Sunday Morning~ Safari Keeps Searching and Searching

March 29, 2015

The mountain is pink out the window to the west. I know it is west because the sun was setting over it last evening. It poured in through the window onto the couch, where I sat reading my book. This morning, the snow is pink with the sunrise.

It’s my last day here with my beloved mountain.  I’ve skied and eaten and read. I had planned to catch up on correspondence, but “Safari can’t connect to the server”.  I’ve seen that sentence about fifty times.  Then I stopped trying. So now I sit with my tea beside me, my mountain in front of me, and write. I stop worrying about Safari.  I’ll connect later.

Last Sunday, after I posted the blog I got an unfamiliar notice and went searching a little.  In the lefthand corner of the page was a message notice. I clicked on it.  It was half a sentence with three dots after it.  I clicked on the dots and a full message came up.

There is a midwife from UK in Shamwana. She has my book. She has Beatrice and Gerardine and Generose with her.  She says they are safe. She says she didn’t know how to get in touch with me to tell me, so she tried this.

I started to shake. They are alive!  They are safe! The last I’d heard they had been evacuated because the fighting broke out again, then nothing after that. I quickly sent a message back, tears streaming down my face. She has been there six weeks. She’d read my book. She wanted to let me know that they want to be in touch with me somehow.

My mind was filled with the image of dear Carmen looking at my book for the first time and saying, “Oh, you dedicated it to Beatrice and Gerardine. Wait until they see that!”  And I had responded, “They will never see this. There is no way this will ever make it to them.  That was just a pipe dream.”

And now they have my book! They know I am thinking of them!  They know I am telling their story! I promised them I would, and now they know! I told her to tell them I miss them and think about them all the time.  Tell them people ask about them.  Tell them they are famous!

I now believe that anything is possible.

I signed off with her and said I would write soon. I had a guest speaker coming I had to prepare for. I had an event to arrange. I had a full office to see, taxes to pay, two deliveries that came quickly.  The week was full as usual, and then I was leaving for my ski weekend.  I planned to write to them from here. I’m alone and have plenty of time to write when I am sipping my pre-ski tea or aprés-ski wine.

And Safari can’t connect to the server.

Sunday Morning~ What Year Is This?

March 22, 2015

Jacob turned 33 yesterday.

At 7:29 am, thirty-three years ago I gave birth to my second son.  Those were the days when the sex was a surprise and there was competition for the birthing room.  Seriously, a laboring woman had to be 5 centimeters dilated before she was allowed one of the two birthing rooms.  If they were full, she had to labor in one room, then transfer to the delivery room. At fully dilated, she had to move from the labor bed onto a stretcher, leaving the other three laboring women in the room behind.  This would be a relief for them because the fully dilated woman was usually screaming. She was wheeled on a stretcher (not allowed to walk), banging into at least one doorway, trying not to push, and usually screaming, through the hallways, past the nurses station, to the delivery room. She had to transfer onto the hard, cold table, and awkwardly get into a position that was convenient for the obstetrician to perform the delivery.  She had to do this during the most intense part of labor. Barbaric.  Inhumane.

I really wanted to avoid this.

The nurse I had with me during that labor was wonderful.  She had me walking in the hallways trying to get to 5 centimeters before the other women in labor, who, also wanted the birthing room. God, when I think back on this now, how ridiculous it was. I really wanted that birthing room.  And we are not talking birthing tub or glamorous bedding.  We are talking just a room where I would be allowed to labor, deliver, and recover without switching rooms or beds. That’s it. That’s as good as it got back then. I didn’t want to move during the most difficult stage of labor. I didn’t want my baby taken away from me.

Good God. I would have had a home birth, but we didn’t have the cash.

With my nurse cheering me on like a racehorse, I made it to five, got the birthing room, and had my beautiful (big!) baby boy.  It was Sunday. There was only one midwife on staff there and she didn’t work weekends.  I had really wanted her there. The obstetrician was kind and respectful and I was grateful for that, but I had really wanted a midwife. Today they have twelve midwives working in that hospital, and they work weekends.

In the years since my kids were born there have been vast improvements in childbearing and childrearing. (Like microfibers, they came along after my kids were forced into those straightjacket snowsuits.) My childbirth experience made me more dedicated to changing things for other women. I was available on weekends, etc., but my kids and family paid a price for that. I was gone a lot. And though my kids are independent and self-sufficient because they had to be, it took a toll.

