I walked out of arrivals in Schipol airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands to the smiling face and big hugs from Thea van Tuyl. Our eyes and heart connected and the distance and time shrank away as it feels like yesterday we were together… talking away as we catch up on our lives, our families and what the next days will be.
Thea had invited me to come to what began as her 65th birthday symposium and a big surprise to her, a well planned event to give her one of the Netherlands highest honors for her years of dedication and service to improve care for MotherBabies and families in the Netherlands and around the world. I had written a letter of support almost a year ago and am so honored I could be a part of this surprise as well as to celebrate yet another birthday with her!
We drove into Amsterdam to spend the night with Thea’s daughter Irene and her partner Jasper so we could enjoy the next day in Amsterdam. It was so good to see Irene again, as I had last enjoyed hosting her at my house 7 years ago when she came to NY to take a summer course at New York University. The beautiful part of our birth community is the care we extend not only to each other, but to our families. My own son and his girlfriend traveled the world last year (www.talktraveltome.com) and were equally welcomed by birth keepers around the world with their hospitality and care.
When the sun came up on Amsterdam the next day we were ready to go to the markets and then onto meeting Jennifer, Jackie and Joyce – the 3 J’s of J&J doula trainings in Amsterdam, a special group of doula educators whom I had the honor of sharing workshops with years ago. It felt so special to see them as educators passing along doula wisdom, as they too have become my dear friends. Life feels like an amazing web of connections and although we live in different countries, with a different culture and language, our beliefs and values around childbirth connect us in deep ways that transcends our differences and allows us to unconditionally accept and care for each other during our challenges and joys. Our ability to live and share with each other in these short but treasured moments I am learning is truly remarkable and something very few professions share. I am so grateful that for those of us that work at the sacred gateways of life – life and death, that we have each other to lean on.
After a delicious doula lunch that filled my stomach and my soul, Thea and I set off to explore the red light district of Amsterdam. This area is full of sex shops that I love doing Orgasmic Birth & pleasure research in, coffee houses that you can breathe in the aroma of hashish and good coffee while walking by, and legalized prostitution, which while some would say being legal provides protection for the women – I still feel a sadness and would like to know each of these young women’s stories, what brought them here and would is holding them here. After some pictures, giggles and thoughts we settle in the sun for my favorite Amsterdam pleasure… What are you thinking it is? Yes hot chocolate with cream! A tradition I love to carry on with Thea each time we are together.
After this indulgence, we head to the airport to pick up Ina May Gaskin and her son Samuel. Again, we have so many beautiful conversations, as we have so much to catch up on. Ina May, Thea and I have a wonderful connection from past times together, but we had not seen her since Ina May’s husband, Stephan had passed away. It was so good to be together and offer our love and support once again.
Thankfully we have a day of rest on Thursday, so Ina May and I could work on our presentations for Friday. My talk is for Less is More is to stimulate women in finding their own power so they can give birth pleasurably without fear. The energy of the event is building – Thea worrying about all the details of the conference, Ina May and I working on our presentations, and Thea’s husband so excited with anticipation of the surprise award he helped set in motion almost 2 years ago!
Friday morning we wake early and head to the beautiful theater where the event will be held. As the sun is coming up we drive past thatched homes and walk past an old windmill reminding us we are in Holland. We are brought into the Green room backstage with a red chandelier, mirrors, our own bathroom, showers and a private place for us to prepare and take breaks from the crowds when needed. As we go out to test technology we are on stage in a beautiful theater and the energy builds as I will see many I have not seen in some time. I wonder, will my presentation meet Thea’s expectations and meet the audiences too? How will it flow with Ina May Gaskin and Raymond De Vries presentations as I speak last. I always get this nervous energy and I have learned to trust it to help me prepare my last thoughts.
I sat in the front row in between Samuel Gaskin and Mary Zwart- a dutch midwife who first invited me to the Netherlands to share about doulas almost 20 years ago and whom I attended 3 births with which was a great treat to see Dutch home birth – so the circle feels complete as I return now to honor Thea, who I had the honor of having in my first doula workshop in the Netherlands years ago.
Ina May – an amazing storyteller- shares her stories of her great grandmother, the Farm’s beginnings and what she learned in the first birth she attended – how Less is More! At the end of her question and answer with Marjelien Fabre, Hanne takes the stage and introduces the Mayor who begins to have a fun discussion with Thea about her background. He asked her what each organization she was part of did and what is a doula. Although I could not understand the dutch I could feel the honor, humor and grace that they both went back and forth with, about childbirth education, rebozo and Thea’s international work. She then received an incredible metal – a certificate signed by the King and the equivalent of being knighted, so she is now Dame Thea van Tuyl!
Lunch was a celebration and next Raymond De Vries gave a fantastic and insightful talk from his perspective as a sociologist. He asked us to consider what prisons and hospitals have in common as complete institutions. So many great insights and views of contemporary maternity care and it’s mixed paradigms both in the Netherlands, US, and around the world.
Now it was my turn. My heart beat quickly as I took the stage, I saw all the faces both familiar and new and began to share my feeling for nature – the beautiful views I often see from the plane window, in my walks, and travels, and also the pollution that I see growing around the world. Are we polluting birth? is Less More? I won’t give away all that I shared as I hope you will join me for a workshop or talk in the future. We laughed, we danced – 150 midwives, doulas and birth advocates dancing, singing, raising our hands and feeling our hormones of pleasure. I hope it was as much fun for others as it was for me. I am honored I helped to both celebrate Thea and encourage all to consider how we must create less fear, pain, interventions, surgery and create more love, pleasure, natural and orgasmic birth. The Netherlands has been a model of care we have all held up as exceptional and one the rest of the world strives to achieve with only a few years ago 20% of women gave birth at home, a model of autonomous midwifery, and a cesarean section rate lower than 18% – yet they too are seeing fear creep into both women, men and caregivers. Women are losing their connection to powerful home birth stories, and too often not fully confident and comfortable in their bodies, their pleasure and their ability to give birth. The student midwives, midwives, doulas and advocates must stand firm to hold the tide that has reduced home birth to 13% in such a short time, still a great option but you can see the tide slowly going in the direction of technology and while technology can save lives when needed – it’s overuse as in the recent article “Beyond too little, too late and too much, too soon: a pathway towards evidence-based, respectful maternity care worldwide (www.thelancet.com Published online September 15, 2016) shows us that too much of a good thing can be harmful in maternity care.
I write this as I fly home filled with gratitude after one last day of celebrating Thea, connecting with my Sis-Stars around the world – at dinner last night we were 8 women from 5 countries connected thru Thea and sharing our lives and our passion for birth.
We talked about how too often women’s groups become like crabs in a pot, pulling each other back in, so you never need a lid. Instead, let’s lift each other higher, with sharing, caring, supporting and networking. How are you connecting to and lifting others higher? I’d love to hear what you think about Less is More – what can we do less of, and more of in our lives, in birth and beyond to bring joy, peace, love and passion to ourselves and others? Tweet me at @orgasmicbirth
After my amazing trip I was able to spend some one on one time with Ina May – did you see our fun conversation on FaceBook? Check it out below