Sunday Morning~ Small things

Sunday Morning ~ Small things

Mbaliwali idabutsa chimoto. ~ A spark caused a great fire.

~ Chewa proverb

May 26, 2019

Zack and I went out to explore a bog yesterday in a part of the state I’d never been to. We packed up some sandwiches, plenty of water, two travel mugs of tea, two expensive pastries I had in the freezer, and set off for the Maine woods. The bog was a challenge to get to and I was amazed Zack was able to even find it, but he’s explored these parts for many years and was familiar with the natural landmarks. We traveled unmarked dirt roads, past idyllic ponds and lakes, and camping areas available to anyone willing to venture in to these parts. It’s state land and the campsites provide a safe sleeping spot for those appreciating this part of the Maine wilderness. You can canoe down the river making a loop connecting five lakes, the campsites situated so there’s always a place to sleep. I took it all in and decided to put a kayak trip here on my list of future adventures. It was a beautiful warm, sunny day and the smell of the woods brought back happy memories of good times in the woodsy warmth. We made our way through dense vegetation to the bog and I was glad I’d worn long pants with the brush scraping against our legs. The sun and warmth usually brings out the shorts in me. Zack said he wouldn’t have let me wear shorts ––– he’s been there before. It wasn’t long before our feet were wet and not long after that a few black flies buzzed around our heads. I wasn’t too bothered by them, taken up with the scene around us, and a few waves of the hand in front of my face cleared them away. Well, that seemed a red flag to a bull. A few minutes later it was full on attack and it was hard to open our eyes. Huge swarms covered us. I had to take my sunglasses off as the black flies were underneath and getting in my eyes. They filled my ears. The only visible part of my wrist between my shirt and gloves had thousands of them on it. It was like a horror movie. I could see why animals have to bury themselves in the mud or jump off a cliff!  I thought they were bad in our backyard in June. This was another experience altogether. I think they all hatched the moment we got out there. So the fantasy of finding a dry spot and eating our picnic dissolved quickly into, ok, had enough of this, let’s get out of here. It was a mile or so walk (trudge) back to the car and probably the most miserable time I’ve ever spent in the woods. Not to overuse superlatives, but it was bad. I had a T-shirt underneath my long sleeved shirt, thinking as I walked I’d remove a layer in the warm sun. There was no way I could expose any more of my skin, so quickly got my T-shirt off, put the long sleeved one back on, then wrapped my T-shirt around my head to keep the bugs out of my ears. That helped a little, but then they all just covered my face. Holy cow, it was unbearable. My right eye is swollen shut this morning and my right ear is twice the size of the left. It was a gorgeous area, and I do want to go back, but maybe in September or October. Give me freezing nights anytime. 

On the drive home I was thinking about how something so tiny can make something so much bigger so miserable. How they could, with their numbers, win the day. I liked the metaphor, searching as I am after every newscast for some hope in the midst of the insanity. I thought about how to be like a black fly. Get in their ears and eyes, under their shirt and up their pants. Six hours later Zack said, “I literally just coughed up dead black flies.” I said, “I just blew some out my nose.”  So yeah, let’s be impossible to ignore.

Sunday Morning~ Midwives!

Sunday Morning ~ Midwives!

Nnzimbe saidyra kutalika koma kutsemekera. ~ The sugar cane is not eaten because it is long, but because it is sweet.

~ Chewa proverb 

May 19, 2019

Hi Everyone,

I’m at my national midwifery meeting, this year in Washington D.C. and am preparing my talk for tomorrow. Well, I didn’t wait until this last minute to prepare it, but I am refining it. I’m nervous, in part because of the public lashing I took at the last conference, and partly because there is so much talent and energy at this conference it’s hard not to compare yourself. It’s humbling. I am trying very hard to be conscious of all the ways this can be interpreted as white privilege, what I should say to acknowledge that, how much of an introduction I should give into my sexual preferences, gender identity, and race? How do I gauge how much time each slide will take? What if no one asks questions? How do I present all the information within the time allowed and not have it sound like a shopping list? All of this kept me awake last night and resulted in oversleeping this morning. I missed early yoga. I’m now in a rush to get showered and get to my first education session, then to the exhibit hall to set up the table to recruit midwives for SEED.  It’s a bit frenetic on top of being in conditioned air and having only carbs available to eat. Funny that we should have a conference focused on making women healthier in such an environment. Six fifty for a bottle of water? Really? 

Tomorrow we go to Capitol Hill to lobby our congress people on issues affecting women and midwives; there’s lots to do there in the twenty minutes we’re given, so I need to review the facts about bills introduced and needing sponsors and figure out how to be brief.  We go on busses, over 500 of us, to make our presence known and hopefully get someone to listen and understand what we do and how we strive for reproductive justice. 

So, short and sweet and full of stuff to make us strong. Here we go.

Love to all,


Sunday Morning~ Mother’s Day

Sunday Morning ~ Mother’s Day

May 12, 2019

Mwana wa ng’ombe upeza akudya udzu anaonera make kudya udzu. ~ You find a calf eating grass because it has seen it’s mother eating grass.