I have few regrets and revel in the improved care that women receive. But so much of that effort has been upstream. Why is that? What is it with our culture and society? We are so money-driven that we are willing to sacrifice women’s well-being?  Some of it is unconscious, but much of it is deliberate.

In a meeting this week I saw the services for vulnerable women evaporating for financial reasons. Critical staff unwilling. Our arguments cut off because of the “level of our voice”.  We reflected afterward, “Notice how were were cut off when we presented actual data and facts?”

What year is this?

Sunday Morning~The Deadline

March 15, 2015

This is the system in which I work:

At a recent meeting I heard that midwives are valued because they are a cheaper alternative to doctors.  No mention that their (well-documented) care is superior and outcomes are better, even in high risk situations.  No mention of that.  We are cheaper because we are paid less and we work hard, and, up until now, were doing more of the work for no more of the money. There seems to be a glimmer of consideration in the expression, that, hmm, maybe we should consider another midwife, they are cheaper…..oh, but then the expression of acknowledgment that, oh, right, the doctors don’t want that. (They want the money, not the extra work….right.  Forgot that part.)

I snap the elastic band on my wrist and swallow that one.

I say, “But there are women who can’t get here for care.  They don’t have the money for gas. They are going without prenatal care because the clinics have stopped providing it. If we had another midwife we could do that. We could go to them. It would be better care for an entire region.  They could come here to deliver, but would stop being ostracized for not showing up for their appointments.”

I am asked how I know this would happen? I have to admit, I actually don’t know.  It just makes sense to me.

I point out that our current relationship, though, healthy and excellent in the past, has been poisoned and is now rancorous and unfair and unacceptable. In a group of three, when two of the families “come first” that means someone’s comes last, right?  Oh! Right! But we don’t acknowledge that because it is only the selfless midwives, who have always put their demanding jobs first allowing everyone else’s families to “come first.”  Well, someone has to work, right?  Someone has to be available for the women who, despite the best efforts by science, still have babies at irregular hours!!!  And on holidays!  And, God forbid! during the summer!

And now I am changing the dance. This is throwing a major wrench in the works. It’s starting to be amusing to watch. Amusing and depressing and scary, because I know what I have to do.

But doctors have school aged children who have the summer off! Consider that!  How can one be expected to work when their children are home and free and need a parent to play with? And the ones whose children are preschool age have spouses who teach! They have the summer off, too!  Can’t expect the spouse to sit home with the children all by themselves, can I?  Think of that!  How inconsiderate of me (a lowly midwife) to expect time off when others need it so desperately.  Think of the camps that were bought as second homes that will lie empty on the weekend!  Did I ever consider that?  How cold and inhumane could I be?

I sit snapping the elastic band on my wrist. This has been my life. This was the job I always dreamed of, a full scope practice in a small town in a beautiful place. A place where being part of the community is an integral part of caring for it. Women are so much more than just their body parts.  That was the message when we campaigned for a women’s center all those years ago. Yes, the system accommodated women, but not in a healthy way. Women were forced to submit to a system designed for men and the convenience of doctors trying to fit as many patients into a time slot as possible. That was the most productive and lucrative way to give care. Oh, they’ll deny it.  They’ll say it isn’t true.  But it is. It’s just couched in more caring language. But the truth is, they make more money if they see lots of people in a short amount of time.  So get real.  Stop with the delusions. It was true then and it’s true now.

We’ve allowed insurance companies and administrators to dictate how we give care. Cookie-cutter health care is as efficient as it is inappropriate. We’ve allowed regional protocols to dictate our own (seriously, if a nearby hospital doesn’t offer a VBAC then we don’t have to) and with a straight face, people with 14 years post-secondary education, use this a serious argument. I ask, “When your kids were teenagers, did you say, ‘Well, ok, if everyone else is doing it, go ahead.  I know it’s not right, but if the regional protocol is to drink and drive, then ok.’?” Really?  Did you say that? Because that’s what you are saying now.

Know what the response is to that? Eye rolling, “Uggh, Linda.  Stop being difficult. You are angry and inappropriate.” And you know what?  It’s true. I am angry. And I don’t know what’s inappropriate anymore.  If my temper tantrums haven’t changed things by now, I guess I am inappropriate.  Maybe walking away is more appropriate.

