Saturday, November 26, 2011

Child Labour Redefined

If you have been to the store recently you will have likely seen or even met my two youngest children. One might be sweeping or washing the windows or reassembling the train table in the play area for the 20th time that day. The other will likely be counting money in the till, breaking down and recycling boxes, or setting up the sharing space for the next group. My kids are 9 and 11 and they come to work with me each day. These are the activities they have chosen to take on themselves.

In late September of 2011 after much contemplation and wrestling with the idea my husband and I made the decision to home school our two youngest children. The other two have attended public school and one is about to graduate grade 12 this year. How we came to the home school decision with these two is a whole other blog post.

You might ask how in the world you can run a store and home school two children at the same time. Good question and one that used to hold me back from doing it until recently. Firstly we don't follow a traditional school curriculum approach, where I teach them lessons and they trade a public school classroom for a classroom at home. Secondly they are both very self directed learners who love to read and explore so they make it much easier to begin with. I am also fortunate that I don't feel like I need the six hour break from them each day because they are independent and get along very well together for the most part. I enjoy their company and teaching them along the way.

The fortunate thing about the homeschooling group that I found is that it's made up of a diverse group of fantastic people/parents who set up field trips and learning experiences that my kids can participate in on a regular basis. They are a wealth of knowledge for questions and since the kids range in age many have been where we are and have great insight to share. My children are not at the store five days a week for 8 hours like some people might think. My staff schedule means I can leave early 3 days a week and the other two are spent with other families or their Grandpa on field trips and learning opportunities.

My children are very happy in this situation. Their learning comes from living everyday experiences. They are exercising valuable skills in socializing with both adults and children and being very articulate, means they can hold interesting conversations with most anybody including adults. One thing you will experience when you meet them is their love of babies and small children. They take great delight in both playing with and admiring them and I am delighted and admittedly very proud of the empathy and gentleness they naturally have for them.

So if you see two little people hanging about at the store and are curious why they aren't "in school" rest assured they are and we are loving every minute of it.

Peace Out,


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Doula 3.0 ~ Retirement

I have been a doula in my community for 15 years. To my mind this is a long time to be a doula given the less than ideal hours and limited earning potential of the profession. But, most people that follow this path and are still practicing after 15 years were surely not drawn to it for the money, that I can assure you. Me being no different, my interest to serve women at the biggest turning point of their lives comes from a deep respect and love for the woman and only her at the core of it. For me, this has made being a doula one of the most emotionally rewarding things I have ever done.

Part of the responsibility I also felt as a doula was to always make sure I was continually educating myself and giving back to the larger community and my fellow doulas as well. I very much enjoyed mentoring and facilitating continuing education opportunities whenever I was able to and contributing to the greater good of the doula profession. Some great strides have been made in many areas in the advancement of the doula profession and some even in our own community here in Edmonton. The local doula association has added a much needed continuing education component to their membership benefits so local doulas can continue to learn and be supported in their work.

I have been a member in good standing of DONA International (one of several doula organizations) for many years and served two terms as their Alberta Representative. This affiliation has taught me many lessons that I will take into both my professional and personal lives. I have attended hundreds of hours of continuing education workshops, classes, conventions and groups and volunteered many hours to both clients and my doula community over the years.

As I type this post we are on the eve of a doula training workshop taking place over the next six days at Birth Source Inc. by MotherWit Doula Care based in Montreal, QC . Here, 12 very fortunate women will be learning as well as drawing inspiration and wisdom from a very wise and successful doula herself, Lesley Everest. Lesley offers what I consider to be the most comprehensive and highest quality doula trainings in Canada and possibly North America. At the end of this week our local Edmonton community as well as other Alberta communities and beyond will have some of the most well prepared, inspired and professional doulas we have to offer. These ladies will possess the tools to begin their doula practices feeling supported, and emotionally and intellectually prepared to work within an increasingly complicated medical system. They will have the confidence to understand and work within a political and ever changing landscape as well as the added benefit of learning the "business" side of maintaining a doula practice, something that has been sadly missing from many doula trainings.

