take your popsicle stick, and roll that gob of sticky tire over it, and then gobble it up. As long as you can manage to hang on to your stick, you can usually do several lines of tire (yes, I blatantly use a coke analogy, because I imagine there's not much of a difference in feeling). But once you lose your stick, you're out of there.

It's a good time. What was fun was reconnecting with the people my husband works with. I attended the birth of one of the couples there last year, and got to hang out with Baby Olivia, who is now one. I'm not trying to be esoteric when I say this, but I swear there is often a spark of recognition in the eyes of a child whose birth I attended (up to the age of 18 months or so), and they usually seem very happy to sit and snuggle with me for a time. Catching up with the babies you've seen into the world is one of the big perks of doula work.

When I came home, I checked out my email message from The Birth Project. They featured my blog on "Control" in the Spring Edition of their magazine, and I am quite proud of that. I have always enjoyed writing, but never imagined people would start asking for my work. Check out to see what they're up to.

Lastly, I want to wish Sue Appleton, a very important lady in the land of MotherWit, a huge and heartfelt HAPPY BIRTHDAY! May this be a year full of nothing but wonderful things. Hugs, Sue!

Have a great weekend, Everybody!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Memories of ALACE

I was checking out Association of Labour Assistants and Childbirth Educators (ALACE) online today, just to reconnect and see what's going on with them. They are now called tolabour. They have been around since 1983. I took their training in 1993 when they were still called Informed Homebirth/Informed Birth and Parenting. I was attracted to them because the organization was created by midwives, obviously with a belief in the midwifery model of care, regardless of the primary caregiver or place of birth. They put a lot of emphasis on the emotional care of the woman, and constantly challenged the doula to figure out what she would do in any given scenario. My training manual was chock full of information, and there was a substantial reading list.

I absolutely loved my labour assistant training. I'm still not entirely comfortable with the word "doula" to describe my work, and "labour assistant" made people think I was part of a union or something, but I was a great step in becoming a birth companion. It was a fabulous course, taught at the time by midwife Catherine Stone, whom I still remember with great fondness.

What I loved about it, and they still continue to do this today, was the opportunity to do some hands on physical stuff. Not because they promote this as something a doula should do, but to get a deeper, visceral understanding of what women go through prenatally and in labour. I was taught to find fetal heart tones with a fetoscope for the purpose of identifying where a baby is lying, palpation, and basic pelvic examination. While I know this may make some doulas squirm with discomfort, let me reassure you for a moment. I do not do pelvic examinations in my practice. For one, learning how to examine the cervix of a woman neither pregnant nor in labour is not at all teaching someone how to check how dilated someone is. This would take a lot of hands on training in the field, which is obviously beyond the scope of a doula's work. The intent behind this exercise was for us to get a feel for this cervix thing we talk so much about. How empowering it was, within a safe environment with a certified midwife, to get a better understanding of the landscape of the female pelvis via the vagina! I know what an ischial spine feels like now and I truly understand the mobility of the coccyx. My fingers will never forget that sensation! But most important to the learning, especially for those who maybe had not had children before, was being in a position to be on the receiving end of the exam with onlookers. I think this is what the exercise was mostly gain empathy and to receive the support of the student doula holding our hand and guiding us in relaxation.

What people need to know is that learning a basic pelvic exam is not in any way, shape, or form a licence to check a lady's cervix during labour. While some may argue, "Well, an oncologist doesn't need to have had cancer to be excellent at what he does, so why would you have to know what a cervix feels like to be an excellent doula?" Good question. You don't. I don't think you need to have done or received an exam or even had a baby to be a fabulous doula. But like the oncologist who is also a cancer survivor, with a little personal experience, some depth is gained. There is a difference between gaining empathy through hands on work for experiential purposes and giving permission to diagnose a cervix in labour.

I continue to palpate bellies and stick with belly mapping, which I find is an empowering exercise for a mother and her partner to connect with their baby, and for the mother to remember to maintain good posture if she notices the baby's back shifting throughout the day. I have owned my fetoscope for 18 years, and on the odd occasion, if we're not convinced of where the baby is, I might show the mom how to find the heart it if it's possible. I often leave my fetoscope with the family so they can listen to their baby once in awhile. Mothers of twins love this! It has been through many sets of hands and heard many heartbeats. I do not think this is "diagnosing" or doing anything clinical. Check out created by Gail Tulley who is a midwife and DONA certified doula for more info on belly mapping. I NEVER have and NEVER will look for fetal heartones at home during childbirth, because that crosses the line between empowering parents and clinical care.