~ Chewa proverb 

Hi Everyone,

All we learn from our mothers: eating grass, stroking kittens, knitting sweaters, making fudge on Sunday afternoons, going to college, voting, cherishing girlfriends, sewing Barbie clothes, and on and on. I miss my mother often, as many of us do. When she was dying, my siblings and I sat around her bed, holding her hand, talking to her, wetting her lips, turning her, and waiting. I’d taken boxes of papers from her apartment and when my mother slept we went through them. We found old Mother’s Day cards we’d made. We laughed at our spelling and primitive artwork and the bizarre messages we chose. She’d purged most of her belongings before she became infirm and the boxes were few; we didn’t have an abundance to sort. But the Mother’s Day cards from us were there, which meant something. I found one I’d made when I was twelve. I hadn’t had money to buy her a gift so made her a list of ten promises. They were for things she complained about, like leaving my shoes under the stool in the kitchen or only using my towel once before throwing it in the wash. I numbered each of them and wrote them out in my loopy curly cursive. 1. I promise to use my towel twice before throwing it in the wash. 2. I promise to chew my food more slowly. 3. I promise to clean the bathroom without being told. Up to… 10. I promise to love you forever. I looked at the card and though, “Well, that was kinda sweet. Wouldn’t have minded getting one of these myself.” but I don’t remember her making a fuss about the card. She didn’t make fusses. But there it was and that was fuss enough. She’d kept it. I remember bringing her breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day. I have no idea what we made, probably cold coffee and some horrible dried out toast and eggs or something. She acted  happy and surprised and we busted with pride. She didn’t have it easy. She was very strong, though, I didn’t recognize it then. I saw her cry exactly two times in my life, once when I was three and my brother cut off all my hair (I remember that vividly), and once when my oldest brother left for Vietnam. (Guess that says something about my golden curls) She may have cried other times but these were the only ones I saw. I definitely did not learn to refrain from crying from my mother. I cry a lot. I used to cry reading Winnie the Pooh books to the kids. I’d sob uncontrollably when reading the book Love You Forever. The first time I was unable to get through it, Zack (age five) asked, “Are you crying because no one ever gave you a book before?” which made me laugh, and ever after I had to think of that line to be able to finish reading the book with a huge lump in my throat.

My kids don’t make a lot of Mother’s Day. It used to bother me (well, ok, it still might) but their logic makes sense. It’s a Hallmark holiday and apparently they boycott the commercialism. I can go along with that (as if I have a choice). As I read about the history of the day I learned that even the woman who lobbied to have the second Sunday of May recognized as Mother’s Day (Anna Jarvis) after a while boycotted it because it became so commercialized. I get it. 

Twenty years ago I was at a funeral service for a local boy who was murdered. It was a shocking horror, he was shot at point blank range, a talented and much loved young man. It was December and the church was filled with white poinsettias. It was snowing outside. The church was heaving with mourners, white poinsettias, and sorrow. I will never forget the look on his mother’s face as she walked out of the church: the picture of grief. Her expression has been branded on my heart ever since. 

During the service his brother read a letter written by the boy, sent to his mother the year before he died. I think it was an actual letter, written on paper and sent by post, but I could be making that up because I like that idea. It may have been before email was even possible. It was a beautiful letter from her son and I’m picturing her reading it after collecting the mail that day, maybe in a sunlit kitchen where the boy used to do his homework when he was in school. I imagine how her heart must have swelled with love and pride, smiling as she read his words. Then it was being read at his funeral. He wrote something about Mother’s Day and not remembering if it was this week or last week.  A rumble of chuckles rolled through the church. He went on to say that Mother’s Day should, it seemed to him, be like Earth Day, something we should celebrate every day, not just once a year. I was standing at the back, as the pews were overflowing by the time I’d arrived, crying along with most others there. There were many other beautiful and wise sentiments expressed in that letter that showed what a wonderful human being he was, but what has stuck with me, and I think of it every year, was that he forgot which day was Mother’s Day because it really didn’t matter. We should honor mothers every day. I love that.

Happy Mother’s Day all you wonderful, hard working, loving mothers.

Love to all,


Sunday Morning~ International Day of the Midwife

Sunday Morning ~ International Day of the Midwife

Mimba si kupha namwino. ~ The pregnancy does not kill the midwife.

