Sunday Morning ~ International Day of the Midwife
Mimba si kupha namwino. ~ The pregnancy does not kill the midwife.
~ Chewa proverb
May 5, 2019
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,