Bringing Lesley and this training to my community is a fitting conclusion to a profession that I have loved for many years and will continue to love for many to come. I feel like it is the finishing touch on the journey I started 15 years ago. I am effectively hanging up my"birth bag" as a professional doula and since I have been offering services to repeat clients and direct referrals on a limited basis for the past four years, I haven't had a full client load for some time. I promised myself that when the day arrived that my heart was no longer in my work I would stop. My heart is not completely absent don't get me wrong, but I no longer have the energy to give of myself in the capacity my clients deserve. I am not as available to them post birth as much as they need me to be and I have lost the adrenaline rush that comes with an impending birth in the wings. To my friends who have asked me to attend their births in the future I am absolutely honoured to do so. Attending a birth as a friend is much different than attending as your doula. I am making room in my life to pick up other pursuits that have been on the back burner for a long time and with which I will still continue to serve the mothers and babies in my community.

My contribution to the doula profession and my community going ahead will be to help the doulas that take part in this MotherWit training to be as successful as they can be and to move forward with excitement and confidence as they begin their own doula journeys.

To my past client's, thank you from the very bottom of my heart for inviting me to share the most sacred and profound part of your lives with you. To the babies that I have witnessed the beginning of life earth side, you will be in my heart forever. May you grow with abundant love, peace and joy.

Peace Out,


Friday, April 1, 2011

You Are What You Sell...Right? Part 1

I am just trying to keep up here. It has recently been brought to my attention that Medela the huge breast pump manufacturer has acquired Bravado the huge nursing bra manufacturer. The article that I read didn't make it clear to me why this acquisition took place and I don't know enough about business to try and figure it out, I just assumed that Bravado was successful on its own already. Certainly in the newsletter Bravado sent out it didn't say that the company will make a boat load of money from this venture, but rather that their philosophies surrounding supporting BF Mother's align.

Now one could say it is a logical merge considering both companies are in the breastfeeding/nursing business and are simply pooling their resources and expertise, but I am not sure. Medela has come under fire for their unapologetic lack of adherence to the WHO code so it makes me wonder why a company like Bravado whose advertising and marketing hinges on support for breastfeeding would align themselves with Medela. I guess we can only speculate, but rest assured there will be plenty of opinion on this subject from here on in.

So where does this leave a small retailer who provides both Bravado nursing wear and Medela products in their community? It leaves me with a dilemma that's what. If you previously read my blog and the post about Birth Source Inc. and the WHO code you know where I stand on that issue. Just as with all the products I choose to sell I have to make choices not only based on marketing and what my customers are looking for, but I have to make ethical and moral decisions as well.

We don't prominently display our Medela products, but rather provide them for women that need them based on talking to them. We honestly feel that if we were to devote a specific, well stocked display of the plethora of Medela products available we would clearly be sending a message to our customers that says "you will need this product" instead of communicating with them first and then providing them with something "when and if they need the product". Our breast pumps are not a self serve item in our store, ensuring that a conversation takes place before one is brought to our till. There is a big difference between making products available to customers and just hawking a company's stuff because their product line is large.

Why would I have an ethical and moral dilemma about these two products you ask? I have learned over the years, what the power of marketing and brand recognition means to a company. If I had the marketing budget that either of these companies I would have a kick ass business too! But as much as it makes a business successful financially there are things that must be sacrificed to make it so. In the case of Medela they are the pump of choice in many hospitals, and rightly so. The Symphony Breast pump is a great pump. They are well represented in the public health community as well because they offer special needs feeding supplies. So understandably they the company that is on the top of every one's minds. The trouble is that they offer products to support breastfeeding success and products that undermine it simultaneously. They sell complete bottle/nipple sets, nipple shields etc. that often interferes with BF success. This is not to say that they aren't necessary it is just that they don't put a warning label on them and they didn't encourage me as a retailer to not put these on display in a self-serve fashion either. Medela has also been taken to task on the design of their single use pumps such as the Pump In Style and the risk of contamination in the tubing and motor, but I haven't received any literature or emails from Medela on this subject. You'd think that as a retailer of their product they would.

