The Four Swans

Earlier this Spring one of my friend’s teenage daughter was hospitalized for anorexia.  I do not know this family well, but I do know she comes from a good family, she is a smart girl, and she has plans to attend college this Fall.  Her parents are doing everything that they know how to help their daughter to find her center and her wings so she may rise again.  Hopeful for her and her family, and all the other families out there struggling through this challenge.

As with most situations, there is a process of walking your child through difficult news.  What does this mean ?  Why did this happen ?  How does it make you feel ?  And as every mother of a teenage daughter knows, body image and weight is a delicate but critical topic.Amelia and I talked about this family’s situation for a few minutes at our kitchen island that day.   I had just gotten home from work so my listening ears were numb but still available to her, always available to her.  I have found both personally and as a women’s health care provider that teenage girls tend to have somewhat of a dark curiosity with eating disorders.  Amelia shared a little bit about her feelings of the external pressures for girls to “look” a certain way to be considered desirable or acceptable not only by boys but also by their own girl friends.  We talked about the importance of self esteem, the value of the whole person, the beauty from within, and that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.  This is not the first time we have talked about these issues and in fact these discussions have been woven into our every day life since the start.   I have tried to be aware of what messages I send Amelia about my own body and my own eating habits in the hopes that she will learn a healthy way of viewing her own self.   It is tricky isn’t it?

It was not that way for me when I was young.  My life started out differently than Amelia’s in countless ways consequently leading me down some dark paths when it came to body image and eating disorders.  By the age of 7, I stood in first position at the barre with a group of other girls my age.  Low bun, black leo, pink tights and nude leather ballet slippers.  The rickety turn table played along as we began to learn the fundamentals of classical ballet.  Intimidating at first but over time I began to take pleasure in the sense of control I felt over my body in the ballet studio.  Big windows, a light filled room, old wood floors and the notes of Chopin providing the melody.  This was a place of power and peace, a safe place to express my tender self.  I appreciated the structure, the self discipline ballet demanded, the growing ability to align my body in a way to create beautiful angles with the tilt of my head and turn of my torso.

As the years went by dance became my identity.  While most of my friends played on green fields, I was in the ballet studio.  I did  play on the 6th grade girls basketball team but decided it was no fun to have my classmates snicker at me when ever I went to the basket for a lay up because of the way I automatically pointed my toes every time I jumped into the air.  That’s ok, I got over it !   By middle school however, I could no longer keep up with the girls who played sports;  my gym was the ballet studio.

It was not long before I was taking class 5 days per week and the majority of summer break was spent at ballet camps, one of which was in Walla Walla at Whitman College.  In addition to classical ballet we were exposed to character, modern, and jazz at ballet camp.   I loved learning the steps to Chorus Line complete with a top hat and  cane.  And to this day I still remember every step to the Dance of the Four Swans from Swan Lake.  All you have to do is start the music and I am back, arms crossed with my head turn and in position for the first note of Tchaikovsky.  Pure Magic.

The summer before my freshman year in high school I auditioned for Pacific Northwest Ballet summer school and was excepted to their 6 week summer intensive.  An accomplishment for the young girl who lived where the local ballet school was mediocre at best.  It quickly became apparent to me at age 14 that I was no longer in Kansas … so to speak.  Pacific Northwest Ballet had a stellar reputation for a reason.  The “barre” had been risen.  You could just feel it in the air as you walked the halls.  Serious shit.   This is when dance became real.  This is when it was no longer enough to know the positions or memorize the sequence of steps.  This is when everything about my body,  including the size of my breasts, the width of my torso, the length of my legs and the arch of my foot would make or break my future as a ballerina.  And consequently, this was also the same time that I became conscious of the definition of an eating disorder.

I clearly remember one summer evening watching a segment on 60 minutes about the rise of anorexia and bulimia in young girls in the United States.   I had never really heard anyone come out and speak about it let alone see a report on the television.  Although 60 minutes was trying to increase awareness and prevention, I translated their message as  as an opportunity to try something new in an effort to stay thin and stay dancing.  I had already implemented strategies like wrapping my body in saran wrap while I slept to sweat off water weight and never went to bed without completing one hundred 100 sit ups first.  However,  I had never employed severe restriction of calories or purging as a way to stay lean.   It makes me cringe to write about this now and so sad for my young self that this is what I thought would help me to achieve dreams of  the soft white tutu, the satin toe shoes and ultimately approval in the spot light.

Eating became a game if you will.  A mind game.  And when I felt I had not followed my own rules, I would purge.  Sometimes it was the cookie dough that I new I should not have eaten and sometimes it was too much pasta at dinner.  And one time it was my entire Thanksgiving dinner.  Sick. Wrong.  But this was how I survived.  This was my new reality.  It worked.  My 14 year old body remained that of a 10 year old.  Perfect for a classical ballerina.

After completing the 6 week summer intensives at PNB, I was invited to continue as part of their ballet school.  One step closer to my goal.  My home was about an hour north of Seattle, too far for my mom to drive me to and from ballet class on a daily basis.  Instead of living at home, PNB helped us to make arrangements for me to live with a seasoned principle ballerina in the company, Deborah Hadley.  She was in her early 30s and had two young boys of her own.   Another young student named Celeste, also moved in to her home and became my new roommate.  She was from a small town called Coupeville near the Naval base on the coast.   It was an exciting and daunting opportunity for me.  I remember feeling proud of myself and wanted this chance but at the same time the ache and pull I felt to remain at home and under my mom’s wing was unbearable.  Keep swimming. Keep swimming.
One morning in ballet class, our instructor Ms. Fedine, lectured us about the importance of staying thin and that she had wondered what we had all had for breakfast that morning because we looked sluggish.  She firmly stated ” A pound of lettuce is still a pound of lettuce and you girls can’t afford those pounds !”  She proceeded to call out approximately 6 or 7 girls and asked them to step forward.  I could feel where this conversation was going and terrified she would call out my name, but she didn’t.  Ms. Fedine stood in front of us that day and shamed my classmates by ordering them to drop weight BEFORE the Nutcracker otherwise they would not be joining the rest of us on stage.   I remember a huge sense of relief that I wasn’t called out.  But also scared to death that it would be me next time.
With the change in my home arrangements I also had to find a new high school.  Up until this point in my life I had been a public school kid.  No longer.  Now I was enrolled at Holy Names, an all girls Catholic day school on the North Edge of Capital Hill in Seattle.  My mom had gone to a similar school for a few years when she was in high school and has ever since been a big supporter of single sex education.  I don’t really remember much about how I felt about this decision to attend an all girls school other than the hard fact that I missed my buddies, my best friend Monti and my first love Danny.  I also missed my old orange cat Mr. Peaches and the smell of my mom’s cooking.  I felt alone.

