Sunday, 2 December 2007

Unbelievable still

Last Wednesday I walked out of the local travel agents with our air tickets to Malawi.
We will leave London on Saturday 5th January arriving in Lilongwe the following day.

El dia de los reyes...Kings day. Having lived in Spain for the past 20years we not only enjoy a generous visit from Father Christmas on 25th but the arrival of the three Kings bearing gifts on the 6th.
I contemplate the significance of our arrival that day and it reminds me of the Christmas carols that we so loved to sing as children and continue to enjoy now.

What can I give him
Poor as I am
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb
If I were a wise man
I would do my part
Yet what can I give him
Give my heart

Yes that is what I shall take to Malawi on Kings Day, my heart.. but I know in advance that the gifts I shall receive just by being there will far outweigh anything that I could hope to give.

Carol is being a star and helping me beyond words to get organized.There is so much to do. As usual I am totally overbooked and need to fit in two homebirths, two teaching courses for midwives, parents classes, my usual working shifts and antenatal visits, all before the end of the month. Not to mention organize and plan a wonderful Christmas with my four wonderful children.

I have just received a mail from my contact in Lilongwe who had promised us very suitable living accomodation. He has rented it out to others!! This is a set back for me but I will try to be positive and think that maybe there is somewhere better just around the corner. Otherwise plans seem to be going well. Carol has sorted out a cheap way to send our excess luggage. This is important as Lucas will need familiar things around etc. to help him settle. I shall start packing tomorrow. The boxes will be on there way by the end of the week.

This weekend I have been teaching student midwives all about natural childbirth. How priviledged we are, as midwives, to be able to be part of this amazing moment. The birth of a new person. How our very attitude, our words, our actions, our care, can so powerfully influence in a good or bad way. We must be aware of this ,we must not take this lightly. What we do, what we say, makes a difference. One would think that all professionals working in this field realize this. It is not so. Caught up in the routine, the protocols, the business, the need to finish the job and get on to the next, cause them to forget the individual, the uniqueness of each birth, of each mother, child and family. Birth is primarily about safety, healthy mothers and babies. But it is also and importantly about love. Mothers bonding with their babies, parents bonding with each other through this marvellous moment, the birth o
f their child.

Friday, 23 November 2007

The time is right

During the following months I never could get them out of my mind . Each and every day I visualised the midwives, the women and babies, the people I had met and knew I had to go back. I talked about this to my family, to my friends and to my work colleagues. It was something I would do in the future. How? When? I had no answers and so the months passed.

One day in July I suddenly decided to send a mail to Linda in Scotland. I had met her just before leaving for Malawi last year and was impressed by the huge effort she was making along with others in Scotland to support Bwaila hospital and the plans for a new building. I explained that I really did want to go back, that I wanted to work alongside the midwives sharing my knowledge and my experience. It was something I needed to do, something I could do... but how? Was she able to help?

I received her reply the following day... YES. She was sure she could help and what a wonderful idea! I was so encouraged, I couldn´t really believe it ! MAYBE NOW WAS THE MOMENT.

Carol had become a friend. Tarek had introduced us. Carol had started up a small charity SOS MALAWI in Javea Spain. Following her visit to Lilongwe she had been so affected by the plight of the women and babies being attended at Bwaila she came back and immediatly set to work raising funds for whatever was needed. However small, it was still important. I had talked many times of my desire to return and she had taken me seriously. The very same day she phoned me excitedly. I have found someone to sponsor you! Now it was really unbelievable. In the space of 2 days I had been offered the economic means to return. The following day I met my sponsor. A private, modest business man. He explained that life had treated him well, things had been good and he felt able to give back some of that to the less fortunate to those whose need was so much greater than his. Not to be named but never to be forgotten. I shall always be grateful to him for this incredible show of solidarity but even more his confidence in me, in what I hope to give, to share with the people in my care with my colleagues in Lilongwe.

And so it was that in July the ball started rolling and I find myself now in the middle of November just 6 weeks away from my dream.

How could it NOT be the moment ??

Once I decided, as with most of the important decisions in my life they really don´t leave me any choice. It just all becomes so clear. I started informing my family, my friends, my work, the women in my care. Everyone without exception has and is being tremendously suportive and for this I am grateful beyond words.

Lucas, my youngest son will go with me. We will leave at the begining of January in time for him to start the new school term on the 8th.