So... when two big companies merge who both have strong brand recognition and a big advertising budget it makes for a big company with much influence over pregnant and breastfeeding Mothers. (Think Nestle, and Mead Johnston if you will who also have this recognition and influence in the medical community). For little old me at Birth Source Inc. it poses the dilemma of offering of the valuable products these companies sell so I can be a resource to my community of breastfeeding mothers and having to compete with Medela and Bravado marketing and selling their products to whomever wants to sell them.

I carry a good selection of Medela products that our customers don't see or even know exist because we dispense them on the advice of professionals, such as supplemental nursing systems aka SNS, nipple shields, slip tip syringes and special feeders for babies with cleft palates etc. We are one of the few that do and we get referrals from public health for these items. It is very expensive to carry Medela products as it is, never mind adding these items to the inventory. I also carry Medela pumps and some breastfeeding apparel and accessories which are more available to customers. These include re-use able nursing pads, nipple ointment and sterilizing products. It might come as a shock to people to know that selling Medela products does not make us any money unless we sell lots and lots of it. The margin on their products is small in comparison to many companies. So unless I create a big display and "sell" people their products suffice to say I am not getting rich anytime soon.

When a customer asks me to match the price of Toys R Us on a breast pump or Safeway on the rental fee or other big retailers I know they are trying to get the best value for their dollar. I believe competition is healthy when it is on an equal level. What I need to emphasize is that Birth Source Inc. is a specialty store who provides knowledge and customer service with every Medela product we sell. We promise that no customer will leave our store with a unneeded product because we want to sell it to them. We don't sell food, household items, bedding, cribs etc. and we don't add them to our inventory to boost sales because they don't "fit" our business. We can't simply drop Medela and Bravado products from our inventory overnight or we risk losing a piece of a vital part of our business, these companies brand recognition. We are continually looking or other products from other companies that are just as good and offer the best value to both our customer and ourselves, but these small companies don't have the advertising clout and the means to support the small retailer and drive customers to our store. So for now we must rely on the intelligence of our customers, the reputation we have built in our community and our own moral compass to guide us on what we sell here at Birth Source Inc. This means experimenting and tweaking the products we offer.

I have seen some blog posts that suggest we simply stop selling Medela products in favour of another. Not that easy when alternative choices are slim. We have provided special needs feeders to customers for almost 4 years now, it isn't as simple as dropping these products and then telling them sorry we no longer carry these. Not a simple matter that can be placed in a nut shell. Does the fact that we sell Medela and Bravado products send a message that we support everything these companies do? No. Rest assured we are trying to balance both our responsibility of providing our customers with what they "need" and our need to make a living, with the moral questions that come along with the association we have with these big companies.

Peace Out,


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Here I Am Stuck In The Middle With You

I am not much for politics, never have been, never will be. It's not that I don't follow politics, I do very much so. I grew up with a political Father and I still have interesting discussions with him on most subjects. I always exercise my right to vote and I am thankful to be in a country where my political views are within my right to express. But aside from traditional politics I find political behaviour just as tedious.

I rarely share my political views with other people though, especially in the birth world, where a lot of political behaviour goes on. I find that it puts too much pressure on my relationships with people and that my personal thoughts on things will simply be chalked up to being either on the left or the right. Some people are really good at it and I admire how much energy they are able to put toward advocating for a cause they believe in when they are able to actually effect change of some sort.

I recently read a post by a blog I follow called "Hypocrite in The Middle". The author was being labeled a hypocrite by people who are very much to the right and to the left. In fact I would say these two groups she speaks of would be considered a little extreme right and a little extreme left. So where did this leave her? In the middle of course. This is where I find myself as well. Somewhere in the middle of things. That isn't to say that I don't lean a little left on some things or a little right either when it comes to my own life and beliefs or even my "political" views at times, but nonetheless this is where I have landed.

I know many people in the birth world. This is a community where emotions run high and passions run deep. Where women/mothers are simultaneously exalted and undermined. Where the choices she makes about her pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and parenting push her toward some sort of tribe that she must choose in order to belong somewhere she is comfortable and accepted. I often think that I don't have a tribe that fits me, but I know many people on both side of the spectrum and although I don't belong in their particular tribe I value my relationships with them. They give me a perspective on life that I wouldn't otherwise get. Sometimes I rejoice with them and other times they infuriate me, but I feel their input into my need to understand people is vital.

