Friday, February 21, 2014

On writing it down

Friends, time has either stopped or raced by me, I can't quite decide. One day I'm writing almost daily about my small world, and the next it's been months and months since I've taken the time to document a few pieces about life with my family. I am terribly sad not to have posted more than a few times in the past (almost) year, though I'm not really surprised. Since I'm a full-time student, part-time instructor, chaotic parent, wife to a very patient spouse, and generally-slightly-overwhelmed human, it isn't quite a shock that I have very little time at the end of my day to write. And why do I miss it so much? Because it makes me still.

Writing a post forces me to stop, drop, and roll look, and listen. It is an invitation to pause and consider my days with just a little bit of quiet. Oh, how I miss that! I am missing the chance to share what I have learned about my girls in the past months, or what makes me sad or grateful or delighted. Documenting my life as a parent, wife, future midwife, baker, and person in the world forces me to think, even if playfully, about the things I love most in life. Even when it's only my mum who reads my posts, I feel as though I've given some of the moments in my day the pause that they deserve.

The other thing? Life moves quickly. I've been reading through the archives here lately and I'm stunned at how much the girls have grown and how many adventures we've been on (adventurous to us, at least). Can you believe that Shira used to be a baby, and that Alyce once didn't know how to read or build her own snowman? Or that Matty and I used to live in another country, and that there was a time when I wasn't a student midwife? Because I can't. Having these posts as pieces of evidence for all the days that have come before today is a bit magical. In other words, I'm selfish. Writing this blog allows me to navel-gaze in the best possible way.

So much time has passed, but I have returned. I want to feel selfish again and make a few notes about how Alyce lost her first tooth in December and how Shira wrote her name for the first time. I want to write about what a challenge it is to adjust to new jobs and new dreams. I hope you'll join me, stay awhile, and let me know how you're doing, too.

Be well.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ten things I have learned about midwifery school

1. We are an eager bunch.

Some of us applied more than once to get in (just like I did).  To say that we take things seriously doesn't even skim the surface of just how much effort we are all putting in to make this program work, and some of us will at some point even need to relocate somewhere else in the province to complete our clinical placements. But some of us have waited close to twenty years to follow this dream to be a midwife (that would be me again), so yes, we're eager. The energy in our classrooms is phenomenal because we're all want this so much. This isn't to say we don't all struggle some weeks, because I'm sure we all do. But it feels good to love what you do.


2. We cry at the drop of a hat.

Oh, we're an emotional bunch. I remember updating my facebook status after the first day of orientation in August, declaring to my little world that I had never before joined anything where its members cry because they are so grateful to be there. I remember some really excited people in my first undergrad, those kids who had all their books and papers at the ready, all their pens lined up in a row (me), but I'll wager that not a single one of my fellow Liberal Arts majors teared up at the prospect of their first class English Poetry class.

We cry a lot. In class. Out of class. On the subway. We're learning so much about what midwifery care means, about what it takes to care for clients we'll some day have the honour of working with, and sometimes we just can't help ourselves. Seriously, this is emotional work. We're observing births and watching families come alive. And the babies!

This beautiful breast was created by my friend, Kyla Austin. She also made me a uterus and placenta. I am rich in anatomy.

3. Our teachers expect us to do a lot of work.

Our professors are midwives, social scientists, science scientists, and the whole lot of them work us pretty hard. This term was just a ton of reading, preparing, writing, and general nail biting. I am eternally grateful that I decided to take my anatomy and physiology course out of the way this summer (see above re: eager), because I would have been drowning this term with an extra science course. The midwifery program is divided into course work (1.5 years) and clinical placements (2.5 years), and while we all know this first year and a half of courses is easier than the juggle of constant learning on placement, it doesn't make things feel any easier now, or last week when I was writing what felt like the longest literature review of all time.

Here's the thing: I've been in school a few times before (ahem), so I felt like the transition to midwifery school wouldn't be so hard. I'm sure you know where this is going. Writing a master's thesis was a lot of hard work, and the PhD comprehensive exams were a killer. But this program sort of took me by surprise, what with the constant (and I mean constant) deadlines of assignments. And have I mentioned the readings? One course in particular (I'm looking at you, Nadya) has us reading piles (actual piles) of articles each week. But do you know what the amazing thing is? Everyone comes to class prepared and ready to learn (more on that below). It blows my mind just how hard everyone works. This program demands so much but it seems to have met its match in this group of future-midwives I've surrounded myself with this year.

