When I started my work in the Birth World, I felt a big disconnect to my family and friends back home. I was born and raised in the Philippines and moved to Canada 8 years ago to marry my highschool sweetheart. Both my birth experiences were in Canada and this is what I knew what birth was like. As a child I didn't have much attention on birth. All I knew was that there was a huge fear around it, which certainly affected the way I approached my first birth.
After I had my first child, I went back to the Philippines with my new baby. I remember so many people asked me if I birthed vaginally and seemed shocked when I said I did. What was the big deal? This is how most babies are born - through the vagina. As I began to hear more and more birth stories, I realized why everyone was so shocked. It seems that in the society that I was a part of, vaginal was no longer the norm - cesarean births were. The most common reason I heard - "i was too small to give birth to my baby vaginally." I get it, Filipinos are smaller framed, but it didn't make sense. The Philippines is an over populated country with majority living below the poverty line and most certainly could not afford cesarean births. Why could the poor birth vaginally, but the wealthier group not??
As I prepared for my home birth for my second pregnancy, I felt even more weird. I would hear stories from friends back home that everyone was talking about it - how I was planning to birth at home with no pain medication. I had apparently become the talk of the town. This feeling of being an oddity grew even further when I started my work as a doula. Were there even doulas in the Philippines?
Then one day, I came across a Facebook group called Gentle Birthing in the Philippines. I had found my tribe - a group of inspiring, kick ass women, who were pushing back against societal norms and fighting for a woman's right to birth beautifully and respectfully. I quickly connected with a local doula, Irina (she is actually Russian but lives in the Philippines and is doing such amazing things for the country!) and with a wonderfully inspiring HBAC (home birth after cesarean) yogi mama Monica. The two of them started gentle birthing retreats in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. When I knew that a trip back to my hometown of Cebu was on the horizon, I quickly contacted Irina and Monica to bring the gentle birthing movement home to Cebu. I wasn't sure what would come of it. Cebu had never had anything like it - not even basic prenatal classes to my knowledge. How would people react to even the thought of being able to birth gently?
When I arrived in Cebu, about a month before the retreat, and people found out what I did, I began to hear very many birth stories. Perhaps you are wondering what the big deal is with bringing this retreat to Cebu? How bad could it really be? Well, for us in Canada, it is incredibly different and I am so thankful that I get to birth my babies here. I will be making a separate blog post filled with the many awful things that I heard were experienced by mothers. I do not want to take away from the joy of this experience by listing the horrors - but I will be writing about it. It is NOT okay. It is violent. It needs to change. And change happens when women (and men) feel empowered to stand up for their human rights. Doing this retreat was just the seed that I hope has been planted in the hearts of all the people who joined us on that day. I hope that this seed will continue to grow.
We ended up having a pretty good turn out - especially for the first one ever. However, something I did not expect - more then half the room was health care professionals - nurses, midwives and even an OB! What does this say to me? That even they want to give birthing women a better experience! I felt so inspired to see them want to learn! My highlight was when we were going through natural pain management techniques (hip squeeze, rebozo, positive birth affirmations, massage) they were busily writing it all down and one even commented "They don't teach this in medical school!"
Irina is trained with Sacred Pregnancy and together with yogi Monica, offers the most beautiful birth retreats. It was truly a pleasure to be a part of this day.
I ended that day with a heart full of hope. Yes there is a LONG way to go (seriously.. you can't even begin to imagine the trauma that is the NORM there), but in the faces of those mothers, fathers, and care providers, I saw their hope and their longing for change. I truly believe it can happen, and it will have started from that simple gathering of people who joined forces to demand it.
For our local Vancouver friends, if you are looking for a beautiful soul filling prenatal experience, have a look at Sacred Pregnancy. I look forward to sitting in on Sarah Dexter, our local Sacred Pregnancy instructor, class over the summer. I hope to see you there! More information below:
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