So.... where does being in the middle leave a person? Do the people in other tribes respect you if you don't feel extreme about anything one way or the other. Are you perceived as playing it safe not taking a particular stand on anything? I have seen people of completely different tribes interact, and I have to tell you in my experience rarely is it pleasant. It might start out that way, but when people begin to verbalize how they feel about their choices it usually becomes personal and someone always ends up being judged or feels like they are being judged. Google some of the blogs out there on subjects related to mothering and you see it almost immediately. People berating each other for having different beliefs or making different choices than their own.

Naturally not everyone is going to get along, it is simple human nature. But, it is my firm belief that people that pull toward one extreme or the other claim it is to further their cause when in fact it is to serve themselves. These are the people that dish out the most amount of judgement while they adamantly claim the right to their own choices. They make mean spirited statements without knowing the back story of the person they inflict it upon. They rarely go outside of their own tribe or even attempt to gain understanding of others. You can't further a cause by alienating the very people you claim to want to help.

I am not in the middle because I don't want to piss anyone off, I don't care if I piss anyone off in fact. Extreme viewpoints don't intimidate me they make me more adamant about standing firm to what I personally believe. What I personally believe is my right and that of others to make choices we deem fit for ourselves. Everyone has the right to make good choices and bad choices, to offer good arguments about their beliefs or to simply say it is none of your business what my beliefs are. I can share information with others, but if they choose not to agree that is okay with me. What I can't do is undermine them for their choices, whether or not I agree or disagree because it is far too important that they have that choice in the first place.

Peace Out,


Friday, December 31, 2010

Doula 2.0

Here we are on the eve of a New Year, and like many I am pausing to reflect on the past 364 days. Typically I marvel at the speed of the journey from one year to the next, but this year it doesn't feel that way. Many of my experiences of 2010 have caused me to slow down and think, to critically evaluate my path and to examine my relationships and my roles within them. This year unrolled at a steady pace and I can think back and reflect on each phase with much clarity.

My children have grown of course and although that always takes me aback as they mature and change, I have very much savoured their company, their learning, the lessons they continue to teach me and their love. They have been a beautiful oasis in my complicated and busy professional life. They remind me of what we (my husband and I) have done right in 2010. The most important role of all seems to be holding well, is the most grounding thing I have in my life and caused me the least amount of doubt. I purposefully forced myself to make the most of not only days but moments with each of them.

The biggest change was expanding and moving Birth Source Inc. to accommodate a vision I have had for years. This was the biggest upheaval in many a year! Some days are a flip flop between excitement and regret still, but here we are working at fulfilling the vision and gaining confidence in it. This process did not zip by by any means. It has been slow and methodical, full of ups and downs and lessons that I will be forever changed by, both good and bad. So for this I must be thankful I suppose because if the journey were easy I guess I might not feel as determined to make it better! I have the best customers and support in my community than I could hope to have. Kathleen and Julie who work with me have been so supportive and helpful and understanding of my vision that I am eternally grateful to them for coming into my life! Kathleen is so even and calm and patient with my venting and ranting and offers me the perspective I need and the Mother to Mother support to the families that come to the store with all of her heart.

My professional relationships have ebbed and flowed in 2010. I have both lost and gained friendships within the doula/birth world and continue to digest and metabolize just how much of a profound effect that would have on me. I have many flaws, but lack of loyalty and ethics are not among them. I spent sometime feeling a little naive about maintaining these characteristics this year as they both appeared to have worked against me with regards to my doula work and my professional associations. But, of course after some time to reflect and heal I have come to understand that these are the characteristics that allow me to keep doing this work because I am loyal and ethical when it comes to supporting the families that hire me, the doulas that come to me for advice and a profession that I absolutely love.

Two experiences have influenced the reshaping of my doula self for 2011. The first one is attending the "Gentle Birth Guardian" training with Barbara Harper and Nadine Romain
in July and the second was leaving behind old associations with an organization I no longer felt benefited either of us.