4. We are surrounded by pictures of cervixes and vaginas pretty much all the time.

Speaking of being surrounded: they are everywhere. I'm not just talking about diagrams in our text books, but models of them at every turn. The program has one large classroom dedicated to midwifery classes, and since it's the same room most of the clinical training takes place in, all the cupboards and counters are actually overflowing with vaginas, a pelvis or two, and an entire cabinet filled with babies (dolls, that is). It's nice though, because sometimes we'll be discussing a really heavy topic that has us all thinking hard and squirming in our seats, and then I'll look over at a baby doll poking out of a life size torso on the counter next to me, and perspective returns. One day one of our professors suggested if we weren't used to everything being all-vagina-all-the-time that we should stand in front of the mirror and just say vagina over and over again to get used to it.

Say it with me: vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina. Good.

5. The program is overflowing with intelligent, thoughtful, and generous women.

I am fairly certain that in four years Ontario is going to have some amazing new midwives. (I'm sure each year there is a new crop of similarly wonderful new midwives, but this is the group I know and I'm sweet on them.) This program has introduced me to some of the most kindhearted, intelligent, compassionate women I've ever met. And they work their asses off. They make me laugh constantly and drink almost as much coffee as I do. And the support! I've heard rumours of competitive programs where students stand in each others' way. Not in this class. If one of us has spent hours looking for an article we need, we post it for others to use. Need someone to edit your paper? Done. Printer out of paper? Send it to one of us and we'll bring it to class for you. We even offer unsolicited dating advice. It seems we've already got each others' backs.

6. My children have already started asking if I'm a midwife yet.

Just three years and five months to go!

7. I am learning so, so much.

And my brain hurts. It hurts so bad sometimes, but for all the right reasons. Inferential statistics, representations of birth in literature, racism in Ontario midwifery, medical research studies on home births versus hospital births, learning to use our pagers, accessible health care, correlation graphs. And we haven't even begun to talk about the vaginas yet!

8. Getting two little ones ready for school and daycare each morning before I leave for midwifery school is a total zoo.

It's a gong show. Matt started a new job just a few weeks before school started and it means that he leaves the house at 6:30 every morning (Toronto traffic is awesome). Since Shira and Alyce go to different places each morning, in two different directions, and because my classes start too early for me to drop Alyce off at the school bell some mornings, we had initially hired a friend to walk them to daycare and school each morning (thank you, Seamus). About halfway through the term, however, we needed to start saving some money (pesky tuition) and I took on the task myself. We walk a bit, take a bus, walk some more, drop off Shira, then Alyce and I walk twenty more minutes to school. I like that we use our feet to get places instead of always needing a car, but lately I've been daydreaming about time travel and teleportation. Or at least of a daycare that is next to Alyce's school. Also, I was late to half my classes in the second half of term.

I'm learning this is life.

9. School/life balance is tricky.*

You guys, I'm really bad at this part. Like REALLY bad. I am good at a lot of things (fast reader, decent baker, loyal friend) but time management is at the way bottom of the list of things I can do. This always stumps me because another thing I am good at is working hard. So if I'm a hard worker, why can't I seem to find a way to get my work done in a way that doesn't completely stress my family?

I've never done this before, that is, attempt a rigorous program while raising young children. In the past I could leave my work until the two or three days before a deadline and then work straight for 3 days and get it done. Now if when I do that it means that I am shirking a ton of family responsibilities. I know, I know, part of the problem is just that there is so much to do. School, work (I still teach an online university course), and family is a lot to squeeze into 24 hours. And yes, my sleep and health have suffered. Not cool. But there has to be a way to work so that I can give some of my time to my family with less stress. I'm not looking for a perfect system, just something that works for us. I'm going to think about this one and get back to you.

10. I still can't believe I'm lucky enough to do this.

I am the luckiest overwhelmed/exhausted/ecstatic/nervous/happy midwifery student ever.

*Understatement of the decade

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On stepping back while moving ahead

Warm bodies.

I'm going to miss all of the babies.

I'm not sure how much you know about what doulas do, but one of the greatest perks of my job is the snuggling of the babies. As much as I support women with my experiences and training for coping with labour, breastfeeding, adjusting to life as a bigger family, all things I'm driven to do by my passion for pregnancy and birth, I also just really adore the babies.

