A few weeks ago I came back home to South Africa after a full and busy tour of teaching and presenting in various countries in Europe.
I don’t think I quite realised what I had signed myself up for when I said yes to all the commitments I had made but for three weeks I ended up either teaching or travelling every single day.
This was my itinerary:
- 14-15 May, Additional Skills and Information Session Weekend for Doulas at DO-UM in Istanbul, Turkey
- 17-18 May, Helping Babies Breathe and other obstetric emergencies for home birth at Da a Luz, in the Alpujarras, Spain
- 20-24 May, An Introductory Course to Midwifery at Vale dos Homens, Portugal
- 26-31 May, book launch of Italian translation of my book, The Basic Needs of a Woman in Labour, in Rome and various towns on the island of Sardinia.
I flew to Istanbul mid May to teach doulas and student doulas at DO-UM, a space run by Nur (the first ever doula in Turkey) and Sima. These two doulas are pioneering and bearing the torch of birth through education and birth attendance in Turkey. Turkey has a rising caesarian rate which matches our own here in the private sector in South Africa. The majority of births are attended by doctors and most end in caesarans. But DO-UM and other places are trying to shift this by offering doula courses, as well as childbirth classes for expectant couples.
Then I went on to Spain where I spent two days teaching the last workshop of Da a Luz Midwifery School’s second year in operation. The school, is the vision and idea of Vanessa Brooks, a British home birth midwife residing in Spain. It is still a work in progress but what I have seen in visiting the place twice in the last two years, is that it is coming together very nicely, and growing as a course which supports women in choosing the path to true midwifery. Students sign up for a year’s apprenticeship and have the added challenge of having to provide completely for themselves in terms of accommodation (living in tents, vans, yurts, caravans, and one student even building herself a little cob hut), living off the grid and living communally. The school building, is slowly being built and has gone from being a pile of stones to taking on a majestic presence of its own. I look forward to seeing it when it is done but for now, classes still take place mainly outdoors, on rugs, on the grass, under the olive tree. I am very inspired by what Vanessa is doing at Da a Luz because we all know that there is something lacking in midwifery training nowadays, and that is often a lack of trust of the birthing process. Da a Luz aims to instil a sense of confidence and faith in birth.
Last year I taught the Helping Babies Breathe course to a group of doulas in Portugal. After that course, there were numerous requests to build on that and for me to provide a longer, more detailed course, exploring some of the skills of midwifery.
Hence,An Introductory Course to Midwifery was born.
At the beautiful venue at Vale dos Homens we spent five days discussing, exploring and mostly laughing our way through basic midwifery skills, sharing birth stories and discussing what birth and midwifery meant to us.
You can see more pictures from the course on the True Midwifery FaceBook page.
After the course in Portugal I had to catch a plane to Rome where the Italian translation of my book, The Basic Needs of a Woman in Labour (I Bisogni Di Base Di Una Donna in Travaglio in Italian), was being launched, with special guest Michel Odent in attendance.
Hilda Garst, a Dutch mother and La Leche League leader for twenty years, discovered my book online and after reading and feeling inspired by it, contacted me about translating it into Italian. Not only did she take on this task, but she, along with Rome based mother group Nanay, organised two conferences in Rome and Sardinia with Michel Odent and I as the primary guests and speakers.
And after two days, Michel left and Hilda and I drove around the Sardinian island, presenting the book, sometimes twice a day, to various mother groups, students at the midwifery school, paediatricians, psychologists, doulas, as well as a gynaecologist who, after hearing that I gave birth to a 5,47 kg baby over in intact perineum, asked me to stand up so that she could check out my hips.
It was rather tiring travelling so much and presenting the book every day and having to do it through a translator as well. Also, sometimes debates would become quite heated and I would lose track of what was being discussed but I got the general idea through the expressive hand gesticulations the Italians are known for. I also understood the passion and anger that issues around birth can bring up, those are universal. Although there was so much repetition on the book tour, I was able to remind myself daily of the essence of the work that I do.
Michel summarised it so well when he said, “the keyword is protection.”
That is my job, my role, to protect the basic needs of a woman in labour. And when you look at it like that, then it is, and should be, so very simple.
I came away from this trip tired but hopeful.
In a world where birth seems to becoming a more and more medicalised event, I was privileged enough to meet and work with people who believe and trust and who, in their own way, are beacons of light and hope for birthing women and their babies in this world.
Posted by Ruth Ehrhardt, Certified Professional Midwife, Author and Teacher in Cape Town, South Africa