February 27, 2006

It's a Hat Day...

This is me in my red knit hat...
My DH, my children, and my dog all know what it means when I declare it a "hat day".
(I'm grumpy about something, I need a little time to stew, and to go into deep, dark thought.)

Here's what's on my mind.
During the early 1900's a great effort was made by many "obstetrical doctors" to eliminate midwifery. They spread word to women's clubs (like the WI and the Women's Christian Temperance Union)all across North America that midwife assisted births were dangerous, unclean, and inefficient. Quotes like the following were not uncommon.
The midwife is a relic of barbarism. In civilized countries the midwife is wrong, has always been wrong. The greatest bar to human progress has been compromise, and the midwife demands a compromise between right and wrong. All admit that the midwife is wrong.
- Dr. Joseph DeLee in his paper, Progress Towards Ideal Obstetrics (delivered in Chicago in 1915).

I read this quote during my reading in Wolfville and then went on to say, "thank goodness we are seeing more progressive attitudes today...that we live in a time where doctors are seeing the value of midwifery, where tradition, wisdom and science are coming together."

Imagine my dismay when I read the following in a recent column by Jonathan Kay in The National Post:
A little while back, I asked a doctor friend for his take on natural childbirth. He rolled his eyes, as if he'd heard the question once too often.

"Parents forget how many things can go wrong," he told me. "Delivering a baby is a major medical procedure. It's potentially dangerous, and it hurts like hell. Who do you want to be on the receiving end -- a trained doctor backed up by modern life-saving machines and painkillers, or some woman with a Guatemalan hat?"
- from Natural Childbirth? No thanks. Jonathan Kay for The National Post February 20, 2006.


(At least Mr. Kay went on to say he thought the physician's statement was harsh...)
On the other hand, while I respect his wife's choice of giving birth any way she pleases, I feel that Mr. Kay gave a far from accurate picture of midwifery, thereby misleading those readers who may face similar choices of their own.

I Never Knew
I haven't always been an incense-burning (he sarcastically called some doulas "incense burning wiccans", Guatemalan hat lovin' gal...
In fact, when my first child was born, I was 25, in graduate school and scared. I didn't even know midwives still existed. I was ushered into the world of "here's what piss-poor grad students get when they get knocked up and can't afford a posh OB/GYN in the States."

Long story short, I learned that sometimes (by the way, I know some amazing OB/GYN's who work shoulder to shoulder with midwives. I'm not anti-OB)in the world of modern life-saving machines and painkillers, one thing soon leads to another.
An induced labour (no one ever suggested a dose of Castor oil or a round of accupressure to move things along) led to being confined to a hospital bed and being hooked up to a fetal monitor and an IV drip, which led to a sluggish labour (nine hours in they told me maybe they should stop and try again tomorrow?!), which led to the doc. cranking the Pitocin up to the point of my having excruciating contractions, which led to me saying 'yes' to a hit of Morphine (when I really didn't want to), which led to me feeling worn out when it was time to push, which led to them whipping out a vacuum extractor and wielding the knife for an episiptomy, which led to talk of a c-section, which led my labour nurse to say: 'don't listen to them' (four doctors had come into the room to witness the use of the vacuum extractor, which didn't work afterall) -'on the next contraction...push like hell!' Thank the goddess for that woman!

I am not alone in this sort of birthing experience. I've had many, many women tell me similar stories, most of them wondering...is that normal?

What I Know for Sure
If it hadn't been for the stories of a legendary midwife who had once lived in my Nova Scotian farmhouse, I probably wouldn't have sought out a midwife for the birth of my second child. What an amazing experience. Every pre-natal visit was at least an hour long. With over 200 births under her care by the time I came to her, I soon discovered the practicing midwives of the Canadian Association of Midwives are highly-trained, competent, skilled, wise, and compassionate professionals.