This is what I know for sure:

  1. I am frightened about what is happening to women’s services in this state and country.  They are disappearing.

  2. I want to work with a true peer.  Another midwife with the same philosophy and devotion.

  3. I’m not ready to give up.

  4. The dance has changed. I’m not doing those steps anymore.

After that, I’m not sure. I think and pray the answer will come.  I don’t want it to be dependent on someone other than me.  I have the power to change only my own life, not the whole system. I don’t have someone helping with the bills. I find myself having to squelch old resentment about that. Other women get to work part time! or not at all! and pursue their dreams! Other women’s husbands stayed true to their commitment! Yes, I remind myself, but I am not those other women. Like I used to say to my daughter when she would throw that argument at me, “But other mothers ——— !”(fill in the blank, whatever it was she wanted me to agree to.)  And my response was always, “Right.  But unfortunately for you, you didn’t get one of those mothers.”  And here I am. I didn’t get one of those husbands.

So my self-pity on that note is brief. I need to pay the bills.  I need to have family time. I need to have days when I know I will sleep. I need to have someone I trust caring for women on those days.

Maybe I need another adventure.

Sunday Morning~ Biting Her Head Off

March 8, 2015

Daylight savings time. A balmy 10 degrees this morning and still four feet of snow with 9 foot drifts. And now it will be a month before I figure out how to change the clock in my car. Unless the kids visit sooner. My back hurts. My neck hurts. I’m tired.

But, I do have the most glorious amaryllis in bloom.  The bulb arrived in November, a surprise gift from an old boyfriend. I thought maybe it was defective as it showed no sign of life when I put it in the pot with my rosemary plant. It’s two companions did their thing, their little praying hands emerged from the center rather obediently the week before Christmas.  They rapidly produced chartreuse and variegated red blossoms and brightened up the withering landscapes of houseplants forced to endure winter in these northern climes.

But the other girl, wow. She had me fooled. She sat and sat, barely showing any sign of life, her hands in solemn prayer well through advent until it seemed she’d become a nun. January, nothing. Didn’t budge. But the rosemary didn’t mind her company, so I left her there in perpetual adolescent prayer.

By Februrary the days should have seemed longer.  Well, they were longer but it was hard to tell. Back to back to back blizzards and snowfall kept the house dark, but by mid-month this little beauty did her thing. I could almost watch her growing, expanding those arms into three enormous heads of buds. One day, in trying to rearrange the plants to give them better light, I knocked off one of the three bud heads. OH NO!  I stared at it on the floor.  I was doing this for you!  And now look what I did! You were just about to explode into your glorious song! And now I have killed you! (This winter has made us all a little crazy).

I trimmed the hollow stem and put it in a vase. Even if it never opens, I thought, the bud itself is gorgeous. I went to the plant to cut the broken stem down to the bulb, wiped my fingerprints off the crime scene, and left no evidence of the murder. The next day my windowsill was graced with emerging glory.  A huge white blossom opened, drooping to one side. The next day, another, then another, then another, until this beheaded blossom was a profusion of angel in the window, stunning against the snowdrifts outside. Spectacular. The heavy buds on the mother plant looked on in contracted silence, keeping their thoughts to themselves. I showed them the amputated sibling. See?  This is what you can become!

In preparing to go away for the family reunion, I poked some sticks into the pot to brace the buds that were now starting to topple.  I always wonder about nature when she creates a plant whose stem is not strong enough to hold it’s blossom.  Was this supposed to crawl on the ground? Well, not crawl, but lay? Anyway, all propped up, I left for five days.  What welcomed me home was a huge bouquet, four feet tall, bridal in it’s majesty, apparently too shy to dress in front of me. I’d call her a show-off, but really, she is modest in her glory, and was struggling to stay up despite the support she’s been given. I told her I should never have doubted.  I’m sorry I was impatient. I thought Christmas or New Year would have been her gift, but she waited for the hen party, knowing late winter I’d need a boost. Oh, so thoughtful of her.

My sister arrived the next day after a visit with my oldest son. She spent a lot of time with him when he was young, as she lived with us for a year to care for the kids while I worked to put my husband through graduate school. The kids were all very close to her. She’s been worried about him, as I have, and we drank wine while she recounted her visit. This was all going fairly well, until she started hitting a few nerves I thought I had well protected. Bling! Bling! Bling! My failures started being laid out before me. Not that this was supposed to be a punitive encounter (I hope), but the wine, the lack of a recent meal, the crappy day at work, the fatigue from the weekend, all aligned to expose those nerves in a very dangerous way, and I snapped. I don’t think she saw that coming.

