Mother’s Day for the Motherless

Social media is The Worst when you’re trying to pretend a day doesn’t exist, especially Mother’s Day. Each year my feeds fill with happy, thankful people who are grateful to have good, kind, mothers in their lives. There is love. There is so much fucking love. And each year it feels like the massive wound I have in my heart is being poked at with a stick.

It’s a hard day for so many people, for so many reasons. Some people lost their mothers, while others just didn’t get the mother they deserve. Some people have mothers, but don’t get to be mothers. I know I’m not unique.

I’ve tried so hard in recent years to just tune the day out. I wish I could be like my friend, Adina, who marks the day by doing something her mother would have loved. It feels like such a beautiful way to process grief. But I really don’t know what my mother loved. She died when I was barely three and I didn’t get a chance to know her.

I do have an amazing group of motherly stand-ins, friends, and a good husband who support me and for whom I am so grateful. But I’m most grateful that this Mother’s Day doesn’t feel so focused on grief. It’s the first year that I’m experiencing the day as a mother instead of a left-behind daughter and it feels different. It’s all sorts of cliche, but Alice, who is named after my mum, fills my heart in ways I could never have thought possible. Having her makes the day feel less empty. It doesn’t hurt so bad.

So many life events, especially around becoming a parent, trigger grief. I wanted my mother when I was pregnant, and to take care of me after I gave birth. I want to have my mother to call when I’m scared and I don’t know what to do. (It’s easy to imagine a perfect version of what could have been, even though most people’s reality isn’t that simple.) But becoming a parent also offers a clean(ish) slate to create something new, and maybe also heal some old wounds. Today still makes me feel sad, but the totally ridiculous joy I get out of being that kid’s mother balances it out.

 

A Birth Story

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It’s a strange feeling to walk yourself into an operating room, climb on a table, and wait to be cut open. I wasn’t sick. I wasn’t even in labour. But I was there for a C-section, preparing to bring my baby into the world in the last way I expected.

I had wanted to give birth at the Toronto Birth Centre – a midwife run facility just for delivering babies with beautiful big rooms, double beds, and fake fireplaces – long before I was pregnant, and before the centre had even been officially opened. I was drawn to the idea of a place just for birth, not contaminated by the stress of hospitals. Hospitals are for illness. Hospitals are for interventions. Hospitals breed infections.

We chose a midwifery practice with privileges at Mt. Sinai because, if something goes wrong and you’re going to end up at a hospital, it may as well be one of the best. But I wasn’t going to need it. My body – so bad at doing so many things – was going to be really good at pregnancy and birth. It was going to finally redeem itself for being clumsy and uncoordinated, for being hard to manage and hard to love.

And oh how good at pregnancy it was. So good that it grew an enormous baby who refused to leave the comfortable swimming pool of easy to access food and climate control. I was desperate to get the birthing show on the road – drinking the teas, taking the herbs, visiting the acupuncturist for the first time in my life, and then in rapid succession for the week after my due date in an attempt to get the baby out. Nothing seemed to disturb her. So on day nine, I went for the ultrasound I had hoped not to need to confirm the health of the baby and the placenta. As the OB walked me through the report, he pointed to strong muscle tension and heartbeat, good fluid levels, and a still normal placenta. And an estimated fetal weight of nearly 13lbs! His recommendation was, “in order to ensure a safe delivery”, to deliver the baby via C-section.

My first reaction was to laugh. I thought, “Yes, I know I’m having a big baby. I’m a big woman. And look at the size of this belly!” But I also knew that ultrasound estimates can be wildly inaccurate and those doctors really just want to cut things, don’t they?

We left the hospital. I tweeted about the extreme prediction, laying the ground work for some serious street cred. But I wasn’t going to be one of the 27% of Canadian births that ended in C-section. Those were for emergencies, or for people who got sucked into the medicalization of childbirth and got talked into thinking their bodies weren’t made for this. I was going to have the natural birth I planned! I knew things sometimes went wrong, but they weren’t going to go wrong for me! How could they? I had a plan.

But as the night went on, I got worried. What if they were right? What if I really had a 13lb baby? Or what if they are so wrong and I actually have a 9lb baby and have a completely unnecessary surgery?

I called the midwife, mostly looking for some reassurance that I could, indeed deliver this baby even if it was huge. I expected her to be relaxed, but she wasn’t. Was it possible the size was overestimated and that this baby would be totally fine? Sure. Was it possible that my large frame would safely deliver a baby of this size, even though it probably wouldn’t feel awesome? Absolutely, it was possible. But it was also possible that the baby’s head would deliver nicely and then nothing more. The shoulders might be too wide and get stuck. And then they would do all they could to manoeuvre her out – in an extreme case, breaking the collar bone if that was necessary. If it worked, all would be well. If it didn’t, well, the words “brain damage” and “death” are basically the scariest things in the world.