Although midwives will often accompany their clients to the hospital (for instance, in Ontario, midwives have been a part of the provincial heath-care system for the past ten years), I chose to have a home birth. It was a beautiful day of sharing conversation, tea, and laughter with my family. I took a walk, I played my harp, I baked groaning cake. And, on the scale of "hurts like hell"...compared to the hours of rollercoaster-agony during my first birth, it was 45 minutes of intense pain. Risk? I was not afraid. I had no reason to be. Maybe Mr. Kay would be interested to know that in June of 2005 the BMJ (British Medical Journal) published the results of North American study finding that for low-risk pregnancies:
It is as safe to deliver a baby at home with a professional midwife as it is in hospital. "Our study of certified professional midwives suggests that they achieve good outcomes among low-risk women without routine use of expensive hospital interventions,"

As Dr. Benjamin Colby wrote in his Guide to Health (1846)
We hazard the assertion, unpopular as it may be, that the presence of a physician is no more necessary to the safe delivery of ninety-nine cases in a hundred in childbirth, than it is when a healthy woman is eating wholesome fruit.

And as for Guatemalan Hats...
I was speaking to a midwife a couple of weeks ago and she was telling me of a Guatemalan midwife whose techniques in perineal massage and support has kept every single one of her clients from tearing during childbirth!

February 26, 2006


In the past week or so there's been a steady stream of interviews and reviews of The Birth House. Here are some that can be found on the web:

A Bundle of Joy
An excellent (*blush*) review from the February 26th edition of The Ottawa Citizen by writer, Robert J. Wiersema. (His novel, Before I Wake is due out in the fall.)

Birth of a Novel
Andrea Curtis of the CBC.ca Arts web site ran a great behind-the-scenes profile, February 20. (It's especially nice if you like a good love story!)

A Sweet Debut with a Message
The Toronto Star ran Patricia Robertson's review February 19...a nice way for me to arrive in Toronto last week! (A favourite line from her review among the midwives and doulas I met with was: "The Birth House could easily be subtitled An Argument in Favour of Midwifery." But more on that in another post.)

I should also note that there were two write-ups in the Calgary Herald...an interview/profile by Sara O'Leary and a review by Claire Stirling. Both were wonderful pieces...unfortunately they are pay-per-view on the net. (I also made the Pages on Kensington bestseller list the past two weeks. Thank-you Calgary! Big Smooch!)

And last but not least...
I'm pleased to announce that The Birth House has been chosen to be a Heather's Pick!
You can visit - here - to read Heather Reisman's personal review.

I promise to dish about the Toronto trip in the next day or so (in between packing for my next tour stop...Montreal.) Thanks to everyone for writing, emailing, and coming out to greet me along the way! It's great to finally share the book with all of you.

February 22, 2006

thank-you, Wolfville!

(Hmmm...I originally posted this on the 18th, but it seems to have dissappeared. Weird. I'm re-posting it today and will post a play-by-play of my trip to Toronto in the next couple of days!)

This past week is a bit of a blur, but one thing I can say for certain is that I feel loved. After a two day media run in Halifax that included radio, TV and print interviews as well as a couple of drop-in signing sessions at local bookstores, I came back to the Annapolis Valley for the launch of The Birth House at the old Acadia Cinema in Wolfville, NS.

It was an incredible evening, hosted by Mitzi DeWolfe, proprietor of the wonderful and enchanting Box of Delights bookstore. In her opening remarks she recalled the time that she caught me staring at a spot on her fiction shelves. This was a few years ago and we didn't know one another very well at that point. She came up to me and asked, "is there something I can help you with?" I replied (quietly, but hopeful)...no, I'm just looking at where I hope my novel will sit one day. In the years that followed, she always asked about 'the book' whenever I came in to the store (and she always let me have my minute of hopeful visualization in the fiction section to myself.)

The theatre was completely filled...with old friends and many new faces and I felt that they were 'with me' every step of the way throughout the reading. Afterwards, I signed books for well over an hour, and even got to sign the book of a woman who had been born in my house as well as a book belonging to the great grandaughter of the midwife who once lived in my house. Magical moments that I won't soon forget.