As a birth doula I am invited to share the most intimate of spaces with families I've only recently met. Of course we had meetings leading up to their birth where we slowly got to know each other, but nothing really prepares you for sharing that vulnerable moment when a mother gives birth to her baby. I've stood next to mothers and their families through excitement, exhaustion, fear, uncertainty, elation, and relief. I shared their quiet spaces in the middle of the night while the rest of the world slept, but we were awake, holding each other's hands, waiting for the next contraction. I've stood in amniotic fluid and blood and vomit and still had to wipe the grin off my face as I watched a woman push her baby into the world. I've fallen asleep standing up in a hospital hallway. I've had crushed fingers and tired feet.

The little hands get me every time.

I've whispered quietly, I see your baby's head, while a woman pauses between contractions. I've stood next to new parents as they inhale that moment when they the baby is here. On the outside. In the world.

As a postpartum doula I've shared a different kind of intimacy. I've held a new baby in my arms all night long while parents sleep exhausted in their beds. I've tiptoed into darkened rooms that are filled with those quiet moments of transition, moments of families coming alive for the first time. In these moments I'm quiet, too, not wanting to stand in the way of those first few days as a family gets acquainted with one another. Other times my actions are louder, bolder, as I've busied myself with the business of supporting the practical needs of a newer, bigger family. I've roasted chickens, baked cookies, cleaned bottles, made endless tea. Mostly I've listened, to mothers and their partners, to children. I've paid attention.

I was there when this little one's mother pushed her into the world. I saw her head.

It's been a little transformative. Maybe a lot.

I've spent the better part of the last year immersed in this world. Together with the talented Alexandra Weinberger, we have filled the past year working to support as many families through pregnancy, birth, and life with a new baby as we possibly could. We met one night at a local doula event and we've been fast friends ever since. Over coffee we started to talk about our experiences as newer doulas, sharing suggestions and strategies for learning as much as we possibly could about birth and our role as supporters and guides for families. Before long we decided to join forces, passions, energies, and determination to build a doula practice we could really be proud of--and I think we did! I am so proud of our work together. We formed the Holistic Birth Collective, a doula practice created with the intention of supporting women and their families through a community of support. Of course for the moment we were only a community of two, but it was a great start. 

Designing our website.

I don't think I would be exaggerating if I told you that Alex and I have exchanged roughly 283,383 texts since we met last November. We've stayed up late nights planning, imagining, and scheduling until our eyes fell shut. Alex taught me the power of brainstorming big ideas. She inspired me to challenge myself as a doula. She will also, hopefully, teach me how to knit socks. She's more than a doula, you know. Together we've celebrated Alyce graduating kindergarten and Alex's 30th birthday. She's listened to me as I've struggled with my transition to a mother who works outside of the home. She's been patient and generous, two of my favourite qualities.

Alex and Alyce, love at first sight.

But a lot has changed since we joined together as doulas. Tomorrow I begin orientation at Ryerson University's Midwifery Education program, a dream I've had for almost fifteen years. I am still floating over the news of my acceptance and I am ready to begin. Earlier this week Matthew started his own dream job (don't even get me started about how proud I am of this man). Life has changed and I need to respond to these new demands. Starting now there will be classes, assignments, readings, scheduling, child care, first grade, two parents out of the house full time, and life as we've known it is about to look very different.

The box of pastries eaten on the day of my acceptance to the Ryerson program.

With sadness I am now stepping back from my doula work. Life deserves my full attention right now. I need my wits about me as I learn to care for women in pregnancy and birth in new ways (and continue to parent my two daughters). I am grateful beyond measure for the experiences I've had as a doula this past year and I will make a better midwife for all of them. Fortunately, Alex is not only a great doula partner, but an incredible friend, and we will continue to support each other--and each other's work--into the future.

I am really going to miss my work as a doula. Not only have I spent nights upon nights working to create and support a business I love, but I have grown to rely on the relationships I've made along the way. I've gotten used to the warmth of the people I work with every day. No matter how sad it is to leave, however, it is the best decision for me and family. This is one of those moments where I need to direct my strength to the people and dreams closest to me. My young family needs a healthy and rested mama, and I need to give myself over to something I've dreamed of for my entire adult life. As much as I adore being a doula, I know in my heart that I am meant to work with women as their midwife. And so now it begins.

Same snuggle, different baby. She was a sweet one.

Fortunately for the expectant parents of Toronto, Alex is going to continue her doula work with a new partner, the amazing Tasha Bodnarchuk, a counsellor and doula. Holistic Birth Collective is growing each week with new families to support and babies to keep warm. I wish Alex and Tasha the best of luck as they continue to work together. They are doing good things for families in Toronto.