At age 14 I took the city bus from the Greenlake area near 50th avenue to Holy Names on Capital Hill aka Homely Dames by the boys at O’Dea.  After school I ran down a steep hill to catch the bus back to the Wallingford center, a historic building built in 1906, and the home of Pacific Northwest Ballet.  With my cheek pressed against the cool glass  I would gaze out the window taking in my new life, the people, the hustle of the city.  I imagine my eyes must have been pretty big as I was use to a quite town where not a whole lot happened on a day to day basis.   Exciting and a bit frightening.  Ballet classes started promptly at 4pm Monday through Friday and Saturday mornings at 10am.   About once or twice a month my mom would pick me up after my Saturday morning class and shuttle me home in her silver Porsche for remainder of the weekend.
I ached for my mom.  Home sick.  I remember sitting in class at Holy Names while the nun lectured on world history and wondered what my mom would be making for dinner that night even though I would not be at the table with her.  In stark contrast, Debra made dinners that existed of steamed broccoli and broiled chicken.  I still remember her sharing with Celeste and I how she stayed trim for dance.  She never ate more than half of what was on her plate and drank the left over water from steamed broccoli for extra calorie free nourishment.  Gross.

My body cooperated with this starvation plan for the first half of the year however in January my hormones forced through to the surface and changes started occurring to my body that felt out of my control.  When I started by Freshman year I weighed in at 93 pounds, had no breasts to speak of and had not yet started my period.  I still fit “their” idea of what a dancer should look like if she was going to have any chance of a career in the world of ballet.  However as we know, time is unstoppable and my body was trying to follow the predetermined genetic code and evolve from a prepubescent girl into a woman.    During school I remembered my pants began to feel tight causing me great panic.  I did not really understand what was happening with my body.  Why was my plan not working any more ?  I amped up my purging routine which did not seem to make much of a difference.  Out of control.  And within a few months, Ms. Fedine called me down to her office.  I had been right, it was my turn to be told my body was not good enough.  I had to either lose weight or go home.  I wanted desperately to go home.  I toughed it out a few long months and performed at the end of the year recital with all the other PNB students, then returned home to Mt. Vernon.  My body failed me.

Stepping away from dance was not easy, it was in fact very difficult and confusing.   I felt as though I had lost my identity and did not know who I was any longer or who I was suppose to become.  My mom tried to help me find a new creative outlet that summer.  I remember she took me to a voice lesson, she thought this would help.  But strangely, every time I tried to do what the instructor asked me to do, my voice would quiver and I had to fight back hot tears.  Looking back, I was grieving.  Being sent home from PNB because my body was not good enough to be a classical ballet dancer was beyond tough.  I wish I could say that within a few months I was on the mend, no longer felt the need to purge, and languished in all the normal social activities of a teenage girl.   However, this was not the case.  Honestly, my eating disordered lingered through high school and for the first few years of college.  It was probably about the time that Tim and I met the summer before our senior year at WWU when my life took a dramatic turn for the better.
I still continue to dance with my issues around accepting my body and my weight.  And I know I am not alone.  Having a teenage daughter has given me with the chance to revisit this complex issue and hopefully to get it right this time.  When Amelia put down her ballet slippers and asked for soccer cleats I honestly was relieved.  One last battle to contend with to keep my daughter safe from what I had gone through as a young girl.  Over the years I have tried to instill in Amelia the importance of focusing on health not the number, loving herself for all that she is, and not the number.  Life is too short, too precious to do anything but….

Scotland

If you happen to follow me at all on Facebook you probably know I just spent a week in Scotland with my mom and my oldest daughter Amelia.  Our trip had been planned for the past year or so as a milestone celebration for Amelia’s high school graduation;  she is a fortunate girl.  Originally our itinerary included London but after the third ISIS attack in less than 6 weeks this past spring, we formed a consensus to for go London this time.  A bummer indeed, as I have agreed with the mentality that we can not live in fear otherwise “they” win.  However, I have also come to know that it is always best to listen to that inner voice, especially when it heads warning.

Because Cece was an elementary school teacher for over 25 years, she naturally gives every vacation, trip or party a theme or title.  Scotland would be no different.  Castles and unicorns became the top headliner for this special voyage.  She even placed little castle stickers on our paper itinerary which she kept folded neatly in her overstuffed purse.  This is one of the things I’ve always treasured about my mom.  She is incredibly gifted with adding the special touches to every situation in our lives.  The detail in her method of wrapping our Christmas presents each year, the way that she has managed to mail off Halloween and Valentines day care packages to her sugar cookies no matter that they are now all teenagers, and the thoughtful toasts she has written for milestone moments in our lives.  She is the queen of family celebrations and ceremonies.

It is difficult to put into words what this trip meant to all three of us.  In fact I think I am still processing each little nuance and exchange the three of us girls shared.  We chose Scotland for good reason.  Both Tim and I come from Northern European roots and thus made traveling to our native homeland extra meaningful.  I have also always wanted to take Amelia to the Harry Potter exhibition at Disney World ever since it opened however as life goes, we have never managed to make it happen for many reasons but primarily because of the extra challenges we face with Ellie.  It is complicated.  Choosing Scotland also meant an opportunity to see where in 1995, JK Rowling sat in a coffee shop on a cobblestone street tucked below the Edinburg Castle and wrote her first words about a school of wizardry and a boy named Harry.  And of course, every little “big” girl can relate to the common fascination of all things castles, unicorns, and forbidden love.   Scotland takes the cake in this category.

Our trip got off to a bumpy start.  Just as we were ready to depart to Seattle to meet up with my mom, British Airways canceled our flight to London.  Talk about major let down.  I was dying to get out of town, sick of the sizzling heat of the Inland NW and honestly just fucking burned out.  Summer time for working moms is no Bueno.  And summer time for mom’s of special needs children is extra no Bueno.  We don’t go to the lake for weekend nor do we go camping or hiking.  These traditional summer time leisure activities are essentially impossible with Ellie.  I do not mean to sound bitter and I am not seeking pity, it is just our reality.  Over the years, Tim and I have navigated this challenge by often taking separate vacations so that one of us can stay home with Ellie.  On occasion with the financial backing of primarily my mom, we have left Ellie at home with a care giver so that we can enjoy what “normal” families take for granted.  Very grateful for these rare and special opportunities.

We waited stand by for several hours on our scheduled departure date but after a while it became apparent that we would not be leaving until the following morning.  Sigh.  After a brief break down, I gathered myself back up, poured a glass of chilled pinot gris and set the alarm for the following morning.  Our second attempt went off brilliantly.  Traveling with Cece is always extra nice, she surprised with an upgrade from coach to business class.  Individual sleeping pods and champagne on take off was something I have never experienced before.  Ahhhh, I could get use to this.  I thought as we lifted off and headed towards our destination.

