Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Shopping Nightmare

Yes, I am working on a blog about Madagascar, but in the meantime, life still happens.

I had very little scheduled today besides checking out a space for the potential future MotherWit Headquarters (which, by the way, looks like it just might work out great), so decided to do the dreaded dress shopping excursion I have been putting off. It has been knawing at me like a toothache that won't go away, so I figured I'd get it over with. My sister Jennifer is getting married to her lovely man Jon in a couple of weeks. They are coming here all the way from England with my delicious little nephew Antony so we can share in their special event. I'm thinking this occasion warrants some fancier duds than I usually wear. Usually, I'll buy a little stretchy wrap from H&M, those being just about the only things that fit me from that store, but my sister's wedding is worthy of something a little more special.

I have to say that I abhor clothes shopping. I am not the type of person things fit easily. I am 5 foot and half an inch soaking wet, with a very wide rib cage, a postpartum tummy (nobody has to know that I haven't had a baby in over 5 years), barely any hips or bum, and boobs that are over DD. I refuse to even know how much higher in the letter scale they go, but let's just say that for my frame, they are big. Shopping for clothing is a freakin' nightmare. Especially when I'm looking for dresses, as my waist is size 6 to 8, my hips size 2 to 4, and my top at least size 10 for tailored shirts, even though it's not even possible for me to wear buttoned things. If it buttons in front, it will be laughably huge in the shoulders, back, and sides. Shopping makes me feel misshapen, and feeling misshapen makes me feel angry. Not at my shape, which I'm happy enough with, but with the people who make dresses.

I traipsed all along St. Catherine Street, popping into this place and that, marvelling at how slim the pickings were for appropriate dresses. They either looked like they were made for prom queens, club chicks, or dowagers. There was nothing in between for a 40 something, reasonably concerned with style person. Nothing I liked, anyway. I usually depend on Winners to get me through difficult shopping sprees, but trips to 3 different Winners yielded nothing. BCBGs clothes all looked like sparkly candy. Betsy Johnson had cute stuff, but holy high price tags, Bat Man! Mexx and Tristan all looked business casual. Everything else was in shades of black and gray or were ridiculously strapless. I just don't have enough interesting accessories to spruce up these colours, which don't generally look so hot on me anyway unless I'm striving for Jaundice Chic.

Even Mango had nothing to offer. Then I found Olam. Right away 3 cute, interesting, well cut, reasonably priced little dresses popped into my vision to say "hello". A nice young sales lady took my finds to the changing room. Finally, feeling confident I would find something wonderful, I went to the changing room....only to find they did not have mirrors inside! On PRINCIPLE I will NOT buy clothing from places that don't have mirrors hidden privately away inside the changing cubicles. I will NOT emerge from these tiny caves of furtive clothing tranformation to bare my unchecked, lumpy underwear-ed and dingy bra strapped self to a store full of onlookers. It is not that I'm that vain. It's just that I think this is the sneakiest, most underhanded way of insisting you are "cared for" (sales pitched) by a sales person probably hustling for commission. And I strongly object! I do not WANT the store to assign me an "ooher" and "aaher" (despite what's really going through her mind), or an accessory draper whose favourite colour is puce. If I have my own private shopping doula with me, like my friend Nat, she fulfills that role for me, but with honesty. I refuse to have some stranger oggling my body and making suggestions without my express consent. When you have no mirror to look into privately and must come out to be viewed by the awaiting sales person and any other stragglers who are dragged along with other dress seekers to "shopping doula", you don't have much of a choice about the matter without sounding like a bitch.

I asked the lithe, perfectly decked out girl who was young enough to be my daughter if there was a changing room with a mirror. She said, "No, but I can hold the mirror up in front of the cubicle if you want so you don't have to come out." Yeah, like that wouldn't look to everyone observing like some person too unconfident to come out of her hidey hole! That just makes people want to oggle even more. Besides, given that she was tiny and the mirror was about 7 feet tall, I felt doubtful. And pissed off. Nothing against the girl, as she didn't design the store or make the rules and is, after all, just trying to make a living. So I kindly said, "No thanks," and left. Too bad for them. I would have shelled out some cash. Alas.

