Well, it's out there. On the bedside tables of many now sits a copy of the book that I have been chipping away at completing over the past half-decade. It's a pretty massive achievement for me, to have had this dream for so long and to see it through to completion - one that absolutely deserves celebrating. But mostly I wanted to celebrate the potential of this book to inspire others in their own birthing journeys. And celebrate we did... On November 1st, purposely coinciding with Home Birth Awareness week, we launched 'Where the Heart Is' and rejoiced in what this book meant for our nation of birthing women, their families and their midwives.
I wanted as many interested women and their partners, midwives, student midwives, family and friends to attend as possible... I wanted them to hear what this book has to offer... I wanted them to grow in their excitement of home birth in Aotearoa and what it means for birthing women and their families... I wanted to see and feel the strength of our home birth community... and ultimately I wanted the books to take flight and do their job of inspiring and informing others out there.
With an attendance of over 120 people and all 125 books sold out, I felt confident I'd achieved what I'd set out to achieve (the beginning phases of it anyway). It was an awesome night, made especially awesome by the large number of birth story contributors who attended... this was our book to be celebrating after all.
Here is the speech I gave (it's such a shame I can't share with you the words of all the other wonderful women who spoke)...
A few years back, my daughter Laura came home from school and refused to believe what Mark and I were telling her because her teacher had told her different. In fact this happened on a few occasions. In her mind, the school teacher was the bearer of all knowledge and wisdom, and whatever her mum and dad had to say on the matter was wrong if it didn’t concur with what the teacher was saying. In those moments, I was immediately taken back to my own childhood, remembering how I too had believed that teachers were always right... that policemen were always right... that doctors were always right... How all these people, these authority figures, were the fountains of all knowledge, all wisdom, and that they knew what was best for me. Though I was not really aware of it at the time, this belief stayed with me through to adulthood.
Becoming a midwife and a home birthing woman taught me that those beliefs I’d acquired throughout my youth were flawed.
I learnt that it was okay to have an opinion that wasn’t in line with mainstream thinking,
I learnt that I had a lot of self-knowledge that no doctor, or midwife, or teacher, that no-one else but me, was privy to, and that that knowledge meant that I was the right person to be making decisions for me about all aspects of my life,
I learnt that having people disagree with me was okay, that it didn’t make me bad or wrong,
and I learnt what value there was in staying true to myself, in walking my talk.
You see, giving birth is not just about bringing a baby into the world, it is also about the birth of a new mother. When women give birth in a way that validates their own self-knowledge, when they are trusted to make the decisions that they believe are right for them, when they are the authority figure on their birth, then they are empowered with the confidence and self-belief that they need to guide them through their mothering journeys.
Birth is incredibly powerful, both in wonderfully positive and despairingly negative ways. It is sad and shameful that such a massive portion of birthing women are treated with such disrespect by the people involved in their maternity care. Women are encouraged to believe that their birthing bodies are flawed, that they don’t have the ability nor right to make informed decisions for themselves... too often, far too often, they are lied to, and done to, and are led to believe that that’s just how it is when you give birth, and that a healthy baby is all that really matters.
And then there are the women who discover the knowledge and support they need to have an incredibly empowering birth experience. How they stumble upon that knowledge is often more a result of luck than anything else, it seems... goodness knows they aren’t going to learn positive things about birth through mainstream avenues. Perhaps they have a home birth friend who told them “I loved giving birth!”, perhaps they stumbled upon a wonderful midwife who said “This is your birth, I’m here to support you to do things your way”, perhaps, like me, they were lucky enough to have had parents who believed in natural birth and fought for the right to birth them in a gentle and loving way. But apart from luck, there’s a common thread here, isn’t there? They all discovered how empowering birth can be through stories and messages that completely normalise birth, that diminish the fear associated with giving birth, and that reveal that birth is something that the birthing woman is in control of. Such incredibly powerful messages. Life changing, I believe.
Well, in the process of putting this book together I was fortunate enough to be in contact with a good many of those enlightened women. How very heartening and reaffirming that was for me. I received so many birth stories that spoke of strong, knowledgeable, proud and wise birthing women, supported by trusting, loving, and gentle midwives. What’s more they were the stories of women who were willing to share their intimate birth experiences with whoever is willing to listen. What an incredible gift they are giving to others. I believe with all of my being that Where the Heart Is is a book that has the potential to make a positive difference in the birth experiences, and indeed, the lives, of countless women and families in the years ahead. And that belief feeds my heart and soul immeasurably.
So, on behalf of those women and families who are not even yet aware of what a special part you and your stories are going to play in their lives, I want to thank all of the wonderful women who contributed their stories to this book.
Of course I also need to thank the two home birth dads who contributed their stories too. Surely, reading about other men’s experiences of home birth is an important way of educating our men-folk out there. Actually, I’m quietly contemplating making Home Birth Dads the theme of my next book.
The midwives who were a part of the stories in Where the Heart Is also deserve a heart-felt mention. I’ve no doubt it’s not always easy being midwives who sit on the outskirts of common practice, but I know they would not have it any other way, and for this I am/we are so very very appreciative. So, on behalf of myself and all the other women those midwives have so respectfully and lovingly cared for, I give my deepest gratitude.
Another aspect of Where the Heart Is that I feel really speaks to the reader in a powerful way, is the inclusion of so many inspirational photographs. Two of the stories in this book are simply photographic stories, and far out, those photos are incredible! I’d like to thank birth photographer, Cassie Emmett, for the brilliant job she did of capturing the heart and soul of those births.
There are so many other wonderful people who contributed to the production of this book and towards making tonight’s launch a success, and though I’m not going to name and thank you all right now, a few deserve a particularly special mention...
My amazing friend, Penny. Thank you so much. Penny did all the design and layout of the book. She spent many many hours of her time ensuring the book looked good enough to meet her high standards. As if that wasn’t generous enough of her, Penny did this all through the final weeks of her 3rd pregnancy and in the initial few weeks of being a mum to newborn Francesca. I really can’t thank Penny enough.
I want to thank my dad for all the hours he spent helping me with my writing and editing. I want to thank Maggie for her support, assistance and encouragement throughout. Our wonderful Waikato Home Birth Association helped sponsor this event which I am very grateful for. Naomi deserves a special mention as my go-to person for any Maori-related book matters and for her inspirational writing and speaking. And Michelle, I want to thank you for being such a precious friend throughout this journey and for playing the role of MC tonight.
Finally, I want to thank my patient, tolerant and incredibly supportive family. I know that at times you have felt denied my energies as wife and mother when I have been so engrossed in completing this book. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being so understanding.
To wrap this speech up, I just want to say how encouraging and exciting it is to have so many people here tonight celebrating the launch of this special book, but more importantly, uniting in celebration of home birth in Aotearoa. Thank you.
It's a strange feeling now, though. The books are out there, being read by many others, and I have little idea how it's being received. Are other people feeling as inspired by the stories and photographs as I was? Are there many criticisms of the pieces I've written and analyses I've made? Do people feel it's worth what I'm charging for it? I've had a few wonderfully positive emails and comments from family and friends, but for the most part I have no idea what others think of the book yet. Time will tell I suppose!