When ever you travel in close quarters with your family you are bound to have some amazing moments and some not so amazing moments.  Towards the end of our trip we spent the day touring Sterling Castle and also made a stop at Roslyn Chapel.  Both breath taking in and of themselves, however Roslyn Chapel took the cake for me.  If you have ever read the DaVinci code or seen the movie, then you know a bit about this sacred place.  Nestled in a small town in southern Scotland stands a not so large chapel.  But this is not an ordinary chapel.  I liken it to when a friend invites you out to her family’s “lake cabin” on Coeur D’Alene and it turns out her cabin is a 7000 square foot “Eddie Bauer lodge”.  Same goes for Roslyn.  Although it is not necessarily large in size, the ornate details, sculptures, and stained glass could keep your heart and mind fully occupied for weeks.  When we first stepped foot into Roslyn, that ever so familiar feeling of the delicate hairs rising up on my neck and forearms, informed my soul of the sanctity of this space.  By this time, the three of us girls had worked out some of our “traveling kinks” with one another and our mother daughter grand daughter energy was smooth and fluid making our time at Roslyn even more special.  There was even an old black cat named William who has made the chapel his home and he laid asleep on one of the ancient pews while a wee Scottish woman gave us a descriptive historic overview of Roslyn in Shakespearean style.  I felt as if we had literally time traveled back hundreds of years in that short visit to these sacred grounds.

One of the most hilarious and self deprecating moments took place on the first day we arrived in Scotland.  As you walk up to the main entrance to the Edinburg Castle there is a very large courtyard.  At this time of the year there were rows of cascading bleachers along the edges forming a center stage if you will.  Amelia commented that this was the place in which the tattoo took place during the month of August.  She explained to me how it was a very big deal – sort of a military ceremony.  I nodded knowingly, but was secretly confused.  “So why do people come to watch all the newly enlisted service men get tattoos and how on earth are they going to be able to see anything way up at the top of those bleachers ?”  I inquired.  My mom and Amelia both spun their heads toward me and busted out in laughter.  “Why are you guys laughing at me ?”  “Mom.  Really.  You don’t know what a Tattoo is ?”  Amelia replied in the way that only a teenage daughter can.   “Wow, you have been in Spokane too long. ” My mom chimed in. (Of course a dig on Spokane)  Ugh.  Apparently there is more than one meaning for the word tattoo.  Just in case you are not up on your vocabulary like me, the Edinburgh Tattoo is an annual ceremony of the armed forces in Scotland complete with pomp and circumstance, attracting thousand of visitors from around the world.  Now I know there is more than one meaning of tattoo and it happens to be a big fucking deal in Scotland.

On about the third day of our trip we took a bus tour to the Alnwick Castle just across the border into England.  If you have ever watched a Harry Potter film then you have seen this castle.  Although I was looking forward to our day, it ended up being sort of heavy and tight between my mom and I.  On the way to our destination our tour bus stopped for a short 30 minute break in a historic little town.  We did a quick scan of the streets and found a restroom and then began our way back toward our bus.  I spotted a cute little café just across the street from where were to meet the bus.  “Mom, let’s go check this café out real quick, we still have 10 minutes until we are suppose to meet back at the bus.”  She quickly looked at her watch and began to take a few steps forward with me and then she hesitated.  “Come on Mom, relax, we have plenty of time.”  I said as I wrapped my arm around her shoulder.  Ohhhh.  She did not like that.  She took my arm and peeled it off her body.  She said something to the affect that she was tired of us not giving her credit for her travel experience and that those bus drivers want you to be on-time.  It was not so much what she said but how she said it that sent me shriveling back to my child self.  I felt punished but not sure exactly why.  I was just trying to get her to relax a little and lighten up.  However I did not reply to her harsh words with my small child self.  Some where in that exchange I found my voice and stated with confidence that I would not stand for her treatment and turned back toward the bus without her.  “You can’t do that Shelley, come here.”  She protested.  “I don’t have to subject myself to that kind of energy mom.  You have been so tense and cranky lately and I am tired of it.  This whole thing that is going on with your sisters and Grandma has changed you.  It makes me angry.”  I stated.  It was a fact.  Over the past year I have observed the disintegration of my mom’s side of the family… the Ledray sisters.  As my grandmother Bonnie has been steadily losing her mind, my mom and her sisters have lost their way with one another and it has truly broke my heart.  I need these women to always be “the force” the “white light” that they have symbolized to me ever since I can remember.  As I have mentioned in previous writings, these are the women that taught me the ways of life and celebrated life’s milestones with me and now they are no longer a trio.  Now two are against one, my mom.  It is complicated.  I won’t share any more on this issue.  Except one thing…. I will always support my mom, she comes first.

The rest of our day together was fairly silent.  We were kind to one another but the energy was not fluid.  After 10 hours on this bus tour I was finished for the day.  Amelia and my mom went on for a nice dinner out together and I offered up an excuse to return to my room to read my book.  This was a lie but I needed some down time.  At first I was going to find something to watch on TV but instead grabbed an umbrella and headed out the rotating doors of the Waldorf Astoria.  The rain was coming down in sheets while the wind blew softly.  For the next hour or so I roamed the side streets and alleys of Edinburg.  I felt like I was 20 years old again back packing through Europe on a dime.  Alone but content, exploring the realness of this ancient city, not the parts that the tour buses show you.  The smells of local foods, the sounds of ambulances in the distance, the sites of side street restaurants with out door seating where locals sat relaxed enjoying meals with friends after work, all the while the rain was rinsing my soul out… clearing my mind and heart again.   Another world far from home, although I felt like I was at home….  I soaked it all in and sealed it into my treasure chest as I returned back to our hotel for the night.  Restored.

My mom and I began the next morning drinking our coffee and eating the best croissants with a fresh start.  It was almost as if we needed that dark moment to release the tensions that are inherent with travel, and then we proceeded forward together again.  I chose not to bring “it” up however she casually mentioned on a few separate occasions her own thoughts about our exchange and acknowledged that the events with her sisters has affected her and she was seeking a more joyful way of living what ever that may be.  I fully support her.

To be able to lift up out of your daily life and time travel to another land with the most special people in your life is a priceless gift, especially to a place like Scotland…  If you ever need perspective on your life, there is nothing like walking cobblestone streets, peering into shops, gazing at ruins that have existed since the 1100s and before to help you put your existence into perspective.  For me it is like trying to wrap my mind around how the television works or the cell phone or even whether there truly is a god – my mind is incapable of comprehending how it all works.  History is a little easier to grapple with, it is not abstract.  But still, to walk the halls and enter grand rooms where the queens roamed, where countries were formed, where blood spilled…. just mind blowing.  And now they are gone.  The only thing left is the stories we tell and their tomb stones where their remains are buried.  Did we really time travel to another land or was it just a dream?  Will my life be here and then gone just like those before me, I think so…. huh.