I wandered along the street feeling glum. Surely there must was an affordable, not too ugly dress that fit me SOMEWHERE in Montreal? Though I kept meaning to grab the Metro and head for home, something kept pulling me to the final Winners on the strip. I didn't want to go. I resisted, knowing another attempt to find something there was futile...yet why did I feel compelled?

I dragged my feet into the Alexis Nihon Mall Winners for one last look. I went to the dress rack that in the other Winners yielded absolutely nothing cute or interesting. And lo and behold, several sweet little numbers looked somewhat appealing. I had not seen in them in the other stores. I took 4 different dresses in varying sizes. I always have to try a few. I took them to the changing room (WITH mirrors...bite ME, Olam) and became very discouraged when everything made me look heinous. Then I tried on the very last one...a black and white Calvin Klein dress with wide shoulder straps, a high waist, and pencil-y skirt...all things Stacey and Clinton say are good for people with my shape. And wouldn't you know...BAM! Except for a teeny little adjustment that will need to be made in the strap to make it smaller, it fit my monster boobs, it fit my rib cage, it camoflauged my post baby belly (I will claim that until Finn is 40), and came just below my knees. And it was less than I thought I was going to have to pay for a dress appropriate for my sister's wedding.

I could have cried with relief! I called my husband right then and there in the changing room, jumping up and down saying, "I found it, I found it!" He wasn't sure what I was talking about at first, but when I clued him in, I knew he was extremely glad to hear I had found something, thus eliminating a wasteland of weeknights of him having to trek through stores with forced cheer, me trailing in an absolute funk of dejection, listening to my arguments to convince him that I am simply not made to wear nice clothes. I felt like we had just bought hours of time and spared us nights of heartache.

So that was my day. Ladies, if we all refuse to shop in stores that don't allow us the right to look at ourselves in the mirror privately, thus allowing us to choose whether or not we want to reveal ourselves, practices would change.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Madagascar Diary: On our Way

I woke up on the morning of September 2nd with a feeling I usually get in my gut before I travel anywhere. It's a slight feeling of unease, like maybe I shouldn't have planned this trip in the first place. Maybe I'm not made for this. Maybe I should cancel. Maybe I should continue to live my white bread life in the suburbs of Montreal. I was leaving for Madagascar. How the heck did that happen? Who thought I was cut out for this?

I was already all packed, so I burned off the pre-flight jitters by writing a bunch of receipts for my clients that were long overdue. Finally, it was time to go.

My husband and little son drove me to the airport and dropped me off at the Air France departure area. As we approached the Dorval Airport, an amazing feeling overtook me. Instead of anxiety, I felt an overwhelming sense of happy anticipation. This is unsual for me, as I'm usually a wreck before flying off somewhere. I admit I am a neurotic traveller. So leaving for a country like Madagascar should have had me in paroxyms of panic. But I wasn't. Instead, I just felt really excited.

I met with my companions Dr. Deborah Goldberg, Sarah Hunter, a friend who usually lives here in Montreal and practices midwifery when she lives in the US, and her baby daughter Keelia. Everyone was in good spirits as we navigated our way around. We had a lot of baggage. We had our own clothes and gear like sleeping bags, as well as a fair bit of midwifery equipment, rain gear for the Malagasy midwives, 400 bottles of donated children's vitamins, and every nook and cranny crammed with women's and children's clothing we had purchased at the Salvation Army. Some of our bags were slightly over the allowed limit, so we had to do some creative redistributing. One of our bins was extremely heavy, and we had to pay $300 to check it.

I was a little worried when we had to take out all our liquid objects and put them in a clear plastic baggie for examination, because I had lots of herbal tinctures and essential oils with me. But nobody cared, as nothing added up to over a litre. Phew. I would not like to have flown without my Motherwort tincture or dealt with stomach issues without oregano oil.

