Family and friends near and far keep me grounded, centered and sane. Then there are the people I’ve never met, (sometimes halfway around the world) who also reside in my heart. Their stories, their work, their dreams, remind me that we are all connected.

In 2010 a message came to me via facebook from a woman who had read The Birth House. She’d picked up the book at Box of Delights in Wolfville while on a trip to visit family in Nova Scotia. Her name is Kristen Porter.

“I did not know then that a few months later I would be reading the last page of the book as I was about to open a birth house half way across the world in Uganda. For the past year and a half I served on the board of directors for The Shanti Uganda Society. Last year we were blessed with the funding to build a maternity and learning centre in Luweero District (the community we currently work in). In March I was supposed to come to Uganda for a three week visit. Less than 24 hours before I got on the plane our executive director called me from Uganda and wanted to know if I wanted to stay and open the Birth House. Without a second of hesitation I said yes and was on my way to Uganda for an undetermined amount of time. Three months later I’m in the process of hiring midwives, working with the local community and volunteers, visiting local herbalist and piecing together our own version of the Willow Book.

In Uganda childbirth is the number one killer of women. There are many reasons for this from horribly underfunded, understocked public hospitals to the loss of traditional birthing knowledge. Currently many women in the community we work in have no access to medical support when complications arise during the birth process. By the time they make their way on the back of a bumpy motorcycle ride to the closest clinic, it is often too late. Our goal is to lower maternal and infant mortality rates, reduce HIV/AIDS transmission rates from mother to child, improve birth outcomes and access to education for Traditional Birth Attendants and provide supplies and a safe and empowering place for women to welcome their babies into the world. I have attached a recent photo of the Maternity centre. We are due to open in this coming August.

I wanted to say thank you for your book. I am not a midwife or even a doula, my background is in International Development. I never imagined that I would be opening a Birth House. Your book is a gift that has connected me both to my home when I am feeling so far away, and to this incredible experience. Sometimes I find my self asking “What would Miss B say about this?””

Every birth is a lesson. – Miss B. from The Birth House.

The Shanti Uganda Birth House

Fast forward to this summer, when Natalie Angell-Besseling, cofounder & Executive Director of Shanti Uganda contacted me to see if I’d be willing to help out with a fundraiser that was going to be held in Vancouver in September. My answer, of course, was yes!

Not long after Natalie got in touch, a plain wooden egg arrived in my mailbox. My task was to decorate the egg any way I liked so it could be auctioned off during Shanti Uganda’s annual Evening of Art. The eggs are part of an “Eggs of Empowerment” series, with contributors chosen from across North America.

I stared at and considered my egg for quite a while. I was hoping it might “speak” to me, let me know how I should treat it. After several sessions where I stared at the egg and then left it sitting on my desk, I decided at the very least, it wanted to be red. I got out the dyes I use for quilting fabric and brewed up a dark, crimson bath. The egg was transformed to a velvety red, so lovely I couldn’t bear to do anymore to it, outside of letting Mr. McKay apply a light coat of tung oil to seal in the colour and give the egg a soft glow.

Still, I felt I needed to imbue the egg with something more of me. What could I create that might express how I feel about the power and beauty of birth? What could I contribute that might show how much affection and respect I feel for these women? Paper and pen would need to be involved.

Inspired by a paper art dahlia I’d seen on Pinterest and the image of a lotus that had helped me through the birth of my second son, I set to work. I created a “nest” for the egg with paper, pen, and a fair bit of glue.

my paper lotus nest
nest and egg

Soon both egg and nest will arrive in Vancouver, ready for Shanti Uganda’s big night. I hope the evening is one of celebration and giving, one that will help my sisters’ Birth House blossom and thrive.

Shanti Uganda’s Evening of Art is September 25th. To find out more about the event and this amazing organization, please visit their web site. Shanti Uganda.

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