 

 

Midwife

In the Summer of 1993 I landed in a city far from home.  A place where the heat was suffocating and the people spoke their own dialect of English which was difficult for me to comprehend.  I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.  Familiar evergreens and mountains were replaced with decrepit brownstones and shiny high rise buildings.   I had arrived in Baltimore.  Only hours before, Tim dropped me off at the airport.  We have never been good at saying good bye, especially in the early days of our relationship.  With heavy hearts and lots of tears, we hugged one last time before he left me standing at the check in gate for United Airlines.  Waving until I could no longer see the back end of his maroon 4 Runner, I entered the busy airport and boarded my flight to Baltimore.   I was headed to Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and Tim was on his way to Northern Illinois University in DeKalb to complete a masters degree in outdoor curricula.
Johns Hopkins was not even on my radar until a few months before I submitted my application.  One of my friends in my microbiology class knew I was applying to nursing schools and told me that Hopkins offered a 13 month accelerated BSN program for people who already had a bachelors degree.  Yes, that was me.  I had been introduced to the profession of nurse-midwifery by my other mother Carolyn when she referred me to one of her dearest friends, a nurse-midwife named Winnie McNamara for my first woman’s health exam when I was just 18 years old.  By the end of my visit with Winnie, I knew what I wanted to become, a midwife like her.  The way she dressed, her mannerisms, and most importantly the way she lived her life as a nurse-midwife was fascinating and exciting to me.  Uno problema, I had no confidence when it came to science and math.  My strengths were more along the lines of English and Art.   And at that time in my life, I had not yet learned how to be resourceful in an effort to overcome obstacles.  Ahhhh, the value of life lessons.   So I put midwifery on the back shelf and followed the path of least resistance.

By the beginning of my sophomore year at WWU, I found my love of politics as well as a brief love of the professor who taught it.  This is it, I remember thinking.  My plan was to major in political science, minor in French, and become an attorney for UNICEF after completing a stint in the Peace Corp preferably on the Ivory Coast of Africa.  Planning, always planning…
As part of my major I was allowed to complete an independent study.  Still fascinated by all things birth, I wrote a 30 page paper titled The Politics of Midwifery.  I devoured every book I could get my hands on that had anything to do with childbirth including eco-feminism, anthropology, women’s studies, and the history of medicine in the United States.  By the end of the quarter, I knew my education would not lead me to law school.  Instead, I had to figure out a way to get through the science classes, go to nursing school and on to graduate school for midwifery.  Tim and I walked together at graduation in December 1991. (the 4 year plan plus one quarter)  And in January I started my nursing prerequisites at Whatcom Community College while pulling shots at a Starbucks near Bellingham Bay.

I did a lot of soul searching during this time.  I knew my end goal but was not confident that I had what it took to become what I wanted to be, a midwife.  In my spare time I enrolled in a Doula certification program through the Seattle Midwifery School.  ( And for all you birth gurus out there, it was taught by the infamous Penny Simkin)  One night as I drifted off to sleep I prayed  for a sign to cement my earthly calling.  Please give me a sign that I should pursue midwifery were that last thoughts I was cognoscente of before I drifted off to sleep.  Six hours later our phone rang.  It was my chemistry lab partner who also happen to be a lay midwife working towards her certification.  “Shelley, I am so sorry to wake you but would you be able to go to my house and get my birthing chair and bring it to me ?  I could use your help at this birth. ” Without a second thought, I quickly dressed, kissed Tim good bye and flew out the door before the sun had had a chance to rise.  I could not believe the universe would be so kind as to translate my prayer from the night before in such a manner.  Seriously WTF !!!  Before noon, in a farm house, north of Bellingham, I witnessed the first birth of a baby that I had ever seen.  Not an easy birth, face presentation.  But she knew she could do it, so she did.  Grateful for this answered prayer.

Not long before I flew the nest for Baltimore, my great grandmother Violet was admitted to a nursing home north east of Seattle for a bout with pneumonia.   I adored her and she adored me.  With a delicate pot of African violets in hand, I went to her bedside to say good bye, since I would be leaving for Baltimore soon.  We visited for about an hour and just as I was about to leave she said “So Shelley, your dad tells me that you want to be a midwife.”   I nodded my head yes and told her I had been thinking about it.  She went on to tell me “Well, you know, I was a midwife.  I was what they used to call a farm midwife in North Dakota.  I went to the births that the doctors could not make it to.”   I was kind of stunned by what she shared.  It was starting to all make sense to me;  this calling to midwifery.  At this point, I came to realize that I did not really have a choice in the matter;  midwifery was in my blood and the Gods were calling my name.  I gave my great grandma a long hug good bye.  This was the last time I saw her.  Violet Birks passed away a few days later, the same day the jet plane lifted me toward the eastern sky.  I will always cherish her last earthly gift to me;  she gave me a significant piece to my puzzle of my life.

Summer of 1993 was not my first time I had lived on the east coast.  During my undergraduate degree while studying political science, I spent a quarter as an intern for our state senator Brock Adams in WA DC.  This also happened to be during the same time our country was fighting in the first Persian Gulf war and before Monica Lewinsky changed our country’s notion of what an intern’s job description entailed.  It was an incredible experience.  Taking the shuttle from the Pentagon onto the hill every morning was an accomplishment in and of itself for this Skagit Valley girl.  Fearless, I have always been some what fearless.

My second stint at east coast living was quite different.  Nursing school at Johns Hopkins is a whole other world.  Although we lived on campus housing in West Baltimore, the medical campus was directly in the middle of the inner city, East Baltimore.  Culture shock.  I had never witnessed such poverty and destitute in my life.  It felt horrifying and kind of thrilling all at the same time.  It was not long before I found my pack of nursing school buddies,  Jen West, Kristin Koprowski, and Suzanne Vierra.  We shared the best and the worst of times.  Study sessions for pharmacology, public health rotations in the cockroach infested high rises in the inner city followed by mandatory debriefing sessions in the a cozy basement pub called PJs.  Steamed shrimp with old bay seasoning and lots of butter washed down with cold beer on tap was a weekly event for the four of us and what made nursing school at Hopkins survivable.  We shared stories about our clinicals, discussed whether we had met any interesting boys, and planned out our futures after Hopkins.

