Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Birth House

Brew of the day: Not just a cup, but a whole pot of raspberry leaf tea a-brewin’ this morning grrrrrlfriends! Drink up… come sit ‘round the table as we chat birth and babies. Breathe in the midwifery herbs of fennel, lavender, marigold and borage hanging in bunches, drying in the kitchen. There’s a thick Autumnal mist here in the valley this morning…bringing a cool chill which surely invites a hot cuppa and good company? Be warned, though, today’s blog is ‘long’...well, you know, even longer than usual!

A few weeks ago I briefly mentioned a terrific novel I’d received for reviewing in The Mother magazine. Today I’m taking part in the Wise Women’s blog tour to celebrate its publication. You can find out more about the tour here

There are times when a book comes along that you really feel should be widely read; that it should be compulsory reading for midwives, doctors, mothers-to-be and anyone connected with remembering the power of birth. The Birth House is one such book. It has so much to teach us, even those of us who think we have the whole women-led birthing thing worked out.

What struck me most about the book was that even though it is set in the early 1900s, apart from technological advances, the truth is that for many women in so- called civilised societies, the same old birth issues still exist. That is, the ‘experts’ of birth are those in white coats. Women, it would appear, don’t know anything about their bodies, even if they’ve birthed eight kids! It’s the doctor who knows when to push, the doctor who tells you what to do…

The experts don’t want women to have a powerful, life-enhancing birth. They want to be seen as heroes, and a hero you can’t be if a woman is squatting in all her powerful glory while pushing her baby out. A hero you can be if she’s flat on her back (in the worst position of all) while you play with your toys (take your pick ~ vacuum cleaner; sword; vicious looking tongs!) and give her a few injections to make it all bearable for her (and limp as play dough for you??). Hero emerges with a badge that has women saying ‘the doctor saved my baby’s life!’. I hear it all too often.

For many women today, things are really not that different to what was starting to happen in The Birth House’s Scot’s Bay. The newly arrived doctor wanted to take the birthing experience away from women as if he was doing them a favour! Now, granted, labour can be pretty intense, but unless a baby is coming out sideways it isn’t something that most women can’t get through. Truly! Some people think (and this includes midwives) that no woman should have to go through pain in this ‘day and age’. Read: we’re civilised, so let’s do this all lady-like, legs shut!! without noise, drama, blood. Let’s keep it clean, sterilised, polite. God, while we’re at it, let’s not even talk about what birth feels like!

It can sometimes feel extraordinarily difficult when you’re so passionate about a subject, to not come across as judgemental. Natural birth, to me, is one of those topics, right up there alongside breastfeeding. One of those topics where, if people simply understood more, they wouldn’t dismiss the ideas as those belonging to earth mothers who have nothing better to do with their time or lives. Caring about how our babes are brought into the world and caring about how their mothers experience this transition does NOT make one judgemental. Rather, it means they genuinely care.

Giving birth to my two daughters has had a huge impact on my life. Their births and birth outcomes were very different, and it is precisely those experiences which have taken me to where I am today, editing The Mother magazine. Perhaps my attitude to birth started by being one of eight children. My mother gave birth to my youngest three brothers at home, unassisted by midwife or doctor. She did this out of choice. If I had ever had another child, this is the path I would take without question.

Bethany was born at home in our bedroom, as planned. Blessed with a hands-off midwife, we birthed our baby gently into the warm water of the birth pool. I deliberately had the room as peaceful as I’d imagined it would be. A few candles, a lamp, essential oils, soft classical music; my husband in the pool with me and holding me in labour, then catching our baby…I couldn’t have asked for it to be any better.

Bethany swallowed some meconium (baby poo) which started coming up after the midwife had gone home. When I phoned her she said to keep breastfeeding and it would help to dilute it, and she’d bring it up. I know now, that a ‘lesser’ midwife or a doctor would have had her in hospital having her stomach pumped. Only about 7% of babies who swallow meconium are actually distressed in birth. There was nothing to indicate stress or trauma for Bethany during her birth.

Her birth shaped me in more ways than one. Sometimes we don’t see how this happens till many years down the road. It made me more sure of myself as a person; as a woman. The ‘process’ of her emerging from my body was incredible. I can still feel the thrill in my body when I opened to release her. It just all happened so naturally, beautifully and peacefully. We laugh when we watch her birth video, because after transition, it doesn’t even look like I’m having a baby. I look more as if I’m in a spa pool waiting for a glass of champagne! I do believe my relaxed state was down to the environment of trust which had been created in our bedroom.

As a child who experienced much sexual abuse, giving birth the way I did healed those wounds more than anything in this world could have (apart from the love of a good man!). The birthing pool acted as a ‘safe’ space. It meant that I was able to be my sexual self (birth is very sexual! ~ think hormones) and open up in a way my body never had, without fear or threat that someone would take advantage of me when I was at my most raw; most vulnerable and most open. This openness isn’t just physical. It’s a psychic space, too. And it is especially the latter that is neglected in medically managed births.

Would I have birthed the same way had I gone down the medical route? Would my body have opened so easily with some strange man (or woman) poking and prodding inside my vagina? With a midwife checking my blood pressure or cervix at regular intervals? Can’t imagine it!

One of the key elements to my pregnancy and birth experience with Bethany is that there was no medical model involved ~ at least to my ‘consciousness’. And this, I believe, is an important point. My midwife, Ruth, always visited our house. It was like having a friend come over for a cup of tea. By the time of the birth she truly was a friend (interesting that the name Ruth means friend). We’d talk homeopathy, essential oils, herbs. She shared waterbirth stories we me. I shared my fantasy of giving birth in a quiet bay with dolphins. She didn’t think I was nuts.

When Eliza decided to pop in my womb we had another midwife. Sian was lovely. There was, however, a distinct difference in midwifery style, in that she worked for a Midwifery Collective (responsible to a team, rather than working independently) and she didn’t come to my home. I went to her ‘office’. In her office there were all sorts of gadgets to measure and monitor pregnancy. And that’s what happened. I was ‘monitored’.

