Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Back to Basics

We live in a fairly well-off, suburban, single family home, neighbourhood that has it's fair share of white picket fences and manicured gardens. We're not really close to anything commercial or industrial, so people roaming our nearby streets either live here, or are visiting someone else who lives here. So it was with much surprise that I saw a homeless man walking down one of the busier streets in this said neighbourhood. I had a few seconds to take note of him as drove by in my vehicle. He was pushing a metal shopping cart filled most of the way with a bulging green garbage bag. He had a well worn but appropriately warm hat on his head that allowed trails of long, matted grey hair to hang from it. His face was dark and weathered from no doubt many years in the sun and other elements. He had several layers of clothes on his body, none of which had seen a washing machine for extended periods of time. His black trousers appeared torn and split towards the bottom cuffs, perhaps from being over-worn, or from the work of a misguided dog. Over his feet he wore black boots that must have walked many, many miles.

I believe I have seen this gentleman previously in other neighbourhoods, pushing the same cart, walking with a purpose that only he knows of. He has never asked passing strangers for money, or caused any disturbances. He simply appears to have some place he's planning to get to, and no apparent agenda on when to arrive.

As I pondered this man and his first-glance circumstances, my first reaction was to feel sorry for him. He likely has no home, no possessions of material worth, no means to keep his body clean and tidy, etc. How must it feel to be looked upon as 'dirty' and 'caste-away' by the observer.

But then I had a second thought. This man had something I was particularly envious of. All he owned was in that medium sized bag being pushed around in his cart. He had no ties to trivial trinkets, nor was he in need of de-cluttering his overstuffed closets and drawers. He had liberated himself from weighty and often burdonsome possessions and had whittled down what was important to him in one plastic bag. How freeing it would feel to not have to look after, upkeep, or worry about the condition of some of my possessions that I neither need nor properly appreciate, and to keep only the basics that really mean something to me. How many bags could I trim my treasures to? Twelve? Six? Surely not one.

Though he lacked a squeaky clean complexion, I saw no evidence of fear in his eyes about making mortgage payments, deciding which vehicle would suit him best, or if he would be late for some appointment across town. I took a moment to considered how it would feel to be that free; to have simplified life to that extent, and I began to feel a desire to look at my own life in different eyes. Without going to the extreme, I surely could liberate aspects of my life by eliminating some of the physical and emotional clutter that takes a much too dominant role in my day. And in so doing, I might actually be freer to explore the more meaningful things in life that I'm being kept back from currently.

I really don't know anything about the life of this gentleman, nor how he came to be at the place he is in life. But the fact that he keeps walking, keeps pushing his cart, has left an indelible impression in my mind. What first appeared as sad circumstances to me, now feels more like a gentle whisper from the background of my life, ushering me to make things simpler and thus, more meaningful. We never know how long we have here on earth... we may as well cast off the shackles of bondage and really get down to living.

-Heather McCue

Friday, March 23, 2007

Birth Guilt

More often than not, when you congregate a group of young mothers together at any social gathering, conversations seem to eventually lend themselves towards the topic of childbirth. Perhaps this phenomena is due in part because childbirth is typically one of the more emotional events you can experience in life. Whether the moments surrounding your child's birth were positive or frightening, breath-taking or fearful, the emotions stay with you, forever etched in your memory, changing you in some way from who you were, to who you now are. Later, by sharing your story, you are in essence sharing why you are who you are, now. And this personal debriefing, of sorts, will often be met with words of support and validation, or occasionally signs of disapproval and judgement. And this is where 'birth guilt' can grow from.

"Did you have any pain medications?"; "Did you have your baby vaginally?"; "Did you make a lot of noise?"... all are common questions that quietly allude to the idea that one answer is the 'right' way and the other answer is the 'wrong' way. If their experience fits into the 'right' way to birth, women are generally more confident to share their story knowing they will be met with those words of admiration that yes, they did it right and they must have just wanted it bad enough to have achieve it. Conversely, the woman who's experience doesn't fit into this real or imagined 'right' way to birth, may hesitate to share her story in the same company. She may question some of her experience or second-guess her choices to wonder if only she had (fill in the blank), would things had turned out differently? Turned out 'right'? To share a story that personal is to bear yourself completely, leaving yourself open to the judgement of others who may or may not understand the experience. And to many women, the risk of disapproval is just too great. Instead of sharing, they fold up their story and file it away in the safety of their heart, only to be pulled out when it's in safe company.

Can one person's birth be more miraculous than another? The short answer is obviously no. Though the circumstances surrounding every birth will vary, each experience has some of the same amazing firsts: the first sights as mom sees her child face to face after nine months of waiting, the first sounds as baby draws air into his lungs for the first time, the first smells as baby imprints in his soul the unique 'fingerprint' smell of his mother's skin, and the first touches as mom eventually gets to hold her new little one and stroke his cheek. It is an awesome time when a woman becomes a mother (or a mother again), and a man becomes a father (or father again). It is the shift of relationships and the assuming of new responsibilities. These are all miracles and moments worthy of joyful sharing.

'Birth guilt' is an unnecessary and heavy burden to pull around. To carry it is assume that you had the power to change the birth experience, when in reality, there is so much you cannot control in childbirth. It is a force of nature that you can only set the stage for, and then stand back and let it unfold as it sees fit. To think you can change how it unfolds is like trying to hold back the sea as it starts to roll in. When you are able to let go of the things you really never had control over in the first place, and to allow yourself to just ride the experience nature has provided you, it can be a liberating experience. Instead of trying to make things be 'right', you end up empowering yourself to experience what is pure and simply, yours.

All mother's are to be celebrated no matter how their birth stories tell. All birth experiences are to be validated no matter what happened along the journey. And all baby's are to be snuggled no matter how they emerged into this world. Those are the true miracles of life.

-Heather McCue