I mostly despised nursing school, except for the quarter we learned about obstetrics.  I was all in.  This was in my wheel house… and I excelled.  On one special day, our OB professor invited a woman named Ruth Lubic to come speak to our class.  I knew she was a CNM (certified nurse-midwife) in the rough parts of New York and was known for opening several birth centers in the under served boroughs.  She was an older woman, probably in her early 60s at the time she came to speak with our class in 1993.  Little did I know, Ruth had just been awarded the MacArthur Fellowship for her outstanding contribution to her profession in midwifery.  She spent close to an hour talking with us about obstetrics, women’s health in the united states, and my favorite topic the profession of nurse-midwifery.   Toward the end of her time with us she opened the time for questions.  My inner core was trembling, that familiar old sign that something important was about to happen.  I think I was the only one who rose my hand and since I was standing near the front door since all the seats were full, she quickly spotted me.  Ugh.   “Yes you, what is your question?”  With my voice slightly trembling I asked her in front of all my 105 classmates how do you know you have what it takes to be a midwife?  I did not plan on asking her that question, but it had been something I had been carrying around with me like a heavy back pack for the past 5 years.   Without saying a word, she walked over in my direction and stretched out her arm to me.  Without thinking, I took a few steps forward and reached out my hand to her to her. “You have what it takes.  As a midwife you have to have the presence of mind and heart to always be able to meet a woman where she is at, to meet her half way. ”   That moment carried me the rest of the way through nursing school at Hopkins.   I was on a mission.

But then life happens.  After graduation from Hopkins in summer of 1994 Tim and I began our new life on his mom’s house boat on Lake Union in Seattle.  I took a job at Overlake Hospital in labor and delivery and the reality of the responsibility of being a nurse-midwife began to set in.  In spite of my apprehension, I persevered applied and was accepted to the University of Washington nurse-midwifery program for the following Fall.  It felt like I was pushing through, slinging the ice pick forward up the glacier;  but my heart and spirit were not ready.  Boughts of insomnia and anxiety were crowding my life and shaking my self confidence.  After the first quarter of midwifery school, I stepped back, I had to.  I was not ready.  As difficult as this was to accept, I had no business adding more stress or sleep disruption to my life.  Tim and my mom supported my decision but would not let me drop out all together.  I transitioned into the perinatal masters degree program instead.  No pressure, no nights.  I was disappointed in myself, it felt like my body and my mind had failed me.  I still longed to be a midwife and was never satisfied as an OB nurse.   It just was not my time, breathe, keep on swimming…

By the time I graduated with my masters in nursing from the UW I was pregnant but did not know it quite yet.  I wondered at first why I teared up during my presentation of my thesis on supporting women in labor and why I was so out of breathe walking up the steps to our loft bedroom at the houseboat.  Preggo !!  One of the best days of my life was the day I found out I was pregnant with Amelia.  I told everyone.  Fast forward, over the next six years, Tim and I built our home on Dragon fly ranch, had Amelia, moved to the ranch, had Ellie, went through hell and back, moved to Spokane, and had Charlie.  During this entire time I kept seeking ways to pursue midwifery, to find my way back to MY path.  And then one evening, when I was working at Deaconess, I was chatting with one of the pioneer CNMs of the Inland Empire, Catherine Shields.  She said, “you know sweet life, this midwifery thing is never going to go away, so you might as well just figure out how to do it, and get it done.”  Love her.

You know that saying you see on memes on Facebook “She thought she could, so she did.” Insert here.  That is what happened, essentially.  I thought I could, so I did with three kids under the age of 7, including one with special needs and working part time.  Sometimes you just have to do it and figure out the details later.  In 2008 I graduated from the University of Washington again, only this time I held the degree in my hand that I had always longed for in my heart.  Unlike nursing school, I loved midwifery school.  In fact the day our instructor taught us the cardinal movements and hand positioning during the birth of a baby, I began to cry.  Once one midwife students start crying then all the rest join in gathering around, comforting and listening to her as they are taught to do in midwifery school.  What a moment.  I told my cohorts what I believed to be true;  that being present and being the one to deliver the baby is not only a huge responsibility but also an honor.  There is nothing more sacred then birth, don’t take it lightly.   It was finally my turn, and it meant the world to me.

I have spent 10 years caring for pregnant women and catching babies as a nurse -midwife.  I had some of the very best and some of the very worst days of my life during this decade.   Last spring, in an effort for a better work-life balance, I decided to let go of the birthing aspect of being a midwife.   However, I continue to spend my days listening to and meeting women of all ages “where they are at” … extending my hand out to theirs in hopes of helping them to find those wings and keep on flying….   To be a midwife means to be with woman.  I am a midwife, I am with her.

 

 

Team Elle, those shoulders

It was those dimples that first caught my eye.

A town by the bay south just shy of our Canadian border.

Coffee shops, book stores, the smell of the sea, it was a simpler time indeed.

His adventurous spirit led me to discover my own love of exploration.

The San Juan Islands, Vancouver BC, the glacier of Mt. Ruth, and the rivers that run into our Sea.

We found our own cabin and made our first home, he made me feel loved….

Studies took us apart for one long year, but we returned to each other, and returned to the island, where in front of our family and friends, we made one promise…

By then it was his heart that captured my soul.  His love, his kindness, his tenderness.

It was not too long before  2 made 3.  I watched as he learned.  And Life was good.

Elle joined 3 years later.  At first it was life as usual, until it wasn’t.  But he was always there, never left.  Always there.  Life was not simple anymore.

We struggled and struggled to find our new life.  Until one day, it was not so hard and we just kept on living.

It was during this time that his shoulders became the part of him I loved most.  Now I understood… God knew he would have much to carry in this world…

Those shoulders carried our daughter when she was not yet able, to the play ground, through the grocery store, on family adventures, up mountain sides and along the sea…

Those shoulder’s were one of God’s gifts to me…

 

 

 

Gwenythhhhh….. and CeCe

It is Friday aka Fri-Yah!  I want to send you into this summer weekend with a smile and a chuckle.  Tackled some heavy topics this week and feel the need to share a quick and funny story about my mom aka CeCe.

Anyone who has ever expected a baby can relate to the dilemma of what to name this soon-to-be child.  It is an important task, not one to be taken lightly.  You can really make or break a kid depending on what name you give him or her.  I am not a big country music fan, but love that song by Johnny Cash, A boy named Sue.  And the Hollywood types seem to take this task to a whole new level… you’ve got to wonder.

Amelia’s name came pretty naturally.  We were driving home from a visit to Spokane one summer day and we passed the time with thinking up of  names for her.  Amelia popped into my head and it never left my heart.  She was going to be Amelia.  No second guessing.  However Elisabeth was not named until we were on our way to the hospital for my labor induction.  We chose it because it was a beautiful and classic name, same genre as Amelia, and it almost met all of my mom’s “naming criteria”… not kidding.  The most important rule she stated to me is that if you have a 2 syllable last name like Northern then the first name must be either 1 or 3 or 4 syllables.  However my mom had a few other criteria that I did not know about until one day when I shared with her that we had been thinking about the name Gwyneth.  I had just tossed that name out there along with Sophia, Hillary and a few other classic names.  She was polite and just nodded her head…

A few days later I received a voice mail from her that I will never ever forget.  It went something like this… Shelley, I have been thinking about your choice of the name Gwyneth.  As you know, it does not follow the syllable rule, number one.  Annnndddd…. secondly, when I look in the mirror and say the name GWWWYNNETHHHHHH…. my face kind of contorts into this unappealing shape…. Plus I learned in my French class that all names that end in TH are usually of the peasant class in France.   Okkkayyyy, that’s all for now…. catch up with you later.