I stood up, bit her head off, and stormed up to bed, leaving the ingredients for the great meal I was about to prepare, sitting on the counter with the beautiful broken blossom. I dove under my covers and wished the world would go away. We haven’t had a fight like that since we were kids. Well, it wasn’t really a fight.  It was me screaming at her. (But mom, she made me do it!!)

During the night I awoke to the muffled sound of the chickens howling and squawking like crazy. This happens in the summer when a predator gets into the coop, but the snow was so high all the possible entry points were covered, so I knew that couldn’t be it. In my half-asleep state I recalled that sometimes during the full moon they just squawk for a bit, and I had no desire to run out there in the below-zero temps to check. I am just so tired. The commotion didn’t last long, and I fell back into a deep sleep.

In the morning, I felt really badly about my behavior. Really.  When am I going to learn not to leave my soft underbelly exposed?  When zingers hit me I always think, I’ll let that go, I’ll let that go, I’ll let that go, and then at one point, I don’t let it go. Then watch out.

I pattered around doing chores then figured my sister probably didn’t feel like coming downstairs, so I brought her a cup of tea, and said, “I’m really sorry I bit your head off. You clearly hit a raw nerve.” We cried.  We hugged. She said she was sorry, too. She said she loves me and my kids, and I said the same to her. We let it go.

When she came down for breakfast I told her about the ruckus in the chicken coop and needed to go bring them food and water. I bundled up and trudged through the newest snowfall to the coop.  It’s getting harder and harder to get the door open with each new snow. I kicked it away and looked in.  Ten of the eleven chickens were on the roost as it was too cold for their feet on the frozen floor.  The eleventh was under the hanging food tray, headless. I mean, the head was gone. No sign of entry, no other injuries, no tracks around the coop.  Just one chicken with it’s head bitten off.

Well, they say it comes in threes.amaryllis

Sunday Morning~ Family Reunion

March 1, 2015

It’s fifteen minutes before we need to be out of the rental. This will be quick and unedited.

Last year when my sister came from California for a short visit she wanted to get together with the family. Since my mother died we realized the lynch pin that held us together was gone. We are spread out with families of our own and since marriages aren’t happening every year and the old folks are gone, we won’t have the wedding/ funeral reunions with any regularity.

I give my sister a lot of credit for forcing this. It seemed a formidable task to find a location, get the word out, figure out who pays for what, the blah blah of organizing a huge group. My house can hold everyone, but it is a haul for everyone to get there. Now that the younger generation all have jobs and responsibilities, a five-plus hour ride for a family gathering is a deterrent. I had no desire to rent a place and then just sit around and talk and do family therapy.  OK in small doses but not a whole weekend.  End of February isn’t beach weather and a city location was too expensive.

I suggested a ski chalet.  I love to ski as do many of the group, and the others can snowshoe, eat, cuddle up, or read or sleep.  We tried it last year and it worked out fabulously.  Everyone wanted to do it again. Plenty of outside activity, ski stories, good food and wine at night and rosy goodbyes on Sunday.

We are cautious now about explosive topics. Politics? No.  Not around my oldest brother.  He brought a ham he cured from a pig he raised on his homestead.  Love it.  Close to the earth, close to our food.  Eggs from my chickens, veggies from the gardens we all have, yup.  All on the same page.  But when he mentions he named the pig Elizabeth Warren so he could take more satisfaction in shooting it, we all silently didn’t take the bait. I glance at my son who brought his girlfriend for the first time, “You warned her about this, right?”  We let it go. Same when he started a rant about Obama’s birth certificate. No takers. Believe what you want.

In years past this would have been hours of fact-flinging, table-pounding, how-can-you-believe-thats. Now it’s silent glances of understood it’s-not-worth-its. We move on to the recipe for the brine for the ham, which, is the best ham I’ve ever had.

This is progress.  This is for my mother. This is the valuing of our family bonds, of survival of a very difficult childhood with it’s many manifestations. We love each other and accept the screwed-up adults we’ve become.  We’ve coped in different ways and we have become very different people, but I watch how we function together and am grateful.  My granddaughter throws her bottle on the floor and it shatters. I grab a broom, my brother grabs a dustpan and without a word, positions it to collect the shattered bits.  He moves it slightly and I sweep the glassy dust without leaving a trace. We spoke not a word, but accomplished this task with perfect precision. I pause to marvel at our efficiency, but don’t mention it aloud.  I collect these moments and hold them as gifts that take up no space, need no storage, require no dusting, and fill my heart.