The workshop with Barbara and Nadine helped me be comfortable with the unlearning I needed to do to feel truly comfortable with both my doula self and my personal self. I have been to many workshops, read all the books, bought into all the wisdom of the birth gurus and met many of them as well. When Barbara Harper takes you aside and talks with you about yourself, your dreams and goals and visions it is with such authenticity and grace it changes you. When she takes your face in her hands and looks into your eyes and says "I See You" she means it with all of her heart. She makes you feel like you make a difference and that your effort isn't for not.

All of us get into the birth field to make a difference to women and babies and everyone fulfills this in their own way, but Barbara Harper and my midwife Noreen Walker are the two women I have personally met that I feel are truly there for the Mothers and Babies. These are my mentors, not because they are rock stars in the birth world, but because they are willing to put themselves out there to make birth better for women. They don't worry about political correctness or rocking the boat and when I feel alone I think of them. These two women have made me feel seen and heard.

To examine the doubts I had and to take the steps necessary to be okay with saying goodbye to old associations that were holding me down and disappointing me so greatly was very difficult for me. I felt like I had wasted some of the best years investing in a one way relationships and sharing a common philosophy that turned out not to be. Much like a divorce I felt a big loss initially, a mourning if you will, but I recognize that it was a great learning opportunity and a valuable stop on my journey. It is easy to get comfortable and difficult to get out of( or in my case kicked out of) a comfort zone. I feel good about my service to my association as I furthered the vision of it's "founders" whom I respect very much and fulfilled my role as their ambassador with integrity and a pure doula spirit. I am okay now, with closing that chapter of life and moving on.

So... my resolution for 2011 is to continue improving my doula self, learning, creating authentic relationships, defending my doula sisters and helping them on their journey with whatever wisdom I am able to offer. I'm putting my energy to demanding and shaping not only quality education for doulas but mentor ship and support for them as well, casting off relationships with political ties and egomaniacs and getting down to the work of putting women first, something much is written about, but rarely practiced.
Peace Out,

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Tattooed Doula

I like tattoos. Always have, always will. I can't tell you when my appreciation began but the fact is that I now have three and will have more. The first two I have are small black and grey and not very "conspicuous" you might say, but they are very meaningful. For my 40th Birthday I decided to get the tattoo I have wanted for a very long time. I found an artist I felt good about, put much thought into the design and now I have a beautiful coloured half sleeve that I love.

I never felt much either way about how people might perceive me knowing I had tattoos. I mean I understand that for years people associated them with "bikers" and other wild personalities, but honestly they really have become mainstream by now with so many people getting them these days it is hardly shocking to see.

The funny thing about getting a tattoo of this size is how much of a social experiment it can be. I mean people that already knew me for awhile were not at all shocked, but it took others by surprise. These were mainly customers at the store and other people that I knew but didn't see often. The typical reaction was "Wow, you have a tattoo?" and the facial expressions were mixed. Would they think differently about me now? I could have had the tattoo for years for all they knew, but somehow "seeing" it potentially put me into a different light. The large majority of them were very positive though.

For people that like tattoos or had their own it served as a discussion point. They would admire the work, ask about the design etc. and talk about their own tattoo story. Other people commented on how I didn't seem like the type to have a tattoo, whatever that means and others would notice it and look visibly uncomfortable. I generally accept that people are curious, and yes there are those that just don't appreciate the art, but I have never felt "judged" by my tattoo. That is until a recent trip to Las Vegas for the ABC kids expo. Now it wasn't dramatic or blatant or anything just that I was a little more aware of what having a large tattoo means as far as the attention is gets.

As I went from booth to booth chatting with vendors and looking at the products I began to see a pattern. As I approached, one of two things happened depending in whether or not they noticed the tattoo before we started chatting or during our conversation. For those that noticed it right off they would either continue to initiate the conversation and as we chatted get warmer or they would be very short in conversation and not put out warm vibes so to speak. The rudest were the ones who noticed the tattoo and lacked the social etiquette to hide their reaction to it ( body language wise if you know what I mean). Let's just say those conversations were short. For those that noticed it well into our conversation it didn't seem to affect our interaction very much. Some would carry on like nothing and others would ask me about it.