They called it an “elective C-section,” but this wasn’t a “too posh to push” situation. (Me. Posh. Can you imagine?) I lay awake most of the night before tormenting myself.  I wasn’t sure it was the right decision. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was giving up. But there didn’t seem to be an alternative, knowing that I couldn’t live with the guilt of calling their bluff, pushing for a vaginal birth, and being wrong. So I woke at 6am and headed off for surgery.

We walked along a nearly empty College Street to the hospital at a quarter to seven in the morning. “Alice?” I said as we stopped at a light. “Alice Emilia?” Ryan responded. And our baby had a name.

I walked into the O.R. sometime around noon. I sat waiting for the spinal anaesthesia while watching the nurse assemble the scalpels that would be used to cut through my body.

“What kind of music do you like?” the surgeon asked.

“Taylor Swift” I instinctively responded. It was the first thing that came to mind. I had no idea why I was being asked.

“Great choice. I love Taylor Swift.”

I lay on the table, Taylor Swift on the speakers, with 10 masked strangers taping on monitors, positioning my body, disinfecting my abdomen. Actually, I really have no idea what they were doing to me. I heard the masked voices, never sure which one to respond to, tried unsuccessfully to wriggle my toes, and waited.

“So how big do we think this baby is?” says the surgeon. “I’m guessing 10lbs 3oz.”

“No. No way. I am not having surgery for a 10lb baby. She’s over 11lbs or I’m out.”

“Ok. 10lbs 5oz.”

Ryan, who had been waiting in the hall, came in at some point (we later learned that they make the support person wait in the hall not until they are ready to start cutting, but until they have actually made the first cut. I guess to make sure I didn’t scream). Some time passed, it felt like no time at all despite the strange feelings of my insides being tugged and manipulated.

“Do you like this song?” It was a Taylor Swift song I somehow wasn’t familiar with. “Someone hit next. Get a song she likes.” They settled on “Our Song.”

Someone said “Stand up now.” Ryan stood up to peer over the curtain.

“Take pictures!” Ryan took pictures.

Someone lowered the surgical curtain and there I was, staring up at a beautiful, scrunchy, pissed off baby covered with goo. I’m not sure how I felt in the moment. Overwhelmed. Amazed. Despite being pregnant FOREVER, it’s hard to process looking down at the human you’ve grown.

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She was swiftly swept away to be inspected and weighed.

“11lbs, 6oz” someone announced.

I’m pretty sure I cheered.

At some point someone brought her over to me to look at momentarily before they continued on with baby inspections. Or maybe this happened right after she was born. Truthfully, everything after looking up at her from the table is kind of a blur.

They brought the baby to Ryan for some skin-to-skin contact since I wasn’t in any shape to hold her. They held her to my face so she would smell me, and feel my skin. I’m sure other things happened, but shortly after I was given a dose of Ketamine to deal with the pain of being put back together and things got awfully fuzzy. Eventually, I ended up in a recovery room with a perfect, fat baby voraciously feeding on my chest. A tiny human that I somehow grew, and housed.

We were in the hospital for two days, though the recovery is much longer. I haven’t completely let go of the feelings of missing out on the natural birth experience I planned, even though I know the consequences (not to mention the physical damage) could have been much worse than some misplaced feelings of want or guilt. It was not the birth that I wanted, but it’s the birth I got. In the end, I am at peace with the decision.

 

Get Your Give on: It’s GivingTuesday Time!

December 2nd is the second annual GivingTuesday in Canada. Heard of it? It’s a movement to remind us all that we can use our money to do amazing things, not just for stuff.

How I’m getting involved:

December 2nd also happens to be both the anniversary of my mother’s death, and the birthday of young cousin (whose mother won’t let me post his picture on the internet, but I promise you he is super cute). So in their honour, this year I’m giving to two charities that relate to motherhood:

Jessie’s Centre is a local charity that helps pregnant teens and young parents with education, healthcare, housing, jobs, and parenting skills. I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it would be to raise a child as a teen – particularly without the support of family or sometimes a partner.  I recently had the opportunity to visit the centre, and tour their in-house high school and childcare centre. They do good things, but they could do even more with more support.

Women’s reproductive health is really important to me, and I respect that Jessie’s Centre gives young women help and options, and if they choose to become mothers, ensures they can still go on to do all the things they want to do in their lives.