I went from a first, easy-peasy, home birth to being evaluated at each visit. I didn’t know it at the time, I only see it with hindsight, but I went from believing in my body to ‘looking for what might not be right’. She always expressed concern at my blood glucose levels on the pee stick. I ended up sometimes being a bit economical with the truth when I emerged from the loo. Ruth used to tell me ‘not to worry about the glucose, just dilute your fruit juice with water. You’ll be fine.’

Some of our sessions were held at the hospital (even though I was planning a home birth). I remember more than once looking up at a sign that said, “what to do if your baby needs to be resuscitated” and feeling physically ill at the thought of any baby of mine being on that bench and having air pumped into it. It left an indelible image in my head.

Scans, induction…”Veronika, you’re more than 10 days over due. It’s illegal to have a home birth.” (I didn’t know that was bullshit till years later!).

Seventeen days ‘late’…and I began labour in the bedroom. My favourite photo is of Bethany in the birth pool with me! She thought it was wonderful and breastfed all through labour.
My midwife was keen to get me to hospital. I resisted. I was really upset.

“Just for a check up” she said. I knew otherwise. I knew once I was there that was it.
Another distinct difference in midwifery styles was that when Ruth arrived for Bethany’s birth, she left all the ‘medical’ stuff in the lounge room where I couldn’t see it. All she brought into the birthing room was herself.

For Eliza’s birth my bedroom changed instantly into a labour ward with gas bottles and all sorts of stuff.

In hospital, Sian was keen to break my waters. She wanted things to speed up.
Well, they certainly sped up. Hindsight, can’t you just kick it up the arse for arriving so late?
Eliza wasn’t ready to come at that moment in time. OK, on a spiritual, metaphysical level, everything happens perfectly, in Divine Order…but in terms of labour and her birth journey, the waters should have been left intact so she could make her descent easily.

The quick labour which followed was intense. I birthed in the hospital birthing pool but everything felt different. I was aware of being watched by two ‘nervous’ midwives…aware of being under pressure to ‘just get on with it’. I also lay back into Paul’s arms instead of leaning forward. I was in that position so they could see what was going on. Hindsight. Aggh.
Eventually she started to crown but I knew, I KNEW that it was not right. She just wasn’t coming out like Bethany did.

Sian started to panic. “We’ve got to get this baby out NOW.” She ordered me to get my leg up out of the birthing pool. Eliza’s shoulder was stuck. Sian got her out. Immediate panic raced through that room like a hurricane. Hospital staff were called in for the *blue* baby.

Eight and half years later I still cry when I relive her birth. I cry because it was avoidable. I cry because I left behind my sense of belief in birth when I believed, instead, in a midwife who followed the system. I cry because I know it has had a huge impact on who Eliza is, as a person.

Despite my carefully scripted birth plan, my baby was pumped with Vitamin K and other chemicals/drugs. Her lifeless blue body lay on the resusc. table. Adults swarmed around her. I lay immobilised on another bed while something was injected into my leg to release the placenta. “What the hell was that?” Funny, or not, how all your written agreements with a midwife can go out the window.

“Is my baby dead? Is my baby dead?!” No one would answer me. I felt so impotent. I was just a couple of metres from my baby yet unable to touch her; to hold her. No cry. No breath. Poor old Paul. He was standing beside her, in his underpants, dripping wet from the birth pool. “Sing to her! Sing to her!” was all I could say to him. And bless him, he did. I would say those few minutes must have been the most difficult of his life ~ watching our dead baby, lifeless.

My mum had been recording the birth and kept the camera rolling ~ thank God, because it really was an eye opener to later see what happened in that room.

For some reason I’ll never understand, one of the hospital staff gave Eliza a drug which should only be given if the mother has had drugs in labour. Clearly they thought every mum had drugs! The thing was, because I hadn’t, the drug was contra-indicated and it caused her lungs to produce fresh, frothy blood.

We were then transferred to the National Women’s Hospital. While they were getting the ambulance ready, I was able to hold my daughter for a few minutes. The eye contact we made was unlike anything I’d every experienced in my life. Eliza and I had travelled over in the same ambulance but she was separated from me and taken to SCBU and then NICU. They wouldn’t let me in with her while they put in all sorts of needles and tubes. I was distraught. They couldn’t understand why I was so upset. “But my baby is in there, I can hear her screaming!” The staff just didn’t get it! As her mother, I had no purpose there. There was ‘nothing you can do. Let the staff do their job. You can go home.’ Needless to say, once we were able to get to her, we never left her side!

Paul had driven himself across the city ~ I don’t know how as he was in as bad a state as I was. When we arrived…well, the next few days were hell on earth. I’d gone from believing my baby was dead to watch her attached to every machine known to man; stuck in a plastic box, with me unable to hold her or breastfeed her.

So much about her start in life was avoidable. Avoidable by me having a different consciousness. And avoidable by the medical profession learning to ask questions instead of making assumptions! Much of her ‘treatment’ was based on them assuming she’d gulped in water during the birth and so was prone to a lung infection. Her face never even made it in the water! (And if it had, babies don’t suck in water at birth).

Her birth, though emotionally traumatic and painful, makes me a very powerful advocate for change. It drives me to push for gentle birth.

Birth is a fundamental rite of passage for the mother and baby. It is, without doubt, one of the most physically challenging things we will go through in life, regardless of how gentle it might be.

Emerging through the birth canal, from relative darkness, to light; feeling the labour as a massage against our skin, is a journey Nature designed us to make. Going through this experience prepares us for life in our physical body. There are rare (very rare) times when, for the sake of the baby and mother, a caesarean is indeed a necessary and life-saving operation. We live in a culture which suggests that 1 in 4 babies or more are at risk of dying if they’re not brought out in this way. We’re teaching our daughters that birth isn’t natural. We’re taking away the one time in a woman’s life when she really discovers who she is in a way that no other life experience can come close to matching.

