Saturday, July 16, 2011

Thankyou Cambodia

My time in Cambodia is almost up! Tomorrow afternoon Myah and I start the long journey home.
It’s been a month.  One whole amazing month to observe, learn and experience the way of life for the Khmer people.

I’ve been thinking of my highlights, what things have touched me the most, and what things were fun.

I’d like to share with you some of these amazing moments in my life.

The biggest one is that I actually managed to get me and my baby to Cambodia all by myself! That was a huge step to freedom to me, a huge step to independence, being a strong woman,  a capable woman, a woman who follows her heart. It reminded me of my own potential and capabilities as a human being. I can step out of the box and allow myself to experience the bigger world that is out there.

Other amazing moments involve mostly just hanging out with the Khmer people. I learned so much from their behaviour, their way of life by being present with them. Myah and I would hang out with the kids next door, all the mummas gathered at the little stall, the  teenage orphan who lived in the next room to me (who was apart of LifeOptions ‘Spread Your  Wings And Fly Program’), and the midwives all working downstairs. We would chat, not speaking much of each others language, but we would laugh and sign and have fun. I’m sure Myah was speaking Khmer with them! She would say something, and they would all giggle and say ‘khmer, khmer!’

I got to be apart of our neighbours birth. It was beautiful and powerful. Women in Cambodia are strong. They have so much courage.

Sharing information and having education sessions with the midwives was pretty nice. We shared our customs and our ideas around birth. I talked to them about some practices in the West, such as lotus birth, water birth, doula support and physiological 3rd stage.

Being able to help set up a new Birth Centre was fun! Organising the antenatal room, the potnatal ward, the std clinic and the postpartum ward was just so exciting, I really love organising and setting up spaces, so having the oppurtunity to help set up a whole Birth Centre was a dream!

Being apart of the Blessing for the Birth Centre! The monks came and began and ended with chanting, and after each segment of chanting, the circle of people present would move forward  an inch and the monks would continue to chant and bless the people and space with chant, water and flower petals. It was really special to be apart of and to be so welcomed into ancient ceremony. The ceremony finished and we drank iced tea and cold lychee drinks. 

Meeting amazing people! I have never known resilience until I came to Cambodia. I have talked to some incredible human beings . The Traditional Birth Attendants are full of knowledge of a different kind, and I admire them greatly. I’ve met midwives who were trained in the Border Camps during Pol Pot times. They have incredible skill, more than any western midwife I have ever met. I have heard stories of resilience and the power of the human spirit. The beautiful midwife here at the Centre shared stories of when she was a  little girl in Pol Pot times,  who walked for a month with no food through the mountains. I’ve met several people, including one of the 7 only  survivors of the  prison camp of the Khmer Rouge. He is an old man, with sad eyes,  who saw the most atrocious acts of human evil. I’ve met with poor families out in the remote villages, who don’t have names, orphanages that are about to run out of food,  100’s of women who come in to centre for std’s who choose us over the other centres because we are kind. I’ve met the kids at the school, their faces so happy with minds enthusiastic and eager to learn.  

It’s been life changing being here. My eyes are open, my heart is full. It’s been such a privledge to be here. I’ll come vack one day, when my kids are older, and the time is right. But now it’s time for me to come home. 

Thankyou Cambodia. You are a country of resilient, courageous and strong human beings.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Not far passed the Birth Centre is an orphanage that LifeOption donates clothes and books to.

We went for a visit there today.

Many curious, shy faces peered from behind the walls. Many smiled, many waved, some simply stared.

It always pulls at my heart to see children who have no love.

But it seems that as well as very little love, these children will soon have very little food.

UNICEF have done an amazing thing by making a promise to pay for the food of these children for three years. At the end of this month, the 3 years is up. There is going to be no food.

I find this extremely distressing, especially when I think of families back home who spend $600 per week on food shopping alone with  families of only 4! It costs $500 per month to feed the orphans a nutricious diet.

And the thing is, that it isn't just this Orphanage. There are many Orphanages in the same position.

It's so hard. This Earth is a place of such extremes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Midwife Extraordinaiire

Pec is an amazing midwife who works solo at a village birth centre. She is responsible for the health of the village which has around 10,000 people. On her own, she is the midwife for approximately 30 - 40 births per month and around 5 abortions.