I believe it will be a wonderful experience for Luki. I could not, in any case, leave him for so many months. His father will miss him terribly but supports my decision completely and will give the necessary permission for him to leave Spain.

Acuario have given me unpaid leave so my position will be kept open during this time.

Mum has been through heart by pass surgery recently but seems to be recovering after a few setbacks. I am pleased that this has been sorted out before I go. It would have been very difficult to be so far away from her during such difficult times. Didn´t I say that things just do fit into place when the time is right? My brothers and sister will look after her , I am at peace.

So now its the practical things. With the help of contacts in Lilongwe we now have somewhere to live and the school is sorted. Thanks particularly to Kim, to Joanne and to Tarek. Its still a bit scary and rather unbelievable but it is only the begining, THE BIRTH OF MY DREAM.......................

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

First Impressions

More than two years passed. I maintained contact with Tarek through e-mails. I was fascinated, moved, sad, amazed and many times brought to tears, a whole host of emotions each time I read of his work in Lilongwe.

I logged on to Joanne´s blog ( and started to feel somehow involved and knew that I must go, I had to see for myself. Joanne is an American midwife who has been working in Malawi for several years, she writes a wonderfully descriptive blog emotively telling of the women and the babies in her care.

And so it was that in October/November 2007 Lucas and I went to visit.

It was an incredible experience landing at Lilongwe airport. I was in Africa... at last!

Tarek and his lovely daughter Lara welcomed us. We stayed for a month in their house. We felt good, we felt at home. We met many kind people who contributed to this and we are grateful. We took time to safari, to see the beauty, the wildness, the bareness, the poverty, the colour, the smell, to see and to feel Africa.

I remember my first visit to the hospital. Actually I was not suprised by what I saw... deeply affected but not suprised. I had either been well prepared by Tarek and my emails with Joanne or it was what I had been imagining for so many years.

The conditions in the maternity unit were poor, poorer than you could possibly imagine.

Shortage of materiales, basic cleaning products, medication, but above all shortage of trained staff. The midwives worked hard, cared for the women and babies as best they could in difficult, no, almost impossible circumstances. None of the ease and luxury that we take for granted. Women rolled around and sweated , called for loved ones and endured pain, finally pushing out their babies and bringing them to their breasts crying and healthy- at least for now and they were the lucky ones.

I think what struck me hard and more so due to the type of working environment to which I am accostumed in Acuario, was to see all the women laid out on beds. Uncomfortable iron framed beds, so closely placed as not to allow intimacy nor privacy, even if the old dirty curtains, that were more not present than present, had been pulled around them. I was attending birth in Spain naturally, vertically, with freedom of movement, of choice... the way they do it in Africa ...or so I thought... and here I was in Africa and women were obediently lying down throughout labour and birth because that was what was expected of them, that was the way you did it in hospital. It was not considered better or worse, more or less comfortable, more or less safe, it was what you did.

The short time I was able to spend working alongside the midwives in Bwaila left me deeply affected. I was received with kindness and respect. It was diificult to communicate with the women, I tried to learn a few words of their native language and a few spoke English. I relied on the other midwives to translate for me and did the best I could... I wanted them to get up, get off the bed but of course they received me with caution, with distrust. Women all over Malawi were giving birth naturally, instinctivly, in the villages, in huts, attended by birth attendants not always midwives and not always well attended, accompanied by other women. But here in the hospital women lay down, on their own and didn´t move.

It took me a while to work out how to control cross infection with the few materiales available. To protect the woman and to protect myself... I take for granted plenty of gloves, hand washing facilities and sterilised every thing and here I was moving from one bed to the next, one birth followed by another, frantically trying to achieve... not sterility, this was impossible, but some reasonable level of cleanliness.

So I returned to Spain. Different. How could one not be different after what I had seen ?

Monday, 19 November 2007

The birth of my dream

It probably all started one cold rainy Saturday afternoon in November. I was 14 years old dressed up as a sugar princess acompanied by one cold soggy sugar cube.The white painted cardboard box kind who actually later turned out to be the man I married and the father of my eldest three children.

We were marching down the high street of my home town on the south coast of England. If I remember rightly it had something to do with the injustice of buying beet instead of cane sugar and thus reducing the posibility of third world exports to Europe.

