I had the spent the morning in the garden. After a rainy night the farm was covered with a spring mist that sparkled. Despite that I consider myself a fair weather gardener, I had made a commitment to plant greens that day and was determined to keep it. On went the long underwear, my Eddie Bauer workpants and grey fleece hoodie, then my soft shell and a hat. Of course I had my rubber boots on.

After filling two wheelbarrow-fuls of sea soil to augment the fertility of the soil, I raked the bed and then began the labour of planting. Inside black plastic flats lay hundreds of tiny roots: spinach, sorel, two kinds of lettuce and cilantro. All required careful separation by immersion in water, followed by gentle plying each individual root apart.

Mid-day clouds ballooned over the Salish Sea. Wearing my partner’s yellow rain pants to avoid becoming soaked as I kneeled on the ground beside the bed, I worked for over 4 hours with a short break for lunch. At times I listened to my ipod, often only out of one ear so I could also hear robins and chickadees cavorting in the cherry and plum trees, ravens darting through the douglas firs, and the frogs resounding in the ponds.

As I poked the last few holes into the hose-moistened earth, I was ready to be done. The constant dipping of my gloved fingers into the tin of soil-filled water had left my hands feeling almost numb. I had dirt in my hair, my shirt and on my face. A hot bath and thorough cleansing were on my mind.

When I got indoors I checked my phone messages before running the bath. Fortunately, because I had a message from my friend Mia that her situation had changed.

Mia lives in Victoria, a couple of hours away by car and ferry. The situation she was referring to was her pregnancy i.e. her water had broke and she was slowly going into labour. Her contractions all day had been about 15 minutes apart.

A slight change of plans then. No bath, a quick pack of an overnight bag and a lift to the ferry by my farm-mate. I wasn’t sure how I would get into Victoria, although as luck would have it my partner was not only already there with the car taking a course all week at Camosun College, but he was staying at Mia’s.

After some unsuccessful cell phone calls, he managed to get my message and met me at the ferry in Swartz Bay. We would both sleep at Mia’s that night. Although sleep wasn’t really in the cards for us. Well, a couple of hours was all that was possible. Because by the time I arrived at Mia’s house her contractions were intensifying.
I have never been a part of a birth. I have also never been invited to participate in the birth of someone else’s child. I guess when you don’t have children you tend to hang out with other women who also don’t have children, or with those who have had them but years before. My sister and closest cousin both have kids but I left Montreal a few years before they became pregnant. Another very close friend had kids in the mid-90’s in Vancouver and I remember visiting her at the hospital post-delivery.

So here was my chance. One of the first ways I found to support Mia was to encourage her to vocalize her breathing when she was experiencing a contraction. I started to practice this with her on late Tuesday evening and continued throughout the various stages of labour. Then when it came time to push the baby out, I found myself breathing in with her, which proved to be a bit overzealous and I had to remind myself to let it out and keep breathing while she held her breath and pushed.

On many occasions during the two years I was writing my dissertation, I had likened the process to being in labour and giving birth. So as I watched Mia struggle physically and emotionally I remembered my own recent creative struggling. I had laboured long and hard. I knew what it meant to not know what was going to happen next; how it felt to be writing, or pushing, in the dark; how the fear can overcome us when we are doing something that we have never done before, the agony of uncertainty, and the desire for something to take away the pain.


How many times I had thought I was almost done. “Just one more big push,” I heard myself saying to people almost a year before the thesis was completed, when I was already a year and half into the writing process. By then I had wanted to be finished, to have “it” out of me. Just as Mia had wanted in the last few hours of delivery. Unfortunately my exclamation of near completion only signaled the handing in of my first draft. I wrote two more drafts after that, with 6 months between the first and the second and then three more months between the second and third.

It took several more hours of pushing before Mia heard the baby cry; hours of consistent contractions and periodic shifting of her physical position, as well as the ongoing summoning of reserves of strength and endurance that she didn’t know she had.

Nor had I. As a matter of fact, one of the questions from the university examiners at my final oral defense was if I could come up with some new criteria for the evaluation of arts-informed theses, based on my experience. Among the few I offered was “endurance,” to have the strength to keep moving through the mentally and emotionally exhausting labour of the writing process.

So completing my dissertation had in many ways prepared me for supporting Mia through her labour and delivery and like Mia, I never would have been able to make it through the process without the support of some dear and abiding friends—like Mia—colleagues and my partner.


And what was it like to witness the birth of her baby boy? Absolutely astonishing. Incredible. Emotionally draining and exhilarating. I had no idea it would take so long to write my dissertation just as I had no idea how long it would take for Mia to birthe Elan. Nor did she. She had to push for hours to get his head through. We watched as it was visible and then disappeared again and again. I had no idea how big he would be, nor the cord, nor how red and thin and fleshy the placenta would appear outside the womb.

Right after he was born, I called Mia’s mother and put the phone to the baby so she could hear his first cries. She will be thanking me forever for that small but significant gesture. I am also there in the first photos of Mama and baby; my hand around Mia and hers around the baby.

Mia named her baby boy Elan which, curiously,  means “tree” in Hebrew. I am his “dodah” (the Hebrew word for aunt). Coincidentally, I received a graduation gift from three of my most cherished girlfriends, a beautifulyoung Magnolia tree. I have loved magnolia trees ever since I moved to Vancouver and witnessed the magnificence of their spring blooms.