This experience got me thinking about how one's appearance has the potential to affect their work life. It reminded me of when was younger and decided to get my nose pierced over 20 years ago now. I was told in dental assisting school that I would have to remove it or no dentist would hire me. Not wanting to reduce my chances for a job I obliged. I wonder if that still holds true today? Tattoos and piercings are fashionable now with many people sporting skin art and body jewelry. I bet plenty are dentists. Well, maybe not "plenty". The question is how does this affect peoples perceptions. Does the number of tattoos or piercings play a role and if so, what is considered acceptable?

I wonder if a tattooed doula could potentially not be hired because of her skin art? I mean imagine having a long telephone conversation with a women discussing her wishes and how they can work together to make the birth as positive as possible. The woman feels very comfortable with her philosophy and experience and is confident in her abilities and then she meets her face to face. Tattoos can be visible or invisible depending on the location of the tattoo and what you are wearing, but let's just say that at least a few are obvious in this example. Can you imagine how sad it would be if this initially positive relationship ended due to the appearance of the doula. A warm, competent doula who happens to sport tattoos might not be hired due to her appearance.

Okay I know that first impressions are important, but if the first impression over the phone was excellent then I guess there is very much a difference between first impressions and "visual" first impressions. It just got me wondering about my doula colleagues with tattoos and what their experiences might be. I have had plenty of client's with tattoos over the years and more than a few with various piercings. I can safely say that even if I didn't appreciate tattoos it wouldn't have meant anything either way about how I felt about them personally. With any luck a good match between a tattooed doula and her potential client's will be the same. I know plenty of beautiful tattooed doulas who Iwould welcome at my birth.

Peace Out,


Sunday, September 26, 2010

If These Walls Could Talk

I forgot I had a blog!! Well I didn't "really" forget but it feels like that since I haven't posted a thing in four months! The blog gurus would shake their heads for sure at my lack of frequency and content.

Anyway...I have been extremely busy since the beginning of May with the Birth Source Inc. store expansion and quite frankly didn't have the energy to blog about it at the time. Besides, it would have been far too negative, full of expletives and really just a complete downer to anyone reading it. I knew it would be work, that goes without saying, but no one could have prepared me for the stress that would come along with moving into phase two of my dream of Birth Source Inc. as a true community resource.

To make a long story short, I was mired in paperwork, red tape, last minute fires to put out at every turn, scrambling to find a new contractor on short notice and an electrician to replace the one who bailed on me just over a week before open! Thank goodness for my family and their dedication to getting the store ready to open as close to the target date as we could. My husband, children and of course my father who worked so hard and whom I can never thank enough! I have several others to thank for their help and promise them all I will pay it forward!

If the walls at Birth Source Inc. could talk they would tell you that I cried the first week I spent there, missing my old Birth Source Inc. and the security of my little store. Sitting among the boxes, not knowing where anything was or should go when found it. Looking at the unfinished workshop space with the wires hanging out of the ceiling and no store sign up to tell people we had arrived. Wondering if my decision was a good one, if I could handle the extra responsibility of the bigger location and it's future, accepting the financial responsibility it would pose on me and my family.

If the walls could talk they would also tell you how many wonderful people from the Gold Bar community stopped in during construction to enquire "what is going in here?" and being delighted to hear it would be a "baby store". Those same neighbors later stopped by and welcomed us to the area with open arms.

The walls of Birth Source Inc. would say how lucky I feel that the wonderful customers and children I missed so much during the move have come back, with love and support and humbling loyalty. They missed us too.

Birth Source Inc. is slowly moving toward the "Gathering Place" it was always meant to be. Collaboration and input from many others who understand and embrace the vision of offering women and families a comfort zone during the exciting, scary and often emotional ups and downs of parenthood. A place to come for friendship, learning and sharing.

Perhaps the most comforting thought is knowing I am no longer on my own. I am gathering a wonderful group of friends to share this with and work along side me to make the vision of Birth Source Inc. as true as it can be. As I jump over each hurdle my confidence and satisfaction with how much I am learning grows and just over two weeks later the walls of Birth Source Inc. are now seeing me smile more everyday.

Peace Out,