Stunned.  Just Stunned.  And hormonal.

I picked up the phone and called her.  She probably did not answer for a reason… she knew she had crossed the line, oh yes.  My reply went something like this… Mom, got your message… annnnnddd… I am sorry to hear you are not a fan of the name Gwyneth.  I happen to think it is a beautiful name.  And what kind of French class are you taking by the way ? No wonder you have not learned to speak the language after 3 years of weekly sessions.  So here’s the deal mom…..I hate to burst your bubble but we are not French !  We are American mutts.  Also,  just so you know, when I look in the mirror and say the words…MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS…. my face makes a beeeeauuutiifulll smile.  Love ya Mom.  Click.

My CeCe is one in a million.  A true character.  Generous, caring, particular, thoughtful, and a lover of magical touches….and she is mine… and I am her one and only teeny tiny.  Love you Mom.

 

Team Elle, a little girl with nothing wrong and she is all alone….

 

 

Searching for her remedy was my full time job for the first 3 years of Ellie’s life.  As a nurse-midwife, I have always gravitated toward combining the best of both worlds, meaning western medicine and alternative healing.  My approach has been no different with my daughter’s diagnosis.  If there was a way to miraculously encourage my daughter’s brain to catch up on the growth curve I was going to find it and if I could not find it, I was going to create it my self.

Every morning after dropping Amelia off at her Montessori preschool at the episcopal church on 57th, Elle and I would venture to therapy.  Most mornings were spent in traditional therapies such as the Spokane Guild School and Milestones Speech Therapy.  We spent countless hours just trying to encourage Elle to say words like “please” or “I want”.   People often say I am very patient, well I would like to do a shout out to the speech and occupational therapists of the world.  These people are serious GD warriors of patience and healing.  Hands down to you, especially Chanda Davis Neu.

As with anything in life, one size fits is not really a thing.  What works for one child is never a guarantee for the next.  I found this out the hard way.  We had heard through the “moms of kids with special needs club” grapevine of a place that was offering healing at the natal level.  They claimed they could take the wounded mind and body back into it’s embryonic state to encourage regrowth or new growth of neuropathways between the brain, the spinal cord and the extremities.  Dark rooms and cocoon like hammocks were some of their tools for restoring the human body to it’s intended state. We had been down the path of cranial sacral work, special diets, play therapy, you name it…   But this place was offering to just basically rewire Elle’s neurological pathways for only $350.00 bucks for the first few visits.  This is the point in which we should have known better.

Tim, Elle and I went to our initial visit, met with the director and listed to him claim that he strongly believed his healing center would cure my daughter.  He gave us an abbreviated description of their healing practices, a quick tour of the facility and we scheduled her first appointment for the following Monday morning.  Hopeful and naïve.  The following Monday after dropping Amelia at Montessori Elle and I made our way down the hill to the healing oasis.   I checked her in and we were led back to a private room with a few therapist.  I had an uneasy feeling because I really was not clear about what exactly they were going to be doing with my luminous blue eyed baby girl that morning.   But the therapist reassured me that they would take good care of Elle and to come back in one hour.  So I left my little girl alone.

I managed to make it to the Starbucks drive through before I broke down… again.  It probably was not helping matters either that I was obsessed with Nora Jones’s newest album at the time, Come Away With Me.  Her music has a way of going deep as I am sure you all can relate.  Just as I was making my way back to the parking lot to wait for Elle, the 2nd song titled Seven Years began to play.  I had never truly listened to the words before, mostly just infatuated with her melodies, until this moment.

Spinning, laughing, dancing to
Her favorite song
A little girl with nothing wrong and
She Is all alone
Eyes wide open
Always hoping for the sun
And she’ll sing her song to anyone
That comes along
Fragile as a leaf in autumn
Just fallin’ to the ground
Without a sound
Crooked little smile on her face
Tells a tale of grace
That’s all her own

 

Thoughts began flooding my mind and making direct connections to my heart.  How could I have left this little girl, this little girl with nothing “wrong” … I am the one there is something wrong with … for handing my daughter over to complete strangers in a place I have no fucking idea what they are doing to her.  Wiping the tears off of my cheek, I shut my car door firmly and walked into the waiting room and asked to have my daughter back right then.  “Now ?  She just has 15 minutes left of her service are you sure…” the receptionist asked.  “Yes, I really am not comfortable with this.”  She led me to the back room and they brought Elle back to my arms.  I could tell she had been crying by her splotchy cheeks and wet lashes. She was in her cotton onesie and diaper and had massage oil all over her body.  I dressed her quickly, through my bag over my shoulder and exited the building, never to return.

The next morning I received a phone call from the medical director.  “I just want to follow up with you and see if everything is ok ? ” he said.  And then he went on to ask how Elle was doing this morning which I thought was odd.  “She is fine.” I said.  “Why do you ask ?”.  He went on to tell me that they did have a little incident yesterday that was just brought to his attention by one of his therapists.  “During your daughter’s therapy yesterday, one of the assistance dropped her and she fell off the table and on to the floor.  We are really sorry this happened.”

I hung up.  I did not even respond to his confession.  Fuck You. And Fuck Me for abandoning my baby girl.  Never Again.

We skipped therapies all together for a few weeks after that.  I stopped signing her up for non evidenced based medicine as well.  I usually like to avoid mainstream but from here on out I was all in for standard therapies when it comes to Elle.  Safe and predictable.

I am not really sure how to wrap this one up.  I have to get ready for work and Elle wants my attention right now.  But if you ever hear seven years by Nora Jones, I hope you will think of Elle and I, and what that song has meant to me.

Spinning, laughing, dancing to
Her favorite song
A little girl with nothing wrong
Is all alone
Eyes wide open
Always hoping for the sun
And she’ll sing her song to anyone
That comes along
Fragile as a leaf in autumn
Just fallin’ to the ground
Without a sound
Crooked little smile on her face
Tells a tale of grace
That’s all her own
Fragile as a leaf in autumn
Just fallin’ to the ground
Without a sound
Spinning, laughing, dancing to her
Favorite song
Well, she’s a little girl with nothing wrong
And she’s all alone
A little girl with nothing wrong
And she’s all alone

Amelia

She returned late last night with her dad from a 2 day orientation at the University of Washington where she will be attending school this September, September 8th to be exact.  Classes won’t begin until the 27th, but September 8th is the day that we drive her through our fields of Gold and over the Cascades to the city by the Sea.  I am trying to not really think too much about this day and just praying to the mother goddess that I will be able to handle this season with strength and joy.  It really is joyous.  How exciting for Amelia to begin her next main chapter of her life in Seattle… and how fitting, since this is the place where she began. Literally, she came into being in the house boat we called home and entered into her own existence the day after Thanksgiving in 1998 at Group Health Central on Capital Hill, the hill that overlooks the Puget Sound..  So much to be grateful for that year and every year since.