Finally, we waited to board. Every once in awhile one of us would say, "Oh my God...we are actually going to MADAGASCAR!" After all the dreaming, planning, organizing, fundraising, meeting, packing, and arranging, we were finally about to accomplish what we had set out to do: fulfill the wishes of the members of Taratra Reny sy Zaza, an organization of women and children in the area of Mahatsinjo, Madagascar. The facilitator of this project, Karen Samonds, asked these women if they would be interested in having any friends she knew from Canada to come out there and do some workshops discussing nutrition, health and environment, family planning, general health, goals for their future, as well as provide training for the local traditional midwives to increase their skill level. They seemed excited by the prospect, as their community definitely experiences a lot of health issues. That put the wheels in motion. So there we were with bells on, ready to board the plane. not knowing exactly what we were in for, but so grateful to have the opportunity to do whatever we could. We didn't really know what to expect, but we were willing to share whatever information and skills we had to help improve the lives of these people Karen and her husband Mitch have alway spoke of with great fondness.

None of us could stay for very long. Deborah is a family doctor who focuses on maternal/newborn care. She has been catching babies for about 7 years. Sarah is part of a co op that sells soap and natural products, and spends much of her life helping to run the store and tending to a new child. I have my own children at home and many clients counting on my presence at their birth. Our trip would be 10 days, though with the immense amount of travel time required, we would only really have about 5 days and six nights in the forest doing workshops. A crazy whirlwind endeavour, for sure, but what is life if not for a little adventur

Right away it was apparent that as travelling companions, we were all going to get along well. Sarah and I have been friends for years, so I knew that wasn't an issue, but it was clear immediately that Deborah was really open, willing, positive, and supportive. We all clicked, and am happy to say that the vibe remained that way throughout the trip, with each of us lending support to each other whenever we could. Sarah and I have our schtick after years of adventures together. We normally speak together with every second word being four lettered. We bitch about stuff a lot. We laugh at radom things other people wouldn't understand and have inside jokes. We've experienced things in our work as birth attendants and general lives that would make the average person faint and doctors cringe. And Deborah took it all in stride. She comes from a very different background altogether. She is a medical professional. She is stable and contained. Not that Sarah and I are unstable, but neither of us have exactly led the white picket fence existence nor had our young lives shaped at the bosom of a Clever like family . Deb has, and as a result is a naturally easy going, confident, grounded, practical, focused person. An upstanding citizen, even. And good on her for that. For whatever reason, our co-existence worked. We respected each others' values and differences, and came out of our time together with an even higher regard for each other than when we went in. This is a rare and precious thing. Nobody chose to get caught in any conflict of ideals or of judgements, and as a result our combined respect, efforts and resources made our work together far more powerful.

Because Sarah had Keelia and a cane (her hip gets messed up sometimes, so she brought it in case she needed help walking), she was always moved up to the front of the line. Deborah and I figured we would take turns pretending they were our wife and child. We got a little cocky, thinking we'd get some special treatment along the way. HA! Did I tell you we were traveling Air France? If you would like to sit back and watch some of the weirdest, rudest, snottiest service ever, just grab a flight with Air France. This in no way reflects upon the one or two lovely individuals throughout our entire trip who were actually kind and considerate, but as a whole, the experience was so shocking I had to laugh. I don't meant to be ungrateful, as they did get us to our destinations safely and in once piece, but not without us being horribly treated, dehydrated, and half starved. I am not one to complain much about things like service, as I tend to be pretty easy going...but wow. It was something else.