If we think it miraculous to conceive a baby (which clearly it is), this almost pales into insignificance compared to the feeling when we’ve birthed our babies rather than have them delivered from us.

Our culture is one where people can play ‘pretend’ God. There was a time, not so long ago, that we didn’t have the Hero’s tools to ‘save’ babies or mothers if something went wrong in childbirth. Now, because of advanced technology it would ‘appear’ that we have changed the mortality rate. But I wonder.

Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but I do believe that if a baby/mother is meant to survive the birthing experience, then surely that destiny is going to happen with or without the Hero’s toolkit? Just because we live in 2006 doesn’t mean your baby will survive, if that isn’t the life path it has chosen.

None of us really know the ‘why’ of some life experiences. What I do know is that every one of us on the planet, goes through the experiences of birth and death ~ that much is guaranteed. And for some people these major experiences are often key times of spiritual growth. We do every mother an injustice by comparing births as if it is a competition. That should never be our focus.

Each birth is unique and every incoming soul has its own journey. Our job, as mothers or birth care ‘professionals’ should be to aid the transition from soul life to physical life, however that baby co-creates the experience. A woman’s spiritual growth is as valid through trauma and tragedy as through joy and triumph.

My passion for natural birth is really about gentle birth. The Californian Crime Commission found that crime rates are significantly higher in those who had a violent/medically managed birth. There is so much truth in the statement that ‘peace on Earth begins with birth’.
Midwives like Miss B. and Dora in The Birth House, help women to find the power within themselves, their only other aid being from plants that grow in the garden or woods, and the soft, sweet words of another woman. A wise woman.

There is no price you can put on this support. There is, however, a very high price though, when inviting the Hero to your birth party. And it isn’t just counted in £$£$.

Disempowered births, aka medically managed and controlled births, are BIG MONEY. Not for the mother, clearly, but for the HERO. There is no incentive in our medically managed birth culture to empower women to birth as nature intended. I am in awe of midwives who come quietly to birth; who know that the birthing ritual isn’t about them. I love a midwife who can come into the birthing room and sit on her hands. She is priceless. Egoless midwifery is very much needed. Sadly, many midwives these days are stand-in doctors in terms of tools, pressure and bullying.

The Birth House has quite a number of characters in it, as you would expect, given the nature of the story ~ midwifery in a community. Some characters have you wanting to wrap your arms around them...and then there are the doctor and Dora’s husband…the sort of men you’d quite happily you’d elect take a knife to… ahem, say no more!

I asked the author, Ami Mckay, who lives in Canada, what/who inspired The Birth House?

Ami: A little over six years ago, I moved into an old farmhouse on the Bay of Fundy. It's in a village called Scots Bay, a beautiful place with about 250 year-round residents. It wasn't long before I was pregnant...and when I started to show, the older women in my community began to share the history of my house with me.

Although we didn't know it when we bought the place, the house had once belonged to the community midwife, Mrs. Rebecca Steele. She not only went out to women's homes to assist with births, but she invited mothers to come to her home for childbirth and "confinement”. She was quite a midwife and a healer, and she insisted that the women stay at her home for at least a week after a birth, and let everyone in the village know that they needed to have the mother's house clean and prepared for the homecoming of mother and baby (or sometimes, babies.)

I was so inspired by this history of the community surrounding every child's birth that I chose to have a midwife assisted birth at home, in "The Birth House" of Scots Bay. It was a beautiful day for my whole family and the women of the community carried on Mrs. Steele's traditions and took care of me for weeks after the birth, bringing food to the house and helping with anything I needed. Not long after my son's birth, I began the first notes that would later become The Birth House.

Veronika: Do you have a favourite chapter? Why?

Ami: I tend to write in 'scenes', and there are many scenes in the book that I am deeply connected with, for very different reasons. The telling of Mabel's birth is probably the one that is closest to my heart, since it is somewhat based on my son's birth. The baking of groaning cake, the support of friends and family, the gentle and confident wisdom of the midwife, Miss B., reflect the energy and joy that was in the house that day.

Veronika: Do you feel we are any further ahead in birth autonomy than the women in The Birth House?

Ami: I'd like to hope so, but sometimes I wonder. My first birthing experience was in the States, and to be honest, I didn't even know that midwifery was still being practised. I felt almost completely out of control in the labour was induced, one intervention led to another, and by the time the OB whipped a vacuum extractor out, there were three other OBs who had come in to crowd around my vagina (because they'd never seen an extractor used.)

My baby had a lot of hair on his head, they couldn't get the extractor to form suction and there was talk brewing of a c-section. The labour nurse finally whispered in my ear..."It's now or never. Ignore them and PUSH!" The baby came out with the next push, and "all was well"... Of course, over the years in talking with other women who have gone through similar experiences, I kept hearing the same thing; the women felt scared, they felt they had little say in what happened, it wasn't what they had wanted or hoped for, and in the end, they thanked the doctor because mother and baby came out fine and 'all was well.'
After my experience with my second birth - with a midwife, at home, with the incredible support of family and community - I realized that every mother and child deserves to have a sense of community around birth. In that sense, we still have work to do!

Veronika: You mentioned having a copy of Jeannine Parvati Baker's book, Hygeia's Herbal, on your desk as you wrote The Birth House. What place do you feel herbs have in modern births?

Ami: For me, herbs have a place in my life as a whole. Pregnancy and birth is no exception. There is much strength and healing that can be gained from the use of herbs throughout a pregnancy, during a birth, and post-partum. The beautiful raspberry leaf immediately comes to mind. What a wonderful thing it was to find wild raspberry canes tangled in the far corners of our land when we arrived! I've seen a naturopath work closely with a midwife, and I'm convinced the wisdom and healing power of herbs is needed more than ever. Thanks to women like Jeannine Parvarti Baker, this wisdom will live on.