The question my clients always ask is, "If you are with me at home, how do we know when it's time to go to the hospital if you don't check my cervix?" As a doula, I find this is an easy question to answer. I observe the mother's labour, and rarely look at a clock. I don't generally time contractions. If things are getting much stronger, we usually know without a clock telling us that the contractions are longer and closer together (in most cases, but not all). I listen to her breathing and sounds. I check for the obvious signs of endorphin release written on the mom's face. When the mom begins to seem like she has gone from early labour to "active labour" according to our combined maternal/paternal/doula spidey senses (which I don't think has much to do with a number of centimetres, as I have had women who are in extremely active labour when the doctor tells them they're 2m, as well as women at 8cm who are still hovering on the fence between early and active labour), we go directly to the hospital. And what if we are proven wrong at the hospital, that labour is indeed still early? Well, we haven't made a mistake. Because if the mother is having what appears to be very strong contractions she can't speak through and looks all stoned between them (endorphins), the contractions seem long and quite frequent, then moving to the hospital where the baby and mother will be monitored by her primary caregiver at whatever interval they feel is appropriate is important, no matter how much longer there is to go in the labour. Of course, if a client wants to go before or a bit later than this guideline, that is her choice, but I make sure they understand the information surrounding each choice. So far, I've never caught a baby in a car :)

My doing a vaginal examination to try to figure out whether or not it is a good idea to stay at home longer could be potentially detrimental to the mother and baby. For one, I stand by my claim that a number doesn't mean much. We experienced birth attendants know how changeable a cervix is. My trying to figure that out and come up with a magic number only puts the mother in a state of more discomfort, and my "judgement" may potentially keep her from the hospital when it's a good time for her to be there, having the baby listened to now and then. If labour looks active, even if it's technically not, a midwife at a homebirth still listens to the heart tones periodically. A woman chooses to have a hospital birth because this is where she feels she will be safest, and this is where she receives the clinical care that determines her and her baby's well being. Staying home with just a doula for a very long labour, especially since a doula doesn't listen to heart tones, is not usually something a client would choose to do when properly informed about the doula's scope of practice. It would be different if that doula was also a monitrice, but I am personally not one. That's a responsibility I don't want.

So thank you, ALACE, for providing me with the tools for the long and satisfying career I have been enjoying. You ladies are AWESOME!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Spring Gratitude

What a gorgeous day! I cleaned up my flower gardens, so happy to see shoots poking their little faces through the earth to meet the sunshine in person. My children were so happy to go to the park where we built sand cities then pretended we were Godzillas. I feel blessed to be spending time with my loved ones, visiting mothers and mothers-in-law, revelling in the return of warmth.

I am thankful for the global network of doula sisters, from whom I learn so much. I appreciate it all: the support, the commiseration, the challenge, the all creates growth, and I trust it's all there to make me the best possible birth attendant I can be, and best teacher I can to those who are entrusting their educational process to me. I am profoundly honoured to have women interested in my guidance, which truly, aside from information, is all it really is.

Off to eat chocolate and chicken, most likely in that very order. Happy April!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A New Store in Town

Just to let everyone know, my good friend Sarah and her soapmaking Goddess friend Alysia are opening up a cool new store. I went over there today to help them out for a little while, and it is a great space. The store is an herbal pharmacy....all those things you have a hard time finding, like homeopathic Caulophyllum 200, helichrysum essential oil, or pokeroot? You'll find 'em there. There are also great body/hair/baby products, along with Alysia's (Savon Populaire) soap, and Applecheeks cloth diapers (which are truly amazing). It's going to be a fun place to come shop and chat with people EXTREMELY knowledgeable about the products they sell. Sarah has been an herbal healer for nearly a decade, and Alysia has been making soap and teaching soapmaking to people for a long time. They're both nursing moms and carry their little ones around in Ergos while they paint, stock, make calls to suppliers, organize, etc. They are remarkable.

The store is called L'essentiel et les petits riens..... You'll find them on 273 St. Zotique between Henri Julien and Alma, just a hop away from Beaubien Metro. They're having a 5 a 7 to celebrate the grand opening on Thursday, April 8th.

Please come support our local merchants/craftspeople. These are people who deserve success. Hope to see you there!

Their website is:

Top 50

I woke up to some nice news. A nice lady from informed me that I was listed in the top 50 blogs for midwives. It's organized so that midwives are first, organizations are next, nurses are next, then doulas are at the end. I am proud to be in the "doula" section. After all, where else would I be? I was super happy to see my favourite blogger The Navel Gazing Midwife up there.

My talk with author Holly Dressel was lovely yesterday. She thought, "Hey! They should have doulas for EVERYTHING you have to do in a hospital!" Wouldn't it be great too, if you were terrified at the dentist, to have a nice lady hold your hand and let you know your fears were acceptable and that they would be tended to? The word "doula" (even though I just can't vibe with this word itself, always knowing the true meaning of it is "bonded slave") embodies the essence of support, tending, and love. In any case, I think I gave an accurate description of what doulas do and what we're about.

I simply could not imagine doing anything else.

Thanks to one Ms. Jasmine Hall for sending me the kudos.