She does everything relating to health of women and babies that needs to be done, whether that is STD checks, breast checks, antenatal, postpartum and birth care, discussions about birth spacing, sex and caring for a newborn. She has incredible skill and an incredible commitment and passion to help the people in her village. She is at the centre pretty much 24/7 and rarely comes out of the village.

She transports women who need emergency care to a hospital when they need it. She deals with haemorrhaging post abortion and birth, babies not breathing, women with eclampsia all on her own in a village health centre with barely any resources.

She is amazing.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Birthing and postpartum practices in Cambodia

After a baby is born, there is a big knife placed near their head for the first month. This is so that Mother Spirit doesn't take them back home. As they get older the babies and kids have a colored string tied around their wrist or waist for the same reason. It is a protective amulet. I had to look twice when I first saw a huge meat cleaver sitting above the head of a newborn baby.

The girls all have earrings before they are one year old. Every one thinks Myah is a beautiful boy because her ears aren't pierced.

Babies have a herb mixture that is made fresh and placed on the fontanelle with the belief that it will heal over, and perhaps protect their brain.

In the first month, the Mummas lie in bed. The food is bought to her. Her other children are around but their needs are met by other family members. It is never questioned. This is just what they do. Makes perfect sense to me!

Some women have a ritual called "roasting" post birth. Women live in elevated houses and a fire is lite under the house and extreme smoking and heat for the woman helps her regain her strenght.  Many mothers and babies experiece burns to their bodies! They also admitted, it helps to keep the men away from them sexually for 7 days. (this part taken from

Kindness and sharing knowledge

Denise was approached by a midwife and asked if she can come to Cambodia to teach the midwives kindness.

This moved my heart.

I feel as though it is an obvious statement to make that women deserve to be treated with kindness and respect during their pregnancy, birth and mothering days.My own experience of having my first born child in a hospital was that the staff were too busy, uncaring and had no compassion to who I was or what my experience was like. This is a huge contrast to the unassisted homebirth of my last two daughters where I had support and kindness from friends and doula's for a month post birth.

The idea of bringing kindness to birthing women reminds me of how it is easy to get caught up in our own world, in our own beliefs, in our own judgements of what a brithing mother should be, act, think, do or say. I sometimes think we are so caught up in our own beliefs that we forget to honour the woman.

The other night we watched some dvd's together. We watched women birthing while in a deep squat, women birthing in the ocean, women birthing with doulas, midwives, at home, hosital, birth centre, lotus birth, twins, women birthing with no one touching her perineum when her baby is coming earthside. It was beautiful. And after watching those dvd's it gave us a quiet sharing space of what we thought, and how we would be, or not be in some of those situations. I loved it, and felt it was so important to have that space with kindness and no judgement so that we could actually share our thoughts and question what we saw without fear of being judged.

The kindness and the sharing that took place made me feel that this is possibly the best way to start to assist these midwives. If we come in with our 'save the world' attitude, we will get no where. We dont actually know how these people work, and what works for them. I think when we come in to their country, into their space, we need to start with kindness and with sharing knowledge. Sharing our stories gives us perspecitve and may give us some common ground in which to work with. When we have this sharing of knowledge, we get mutual respect.  And maybe then we can work alongside each other as we will have a better understanding of where the other is coming from.

A quick story, before I go, relating to this, was when I was speaking to a midwife about lotus birth. I was sharing the reasons why I chose lotus birth for 2 of my children, and one of the reasons was because of the space it holds in the first few days. Visitors respect the space more and there is a certain quiet and observing energy around the baby. We talked about how in western culture, it's the norm for babies to be passed to everyone in the room except mum and that the mumma baby space is often interrupted and intruded. She was very interested and said she sees how people would choose lotus birth. She shared with me that they wouldnt need lotus birth here because everyone always respects the mumma baby space and no one picks up the baby unless it is grandma passing the baby from the hammack to the mothers breast. In the first month the mumma does nothing but recover and restore with her baby and her food is cooked and delivered to her. That space is just naturally honoured. Our conversation  feels like a beautiful example of kindness and sharing, without judgememt or blame, and it give us perspective and respect for one another. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Birth around the world

After days of our neighbour, Noon, telling me she wants her baby born and out, her babies birthday finally came.