Veronika: I really loved the character Miss B. Was she based on a living midwife?

Ami: Thank you! I love her too. Her 'voice' was one that simply arrived in my imagination, fully formed. (And she wouldn't leave me alone!) She's not based on any one woman, but more of a mixture of wise, outspoken women from my family and my past. Grandmothers, mothers, neighbours, friends.

Veronika: There are some incredibly moving moments in the book. When writing them, were you completely immersed in the emotion or were you able to detach yourself from your characters?

Ami: While the characters aren't 'me' or even specific people in my life, they did become a part of me. Some I cared for more than others, and it was very hard to put them into difficult situations. But, as in life, we often have to face adversity in order to grow. Much like an actor tries to immerse him/herself in a role, I did my best to immerse myself in the historical context of the book through research, and immerse myself in the emotional context of the characters by meditating on a situation. In my opinion, characters must be true to themselves, and as a writer, I have to be true to them as well. I can't think about what I would do in their situation, but only what choices they would ultimately make.

Anyone reading The Birth House would assume you had an in-depth knowledge of midwifery and the role of herbs in birth. Where did you gain these insights?

Ami: Some things, especially when it came to herbal remedies and healing, came to me from my mother, and her grandmother, and on through our family traditions. I've also been very fortunate to have had several wise women come into my life over the years. One was a neighbour when I was in university. Another was a friend I made when I moved to Nova Scotia. My experience with the midwife who assisted at my son's birth played a large part, as well as a dear friend who is a midwife/osteopath. Written treasures like Hygeia's Herbal, as well as guides to native plants of Nova Scotia, served as inspiration as well. Typing all this out just now makes me realize what the phrase "life's work" truly means!

Veronika: If you were casting a famous actress for the lead of Dora, who would you choose and why?

Ami: That's a tough one. Dora is 17 when the story begins, so it would have to be a fairly young actress who could transform into what Dora becomes by the end of the novel. Not to say I wouldn't LOVE to see a film version, but it would take an actress with a wide range of skill to play Dora. Sometimes I think the role might be best suited to a young woman who is unfamiliar to movie goers.

Veronika: I don’t want to give too much away about The Birth House for those who’ve not yet read it, but there are so many scenes that really stay with you.

Two of them, for me are: 1. the vibrator scene. I laughed so hard when I realised what was going on. It’s just not something you associate with women in that time in history. I really did have a good belly laugh!

2. When Dora gets married there was the issue of what to wear. Dora was the first girl born in five generations…and well, the women just didn’t keep their wedding dresses. What was the point? They simply cut them up and made baptismal dresses for their sons. I was moved to tears at the love that went into creating the wedding dress from …gosh, I better not say. Let’s just say it was very special. OK, ok…it’s a novel. It’s not real! Or is it? That’s the thing with The Birth House. You keep catching yourself wondering if it is someone’s autobiography. It’s rich, raw, honest.

I also love the sense of community around Dora; the love of the women in her area ~ you get a real sense of that bond.

I was challenged a lot by the marriages in the story mostly because I know that for many women today, their relationships are pretty appalling. Not much change there, either. Somehow it made the relationship Dora has with Hart even more special. Honest.

A primary theme of The Birth House is the sense of community amongst the women; the support, love and practical help needed during and after a birth being vital to an effective start on the parenting journey. For many women in our culture this is sadly lacking, and I can’t help but wonder if rates of Postnatal Depression would drop drastically if we were nurtured fully and thoroughly in those first weeks after birth.

Thank you so much Ami! I thoroughly enjoyed The Birth House and plan to put a few copies into birthday and ‘birthing’ stockings! Congratulations on such a page-turning novel. When I started it, I simply didn’t move until it was finished. My husband had a begging tone in his voice when he asked if he could put the light out in the deep of the night. There is no higher accolade for a book. Wishing you all the very best ~ and please, more books like this! If you'd like to go on a tour which includes rants, raves, photos and lovely things like a midwife's herb garden and radical unschooling.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Sound of Silence....and changes at the office!

Brew of the day: Elderflower and Lemon…

This past week my girls spent each day at an outdoor community activity camp in a beautiful field surrounded by purple Heather, a few miles from here, with a sleep over in a yurt on the Thursday night.

*ECO* included river rafting, nature trails, mountain climbing, woodturning and making dream weavers and so on. Weather was utterly miserable and crap, but hey, it is England!

What struck me most was how quiet the house was while they were away. I spend so much time wishing for ‘peace’ to descend that when it actually arrived I didn’t quite know what to do with it. I walked into their bedroom several times just taking in all their things ~ books, toys, bed covers, drawings, hand-made dolls. The old saying about “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” really struck home. Their laughter and their sibling bickering fill the space between these walls. My children make this cottage a ‘home’.

I said to Paul that I actually even missed the kids squabbling! The sleep-over night was their first ever away from us. For my part, it was kinda nice not having to think about feeding anyone that morning…and to just be a bit selfish. As a one off it was ok, but I can’t comprehend the decision to put kids in Boarding School.
I’ve often found it sad to hear mums moaning at this time of the year about how desperate they are to get their kids back to school. Somehow their words feel even worse this year. A week apart from my children has reinforced more than ever how much of their day to day lives we wouldn’t be sharing if they were in school every day.

Yesterday I picked them up during a torrential downpour a few hours earlier than finishing time because they’d had enough. I had a phone call that they were ready for home. I was so looking forward to their company and chatting with them. They were barely in the door before each hitting their pillow and falling into the deepest sleep of their lives for five hours! The snoring did sound kinda cute! Bethany woke for a glass of water then slept through till about 9 this morning.

The office… well, well, the strangest things start happening in a girl’s life when she clears things out big time. I mentioned before about really wanting to simplify my life and de-cluttering in a major way. I’ve cleared a lot of things out to charity…and it feels great!