I’m also giving to AMREF Canada’s Stand Up for Mothers program. Children around the world grow up without mothers because women don’t have access to adequate healthcare. 162,000 mothers died in pregnancy and childbirth in Africa in 2010. That’s 56% of all maternal deaths worldwide. 950,000 children were left without a mother because she died giving birth to a brother or sister. That’s fucking ridiculous, guys. AMREF is aiming to train 15,000 midwives by 2015 to help save women’s lives. This is a problem we can solve.

I’m also going to pump up my donations for these charities by taking advantage of the Interac and PayPal matching opportunities through CanadaHelps.

You can do GivingTuesday too!

  1. You can give money to a charity that does awesome work. I promise you, they always need your money. I gravitate towards smaller charities, but choose what suits you best. Here are some tips from my friend Andrea, which are awesome, like she is.
  2. Fundraise for a charity. My aunt and I both did this for our birthdays – look how cute we are!
  3. You can  perform random acts of kindness. Buy someone on the street lunch. Offer to babysit a friend’s kids so he/she can get a break. Visit a home for the aged and spend some time with seniors who don’t always get enough visitors. Do something awesome for someone else, and encourage others to do the same.
  4. You can volunteer. Attend Timeraiser’s special GivingTuesday event in Toronto to find a charity that is looking for skilled volunteers, visit volunteer.ca to search for a charity to contribute your skills to, or just call up a local charity like a food bank or shelter and offer your time. My friend Leslie and I met reps from the Native Women’s Resource Centre at a summer Timeraiser event, and ended up working on their annual report – something they needed help with and we were interested in doing.
  5. You can send charity gift cards to people you love (or even people you barely know, if that’s your scene) to inspire them to give.
  6. You can read this blog on Playground confidential about ways you can give, or any of these awesome GivingTuesday posts on GivingLife.
  7. You can watch the video about ways to participate.
  8. You can give blood. I went with my office recently, and not only was it super easy and painless, they give you cookies at the end. Basically my dream.
  9. You can be loud on the internet on Tuesday and get everyone involved. #GivingTuesdayCA #Unselfie

GivingTuesday isn’t going to solve all the world’s problems in a single day, but the bigger it gets, the more we can remind people that giving back needs to be part of our lives.

 

*Note: Though my work involves charities and GivingTuesday, this blog is entirely my own opinion and about my personal connections to charities.

Bowling for HALCO – 2013!

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It’s that time of year again when I am asking you for money. But hear me out. There are very few things I ask you for money for (You know I’m not very athletic, so there’s probably not a marathon in my future). I’d really like you to sponsor me for HALCO‘s 5th Annual Bowl-a-thon.

How can you sponsor me?

Click the button!  You can donate by credit card, interac online banking, or paypal! It’s a super easy process (much easier than last year) and you’ll get an automatic tax receipt by email. (The more you give, the more you can deduct from your tax bill!) Way wait? You can donate right now by clicking the button.
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Why should you sponsor me?

  1. I like to brag, so I need something to brag about. Raising the most money for a great cause is a great topic! (Also, I may be a tiny bit competitive and I may have made a bet that I could raise the most for this totally amazing cause)
  2. I have a minimum to raise if I want to bowl. And I really want to bowl. I need to raise at least $160. That’s just $5 from 20 of you! Or $10 from 16 of you!  $20 from 8 of you! $40 from 4 of you! You get the idea.
  3. And finally, the most important reason: HALCO is awesome. They provide front-line legal services for people living with HIV & AIDS in Ontario. There’s still a lot of stigma associated with HIV & AIDS and people living with the virus can face discrimination in ways that others don’t.  It’s also a disease that disproportionately affects marginalized people. The fastest growing population infected with HIV? Women.  It is the only service of its kind in Canada and since 2006, the demand for their legal services has increased 90%.

Also, I made a very pretty Facebook Page for the event. Why not give it a like? I bet your friends would really like it too! https://www.facebook.com/HalcoBowlathon

Some details about HALCO:

The HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario (HALCO) is a charitable, not-for-profit community-based legal clinic that provides free legal services to people living with HIV & AIDS in Ontario.  It is the only service of its kind in Canada and since 2006, the demand for our legal services has increased 90%.

For more information about the event, check us out at www.halco.org or call Rhonda Major, Fundraising & Volunteer Management Assistant 416-340-7790 x32 or by e-mail at majorr@lao.on.ca

To learn more about HALCO, read this super-informative pamphlet.

 

The Futility of Talking to the TTC

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Andy Byford says the TTC is focusing on customer service. I’m not sure I buy it.

On the Spadina streetcar yesterday, a man got on the back doors with a day pass. I didn’t see whether he showed it to the driver through the mirror, but the driver knew that he had gotten on the back and that he had a pass, so he must have done something. In any case, the driver announced that he needed to see the pass from the man who got on the back door. He made several more announcements to the effect of “We’re not moving until you show me your pass” and “I can wait all day.”