I'm off to the big city tomorrow...to chat with midwives, and rub shoulders with friends, favourite bloggers and some of my Can. Lit. Idols. Toronto here I come!

Halifax Chronicle Herald Feature
This is an interview/review by Jodi DeLong. We had a wonderful afternoon just sipping tea and chatting in my studio. Birth of a Novelist

She also mentions The Birth House on her wonderful blog, Blooming Writer.
(and you can see a picture of me next to a painting/portrait by my dear friend Doretta.)
Winter Potpouri at Blooming Writer

February 13, 2006

Be My Valentine

This essay first appeared in The Grapevine, Adam Barnett's wonderful community newsletter that goes out twice a month to Wolfville, NS and the surrounding communities. (Thanks Adam!)Since tomorrow is Valentine's Day as well as the pub. date for the birth house, I thought I'd post it here as a writer's Valentine - From: me To: you.
Thanks so much for reading!

Seven...a prime number, a lucky number, a magical number, and also the number of times I completed drafts of my first novel and proclaimed that it was ‘finished.’

Seven...the number of times per hour that I used to shout, "how much longer ‘til we get there?" to my mother from the backseat of our wood paneled 1970’s station wagon during family road trips. (It was a 16 hour and 4 minute drive from my hometown to my great uncle’s house in St. Petersburg, Florida.) With the patience of a saint, Mom would turn and say, "The fun is in the journey." Another apple would be eaten, another round of I-spy-with-my-little-eye begun.

And so it was when I began to write my novel. Fifty, seventy-five, ninety-nine pages in and I began to wonder, "When will I get there? How long will this take?" Thank goodness for my mother’s kindness whispering in the back of my mind. The fun is in the journey.

The other day I read through my old journal entries, hoping to trace my journey in writing The Birth House.
January 22, 2004 – It’s such an odd life…needing to lock myself away for hours at a time so that I can create something that might touch another human being’s life. That’s what I want most – to have my words mean something. I’m working through this story, but at the same time I’m working through my own existence so I can eventually say, "This is part of who I am. What do you think? Have you felt these things too?" The hardest part of all is feeling that I must write, I must finish it, even though there’s no promise that it will ever go anyplace past my desk.

I once saw an interview with Timothy Findley where he was asked how the ideas for his novels were formed. He dramatically proclaimed, "First, I see the whole book in a flash!" I guess I could say that’s much how it was for me as well, but my ‘flash’ was there and gone, leaving just enough of a memory for me to chase after, a flitting foxfire of the imagination that pulled me along on the (often bramble covered) path towards the rest of the story. As the writing moved along, I came to think of my journey as a story-line. Much like the song-maps of sailors or the song-lines of aboriginal Australians, my story-line guided the way as I tried to make sense of it all…history, women’s stories, lost traditions, myth and my imagination.

My first vision of The Birth House came one night as I was falling into sleep. I sat up and went to the desk by my bed and began scribbling as fast as I could, trying to capture what I’d been thinking/dreaming of, feeling like the words might slip away and I’d never find them again. The next morning my husband asked me what had kept me up so late. I handed my notebook to him and said, "I don’t know what it is yet, but I think it’s the start of something." Amazingly enough, through seven drafts and more than a few rounds of editorial revisions, the prologue to The Birth House has gone nearly unchanged since that first night.

About two weeks ago, a hard cover copy of my novel arrived at my house. I held it to my chest, I stroked the cover, inhaled its ‘new book’ smell, let the pages whirr past my thumb. I had anticipated that moment, thinking I’d feel I was finished with it, my journey complete. Instead, I realized that our songs, our lives, our stories, our art, our words are meant to go on, and whether we reach out to one person or to thousands, we are here to remind each other of who we are. The fun is in the journey.

February 11, 2006

The Love for Three Bloggers

(in honour of Cupid and all things hearts and flowers)

It's Cloud Illusions...
That's a word cloud made from a random sampling of words from this blog. SO cool...
thanks to Nienke Hinton for posting a comment so I could visit her nifty blog which led me to discover word clouds at Snapshirts.com.