It never occurred to me when I decided to start a magazine that it came with all sorts of attachments like doing annual accounts to Mr. Inland Revenue or how painful some admin jobs were! Or that I’d constantly have paper ‘stuff’ under my feet. Despite a chunky filing cabinet, sorting trays, shelves and wicker baskets, paper grows around here like trees.

As a girl who likes change and variety, (hence the reason I do a magazine rather than write books!) there are some jobs connected to getting The Mother magazine out each quarter that are not in alignment with my true spirit. I’ve often been aware that I’m doing the job of about six people and those jobs would be done far more effectively if they WERE done by six people, rather than one or two.

Someone Upstairs rather ingeniously came up with a rather amusing situation (in hindsight I see it that way) to relieve me of all those jobs! After the next issue goes out for Autumn, there will be some big changes here at the office.
Instead of it being where everything happens, it will ‘just’ be my creative little laboratory ~ ie, the editorial office.

I’ll be able to focus 100% on putting each issue together without being side tracked by mailouts, chasing up late paying wholesalers or doing accounts. No more being surrounded by paperwork everywhere I turn. I think I picked up the ‘escape from jail’ card. I didn’t truly honour how strongly I felt about that aspect until I saw in black and white what it would be like to just focus on what I love doing.

The publishing side of the business is now owned by the Art of Change and will run from the other end of the country. After the next issue goes out, I’ll never have to pack another envelope or curse at the address labels when they’ve not printed properly, or spend half a day remembering how to get my database into another programme so I can label it the way I want it. Gosh, it might bring an end to my swearing… I’ll never have to think about advertising or promotion again. Someone else is going to ‘enjoy’ all the things I’ve simply not wanted to think about. How groovy is that?!

I remember reading a friend’s online journal about how adamant she is that we should pass on the jobs we don’t like to someone else who does enjoy them, so we can flourish in the areas we do well. I used to secretly feel a bit envious and think this would only happen when I’d won lotto. Well, I can tell you, I FEEL like I’ve won lotto! A huge weight has lifted off my shoulders.

The content of the magazine will continue to evolve and my creative editorial CONTROL (doncha love that word?) is the same as ever. The great news is that from January we’ll be publishing every two months! So, if you already subscribe, expect to see us pop through your door more often.

What I love about the Art of Change is that it is truly an authentic business. I couldn’t have asked for a more aligned energy for The Mother to be nurtured by. Definitely something for my gratitude journal. It’s so easy, when you’ve made a baby, to hold it close and feel so responsible for it and to think that no-one could possibly love it as much as you do or hold it as sacred as yourself.

*Sharing* The Mother with the Art of Change, is like sharing my baby and the sense of relief is huge. The burden of responsibility has eased. Although clearly my husband Paul is completely supportive and helps enormously with TM through proof reading/writing a column and helping at mail-out time, this co-ownership with the Art of Change is like going from being a single parent to having two parents completely nurturing their offspring. In actual fact, there’ll be about 5 or 6 of us now nurturing The Mother in all her expressions.

In my own parenting journey, there have been some jobs I’ve been crap at from day one…like cutting tiny finger nails when the kids were babies (that was Paul’s job); crap at easing them through painful bouts of colic (that was Paul’s job ~ he had a special little colic dance); crap at cleaning child vomit off every item of bed clothing and the twenty steps from bed to bathroom; (saintly Paul takes that on as his job [er, he’s NOT for sale!]); crap at reading fairy tales out loud for more than two minutes ~ I always fell asleep! (that was Paul’s job); crap at taking the girls shopping for clothes or shoes ~ it is almost as bad as doing taxation accounts! (I’m desperate for it to be Paul’s job); crap at diffusing a situation with laughter (that’s Paul’s job); I’m crap at being patient and understanding when I’m exhausted (that’s when Paul takes over). Before you start thinking he does everything, I was pretty good at breastfeeding, and am still good at preparing nutritious meals and going for long walks with the children to have girly chat time. I can read out loud now for hours without falling asleep. Our special mother and daughter treats include popping a DVD of Little House on the Prairie (my fave tv show from childhood) into the computer and snuggling up together to have a good laugh or weep and discussing morals and ethics.

I can easily acknowledge all the parenting skills I lack. In parenting The Mother magazine I simply didn’t have the energy for the admin side. It was draining in more ways than one. Now I’m blessed to have a parenting partner who does have the energy, wisdom, passion, dedication, vision and most importantly, LOVE, to do what I can’t do. Exciting changes ahead….

Watch this baby grow! As someone at the Art of Change would say, "Have the BEST day ever!" ~ Veronika ~

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Simplicity and its ripple effect on others

Brew of the day: fennel. My fennel is a mass of yellow flowers transitioning to seed. Funny how plants don’t question their evolution, they just get on with it.

In the house of my childhood, which my parents built in rural Queensland, Australia, the kitchen was designed with a long ‘breakfast bar’ in the middle, forming an island with all of us kids seated on one side and my mum standing on the other side, facing us, while washing the dishes.

Behind her on the wall were a series of beautiful pieces of writing which she put onto wood and then varnished. From the Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (my favourite writer) was Children, and also Marriage. There was also Desiderata, and Desiderata II. The words of each of these beautiful and poetic pieces of writing are forever etched in my mind. Looking back, it was an incredible gift my mother gave her children. Inspiring words that we’d inevitably read, day in, day out, as we consumed our food that she’d made with love and care.


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,even the dull and the ignorant;they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;

it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs;for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.Especially, do not feign affection.

Neither be cynical about love;for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.

Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labours and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,it is still a beautiful world.Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

I was tidying up during the week when I came across an envelope in between some boxes with Bethany’s handwriting and the words ‘to the poor children’ on the front.

My heart sank. I could only imagine what was inside. Bless her!

I opened it.

Dear Poor Children, If I could do something to help you I would.
Love always, Bethany Angelika Robinson
Ps. I’m so sorry!!