As a passenger on that streetcar – one who paid a fare, and was relying on that streetcar to get me to work in a timely manner – what was I to do?
The driver did not get up to speak to Fare Evader Man, which I’m not necessarily criticizing him for since I can understand that it might feel unsafe to do so, he just waited. You can tell me that the ultimate responsibility is that of the person who didn’t pay, but that argument relies on the assumption that the fare evader a) gives a damn, and b) is rational. What it means in practice is that it is up to other passengers (who also might feel unsafe) rather than the service provider to enforce fare evasion. That doesn’t make much sense to me.
Situations like this make passengers angry (and sometimes the situation escalates into a much bigger fight involving multiple people), makes them feel uncared for, and makes people not want to ride the TTC.

I’ve seen this happen many times before. Sometimes the person gets off, sometimes another passenger pays the fare (which once a driver refused to accept on principle), and sometimes the person actually pays. In this case, another passenger went up to Fare Evader Man and told him to show his pass. Fare Evader Man, who appeared that he was likely homeless and agitated, shouted loudly at the asking passenger, but did get up and show his pass.
So I asked the TTC on Twitter what the policy was in these situations. The answer I got was “Operators are permitted not to move the vehicle until everyone has paid the appropriate fare if this should occur.” Great.

I know the TTC has limited resources, I know our streetcars are old, and I know that drivers are expected to follow rules, which include collecting fares. I get all that. And yet, I still get screwed as a passenger when a streetcar is held up due to fare evasion.

I used Twitter to send my feedback because I have never once received a response from the TTC when I’ve written an email with a complaint (which, occasionally, has been major). I tried as best as I could to be respectful. I wasn’t trying to pick a fight – I really just wanted to express my concerns and feel like I was being listened to. But the response I got was not even a little bit helpful. It doesn’t actually take my concerns as valid, which I think they are, and I was essentially told, “Tough luck. People should just pay their fares.”
The solution to fare evasion is not that people should pay their fares. Because, as demonstrated, some people don’t pay their fares, and there will always be people who don’t pay their fares if they can do so. Does it really make sense that everyone on board is punished like a group of children? Does it make sense that I should either wait for an indeterminate amount of time, pay someone else’s fare, or take it upon myself to approach a stranger and demand they follow the rules?

There must be some other solution beyond “wait it out.” I’m not a transit expert and I won’t even try to pretend like I know the answer to this problem. But at the same time, I don’t accept that there is no solution to it. Maybe they need turnstiles at back doors that could be unlocked at times an employee is supervising rear boarding? Maybe the TTC needs enforcement officers that make spot checks so that policing fare evasion isn’t the responsibility of the driver? Maybe the drivers are given the discretion to sometimes just let things go in the interest of keeping things moving?

I wasn’t expecting the TTC Tweeter to come up with a solution today, though I would like if the TTC would explore alternative solutions to this problem. But mostly I would like the TTC, as an organization, to actually listen to customer complaints, and not act like I’m an idiot for bringing concerns forward. The TTC is apparently unveiling a passengers’ bill of rights today – a document I haven’t yet seen – but I’m not feeling especially hopeful that it will make a difference. What’s the point of a passenger bill of rights when the organization, as a whole, doesn’t seem to care about its passengers?

There must be some “better way.”

*A sidenote: The back door policy on the TTC is totally unclear. As I understand it, it is always ok on the Queen car but not on other routes – except the signs about a proof of fare route are at the back door on every streetcar. Sometimes drivers let people on the back when it is busy under the honour system (assuming they will be honest and are using a pass or transfer) and sometimes there is a supervisor checking fares. I bet people get confused and get on the back, thinking they are following the rules, only to have the streetcar driver call-them out.

How to Save $5000 on Your Wedding (on ivillage.ca)

How to Save $5000 on your wedding – ivillage.ca

According to a recent Wedding Bells survey, the average cost of a wedding in Canada, including the honeymoon, is $31,110. If that number terrifies you, you’re not alone. But with a little extra effort, you can cut the costs while adding a personal touch to your big day.

Read more on ivillage.ca

The Top 10 Female Newsmakers of 2012

ivillage.ca The Top 10 Newsmaking Women of 2012
ivillage.ca The Top 10 Newsmaking Women of 2012

Determining the top female news-makers of the year is tough when women made headlines for such a wide variety of things. Over at ivillage.ca, I’ve got a list of my top 10 – ranging from the political to the superficial. They may be very different women, but they’ve certainly all impacted the news in 2012.