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Anger. Women’s anger directed at other women. The emotion was so tangible, so raw, I can taste it still.  Memories of my own experiences of female aggression were triggered when I surfed through some of the popular childbirth websites online this past week.  Common to the comment threads was an antagonism directed towards women whose birth experiences were diametrically opposed to their own. There seem to be thick walls between the 25-30% of women who have given birth through caesarean sections, the 80-95% of women in urban areas who have given birth within the parameters of epidural anaesthesia and women who have birthed with full sensation and little or no intervention. Why do we feel so threatened? Why do we lash out at each other? 

I think we are individually and collectively expressing the fragmentation of the Feminine. It is painful.  In the denial of the Feminine that is the structure of all contemporary societies, medical knowledge is divorced from wisdom. In this separation, both aspects are weakened and neither can receive or support the other. The current situation for women in India is an example of this. I happened on a website based around the work of Janet Chawla who founded the NGO, Matrika. Its mission is “the linking of indigenous skills, attitudes, diagnostics and therapeutics with modern allopathic medecine.” Most births in India are still in the hands of dais, traditional midwives who are often illiterate but who “read the fertile female body.” Matrika now has “ample data demonstrating a radically different understanding of the world and of bodily processes than that underlying modern medecine and public health.” This understanding is common to the Feminine the world over. In listening to the video interviews of dais on the website, I was moved by the universality of  their experience. Moved too by the heart breaking position they are in of not having the medical skills, the resources or the respect essential to provide complete care. It is a tragedy that these two aspects of knowledge are separated by caste, class, money, institutional education and government policy.  The polarized situation in India is highlighted by the fact that the “best hospitals” there have a caesarean rate of 80%!  Both the wealthy and the poor are suffering.

Both the east and the west are suffering. Midwifery in Ontario has the medical aspect firmly in hand but  the connection to the sacred understanding of birth that individual midwives may have is not tethered in a collective spiritual tradition or in a practical training in the technologies of breath and sound that are the pathways of the Feminine. Initiation into the “radically different understanding of the world” is not a given.

The radical realization is that we are already whole. There is nothing to fight for. I just learned from Matrika’s website that the Sanskrit word Yoni, referring to a woman’s vagina and womb, shares the same root as the word Yoga. Yuj means ‘union’. A woman is Yoga. In her, everything unites. Her yoni is the place where male and female merge. Where life is renewed and therefore where death is born. Where the past, our genetic history, and the substance of our cells, form the vehicle for the future. Where the unmanifest becomes manifest. Where the hidden is revealed. Where the power and the mystery of life are sourced. Connecting to our bodies brings integration, wisdom. It is only in this state of wisdom that our intelligence can function, that we can make decisions and take action based on the clear discernment of love rather than the haze of fear. 

In the Sri Yantra, the ancient visual expression of the totality of existence, four upward pointing triangles, the male principle, merge with five downward pointing triangles, the female principle. The Sri Yantra tells us that the female principle is a slightly stronger force that the male principle surrenders to. The yantra is not a political statement in the war of the sexes but an illustration of how Life/Love comes into being.  The work of Matrika is to honour the Feminine by listening to what the dais know and understand before giving them additional medical skills, skills that can be integrated into their work rather than be the means of its destruction.  What is our path here in the west?  What will be the bridge between the masculine medical model and the feminine wisdom that is buried more deeply underground here?  What will heal womankind?  To know we are union and the peace inherent in it is a sweet taste on the tongue.

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Ina May Gaskin and Isabel Perez

Ina May Gaskin and Isabel Perez

 

Isabel Perez has been my friend over the last fifteen years. Her life encompasses the ancient and modern, the rural and urban, South and North America. Birth has always been at the centre of Isabel’s life. She lives within an effortless recognition that the seen is evidence of the unseen, that heaven and earth are one condition.

Isabel was born in Guatemala to Mayan parents. Her great-grandmother was a nodrisa, a traditional midwife. Her father was a shaman. After the devastating earthquake in 1976, Isabel, her husband and children were brought to the U.S. by Ina May Gaskin, a pioneering midwife, now world renowned. Isabel trained and worked with Ina May for four years on The Farm in Tennessee. She contributed to a community whose way of handling birth resulted in a caesarean rate of only 1.4% amongst 2,028 women from 1970 to 2000. Home was the environment for 95.1% of the births. Isabel then moved to Toronto where she practiced midwifery until it was integrated into the Ontario health care system in 1993. Subsequently, Isabel has worked as a doula.

What follows is some of the conversation we had in her kitchen this past May. The sounds of living accompanied our talk: splashing water running from the kitchen sink, rice being washed, boiled and stirred; tea being poured; spoons touching bowls; our swallows. Isabel cooked and shared a breakfast of rice pudding while she carried the thread of her narrative. These sounds place her story in the current of daily life. Hear them as you read!

Crescence Krueger What is the most powerful thing that you bring to a birth?

Isabel Perez Confidence. Peace. Love. And trust. Those are the words my clients use, eh? So I’m just repeating them. I have a very simple personality. And that works for me almost everywhere. It’s very simple, the way that I work. Very simple. You have seen.

CK  That’s what I love.  Read the rest of this entry »

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