Women in Cambodia often birth their babies easily and with no fuss. They walk around all during first stage, often with their mothers, stopping and holding onto something when a contraction comes, then continue on walking  when the contraction passes. The majority come in to centres during advanced labour and push their babies out. These women have incredible inner strength and resilience. They get on with what needs to be done, without being in their heads.

No one has breastfeeding problems. No one has 'not enough milk', 'too much milk' or 'my mum couldnt breastfeed so I can't' voices playing in their mind. Their babies attach to the breast sometime after birth, it doesn't have to be within the first hour and it normally isn't after time of skin to skin. It's so hot here that baby usually just lays next to Mumma, and then when baby makes a noise, Mumma picks it up and gives it breastmilk. There are not many families here that formula feed. It is simply a very dangerous choice in this country to do so, either because the water or the bottle is not clean enough and has deadly germs. I saw a sign once which said: 'Breastfed babies look like this' and there was a picture of a healthy plump child. Next to it it said 'Formula fed babies look like this': and there was a picture of a gravestone with a little flower on it.

Anyway, I'm going off track. Noon came into the centre after a restless night and morning at home. She lay on her bed on her back and we encouraged her to try a new position. She moved around freely, from her side, to the squatting, to kneeling, hardly making a sound. It was only about 2 hours of her being therer that her black eyed, black haired Khmer daughter was born. The placenta was born easily and fuss free physiologically and the cord was cut once it had stopped pulsating. Baby went to Mummas chest and  she looked relieved that her baby was here. It was beautiful.

This birth has bought up so many questions about birth around the world. Why is that it seems some culutres can just 'do birth'? These women in Cambodia all just get on with birth. They don't seem to need or want childbirth preparation classes, meditation for birth, spiritual guidance or hypnosis.It was the same in Ethiopia. No one asked for hypnosis and no one asked for epidurals or pain relief during birth.  At home in the west, it seems that birth is a huge market and we all pay (me included) large amounts of money to be  empowered, painfree, hypnotised, processed, zen and spiritual for our birth, and we still have an incredibly high caesarean rate and and even higher percentage of traumatised Mummas and Bubbas. Is it because in the west we are all in our heads that we physically can't get on with birth and we really do need all these other tools to help us out? Is it because in 3rd world countries, they don't really have an option, so they just 'get on with it'? And its not that one is right and one is wrong, its just an observation and a thought.

One thing I have noticed from being both here and Ethiopia is that women all sit together and spend their days in each others company. They have that village support and understanding without judgement. Is that the secret?

I don't know.

I don't have the answer.

But it has certainly got me thinking about the world and birth and the way we live within it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

In my eyes

In the car, travelling around Takeo. My heart and eyes are open, and out the window is a world I have never experienced.

There are people in the rice fields, harvesting. They wear the traditional Khmer scarf, soaked in water, wrapped around their heads to keep cool. They see us and wave and smile. They have hope in their faces.

Up the road is full of brothels. The young women stand out the front with a face full of make up and big, high shoes. They laugh when they see us and I can't help but wonder what is behind the laugh. It is nearly always the Mummies, Daddies and Aunties of these young women that actually put them there in this work to help pay off debt. A motorbike with 2 adult men and 1 small boy child pull up near one of the sex workers and starts talking. I feel sad when when I see it. These girls are forced into a life they didn't choose.

Passing by each village is a huge archway entrance. It is full of intricate designs and patterns. Huge statues of either elephants, tigers, or heads are on each side of the archway. They look magnificent, lined up along the main road. I almost want to drive up each village, to see these little worlds within worlds.

There are children with big bellies. They don't have enough protein. How does that affect brain function? My heart feels so open. These children have nothing.

The weather here is so hot and sticky, so not much babywearing happens! The baby is usually sitting on the hip of mum, dad, grandma, sister or cousin. And they often have hammocks under their homes (which are on stilts) and the baby lays in there while the elders swing, swing, swing them. I see children surrounding a hammock out the window, and one is swinging it back and forth. They are all smiling.

Its such a world of contrast here. And it makes me think of the power of the human spirit. It was only 30 years ago that Pol Pot and the horrific, unspeakable acts of the Khmer Rouge took over and destroyed everything. Cambodia truly is a place that is building everything from scratch again. They have had everything taken from them, but their human spirits, and it is that that is helping to slowly recover and rebuild this ancient Kingdom.

Out the window of  the car, my heart skips a beat. The beauty and ugliness of this place is quite overwhelming.