What are the odds that a midwife helps birth over 2000 babies and has been using pictures from one birth to give childbirth education classes. And then when she is 88 she gets a call from this baby (now grown a woman) in the pictures she has been using for 37 years from a foreign country?
What are the odds?
This is my story.
About 4 years ago I was in France for a week-long retreat learning about the Mindfulness Based Childbirth and Parenting Program, with its founder Nancy Bardacke. Many birth professionals were there from all over the world. And in this week I felt like I was ‘coming home’. Finally finding something that really made sense. That fit me. And I felt I HAD TO DO. Also I felt connected to this group of people in feeling the same call to make a positive change to birth: the starting point of a new life and a new family.
At this retreat was one midwife from Switzerland, the country I grew up in. She almost immediately asked: where were you born, and who was your midwife? I was born in Riaz a village in the Gruyere valley in 1982, just at the end of winter in the mountains. The midwife who supported my parents was Madame Remy. My mother always spoke of her with great respect. And my mother was also passionate about birth, about birth education and birth as a natural process. I did not realize this midwife was important beyond my mothers own positive experience until I met this Swiss midwife in France. My mother had always had so much respect for this midwife that I grew up knowing her by name.
‘Oh, Madame Remy’!! Really!? She is so famous! And she has changed midwifery for the whole area!
I was happy to hear this and to meet someone who had known her!
Fast forward 2 years later: by then I’m the mother of two girls and finalizing my training to become a Doula and have been teaching Mindful Birthing & Parenting for over a year. I’m reading a book on midwifery in bed and then comes a passage about shoulder dystocia and a maneuver that helps birth babies in distress to be born: ‘you pop the clavicle like a matchstick’.
I was over 11 pounds. I know from my mothers birth story that at the very end there was a hurry to get me out. Some pulling on my head. An oxygen mask. A blue face. And a broken clavicle. Chord strapped three times around the head. I sat up straight in bed as I read the text. It was midnight. I had so many questions….
I went downstairs, got my mobile phone out and googled: Madame Remy- Sage femme- Gruyere. And there I found a newspaper article with her and a younger midwife. Instantly I looked up the younger midwife on Facebook (oh how useful modern technology is!) and sent her a message. By then Madame Remy would have been close to 90, I had no idea if she was even still alive. Did she have her contacts?
The next morning there it was: a message saying:’ Yes she was still alive and here is her phone number’!. I took two weeks to finally catch her at home.
The moment I heard her voice gave me goosebumps. It was a bit surreal. Yes she remembered my parents (they did stick out: an American harpsichord builder and a young blonde Finnish mother). And she did vaguely remember my birth. Because I was so big! And then she continued to say, yes there were these photographs taken at my birth. Had I seen them? Well, no.
She then continued to say that the pictures of me being born were so good that she had had them enlarged and had used them for many years in teaching her prenatal education. My ears were ringing. She thought she may still have them somewhere….maybe in her attic? She had not been there in quite a while, being 88 years of age. Maybe one of her children could help her look in a couple of weeks.
We hung up and I was happy. Some weeks later I told my Doula teachers about this encounter and then they said: ‘Aileen, you HAVE to go, you have to meet her. You can’t not meet her. Not with the work you are doing’! And I instantly knew they were right.
Some weeks later my half-sister was born in Tuscany. And then I had a good excuse and itinerary to make a stop in my own valley. We drove to my village in the mountains and stayed with friends. And I arranged a meeting with Madame Remy for coffee after lunch time, she was delighted I wanted to meet her.
She was frail and bent, but with kind and sparkling eyes. She spoke about her life, her family, how she came into midwifery and how she always defended the option for home birth, even in those decades where it was practically made impossible to choose this, she traveled far to support the women who wanted a home birth.
At age 13 she helped her mother birth her youngest brother at home. Her mother was a midwife and walked her through how to help birth a baby, check the placenta and so on. In that moment the seed was planted: she knew what she needed to do in her life. Apparently, her grandmother had also wanted to be a midwife, but never had the chance so she told her daughter that she should pursue this in life.
When Madame Remy started as a midwife, the alpine villages were really still very isolated (in the 1950’s). In the winters people hardly moved from their villages. Every village had just one telephone! She would then be called, day or night, she would hop onto a bike and travel on her own through snow, through woods and help women birth their babies. This is another time another era. I felt gratitude to be hearing about this from her first hand. Whispers of a time gone that we can hardly imagine with the speed of technological development.
Meeting her touched my heart and somehow felt like a reinforcement in believing I’m on the right path, supporting women in their journey into motherhood. We can make a change, one birth at a time. As a gift she gave me the enlarged photographs of my birth, I recognized my fathers hand immediately and knew it was me.