Book Tour Tool Kit Love
The amazing advice keeps rolling forth from MJ Rose and Co. at Buzz Balls and Hype (and will continue into this next week!)
This past week featured bestselling author Lisa Tucker with advice and a quote from the diary of Virginia Woolf.
I always carry a copy of Virginia’s Woolf’s diary and I highly recommend this. The diary has fantastic insights about the writing process, but is also filled with her angst about publication and finding readers, such as: the book “came out 8 days ago and so far not a single review has appeared, and nobody has written to me or spoken to me about it, or in any way acknowledged the fact of its existence.”

Publicist Meagan Underwood Beatie and author J.A. Konrath weighed in with posts packed with helpful tid-bits and Dr. Sue devoted her Friday couch space to Zen and the Art of Book Tour Maintenance.
These conditions [being on the road for a book tour]could cause even a monk to crack. And, unlike Zen monks, authors tend to be self-flagellating, perfectionistic control freaks.

I'd better get my Om's in shape before I hit the road.

BookLust Love
Over at BookLust, Patricia shares her enthusiasm over her invite to the upcoming Toronto NFoF event. I can't explain it better than she does...so check out her post for all the details.

February 06, 2006

Book Tour First Aid Kit

A couple of weeks ago I sent the following email to book-buzz goddess M.J.Rose.
Dear M.J.,
I'm a novelist about to go on my first book tour (February). Since you're currently on the road promoting The Delilah Complex, I thought I'd ask you for some advice.
What's in your "Book Tour First Aid Kit"?
What do you pack for the road...(physically and emotionally)?
I'm looking for all the advice I can get...what clothes to wear/what not to wear, essential items for a reading/signing, essential items to keep myself together, what's the best sedative to take, (and should I chase it with scotch, vodka, rum?), best pen to use to sign books (don't laugh, I'm still wide-eyed and hopeful...it's my first novel).

This was her kind and generous response:
It was such a great letter than I thought I’d use the blog to answer it.
But not by myself.
Over the next week I’m going to post answers form some top publicists and wonderful authors who were generous enough to share their thoughts with us. So watch for words of wisdom from Lee Child, Linda Fairstein, David Morrell, Tess Gerritsen, Barry Eisler and more.

The advice has started to roll in and it's been wonderful so far -
from Barry Eisler's post where he mentions the best part of touring is meeting fans...that feeling of connection you get through something you wrote to Lee Child's hilarious comment, I've learned over the years that a cocktail-fueled event is worth its weight in gold...! My favourite tips so far came from the comments section of MJ's introductory post.

And the Award for Best Pen goes to...
The best pen? The Pentel EnerGel, metal tip, 0.7mm ball. Retail price, about $2.00. Bar none, it's the best I've ever used. Smooth, easy touch, doesn't smear, lasts for weeks. Get 'em at Staples. - Bill Thompson

The Dirty Dozen of Book Tour Advice
PJ Parrish (actually Kristy and Kelly Montee, a pair of sisterly scribes who write under a single pen name) contributed an amazing laundry list of a dozen tips.
(Here are three of my favs, if you want to see the rest, go here.)
#2 Try your damnest not to eat badly. This is hard because your hours are going to be weird, your system all screwed up and you will be so wiped out that Jimmy McD's is gonna look like the best lover you never had...

#4 Take underwear that dries quick in case you have to wash things out.

#12 If you have escorts, USE THEM! It is their job to take you to the drugstore if you need tampons. In one city, my bag got lost so the escort dropped me at the signing and went back to wait for it and brought it to the hotel. Don't be a prima donna -- escorts talk! -- but you can rely on them to keep you going. And don't worry about keeping up small talk with them. They are used to authors snoring in the backseat!

Check out Buzz Balls and Hype this week for more posts on what I should pack in my book tour first aid kit. (Thank you thank you thank you MJ!)
By the way, if you have any tips to add to the list, please feel free to leave a comment or send your advice via email.