A few weeks before she was born Carolyn, my “other mother” and I went for a walk around Green Lake.  The trees were beginning to turn to gold and the air was crisp and refreshing after the humid summer heat.  Carolyn is my best friend’s momma.  She is a long and lean woman with olive toned skin, amazing cheek bones and has the soul of a gypsy.  I will never forget what she told me on our walk that morning.  In anticipation of the birth of my first baby she shared with me that from the moment a mother gives birth, she begins the process of letting go…  Cutting the cord, first steps, kindergarten, sleep overs, middle school, summer camp, a driver’s license, her first boy friend, and now college…  Breathe, in and out.  I am consciously watching my self let go of Amelia.  But I don’t know if I can… my heart aches, my throat feels funny….

Mostly it is her safety that bothers me.  Thoughts flash in my mind of scary possibilities and I just try to let them pass.  I have lectured her countless times about making safe choices at all times and she politely listens and says ” I know Mom”…. And somehow, my soul believes that if I remember to always tell her to drive safe before she leaves the house, that by doing so, she will indeed return home to me.  The other key aspect I struggle with is the fact that she is leaving me to go to a place where I often long to be, my first home.  A place where my mom and best friend live, a place I still have dreams about, a place near water.   I ruminate about feelings of jealousy and longing to be where she is and wonder if these feelings will intensify for me once she is gone.  How will this affect me, how will this affect my marriage, how am I going to handle this change of season of my life?  Tim knows this has been on my mind and he reassures me we will return to my homeland someday.  Hard shit.  My plan is to handle it with courage and grace, courage and grace, courage and… grace.

I am excited to see what she does with her life.  The name Amelia means the defender as well as industrious and striving…  Her names suits her well….  My Amelia is kind of a no nonsense kind of girl, thick skinned like her dad (most of the time) and slightly ambitious like her mother.  She is also incredibly loyal.  I worry about her heart when she and her first love go their separate ways at the end of this summer.  And so does she.  He is heading to college to play baseball in Vancouver, happy for him.  I care about him too.  In fact, the other day on my birthday, Caleb sent me a sweet text and thanked me for being like a second mom to him… Huh. Now I am someone else’s “other mother” like Carolyn has been for me.  LIFE.

Oh Amelia, know that you are never alone.  Know that you have many souls walking along side you at all times helping to guide you and keep you safe.  Know that you will make mistakes and that your job is to pick yourself up, to learn, and to keep moving forward.  Don’t be afraid to take risks and know that you are capable of becoming whatever it is you want to be.  Always believe in yourself.  You are loved, you are wanted, you are forever mine.

 

 

Team Elle, this face…

Excited to be learning more about WordPress.  I have spent the morning down loading old photos from Shutterfly and uploading them onto WordPress.  Aren’t I smart!  And today at 11am, I am meeting with a woman named Millie, who was referred to me by a dear friend, to work on creating a personalized format for my blog posts, so please stay tuned.  I love writing and love being able to release my story to those that are open to coming along with me.

I just want to say too, I know my writings are not always easy to read… I know the topics are heavy and feel dark a lot of the time.  I appreciate your willingness to go deep with me.  I promise I won’t leave you at the bottom….  sometimes, it just takes me a while to swim back up to the surface for oxygen and sunshine.  We all have hardships in our lives but if you keep your eyes and heart open, the glitter and rainbows are always just around the corner.

Team Elle, the day we picked strawberries

June 2004, just a few months shy of Charlie’s due date, we decided to head up to Greenbluff to pick strawberries with Amelia and Elle.  We had quickly come to learn that Greenbluff was the place that locals took their families for pumpkins, Christmas trees, and seasonal fruits. A beautiful collection of small family owned farms tucked into the folds of the low lying hills Northeast of Spokane.  My belly was substantial by now and I had the typical third trimester fatigue, I was ready to be done.  Especially with the heat.  I had never been “this pregnant” before during the summer months, and definitely not use to the eastern Washington summers.

Our first home in Spokane was on Hamblen street.  Just across the street from the Presbyterian church and Amelia’s future elementary school.  It was a modest soft butter yellow 3 level home with white rock accents, fairly outdated but very practical… except we did have a pool.  As a west side girl, it was not normal to have a home with a pool, however in Spokane it seemed like a good portion of homes possessed a backyard oasis out of necessity – a refuge from the dry intense summer heat.  Air conditioning is also a nonnegotiable in Spokane.  Unfortunately, on this day, our air conditioning had stopped working and we tried old school style to keep our home cool.  Strategically opening windows and sliders to allow the flow of cool air to ameliorate the stifling heat.

Amelia was very excited to explore the strawberry farms.  She was my little helper, finding water bottles and sunscreen to add to our back pack in preparation for our family outing.  Tim was scanning the yellow pages (yes the yellow pages) for the names of all the different berry farms and their addresses.  A normal day.  A normal day until I realized Elle was not where I had left her sitting to play with her toys.  “Where’s Ellie?” I asked Tim, “Do you have her?”.  “No, I thought you did” Tim answered.  “Shit.”  my heart started racing as I retraced my steps, laser scanning the up stairs, then the front room, and then down to our walk out basement.  By this time I was running through the house while the adrenaline pulsated through my heavy pregnant body.  Just as my legs floated me down the steps I saw that we had left the sliding glass door open to keep our home cool.  She can’t be outside, she is not that able yet to make it that far I thought.  I was dead wrong.  As I ran up a few steps onto the pool deck, I hit my shin on the cement stairs and fell forward.  Reflexes took over as I slammed into the concrete hands first to protect my pregnant belly.  Before I knew it, I was in the aqua waters, chest deep snatching Ellie away from the grips of death…  I do not know how long she had been in those waters, but she was still breathing and sputtering.  Shaken to my very core.

With her soaking wet breathing body in my arms, Tim, Amelia and I retreated into our home and locked the sliding glass door.  Tim sat stunned as I attempted to explain to Amelia what had just happened… but I did not need to.  She knew we had almost witnessed the drowning of her baby sister.

