My story begins in northern Alberta in the small valley town of Peace River. While we didn't live there long, I spent countless summers visiting my grandparents, having water fights and going on trips to the general store with cousins, and family friends. I was the firstborn of 5 children to my mother Deborah and my father Andrew in a loving and safe home. Despite my being the only one of my siblings (and entire family) with black skin, I always felt loved and accepted.
As a child, I always assumed that my parents had only ever "dated" each other. I may have had a doubt or two when some smart-mouthed kid in school informed me that I must be adopted because white people can't have black babies! My mother was quick to reassure me that she had, in fact, birthed me. It may surprise you, as it eventually did me, to find out that a safe and happy upbringing surrounded by a loving family was, at one point, a statistical impossibility for me. You see, I was born to a single, struggling, 21-year-old mother suffering from chronic depression. Needless to say, the odds were never in our favour.
An Unlikely Story...
Over the course of my teen years, as my mom felt comfortable and I matured, she began to reveal details about her life before me and before she met my dad. Little by little, I began to see the extent of her struggle and the miracle that it is that I am even typing this today. A not uncommon story, my mother struggled through adolescence and fought a silent battle with low self-esteem and depression. In her search for validation and affection, she soon found herself alone, afraid and pregnant. Do you think you know how the rest goes?
While her story began with all the classic signs of a life about to unravel, her fate would not be decided by the result of her pregnancy test but by the love, encouragement and help she received from those who were for her and her unborn child; her village. With the support of the family Dr who informed her of her choices and stood in support of her medical well-being, her Grandmother who offered her unbiased emotional support, and her parents, friends and other family members who welcomed her home and made sure she stayed connected, this vulnerable young woman's life trajectory was changed for the better. Today, that same young woman is a wife of 30 years, the mother of 5 grown children, a grandmother to 3 (and a half) more, and a respected woman of influence in her community. What are the odds?
It Takes a Village...
I think often about my own story. I too struggled in my teen years with my own self-worth and often found myself searching for affection in many of the same ways my mom did. I drank and hung out with people I knew were not concerned about my well-being. In truth, the only difference between my teenage story and my mother's is that I did not find myself pregnant (not for lack of possibility).
Fast forward 10 years, 3 children, a postpartum mood disorder, one abusive marriage, diagnosed ADHD, Premenstrual dysphoria disorder, and severe depression and anxiety disorders, one would expect my life to look a LOT different (or at the very least less... happy). Despite it all, I was not alone. I was surrounded by a community of Mothers, Grandmothers, Aunts, Uncles, Friends, Healthcare Providers, Doulas, Siblings, and a Heavenly Father who cared for me in my most vulnerable moments.
It's obvious that the difference between my mother and I was made by the people in our lives who loved us. Parents reaching out to their daughters, grandparents offering judgement-free spaces to vent, friends and extended family who lent a hand in times of trouble. Because of this "village", we were able to overcome adversity and defy all odds.
It Could Be Me... or Her... or Anyone...
Think for a moment about the alternative. How could my mother's life, and by default my own, have been different had no one been willing to step up and step in when she was in need of support? Worsening mental health, eventual loss of a job, inability to continue her education, inability to afford the basic necessities of life for herself or her child, the list goes on. Had she decided not to continue with her pregnancy, she would have faced the shame, pain and subsequent mental health consequences on her own. This would not have been an unlikely story, and in reality, it plays out thousands of times over in the lives of young women all across the world today. In the absence of the village, women/mothers struggle the most.
The Face is Human...
About now is when I might ask something like "What if it was your mother, sister, friend, or daughter?". After all, that kind of connection might make it easier to reach out or to feel compassion and empathy for someone in such a situation (although, one would hope to be capable of such empathy regardless). In fact, one of the reasons I feel so passionately about birth work is that my own mother walked a similar path! While that may be where the roots of my passion begin, I feel that it can't be where it ends.
One of my Bebo Mia Doula educators shared this interesting perspective...
"I'm not required to be anything to anyone in order to be." - Toni Botas
If we, as a community, see the person rather than their problems, challenges, and differences no matter how fundamental and realize that the face that is struggling is human, we can then reach out in love, encouragement and help, there is no limit to how we can positively impact the lives of vulnerable women and children on a global scale.
If we become the village for those who don't have one, how might the world be changed? How many other "unlikely stories" would unfold?
To Love, Encourage, and Help
As a Birth Worker, childbirth educator, breastfeeding educator, and Doula mentor, my desire is to support the families who invite me in with a "love first" mindset. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, what your age, nationality, beliefs or background is: I will love and support you first! This desire reaches even deeper into my desire to serve vulnerable and at-risk women. Not by trying to change them or solving all their problems, but simply by asking "How can I love, encourage or help you today?" and responding to whatever their answer may be with kindness, compassion, empathy and understanding. The mission sounds simple, but even the simplest acts, when performed in love, can change the world.