As tiny babies, each of Rebecca Hautala’s three children slept in the same small crib, pushed up close to their parents’ bed to make it easier to breastfeed (and sleep) at night.
But Kai (10), Eli (seven) and Ari (four) were just a few of the babies who cuddled up in that crib, which made the rounds through several families in Rebecca’s hometown of Thunder Bay. “A friend of mine used it for her two kids and then said to me, ‘Want the crib?’ And I used it with Kai, and then another friend had a baby and — ‘Want the crib?’ — we passed it along to her. And then it came back for Eli, and so on. We counted recently, and 11 babies have slept in that crib so far.”
But of course, the young families exchanged much more than just a crib. “In passing it along, we were also passing along information,” says Rebecca, 41. “‘This is what helped me with breastfeeding,’ or, ‘This is what helped when the baby wasn’t sleeping.’ We were saving each other money, yes, and the time it would’ve taken to go out and buy a new crib, but we were also creating this nurturing environment to help our families get through and raise healthy kids.”
And that, for Rebecca, is one of the central tenets of midwifery. “How can we support a family in getting the resources they need to make choices that will nurture their babies? How can we help them thrive?”
As a midwife, Rebecca has been helping families welcome new babies for nearly a dozen years, working with parents-to-be from early pregnancy to six weeks postpartum. And while the births themselves are often the most dramatic and intense (and thrilling) part of the process, the work extends beyond labour and delivery to the entire family and their community of support. “We do our best to make sure that our clients have the resources they need to feel strong and balanced. Because parenthood is chaos. It’s unpredictable and disorganized, often starting with labour, so you need to surround yourself with people you trust so that you can let go enough to let it unfold.”
Rebecca and her partner, Keith, have been lucky in that regard: their kids have three sets of grandparents in town, all happy to help with childcare, especially given that Rebecca is on call — and often away at births — one week a month, and in clinic two weeks out of four. She and Keith, a professor of forestry and environmental programming, have worked out a schedule that has them alternating primary parental duties depending on her work schedule. It’s a balance that works because of their extensive support networks: not only their parents, but a community of friends who are willing to share childcare, and some fantastic babysitters who also help with housework.
“We ask for a lot of help,” says Rebecca, who is folding laundry as she talks to me. “And that’s not how it’s always been. But the more kids we had” — especially with a colicky second baby and an overwhelming birth and postpartum experience that left her depleted — “the more we learned how to ask.”
She encourages her clients to ask as well. “Birth is hard. I never sugarcoat that. I tell my clients, ‘You’re going to work really hard.’ But I believe that when somebody’s working really hard, they should have help. And then they can simplify everything else that isn’t so hard.”
In a world where new parents can often feel as though they’re supposed to be doing everything perfectly (even though they’ve had no experience), Rebecca is all for embracing — and celebrating — the satisfactory-to-good. “I’ll walk into a new mom’s home, and she’ll apologize for the fact that there are dirty dishes in the sink. And I always say, ‘I’m happy you have dirty dishes in the sink. That means you’re eating, and it means you’re sleeping when the baby sleeps instead of washing the dishes.’ That’s more than good enough.”
These days, with kids well out of cribs and colic, Rebecca and Keith get to spend as much time as possible outside with their family. In the winter, that means cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skating and hiking. In the summer, they swim, fish, cycle, and pick blueberries (often up to 60 litres in a season). Now that Ari is old enough to walk longer distances and carry gear, they’ve been heading out on more extensive camping and canoe trips. “Everyone just has better mental health when we spend time outside.”
In the same way that Rebecca and Keith try to sustainably manage their parenting responsibilities, they’re also trying to teach the kids about managing the Earth’s resources. That includes recycling and composting, using reusable bags for shopping, and aiming to buy used, trade, or loan most of their clothing, furniture, and outdoor gear. They’re big on waste-free school lunches, belong to a community garden and CSA, and try to make homemade Christmas presents. “And we’re also really, really busy, so we can’t do everything,” says Rebecca. “We do what we can, and we outsource what we can’t.”
“I really feel that one of the most important ways to encourage sustainability is to open people up to sharing more. And for me, so much of midwifery is about working with families to find better ways of sharing resources and healthcare.”
Too often, though, Rebecca sees clients who don’t have the same support system she and her family have been so lucky to have. “Maybe they don’t have family nearby, or they’re new in town, or they’re a single parent or don’t have a supportive partner. Hopefully they can find that drop-in group, or that pregnancy or new-parent group. They can get on Kijiji or Facebook and share clothing and resources. And they can find that community that’s going to help get them through. As a midwife, the more I see of that, the happier I am.”
SUSAN GOLDBERG is a regular contributor to the Whole Family Happiness Project, where she is thrilled to eco-geek out on composting, reducing plastics, and other low-carbon life hacks. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Ms., Toronto Life, Lilith, Today’s Parent, Full Grown People, and Stealing Time magazines, and several anthologies, including Chasing Rainbows: Exploring Gender-Fluid Parenting Practices. She is a regular contributor to several websites, including CBC Parents, and co-editor of the award-winning anthology And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families. Susan is based in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where she can often be seen picking up cans to recycle on her neighbourhood walks.
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