We kept to ourselves mostly through the first leg of the trip, which ended in landing at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. You kind of have to prounounce the name of this airport fast,as if it were all one word, the "s" on "Charles" being silent, the "Ch" said as "Sh", the "e" at the end of Gaulle being pronounced as if you had just been tapped in the gut, all the while with your lips pursed as if you had just laid eyes on someone behaving rudely. I watched a couple of supremely bad movies, listened to some music, and was constantly aware of being very thirsty with no offers of water coming our way. The flight attendants all wore a nauseating amount of perfume. This should not be allowed, a flying tin can full of smelly neurotoxins. They also had this thing where they would act totally pissed off at you because you were too stupid to intuit their protocols. For example, at one point I wanted some coffee. The woman held out a tray that contained milk and sugar. I tried to take some milk and sugar and practically had my hand smacked off. "NON!" I got scared. What was I doing wrong? Was I breaking some sort of ancient French custom? I was being looked at with loathing and contempt that should only be reserved for someone who has done something really awful, like farted loudly in church. My heart started palpitating. Beads of sweat broke out. Then I realized I was supposed to place my cup upon the tray for the flight attendant to fill it. I complied, but in my nervous state flubbed up and put my hand on the whole tray as if to take it, not just the cup on it. "MADAME!" was shot at me like a freakin' bullet. I forgot that I could speak French and had enough word skill to verbally eviscerate her 'til Tuesday if I so chose. But I was just so surprised at the level of vehemence over something so small, I was silent. Meek, even. She left in a cloud of indignation at being affronted by our North American idiocy, and I drank my coffee, feeling like I wore a mark of shame tatooed on my forehad. Sarah looked at me with her eyes and mouth wide open in disbelief. Ah, this is but one example.

We arrived at Charles de Gaulle at about 4am Paris time and had to wait about 6 hours to board the 10 hour flight to Madagascar. Keelia was awake and running around. We found a little playground area and hung out there. As shops in the airport opened, we popped our heads in. We washed and brushed our teeth in the bathroom, and had some tea in a cafe. Keelia ran around, flirting shamelessly with other travellers.

After awhile, it was time to hang out at the boarding area. We thought the plane would be mostly full of Madagascar natives, but mostly, the travellers seemed to be white tourists from different parts of Europe. There were a couple of interesting characters: A Malagasy nun carrying a colourful statue of Jesus with its hands all bandaged up....a very churchy looking family with several little girls with braided blonde pigtails....an extremely grumpy man who looked at all the children waiting to board as if they were loathesome, even though he had about three of his own in tow. Finally, we boarded, ready to endure another onslaught of Air France brand hospitality.

Deb had sneezed at least 100 times at the airport...possibly the result of too many perfume fumes....and decided to take some decongestant before boarding. As a result, she practically fell asleep in her food when it came. Because it was very early morning in my stomach's time, there was no way I was going to be able to eat the heavy meal they wanted to give me, so I refused it. Sarah and Deb kindly grabbed a couple of pieces of bread and cheese off my tray to save for me for later. We tried to sleep, but all Sarah and I really did was shift consciousness a little. Keelia remained a great sport, and finally slept a bit. I had headphones in my ears while she apparently had a small freakout.

Every once in awhile we would check where we were. It was amazing to know when we were flying over the Nile, or directly over Kilamanjaro. It was all very strange to us that we were actually over the continent of Africa. As the time came closer to land, we got more and more excited. Like SUPER excited! As we landed we were all practically holding hands with giddiness, bouncing on our heels the way children do. When you get out of the plane in Madagascar, you go down a bunch of stairs and land directly on the tarmac. The first thing I noticed when I stood in the doorway of the plane was the sweet scent of woodsmoke, a smell I had always loved. That smell would permeate our lives for the next week. The feeling of the air was cool and still. We had arrived. I took a couple of photos, but the airport people clearly objected for some reason, so I put my camera away.

We had been told before we left that a guy named Shady would tend to us when we got there. Yes, Shady. Of course, when we saw him and he turned out to be a pretty skinny dude, we called him Slim Shady, and in our sleep deprived state sung a lot of "Na na na NA na na." Before Shady came on the scene, though, we had to get visas. Again, because Keelia was in our presence, we were forwarded to the front of the line. We were a little nervous that the guy who led us there grabbed our passports and took them away from us for inspection, but that seemed to be the protocol. We received our passports with the visas completed, then went off to wait for our bags, which took forever. Even Slim Shady was getting impatient.

As we got out of the arrivals area, we met up with Karen, who looked fabulous in her purple Lilla P wrap. Finally, with all our many bags in tow, we went through customs, and thanks to Shady, nobody even questioned what we had with us. For all they knew we could have been smuggling heroin. But when we said the bin was full of children's vitamins, they didn't question. Yay, Shady! We could have been held up there for an awfully long time given all our stuff.

