Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Wayne Gretzky or PK Subban?

Just a minute to think outside the birth box a little today, bear with me folks.

I was waitressing at the White Spot back in 1979, making money for my trip to Africa. The White Spot was a typical Calgary steak house, just down the road from a popular bar, and it was a busy night. Two couples came in and sat in my section. I served them and catered to their every need, as you do as a waitress. I realized the other waitresses were in a frenzy and I asked what was wrong. See, I was a poet back then, an artist, a revolutionary. I didn't know about normal Canadian stuff like hockey. One of the girls let me know that I was serving Wayne Gretzky! So, whatever. I brought them the bill, Gretzky paid with a Visa (wish I'd kept the receipt - his signature was probably worth a lot for a while), and he tipped me $9.00.

Nine dollars on a $91.00 check ... doesn't even add up to 99! Just under ten percent. I always remembered Wayne Gretzky as a bit of a cheap customer, however well he may have played hockey. The Wayne Gretzky story figures as a small chapter in our family's "Mama's waitressing stories". The guy who lifted up my skirt and got a boiling hot steak in his lap was another story altogether...

I traveled through Africa and Europe on my own for a year after that, and I think there was one moment during that trip when I knew that one day I would be able to provide maternity care for underprivileged women. I was somewhere on the border between Tanzania and Uganda, and a young woman came up to me with her baby, who was clearly dying. She thought I would be able to save him, but I couldn't. She will remember me. Not as the great white hope, but as the useless traveler who was just wandering around her country without a pot to piss in, and couldn't even help save her baby boy.

Move forward thirty-odd years. One of my kids has a job in a cafe. P.K. strolled in and had a little brunch, and left a hefty 20%. It's not that times have changed that much - even thirty years ago the good guys left around 15%, the jerks left nothing, and the nice guys...well... in my books, I will now think of Subban as a better hockey player, just because he is a better tipper, and an all-around nicer guy.

So what does this have to do with birth?

Memories count.

When a woman is giving birth, or when she is expecting, or after birth when she is breastfeeding and finds herself a mother, or a mother with a bigger family, she is incredibly sensitive to what is around her. That is why the best place for a woman to be when she is in labor is at home, surrounded by her own furniture, her own people, and her own germs.

If she cannot stay at home, because she can't find a midwife, or doesn't want to, or needs specialized medical care, the doula is there to create an environment in which she will feel safe. Where her memories of that intense time in her life with be bathed in pleasure, even if at the time her physical sensations may be painful and downright unbearable. The doula is there to let a birthing woman know that she is doing exactly the right thing, that her body knows what to do, that she is doing just fine. The particular skill that a doula has is that she manages to translate the woman's reliance upon her, into a memory of self-reliance and self-love. She is so invisible, so subtle, that the woman will remember only "I did it! My body DID know what to do!"

At that moment, a woman is a queen. She should be treated like the royalty she is, like the famous person she will always be remembered as by her children.

So, if you are a doula, remember to give that birthing woman 100%, so that she can remember her birth experience with joy and a sense of accomplishment and peace. What you do doesn't really matter, in the long run. It's how you do it, how much of yourself you give, how big an emotional "tip" you leave that new family with, that really counts in the end.

Life, birth, hockey.


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