Christmas message from Françoise Freedman

As the winter solstice and Christmas draw near, my thoughts go to Birthlight members and friends all over the world.  Once again I have travelled back to the source of Birthlight in the Peruvian Upper Amazon, the Keshwa Lamas and other indigenous communities where I learnt the beauty, skills and joy of becoming a mother and the art of traditional midwifery.  I always wanted to give something back in return. Until now, projects for the conservation and regeneration of the forest to secure the continuity of plant medicine have been my priority. These include Yakumamay, an innovative Amazonian conservation project, and the Grandmothers’ Garden, for the transmission of plant knowledge  from elders to girls. Recently, I have felt an urgent call to support forest midwives, who are now illegal and subjected to a cruel witch-hunt by health authorities in the region. In the name of modernity and progress, indigenous women are forced to travel to hospitals and give birth alone, flat on their backs in basic delivery rooms where they are often treated roughly and given alien foods.  There is no hard evidence that maternal and infant mortality is improved, but morbidity is clearly worse. This could not be more different from what inspired me to create Birthlight three decades ago.  Last year, after meeting again with my indigenous sisters, whose grand daughters are already having their first babies, the idea came to make a film and to rally this cause within the world movement for the integration of indigenous midwives in maternity health care. Luckily this fits with the new 2014-21 strategy of the WHO (World Health Organization) unveiled last October! Two trips and many interviews later, with funding from Danish IWGIA (International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs) and the dedicated skills of the Waman Wasi team, here we are, at the exciting edit stage. The film is taking shape day by day as we meet and talk.  It is surreal to be here together with Birthlight friends, perinatal teachers and doulas from Russia: Olga, Marianna with her husband Sergei and 4 months old baby Yaroslav, and Natalia with 12 months old Glasha. Ines, who is Mexican but lives and teaches perinatal yoga in Manila, has also travelled with me.

Taking time to watch the starry night sky and to feel the rhythms of the forest at the winter solstice, which has been celebrated in ancient Peru for millennia, my heart goes to all those whose lives have been touched in some way through this original connection with the people of the rainforest and their nature-based knowledge and wisdom.  Each training course, each local class creates circles of friends of friends. This is what’s so very real about Birthlight. Beyond our respective religions, yoga schools, local cultures, we share a heartfelt bond in our awareness that nurturing pregnant women and their partners, new mothers, their babies and new fathers is something supremely important in the world. We know that with this nurturing, healing comes. That it extends to future and also past generations as we become able to forgive.

Walking with our little international caravan of odd gringos plus two babies, we are consciously looping a loop from the midwife-attended births of the past in the Upper Amazon to possible midwife-attended births of the future. Certainly the backing by resources and technology is essential if and when needed. Yet perhaps there are ways to safeguard the magic of babies’ arrivals in hamlets deep in the forest, where live beings around, animals, trees, stars join in to create a new human space. Only one hour’s drive away from the exotic decorated plastic Christmas trees, the glitter and Santa sleighs of the local town, across cultures together we feel close to what’s real, true and beautiful but threatened. The rainforest and people’s lives here are one.  In the Indic tradition and for rainforest people, cycles prevail over lines. Christmas, also a Christian homage to the mystery of human birth, is cause to celebrate our life-affirming ever-expanding spiral of joy, not just for all the babies we welcome into the world but also in our selves. 2014 has been a year of expanded connections as the Birthlight office team  (Sylvie, Valérie and Renata. together with Helen, Jeff and Lucia) and Sally with the circle of Birthlight Training Tutors have successfully taken courses to new venues while consolidating familiar ones.  Thanks to the Trustees of Birthlight who help us steer our non-profit organization in service to the public good. I feel Margaret Adey, who passed away last June, is still with us in Spirit.  With all the scents of the forest plants, the sound of rushing small streams, the joy of the birds and frogs that have made their homes again in this 20 year old little patch of regenerated forest around  Waman Wasi, the Eagle’s House, our Russian friends, Ines and I wish you all a Happy Christmas and a New Year of vision and trust in the future we co-create.

Françoise

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