Jean Luc, a founding member of Sadabe, (Karen and Mitch's organization), who was born and lives in Madagascar, was in the parking lot to meet us with a truck. We packed our stuff in, then Deb and I went back inside the airport to change some our money into Malagasy Ariary. 2000 Ariary equals about $1. Given the amount of mosquitos flying around, I was very happy I had chosen to take Malarone.

Finally, we were off to the house just outside of Antananarivo Karen, Mitch, and their girls Anne and Evelyn rent for when they are not living in the forest. We were all completely exhausted. It was interesting seeing bits of the capital at night with everything closed. Karen's house is right beside a cell tower. It is nestled beside a larger home. In the parking lot were broken down tourist buses. In the house was Jean Luc's wife, who is due to have her first baby in December. We greeted her and learned that the Malagasy do 3 cheek kisses, as opposed to our Montreal 2 kisses. There was a child sleeping on the couch, and when she woke up she looked excited to see us. "Salama!" she greeted with enthusiam.

In Karen's house there is a living/dining room. There is a sink for washing up, and in a teeny little room a stovetop to cook on. There is no fridge. There is a bathroom with a sink, toilet, and porcelein square with a drain to bucket shower over. There is no hot water, and the running water stops frequently, necessitating a bucket of water dumped into the toilet to flush it. There is electricity, but it apparently goes off a lot. Upstairs, there are two rooms to sleep in. Karen led us to a room with a double mattress, and a little sleeping nest set up on the floor. We eyed them gratefully. As Karen was explaining that we would get to sleep for about 4 or 5 hours before heading off to the forest early in the morning, her elder daughter Ann woke up.

Ann exudes pure love. She has big blue eyes like her daddy's and a face that expresses joy with ease. She ran into the room practically wriggling with glee to see us. I took her into my arms giving her a big snuggle. Evelyn toddled into the room soon after and it was so good to hug children. I felt pangs of missing my own. I realized that all three children in the room were babies I had seen born. I never forget what an honour that is, and what a bond that creates. We all settled down to grab some sleep, the happy sound of nursing, cosleeping toddlers filling the air, anticipating a long, busy day tomorrow.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Happy Addendum

I just heard that Kandy and Vince had their baby this morning...natural birth, perfect latch. Thanks to MotherWit Doula Steph Bouris and MotherWit apprentice Andrea Legg for their superb, reliable support. All unfolded as it should have.

I'm Baaaaack!


I thought I'd let y'all know that I am back from Madagascar, safe and sound. I am firmly out of commission until tomorrow evening, but thought I'd send out a little update.

I am experiencing a level of jet lag that is making me want to crawl out of my own skin. I have already had a couple of lessons thrown my way since I got back, too. Yesterday I found out that, as is typical when I go away for any length of time,a couple of people were either in or threatening labour. My first reaction is always to say, "Oh, well, forget about that day off for recovery, I'll just go to those births." But when my beloved neighbour drove up beside me yesterday while I was talking to another neighbour on my street and said, "You're back! I'm in labour," I just knew I couldn't do it. To agree would have been stupid. In fact, given that she will be in fantastic hands with any of the MotherWitties who back me up, it would have been an ego based-workaholic-prove to the world I can do anything-extreme endeavour. And who would that serve? Not my beloved neighbour. So I let it go and told her to call upon my backup. I also learned an expecting mother of twins, my third in 2 months who have gone way over their due dates, was being induced yesterday. My backup for that birth asked if I would be going in. Oh, man.