(and a big hand drawn love heart)

Yesterday, out walking hand in hand with her, I talked to Bethany about poor children and their families. I said I donated money each month to help and during my life I’ve sponsored children in Third World countries. She didn’t know I did that and felt some relief. I was surprised myself, that I’d not shared it with her before now, given the girls seem to know every last detail of our lives.

I also shared that sometimes the best way we can help isn’t always by giving money. I shared the analogy of ‘feed a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for life’ (even though we’re vegan!). I explained that there are so many different ways to help the poor and all over the world various organisations were doing such things as building shelters; planting fruit trees; digging wells; providing medicines and food; showing them how to develop crops sustainably, etc.

Ultimately though, those of us living luxurious lives (anyone reading this blog, despite what their bank balance or mine might say, is living a very luxurious life!) can do a lot to shift the balance between where we are and where others are. Today’s blog reflects the small changes we can make in our own life which always go on to have a ripple effect in ways unseen.

'Live simply so that others might simply live!!’ I came across this statement years ago and I always find that it is a good reminder, and if we endeavoured to follow the sentiment, we’d actually find, in the releasing of the need to be greedy, we’d be freer.
Modern lifestyles assume a sense of clutter and going rather over the top with activities which fill in every waking second of the diary, and the incessant gathering of material possessions. So often we think we ‘need’ something, yet the truth is there is truly very little that we do need.

I listened to a radio report yesterday in the wake of the alleged terror alert in Britain, where the discussion focused on what people could take on planes as hand luggage. Essentially you were allowed your passport and credit cards. Passengers were beside themselves and said they ‘needed’ their make-up and their i-pods. Say no more! Personally, I’m still not sure I even know what an I-Pod is, I’m just getting my head around the concept of an MP3 player. Though within a few years these will probably be obsolete as well, and the huge industry which creates these ‘essential’ items will be as responsible as the purchasers for the mountains of them which go to land-fills.

I’m on a de-cluttering mission of my own, right now. When we arrived in the UK seven and half years ago all we had were a couple of suitcases, a couple of toddlers and a ventriloquist doll. Bit by bit we picked up furniture from the auction. The toddlers were exchanged for home educated kids who seem to create STUFF out of thin air! I know compared to most people we don’t have much stuff, yet for me what we do have sends me into a spin. It is so out of proportion to what is necessary. I can fit ALL my clothes into a small basket. My next biggest possession (and great love) is books…I’ve just about narrowed it down to one shelf now. The kids still have a library’s worth, despite my nudging to donate more to charity. Apart from a few special family photos, I could comfortably fit my ‘life’ into one suitcase.

I’m determined to get the contents of my publishing office into a filing cabinet and out of my ‘sight’. I’ve no attachment to any furniture and not-so-secretly love the idea of living in a yurt with nothing more than a few rugs and soft cushions…oh and a bit of incense and candles. I really want to get my family’s ‘life’ to a state of permanent simplicity.

We can reduce the consumption of any material possessions by intuitively choosing pieces that, hopefully, come from renewable resources and can become a legacy rather than one more thing for the landfill.

Personally, I find that using my skills in a job that contributes to the wider community allows me to live consistently with integrity and honesty. I’ve lived with this principle most of my working life, and those few times where I’ve not, have almost certainly been when I’ve engaged in jobs for money and that didn’t nourish my soul. Consequently I didn’t last more than a month!

Some of my greatest joy has been when doing volunteer work, such as Meals on Wheels; Riding for the Disabled, and sitting with lonely, dying people in a hospice. Developing compassion for those more needy doesn’t have to involve money. Giving of your time is every bit as altruistic as writing a cheque for charity.

It was about 20 years ago when I worked for Meals on Wheels. To see the state some of our elderly live in and to know their only contact with the outside world is through organisations such as Meals on Wheels is both sobering and heart breaking. What sort of culture do we live in to allow this to happen? It’s certainly doesn’t strike me as civilised. And it proves without a doubt that poor doesn’t just refer to those in Third World Countries. We need to be conscious of what is on our own doorstep too.

I grew up on a horse stud and taught others to ride when I was a kid myself. Teaching at Riding for Disabled was a natural follow-on when I became an adult. It is so easy to take our mobility for granted. To watch the face of a child with Cerebral Palsy or Downs’ Syndrome when they’re atop of a horse is a picture you don’t easily forget. Nor would you want to.

When I decided to work voluntarily at the hospice, I don’t suppose I knew what I was getting into, until one of the people I’d befriended wasn’t there one day. Just an empty bed! Did I make a difference to that person, or any of them, by my visits? By my reading? By my listening? I don’t know. It made a difference to me though. It opened my heart. Kahlil Gibran writes that “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.”

My life has felt like one big voluntary experience since I became a mother! We don’t get paid monetarily for mothering, do we? The truth is, there is no price you can put on this career ~ this selfless path of challenging ups and downs. It’s a job that no-one can truly give you ‘cover’ for if you have a sick day or need a vacation.

My family choose to honour the natural resources of the Earth and recycle and re-use as best we can. It is all too easy to shake my head in shame at what humanity is allowing to happen to this planet. All too easy to just give in. But I won’t. Till my last day I will nurture, respect and honour her as much as I am able.

Every day I’m feeling my purpose on this planet is moving towards environmentalism. What good are our idyllic parenting lifestyles if we don’t have a planet which can sustain life for our kids? If the kids we bring into this world will grow up having to fight for clean water then what point is there talking & writing about natural parenting as if it were an isolated issue? It isn’t!!! They walk hand in hand. You simply can’t advocate natural, holistic or green parenting if you’re not walking the talk and campaigning for a cleaner world. Why sit back breastfeeding contentedly yet not think of speaking up when our sightless Prime Minister calls for nuclear energy? He may not see the connection between cancer, tumours and those living near nuclear sites like Sellafield, but mothers do.

Mothers will be the revolution and evolution of our species if we are to survive. It will be their Mother Bear ferocious selves that come to the fore…that give them the determination, based on love, to bring forth peace and common sense in all the decisions and choices that affect us all.