Thank you Kelly, Sandra, Kaylie, Jason, Ivonka, Jennifer, Rosemary, Christine, Sina, Mymy, Monica, Alana, Carla, Trish, Nevella, Carolyn, Paula, and Rosalee.  Thank you to all the partners and families of all these amazing mothers, for sharing so much of your own private world with me. Thank you to my own family, who patiently (most of the time) and with understanding (all of the time) held down the fort while I spent days and nights with other families.  And thank you to Alex, an inspiring doula and friend.

Birth is kind of amazing.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Newborn Care Workshop at Toronto Yoga Mamas

We had such a great time the first time around, we are at it again! Join us for another newborn care workshop as we partner with Toronto Yoga Mamas to offer some experienced tips and strategies for caring for your newborn (and yourselves!) in those first few weeks with your new baby.

Are you expecting a little one soon? Please join us on Sunday, September 29th for a hands-on workshop where Alexandra and I will introduce some of the following topics:

  • What to expect the first week with a new baby
  • Diapering options and bum care
  • What does it mean to wear you baby?
  • Sleep (including bed-sharing and crib-sleeping)
  • How to comfort new babies
  • Preparing your home for your baby
  • Practical suggestions for breast and bottle feeding 
This class will pick up where most prenatal classes leave off, that is, what to do after your baby arrives.

To register, or for more information, see here or contact us at

And who are we? We are Alexandra Weinberger and Danielle LaGrone, birth and postpartum doulas in Toronto and founders of Holistic Birth Collective. You can reach us for questions, or just to say hello, at!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Things that make me happy


This face

Making Matty laugh
Peach pie
Alyce humming when she eats
Midwifery school
Coffee beans
The way it feels when you sink into a great conversation
Morning doves
Air conditioning
Clean floors
Shira's squishy arms
Cherry pie
Stretched muscles
New friends
New jobs
Cold water
Blueberry pie
My three cats, especially Hille
My mum's backyard

What's making you happy lately?

Be well!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Join us for a newborn care workshop in Toronto!

I'm not exaggerating at all when I tell you that my first night at home with my new baby, my first daughter, Alyce, I sat in the dark of my living room, everyone else in the house fast asleep, wondering how in the hell I was going to do this. I had given birth that afternoon to the beautiful wee one I'd been waiting months (years) for, and the adrenaline was starting to wear off. My partner was asleep in bed, my mother asleep on the couch next to me, and I was ready for sleep for the first time in two days. But Alyce was awake, starring up at me, and I had no idea what I was supposed to do with her.

Two years later I found myself sitting in the dark, again, this time holding my second daughter, Shira. She was one day old and had been nursing since she left the womb. Each and every time she fell asleep at the breast , when I would slowly put her down in her co-sleeper, ready to collapse in bed myself (labour is hard work!), she would wake up. Again. And my partner was in bed asleep. Again.

The moral of the story? Newborns can be hard work, or more to the point, they make us work hard. We are tired, hungry, a bit confused, and at least one of us is healing from the work of birth. Fortunately these newborns are also soft, delicious, perfect, tiny-toed, and we'll pretty much forgive them for anything.

We are Alexandra and Danielle, and we'll be leading a workshop this month about how to care for newborns. No, we can't tell you the magic secret of how to catch a full-night's sleep or how not to worry at the overwhelming feelings of responsibility we all feel once a wee one is born. But we can share our experiences as birth and postpartum doulas (and mothers and adorers of babies) and introduce you to some tips and suggestions for an easier transition into life with a new baby. Whether you are a parent, grandparent, or super-excited friend of the new parents, we welcome you to join us for an evening of discussion, hands-on demonstrations (though, not with a real baby!), and encouragement on caring for your newborn.

Alexandra and I will introduce some of the following topics:
  • What to expect the first week with a new baby
  • Diapering options and bum care
  • What does it mean to wear you baby?
  • Sleep (including bed-sharing and crib-sleeping)
  • How to comfort new babies
  • Preparing your home for your baby
  • Practical suggestions for breast and bottle feeding
Our next class is offered Monday, July 8th at the Toronto Yoga Mamas studio (in Toronto's east end). For more information about the class see here, or contact Alexandra or Danielle at

We'd love to see you there. We love talking about babies.

Alexandra Weinberger and Danielle LaGrone are birth and postpartum doulas in Toronto and founders of Holistic Birth Collective. You can reach them at