~ Chewa proverb

May 5, 2019

Hi Everyone,

Today is International Day of the Midwife. The date was set at the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) conference in 1987, established to highlight the work midwives do around the world and acknowledge their contributions to the lives and well being of mothers and babies. We barely hear about it in the states, but in Malawi, it was a huge celebration. We marched through the streets of the capital with a band leading the way atop a lorry covered in banners with the slogan chosen for the year.  This year the slogan is “Midwives: Defenders of Women’s Rights”. I loved being there. I loved dancing down the streets of Lilongwe with my colleagues. I’m proud to be part of this profession and share the ICM vision that every woman has the right to midwifery care. We need more of us. There is an ICM conference held every three years. I have never been to the conference but I’m told it is a sight to behold. Midwives from all over the world enter the opening ceremony in their national dress. Some Malawian midwives who’d been told me they’ve never been the same since. They said nothing compares to it and once you go you will want to go forever. The last one was in 2017 in Toronto. It figures that the one time I lived close enough to drive and could have attended, I was in Malawi. In 2020 the conference will be held in Bali and I’m going if it’s the last thing I do. Bucket list won’t wait. I chatted with my Malawian colleagues Friday preparing to return there in June. They were getting ready for today’s celebration and it made me miss them and miss Blantyre. Even with all the frustration and uphill battles, it feels good to be part of a powerful group of women with the same vision. 

I’ve been spring cleaning and going through stuff stashed in the attic, hurriedly stored before my departure for Congo then Malawi. I found an assortment of emails from the kids I’d printed out. Many of them were poems that Matt had written, others described travels, and some were the painful processing of what happened to our family. I’d forgotten these things were expressed at all and seeing them so eloquently described rather took my breath away. I found drawings the kids had done when they were little. I found some notebooks with stories they had written, lists of clues as if they were solving a mystery. Some were primitive journals and misspelled documentaries of our family life. I sat and gratefully read it all, but was lonely and mournful of how much time I missed with my kids. Often I was at the hospital for days at a time. I knew that’s what the job would involve, many hours away, unpredictable, often underpaid and borderline abusive. (Scratch the borderline) I had a husband then who was totally supportive and I loved seeing how the kids’ relationship with him deepened since they spent so much time together without me there. When I’d finally arrive home, sleep deprived and weary, he took care of everything so I could just be with the kids. We were such a good team. My work supported us and he supported me. I’d lie on the couch with the kids piled all around me looking at books or telling stories, grateful for all their soft little bodies curled up around mine. Joe would cook supper or attend to some chore he couldn’t get done with the kids around. We were happy. We definitely were a happy family. I loved and believed in my work and loved that he made it possible for me to do it.

As I went through pile after pile of letters, cards, poems, and stories, I felt myself slipping into a pool of self-pity wondering where and how it all went wrong. Maybe it’s the season. Maybe it’s seeing photos on Facebook of kids I delivered graduating from college with their loving intact families all around them. Except for Rachael’s, I was the only parent at my kids’ college graduations and I reacquaint myself with the struggle to understand how it came to this. I think it was reading Matt’s poetry that send me down this path of inquisition. The poems are beautiful and I want to print them all here. It’s been almost two years since I’ve heard from him and I wonder if he still writes. He was not so angry back when these were written. He hosted poetry readings at his house once a week. Smart, talented, funny, and strong, I depended on him. As I went about the spring chores this week I recalled how many renovations he and I did together here. I never foresaw where we would all end up. Good thing I guess. Otherwise the good times would be tainted. I remind myself that those times were real and genuine. We were happy and I am grateful for all the richness of those early years as a family, and for the years after the divorce when the kids and I made the best of it. We traveled, we had adventures, we stuck to our principles, though if I had it to do over, I might make some different decisions. Hind sight, blah blah blah.  

Then I think after all those years of fighting for women’s rights and the toll it took, here we are, same old shit. I’m tired. I’m tired of the fight for basic respectful care for women. It’s been three years this month since my TED talk. It seemed at the time there was potential to really make a difference. I felt like the time was right, and there’d be a snowball effect. Then the election happened and it seems the dark side has grown like a black blob in a science fiction movie, obliterating rights and services, and we, with sticks and stones, are struggling to keep it at bay long enough to even breath. I have worked with some amazing doctors who I felt supported by and were true colleagues. I’ve worked with others who have sabotaged the gains midwives have made in promoting fair safe treatment of women and it’s hard to keep the spirit up. When we make money for the institution they love us. When reimbursement changes and there is competition for the health care dollars, we’re out on the street. It’s no wonder I’m drawn back to Africa over and over. The struggle there feels more organic, less a David and Goliath story. And though I’m not giving up, sometimes I need to complain that it’s hard. There’s a cost and a huge toll on families.  If there were more of us it wouldn’t have to be this way.

Ending on a bright note, yesterday a package arrived in the mail that contained my wallet! A wonderful man named Bruce, from Washington state, contacted me and said his wife had found the wallet near the aquarium, which, was nowhere near where it was stolen.The cash was gone, but everything else was there, a lot of personal stuff which was important to me. My friend Nancy wondered if it was taken by a tourist who took their kids to the aquarium with the cash then threw the wallet away. All the credit cards and been canceled, but they were all there. My drivers license, my nursing license, my little envelope of receipts to get 10% off a purchase at the health food store, and lots more in the faded cloth wallet that looked like it’d spent a few days in the sun. It’s a relief to have it back. It has restored my faith in humanity. 

The sun is peeking out, the church was full of people this morning, the music was uplifting and on key, and the rhubarb is coming up. The ebb will start to flow. 

Love to all,