Living simply allows us the time and space to nurture the relationships which hold our life together. What price can we put on the love, support and value of friendships or a family member? How tragic that it actually often takes a tragedy before people sit back and recognise what is of importance and meaning in life.

It is too easy to lose my sense of self if stuck inside a building all day. Going for a long walk counts for more than physical exercise. This time allows me to remember my connection to the Divine by witnessing the beauty in the hills; flowers; trees; clouds; insects; birds; suckling calves and watching my own children who, five minutes before might have been pressing my ‘cabin fever buttons’, devour berries along the wooded lanes. Not a day goes by where their joy at discovering berries isn’t less than the joy of finding them the day before! I always marvel at this ‘fresh eyed’ version of looking at the world. Kids have so much to teach us, don’t they?

I use quiet time/meditation, my journal, Pilates, moment to moment awareness and writing to explore my inner self find a place which fills me up so that I may give more out to my family and to the world in which I live. The most important thing out of all this is that by living consciously in the moment I do experience joy, love, peace and wonder. These things aren’t felt so easily when our day to day life is jam packed with meetings and too many things to ‘do’ rather than ‘be’. When we can barely think because our day is overloaded with activities, it never hurts to ask ourselves what we’re running from.

Awareness of my body means that I take a lot of consideration over what healthy, wholefoods to feed myself and my family. The right ‘fuel’ allows us all to enjoy life more fully. Less than adequate nourishment contributes to us being grumpy, tired, weepy and unsociable.

If you want to start living more simply, then you might like to consider the following:

Ethical money is probably something most people don’t consider when looking at their bank balance. Where does your money get invested? Have you asked your bank? Is it used to fund arms or child labour? Why not bank with Triodos bank and support ecological and ethical businesses? How are you spending your money? This paper stuff, these numbers on a balance sheet are representative of your life’s energy. Be honest enough with yourself to write down how much comes in, how much goes out. I know that can be challenging, but it is empowering too. Where is your ‘energy’ going to? The most liberating and positive thing we’ve done as a family financially is to get rid of credit cards, close down our high street bank account (no more horrid fees!!!!) and bank ethically.

Each time you purchase something, ask yourself honestly if you really need it. Is it something you could borrow or rent? Is it renewable?

Advertising is a joker’s game and those who get sucked in are nothing more than fools. The whole industry is based on us being duped into thinking we’re not good enough without a particular item. Resist it, you’re stronger than that!!

Volunteer your time. It can be with a local children’s drama group, or as a friend of mine is doing, go abroad and volunteer. Another friend of mine is going to trek in the foothills of the Himalayas to raise money for kids in orphanages in India. She’s also a chiropractor, and with other chiropractors will be giving free adjustments to as many orphans as they can.

Volunteering is not just about working in a charity shop. There are so many options, locally and globally. Maybe you could do something innovative and set up a soup kitchen for the needy with organic vegetables donated by local growers.

Avoid going shopping! Think of free and more life affirming activities like camping, walking in the woods or playing rounders with your children.

There are lots of things to do besides having a night out of paid for entertainment. Invite friends to bring a meal around and share food pot-luck style. Write to your mum!!; snuggle with the love of your life by the fire side; bake olive and sun dried tomato bread; play the Transformation Game (it’s amazing!). Learn a language.

Think about ditching your car. Do some serious maths and see if you’ll save not only money, but time and frustration by becoming a user of public transport instead. Don’t forget to subtract the impact on the environment.

No need to deny yourself treats and luxuries by any means. Just do so with conscience and consciously. It will make all the difference.

We’re not on this Earth to impress our neighbours. We don’t have to have an equally big car in the driveway or a Jacuzzi or a conservatory in order to fit in. Use your lifestyle changes to educate them! Let your example be an eye opener …

So, these are a few ideas to help you and your family redress the balance which exists in this world. Denying ourselves wealth doesn’t help the poor, living consciously does.

Blessings ~ Veronika ~

Channel 4 are looking for women who are passionate about The Continuum Concept to take part in a new series about childcare.
If you raised your children in this way and would like to help another family to do the same then we want to hear from you
Please contact on 020 79073413 or email
I’ve spoken with Claire and this is a commission based on the history of childrearing over the past 100 years…no trashy tv! Sounds to me like a great project to be involved in. Interestingly I’ve got a piece coming up in issue 19 of The Mother about Hopeful Daughters ~ an insight by film maker Elmer Postle into how each new generation of mothers tries to parent just that bit better.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Holistic Menstruation & Menarche

Brew of the day: Red Rosehip

Books I’ve read this week:

Vibrant Health by Norman Walker
Fresh fruit and vegetable juices by Norman Walker

These two books are my ‘treasures’…Dr Norman Walker lived to well beyond a century and was a living example of vibrant health. His juice book in particular is everything I was looking for in a juice book, giving examples of what juice combinations can heal various ailments. It’s not a recipe book, more like a science class (in a fun way).

The Birth House by Ami McKay

Oh my. It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a novel so much. Set in Canada at the beginning of the 1900s, this book follows the life of Dora Rare who learns the ancient art of midwifery from Miss B.. A doctor comes to town wanting to save women from the pain of childbirth offering an assortment of drugs. When a woman dies during childbirth, Dora is chased out of town. It is the author’s first novel and is nothing short of brilliant. I was completely gripped by the end of the first paragraph. Of course, the parallels between natural birth and medicalised birth are still as evident today, one hundred years later!

Discovering the Okanagan by Jim Couper

The author left Toronto and travelled the world with his wife and child looking for the best place on Earth to live. They ended up back in Canada in the beautiful Okanagan Valley (British Columbia) ~ Canada’s fruitbowl. It has an enviable climate (hot in summer, mild in winter), gorgeous scenery (not dissimilar to the UK’s Lake District) and very friendly, relaxed people.