It was my first introduction to OXFAM the plight of the worlds poor, especially of the African countries. However I must admit my childhood had been full of prayers for missionaries, so I had probably always been aware and my dreams of working in Africa much more deep rooted than my conscious memory allows.

But life has a habit of taking you where it wants, leads you in all sorts of expected and unexpected directions until years later here I am in the throes of taking that big step to realize my dream. My dream of Africa.

VSO was the fashion as I finished my school education, I remember dicussing this but as I already had a place to do my nursing training... This was not the moment.

I finished my training, got married and followed my husbands career opportunities round various parts of England... This was not the moment.

The opportunity to train as a midwife came my way, it seemed a good idea and a good time. I was already begining to feel that strong overwhelming desire to hold my own child in my arms, it was all I needed to take the step into motherhood... This was not the moment.

At 25 I gave birth to the eldest of my four children, Catriona followed shortly by Alasdair. Family life was good, I still did a small amount of nursing... This was not the moment.

My husbands career took the family to Spain. It was new and exciting. Bringing up 2 small children the demands of a new country... This was definitely not the moment.

Then Fiona came along, I loved being a mum, its what I do best. There were many changes and new challenges with a new business in a foriegn country... This was not the moment.

In 1993 our marriage ended. Three school age children, on my own after many years, no career prospects, I took a job in a bar, a little English teaching and tried to sort things out. My children were and will always be the most important thing in my life... This was not the moment.

But life has been good to me and luck, destiny, call it what you like, led me to Acuario. The only natural childbirth clinic in Spain. And there I started to grow. Professionally and personally, hungrily grabbing at all opportunities. I had found a base, a security... a home... from where I could search,experiment, achieve, learn, teach, laugh, cry, where I could find the true me...This was not the moment.

Without reason nor thought I fell in love and soon came little Lucas. The child of my age and experience but also the over riding maternal instinct that has no base in the conscious nor the rational that makes me now feel complete as a mother... This was not the moment.

My only credentials for being asked to work as a midwife in Acuario was the fact that I had birthed 3 children totally naturally. Homebirths by choice, by instinct, not intellect. No great philosophy of love and security for the newborn nor respect for the choice of women. No understanding of the empowerment for mothers nor the importance of bonding at birth. I birthed that way because it felt right and no more.That came later.

Its now 14 years since I returned to midwifery. 14 years learning from and with women. Hundreds of births, not one the same. Caring and sharing their happiness mostly and sometimes their sorrows.

Home births, waterbirths, vertical birth, traditional (lying down) birth. Surgical birth (cesarean section), assisted births, epidurals. Births in cars, by telephone, under pine trees. Difficult births, easy births, night and day, sometimes with tiredness, sometimes with energy but always with love. With the best of me the most I could give... sometimes enough and sometimes not enough.

In 2001 I met Dr Tarek Meguid. Fresh from Africa he came to work with us at Acuario.
I was fascinated by him by his experience and his way of looking at the world at his work. He managed to put into words so much of what I felt but had been unable to explain. So it suddenly all became clearer to me. I think I knew then that somehow he would be my way to Africa, though I still didn't know how and after all I had a new baby... This was not the moment.

Tarek stayed with us for a few years untill the call of Africa was too much for him and he left to take up his post in Malawi. It was with great sadness that I said goodbye to him. He was a good friend and a great professional. Working together had been a fusion of like minds and mutual respect. Now I had my pathway to Africa or at least a doorway, the path was yet to come... This was not the moment.

Catriona (26) left for England to study when she was 18. She has never come back to live in Spain. England is her home, there she has found her place professionally using her unbelievable talent with languages and there she has found a man to love and who loves her. I miss her a lot, she is my daughter and my friend. Strong in her views, she is worth listening to.

Alasdair (24) who is at uni studying to be a vet, moved away from home into his own flat 2 years ago. He lives close by and we see each other often. He is a kind, sensitive man, a great support to me in every way including with his little brother... who adores him.

Fiona, now 18, has just started her 2nd year of child care studies in England close to her sister. The first year has been hard for her away from home but I can see the change, the new maturity that comes at this age. She is passing beautifully into being a woman and I am proud of her.

Lucas is 6 years old. Independant, lively, sociable he has already proved able to adapt to any situation that presents. Although his father and I do not live together he plays an important and active role in his life. He always tries to see what would be best for Lucas and put his interests first.