After we all settled down, regrouped and discussed new safety strategies, I called my mom to confess.  I can not remember how I phrased what had just happen, but I clearly remember her slowly asking…”It wasn’t Amelia was it?”  “No mom, Amelia’s a good swimmer, it was Ellie.” I replied quietly.  Although my mom had asked a fair question, in my mind her question really was more of a declaration of her love for her grand daughter Amelia.  I don’t know if this is exactly what she was trying to convey but this is how I interpreted her sobering words.  I  was not angry at her for asking me that question.  If I am being completely honest with myself, that is how I felt too.  What if that had been Amelia?  Would I be more devastated to lose Amelia over Ellie ?  Does this mean I don’t love Ellie as much as I love Amelia ?   Can one love equally what is perfect and imperfect ?   I would be untruthful if I did not admit to having thoughts of how my life would be so much simpler without Elle.  If it had been just a few more minutes before we discovered she was missing, maybe I would have spared myself and my family from the years of pain, hardship and burdens of having a special needs child.  Hard to admit these thoughts but they were there in the darkest corners of my mind.  But here’s the thing, my higher self, the self that is aligned with the purest love of our universe knew better.  My higher self took over, alerted me that one of my babies was in serious trouble and brought me to her rescue.  My higher self knew that Elle was sent here for a purpose, she had a big mission here on planet earth and needed a hell of a lot more than just 2 years to accomplish what she had been sent here to do, heal and strengthen her mother and anyone else who may be in need of healing touches direct from God.

By the end of the summer, thanks to my mom, we installed a chain link fence complete with a locked gate to keep ALL of her sugar cookies safe from harm.  Over the years, I have thought back to this day and how our lives could have turned out much differently.  And I can say with total honesty, I am grateful to my higher self for alerting me that summer morning in June.  As difficult as the day to day life can be with Elle, I know I am also incredibly fortunate to have been given the special gifts that only a child with special needs can provide.  Gratitude for the simple things in life, patience, perspective, selflessness, and sweet uncomplicated love compliments of Elle.

As always, we carried on that summer day, and took our girls up to the farmlands to gather strawberries as if nothing extra ordinary had happened.  But in reality, I was well aware that my guardian angel was right there with me keeping watch.  Keeping Gods plan for our lives on track .  Grateful .

 

 

 

Team Elle, Blackbird

By our 3rd date, I knew I wanted to make babies some day with this blue eyed man.  I was only 21 at the time, just a neonate myself, but I knew he was going to play a special part in my life.  We followed all the rules, finished college, traveled, went on to graduate school in separate cities, but eventually found our way back to each other where we lived on my mother in law’s houseboat on the east side of Lake Union.  Pure Magic.  Love, water, Seattle during the mid 90s – a great time of life !   I patiently waited for 4 years before convincing Tim it was time to have our first.  Amelia.  A few years later came Elle, and then you all know the rest of that story … our mighty blessing Charlie showed up last.

Since about the age of 18 I have been captivated by birth.  Strange I know.  What 18 yo girl becomes obsessed with birth.  But for me it was not exactly just birth that intrigued me, but the role of the woman who guided at the birth, the midwife.  I remember when I shared with my mom that I wanted to become a midwife, she was annoyingly perplexed, and told me that that was something a 40 year old woman becomes, not and 18 yo.  Although she had a point, her dismissal of my calling felt harsh to my young soul.

As most of you know, I found my non-linear path to midwifery starting in my 20s, but this is not what I want to write about this morning.  More later.  This morning I want to write about Elle’s birth.

Elisabeth McChesney Northern was born at 9pm on November the 12th 2001.  A few short months after 9/11, a time no American will ever forget. She was nine days late, nine long days.  Possibly a sweet little clue she gave us that she would be doing “LIFE” on her own terms.  Amelia was right on time, typical first born daughter behavior.   Because I was past 41 weeks, my midwife swept my membranes during the prenatal visit and scheduled us for an induction later that afternoon.  It was an odd feeling to schedule a birth, it just felt unnatural… kind of like when middle aged couples schedule sex… not my style.  But I was ready to have her and so I agreed.

Her birth was quite swift.  After one tablet of cytotec, my contractions escalated into 5th gear.  Thankfully Monti had arrived just in the nick of time as my husband does not handle birth well.  Ironic, I know.   In fact, Tim almost missed Elle’s birth all together because he was experiencing similar contractions of his own, of his lower intestine… in the public bathroom.  Ohhhh Timmmy.

Monti led me into the warm water where I labored for another 20 minutes or so and then I felt an internal pop.  It is a strange sensation to feel your water break when you are already in the water.  That was all it took, Elle was barreling through full steam a head.  Monti pulled the emergency cord and the midwife ran in to check me.  I was not having it.  My reflexes took over and pushed the midwife’s arm away from my body.  Some how I made it out of the water and onto the bed.  Some how Tim miraculously returned from the bathroom, the nurse rushed in to assist, and I delivered Elle, with the help of my tribe.

“I did it!”  I remember crying out as I held Elle to my chest.  With Amelia, I had begged for an epidural during transition.  My weakness haunted me after ward because i had planned to to experience birth without anesthesia.  My second labor was an opportunity to prove to myself that I could do it.  Thank god she came so quickly, otherwise I would have surrendered again. Unbearable.

There are a lot of moments during the birth of a baby that I cherish both as a mother and as a midwife.  The feeling of triumph, the warm coos and tears from the family as they lay eyes upon new life, and the sheer grit of the female spirit.  But as a mom, my most cherished memories of all three of my children’s births was the first night alone with my baby in the hospital after all the hubbub had settled down.  It is difficult to describe because I do not really know if there are words to accurately express this moment.  The closest word I can find is “primitive”.  There is nothing that compares to the experience of snuggling down with your baby, a kind nurse quietly attending, skin to skin, and with every sense of your body…. taking in your creation, God’s creation.  Her silky skin, her warm breath, her smell, her movements, and her tiny pink fingernails… all of it.  Soaking her in, locking her in for life.

As with each of my babies, I had created a play list for the upcoming birth, part of my plan for coping with labor.  Always planning….   My first night with Elle, I spent on the couch that was meant for the dad’s.  Tim had gone home to Dragon Fly Ranch, to be with Amelia and the birthing bed was meant for birthing not sleeping.  It was a dark stormy night in mid November, the wind was howling and I could hear the swaying of the barren maple trees outside of my birthing suite.  I started my playlist quietly as an attempt to drown out the hospital noises.  As I began to take in my newest baby girl, Blackbird sung by Sarah Mclachlan, began to play.  Do you know this song ?  Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly, all your life you were only waiting for this moment to arise.  Black bird singing in the dead of night, take these sunken eyes and learn to see, all your life you were only waiting for this moment to be free, blackbird fly into the light of the dark black night….     Chills, full body chills.  Elle was my baby black bird, but I just did not know it yet.  Or maybe, just maybe, I was Elle’s baby black bird… and God had sent her to help me fix my broken wings and learn to fly.  God does work in mysterious ways, wouldn’t you say?