The Red Box

My dairy says I should be in Yorkshire today officiating a Blessingway Ceremony…Elizabeth’s twins had other ideas however and were born last month. Instead, I’ll spend the day with Paul and our girls discovering another café in Cumbria ~ it’s become our Saturday family ritual. Sometimes great, sometimes very disappointing.

I’m often left stunned as to what people consider to be ‘food’. The city of Carlisle, about 40 minutes drive from here doesn’t seem to possess any wholefood cafes and last week we ate at a café recommended by no less than the owner of the health store ~ the food was abysmal and it explains just why so many people aren’t healthy! Today, I have high hopes for Priest’s Mill in the gorgeous village of Caldbeck. Fingers crossed. I love eating and see each meal as a celebration. I’m always very conscious of the journey it has taken for each mouthful of food to reach my plate. Aware with each bite just how long a fruit or vegetable has taken to grow.

The Blessingway had me reflecting on the lack of ritual and ceremony our lives tend to have these days. We live in spiritually barren times. Very few people consciously take the time or invest the energy in celebrating rites of passage, let alone daily ‘moments’. At any moment of any day, we can choose to make it sacred and holy by being present.

I still remember (how can I ever forget it?) the incredible joy in discovering I was pregnant with Bethany. Birthing her with ease in water, at home in our bedroom by candle light will be etched in my heart and soul forever. And the first time I held her to my breast. Aaaah. Magic. How can a decade have passed already? Her young and tender body is changing…it is trying to find its woman form. As a mother this is so alien to watch. She’s my BABY for goodness sake! My job now is to consciously walk with her, hand in hand, as she takes steps toward Menarche. All the signs indicate this will happen within about a year.

As a mother my unadorned wish is simply that she’ll enjoy all aspects of her monthly cycle. That she’ll grow to love the ebb and flow of her body; that she’ll see how easy it is to cycle to the moon; that menstruation is NOT shameful, dirty or to be hidden, but a magical time each month in which she can journey inwards and discover what it truly means to be a woman.

I want, quite simply, for her to feel joy and marvel in awe at how the female body works.

When she was five Bethany was on her garden swing one day, lost in daydreams. Then she looked at me rather seriously and said that when she got her period she was going to have a great big party and eat grapes to celebrate!

My girls learnt about menstruation when they were toddlers. I’m so grateful that it hasn’t been hidden away as if it were a deadly, dirty secret. Although less common now, many girls never knew the first thing about moontime until they saw blood on their knickers for the first time! Shame on their mothers. So many girls were traumatised and thought they were dying.

I’ve been collecting things to put into The Red Box ~ a gift we, as her family, will pass to her at the dawntime of Menarche. At the moment it contains an assortment of beautiful, soft, brightly coloured cotton menstrual pads. I ordered these from From experience, the best brand are Many Moons.

At my side Bethany has learnt how easy it is to care for cloth pads and just how lovely they are to wear compared to the rather surgical looking (and Toxic Shock Syndrome inducing) tampons and horrible to wear ‘surfboards’. Bethany has seen the ‘soak blood’ from the cloth pads given to our household plants. I know that makes some people squirm in horror but blimey, is it really so bad? Loads of people are happy to buy Blood and Bone at the garden centre! At least this hasn’t had any environmental impact, it is the only ethically derived blood available and it is free!

My mother has given a book called Sister Web Stories (full of menstruation tales). There is also a booklet outlining our unenviable history as women, which led to the patriarchal society we now live in. Herstory is written by Jane Collings

There is a 13 Moons Journal also by Jane Collings.

I currently use one myself. It’s fab! Here she’ll jot down her daily rhythm. It includes noting what phase the moon is at; how you feel emotionally, physically, etc. You can include your food cravings, tiredness, fluid retention/breast tenderness, dreams, vaginal flow blood/mucus/ovulation and what day of your cycle you’re at.

Nearer the time I’ll include red ribbons; lovely red underwear; red beads to tie around her wrist each time she cycles; a blank journal for writing her dreams or creating artwork. There’ll be a set of divination cards to guide her on an inner journey. Together, Paul and I will create The Magic and Mystery of Menstruation, a meditation/visualisation and relaxation CD specific to menstruating with ease.

The Red Box will have other goodies too, like soothing chamomile tea and valerian tea; nourishing essential oils like Jasmine and Rose to invite her feminine spirit forth.

It will be the ultimate pamper box which I hope will become symbolic to her as well…something to show how important it is that we fully nurture ourselves as women. There is simply no prize or benefit from denying our own needs to serve others first all the time.

I will offer her the opportunity for an aromatherapy massage; reflexology and cranio-sacral therapy.

My deepest dream around all this is to build my daughters an eco-friendly Moon Hut… a small, single room shelter made from mud or straw bales, with stained glass windows and a pot belly wood stove where they can retreat to during their cycle. If we weren’t living in rented accommodation I’d build one in the garden. In the meantime I pray we’ll be fortunate enough to buy a small piece of land again where we can build our modern-day Red Tent together.

At the moment Bethany and I share a letters journal where we take turns to write to each other. We’re vastly different beasts, Bethany and I. More often than not, it is challenging for both of us to see the world through each other’s eyes. The journal allows us a safe, bonding space…a place for sharing intimate thoughts away from Paul and Eliza. It is our ‘girly time’ sanctuary. I hope it will continue for many years.

I will give her a copy of Cycle to the Moon (a journal for celebrating your moontime), a book I wrote several years ago. I plan to put it on-line soon as an e-book, too.

Holistic Menstruation is about recognising that we’re more than just a bleeding body! A holistic approach guides us to making food choices which nurture us.
It is a way which nourishes mind, body and soul and honours their interconnectedness through ritual, art, writing, meditation and intuitive isolation during the moontime. It encourages us to honour our dreams and how they change depending upon where we are in our cycle.

With love, as always ~ Veronika

Thought for the week…

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character: it becomes your destiny.

~ Frank Outlaw