Let me explain. Sleeping in a tent in a surrounding far from any "civilization", where all energy of the people of that area goes towards surviving with limited resources, you learn by observing that there is just no time to wallow in distractions. In Mahatsinjo, Madagascar, tending to the basics of one's life in a focused manner is not just about creating a state of balance, which we First Worlders have the luxury of indulging in or not (if you don't have groceries for supper one day, you can order out, if you don't balance your cheque book, you have overdraft, if you run yourself ragged and become ill, you can get medical care and sick leave), but a matter of staying alive. If I learned anything, it is to tend carefully to my life. Birth attending is a huge part of my life...I adore it and feel it is a calling and a path. But if I were to attend a birth wasted by jet lag, with digestion that, while not exactly "runny", is rather delicate at this moment, worried because one of my travelling companions called me with the report of having rapidly proliferating fleas, and 3 children and a husband who are feverish and coughing and desperately in need of my maternal nourishment, would this be tending to my life? Not really. And truly, it wouldn't be heroically attending the woman either, as what good would I be to her with all this in my presence right now?

I find that whenever I come to an important decision about things, in this case a resolve to make a concerted effort to tend more deeply to what I have in my life rather than allowing work to justify the constant state of distraction and harriedness which has been impinging terribly upon my life, I am tested to put my money where my mouth is. Whatever that means. But there you go. Back to the neighbour pulling up beside me in the car. I had a choice. I know what Pre-Madagascar Lesley would have done. But this time, I took a deep breath, and I let it go. With love and best wishes. With the knowledge she will be better served by another. That she can, indeed, do this without me. With the knowledge that I can be here to help when she's back home. That to allow myself to take proper time to rest and recuperate from an adventure I cannot even begin to describe at this point, is not the self-indulgence of a weakling who can't heroically do whatever is asked of her without boundary, but a necessity....for myself and my family. Today I will tend to my home and my health. I WILL tread gently, depsite the pull, which I accept will always be there, to choose the more harried path which, while making me feel "accomplished" and even "heroic" in the moment, often has extremely depleting repercussions, leaving me in situations of such ungroundedness, that I do things like walk around without an updated Medicare card for literally years, or forget to get my son's birth certificate in time for him to start school, or get shockingly behind in administrative duties, despite the tons of help I have. It is time to tend to my foundation with more focused attention, letting go of the shame over the cracks in it, that shame making the pull to harried distraction more magnetic, thus exacerbating the severity of the cracks. It is all a matter of choice, and this trip, along with the crazy Malaria pill dreams I had (I know Malarone is not supposed to have this side effect as much as Lariam, but I had CRAZY illuminating dreams all the same), showed me that "I just can't manage it," in reference to tending to the basics of my life is a huge freakin' cop out.

I know you're all dying for stories, and I have so many. Every night before I went to bed I jotted down notes so I would remember details. I will take a little time whenever I can to have this adventure unfold, photos included. I have decided this is not just another distraction, as blogging is wont to be on occasion, but an important way for me to process my experience as well as bring attention to the beauty, the ravages, the energy, and the spirit that is Madagascar.

Karen Samonds, the lady responsible for bringing me there, told me when I arrived in the capital city, before heading off to the forest, that this place changes you indelibly...that you don't come back the same. And the tears brimming in my eyes writing that statement speaks to me of its truth. While I am still me, I feel a subtle shift of awareness, a greater capacity to be present without being drawn into the alluring buzz of the constant "business" which I now see clearly to be more about preferring distraction than tending to matters at hand. I have the power to make better choices.

My neighbour Kandy, the very lady who drove up to me in early labour, presented me the day before I left for Madagascar with a quilt she made for me during her many days on bed rest. It is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen, and she made it to thank me for guiding her towards a network of support during a time she and her husband Vince felt like they didn't know how to manage navigating their birth experience through the challenging waters of our hospital system. They knew it would possibly be someone else attending their birth given I was going away, but their gratitude lay in my providing them with solid education and support, with or without me. On the back of the quilt, Kandy stitched a square which quotes Mahatma Gandhi, "If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it, even if I may not have it in the beginning." So thanks to Kandy not only for the inspiration, but for the opportunity to exercise my power of wiser choice.

I am off to experience the sheer luxury of a hot shower. Then, I am going to tend to my home, grateful that I have one to tend to. Then, I am going to make a nice after school snack for my convalescing children, grateful to have the ability to do so, and grateful for well fed, strong immune systems which give them the ability to convalesce. We take these things for granted, yet where I have been lack of nourishment and ability to heal is a reality. I digress. One story at a time.