Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Slow Escape

One thing that I love about working in the 'birth business' is that I don't have a structured schedule. Mine is more like a feast or famine schedule - no babies for two weeks, then BAM! four babies in three days. It certainly makes for an entertaining life.

Babies come whenever they like, and they always seem to come in a clump. Yes, a clump. "Group" would be the wrong word. A group feels orderly, predictable. But a clump - well, that sounds like just the right word for how babies arrive in the world. They seem to get a signal that NOW! is the time, and they all come in a clump, all jumbled together, jostling for position.

I attended five births the other week - five glorious, slow births. These babies didn't watch the clock (neither did their mums and dads and caregivers), and certainly didn't concern themselves about my lack of sleep. These babies came in their own time - one gently in the water, one with her mum's feet firmly planted on the ground, and a few with grand flourishes. But, they all came at their own pace - slowly, deliberately, safely. These babies taught us patience, and more than a few hard lessons.

So, when this recent clump had all arrived, I jumped at a chance to go with my husband on an impromptu visit to a small island close to our home. I didn't have any babies due for a week or two, so I could breathe easy, and run away.

We walked onto the ferry as the sun set, and, fifty minutes later, walked off the ramp into the darkness, carrying our backpacks. We didn't know exactly where the local Inn was, but the clerk had said, "You'll find it." We followed a woman who was pulling a suitcase on wheels, jittering over the rough road, hoping that she was going to the Inn. We might have been following her to her cabin, but we didn't mind. We were living slowly.

Sure enough, she drew us through wrought-iron gates to the Galiano Inn, complete with cedar shakes, tall tree posts, and, through the door to a vaulted space with a stone fireplace. We had arrived.

The next morning, we woke up to see the sun rise over Mount Baker, watched the large ferries plough through Active Pass, and laced up our boots for the day's walk. We had left our car, and our bikes, at home, opting for an even slower pace around the island. After breakfast, we walked to the Bluffs, explored the cedar forests, waved at llamas, watched the eagles soar, checked out the local organic food store, and, 15 miles later, returned to the Inn for a good soak and a read (about the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.)

The next day dawned with sunlight streaming across the harbour. Most of the other people staying at the Inn would be spending their day in the spa having hot stone massages and facials. But, that's not our style. So, we told the clerk that we'd be hiking to Montague Harbour. She had a quick intake of breath, "Oh, there's some wicked hills! You're walking? Really?" Being a mapmaker's daughter, and daring enough to interpret those lines on the map, I took a guess and said, "Let's head clockwise. I bet there'll be less hills that way." (Boy, was I gambling!)

Am I glad we didn't go the other way!!!

As it was, the hills were still a challenge. But, we just kept in mind that we were on foot, and not grinding our way up those hills on our bikes (or on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage!) We had time to stop, think, listen to the wind in the trees, watch the misty rain fall, feel it on our faces, wrap our scarves more tightly, gaze at the sandstone cliffs and the erratics at their feet. It took two hours to hike to the harbour, where we ate caraway cheese and stone fennel crackers on the shell beach. We didn't meet any other pilgrims on our trail, just a lone cyclist on a 40 degree hill, pretending to be Lance Armstrong on Mont Ventoux.

After four hours on the hike, we could feel each muscle working to keep us going. No pain, just good hard work. Our legs seemed to work independently, keeping pace with each other. We held hands at times. We tucked out hands in our pockets when we needed. Then we saw the rain heading our way. It came as a mist bank, white and blanketing the hills. We knew there was a pot of tea close by, at the Market Cafe, and reached the cafe just as the downpour started. A roaring fire, four throbbing legs, two cups of tea, and chocolate. Slow hike rewards!

An hour passed, and the rain softened. We ran across the street to the locals' trail to Sturdies Bay, only two kilometres away. This was our third passage of this trail, so we felt like we knew its secrets already, knew where the fern grove was, where the boggy sections were, where the people were gathering firewood, where we needed to take small steps to easily climb the steep sections. We felt like we belonged.

At the end of the trail, and around the corner, we treated ourselves to a visit to the local bookstore. It's one of those places that has reviews glued to the shelves - "John's pick", "Jennie's favourite". I bought "French Toast: eating and laughing your way around France." My husband bought "The Wisdom of Donkeys: finding tranquility in a chaotic world." Two slow life books.

Later that night, after we'd left the island by ferry, and arrived home, fully refreshed, the stragglers of the baby clump decided to arrive. Two babies came over the next three days, one after the other. We'd only been home for five minutes when the first phone call came. "Jacquie, I think the baby's coming!"

I smiled, changed out of my hiking boots, put on my birth gear, and headed out into the night. I loved our Slow Escape, but I also love Slow Birth (and those unpredictable clumps of babies!)

- Jacquie Munro, Vancouver Doula, Slow Birth, Slow Planet


ebbandflo said...

i smiled when i read this post - i've just come back from a knitting retreat on Salt Spring (first time away at night from the wee guy in almost 6 years). although the retreat was quite fast paced (shopping, knitting, hot tubbing, a band one evening .... alcohol and late night knitting!) getting away from home is the only time i can 'slow down'

Shawna said...

wow, what a beautiful retreat. i just came across your blog and i'm in love :O) my birth was beautiful but rushed because my waters had broken and i wasn't dilating "fast enough". i think if i could have gone at my own pace, it would have gone at just the right pace and been even better. i look forward to reading more about slow births as i slowly work my way towards my dream career in babies. i have so much to learn.

by the way, my midwife calls them "sweet bunches", and yes, births definitely do cluster up, don't they!