This story will appear in "Birth Matters" magazine shortly, along with stories from Fleur Magick and midwife Hazel Keedle. Enjoy!!
It was just a few days after a hectic Christmas that my partner and I packed the car and headed bush to help set up base camp with Fleur. The kids were uber excited to be going camping again but the excitement wore off after several hours stuck in a hot hot car and their expressions turned into a quiet frustration. As we turned down a dirt track our spirits lifted again as we knew there would be a crystal clear river to rejuvenate our senses. We were not disappointed. We wasted no time stripping off and headed towards the river who was calling us with her song. A goanna lay motionless on the branch of a eucalyptus, hoping to go unnoticed. Tiptoeing across the hot, hot sand and then Relief! The water eased our desperation.
After a while just laying and soaking it was decided that we best go and set up camp before it got too late. The base camp was just perfect with a ring of tents, a great kitchen area thanks to my partner, Lucas, and a campfire in the middle. My kids watched in amazement as Fleur’s boys, James & Preston, painted their faces, arms and legs with charcoal from the cold fire. I could tell they were keen to do the same but weren’t quite sure if they could, or should! Meekly they grabbed a few pieces of charcoal and did a few stripes on their legs and across their cheeks. Fleur and her boys performed dances to welcome us onto country. Needless to say, I felt extremely privileged to be there that night with my family and Fleur’s family.
The song of the cicada’s was almost deafening but as the sun went down this gave way to an orchestra of night insects. The kids were pooped after a long day of travelling, swimming and playing, and didn’t take much convincing to go to bed. The adults briefly admired the night sky and then joined the kids shortly after!
The next day and for the rest of the week we spent the time together swimming, playing and learning about Wiradjuri language, bush tucker (which my kids now point out in all types of locations… who’d have thought there was bush tucker in the Bunnings carpark!) Fleur took us on bush walks and to glorious swimming holes nestled amongst the sandstone cliffs. She was in her element. Lucas and I were absolutely amazed at her agility & flexibility to be able to climb over boulders, across logs and up steep slopes. Nothing phased her here. I have never seen a woman at 8 months of pregnancy so active. We felt quite ashamed at how unfit we were!
Fleur took us to a Wiradjuri cultural site where the hand prints of her ancestors were visible for all to appreciate. The colours of the ochre were incredibly vibrant. This was an area for all the family and was evident by the variety of sizes and shapes of the hands, including childrens hand prints. Unfortunately this whole area is under threat from coal mining and the local environmental groups are continuing their fight to protect this amazing area.
Usually by the end of a camping week, my family is busting to go home to remove the sand from our hair and have a good shower. This time however, it was difficult to pack up and go back to normal life. I’m sure we could have lived there forever.
Fleur and I had met some five years earlier when she was pregnant with her second babe and I was pregnant with my first. We had both joined the local yoga group and had had friendly exchanges as the months passed but we had never discussed where we were having our babies. After a few weeks of Fleur not being in class I asked the teacher if she knew where she was, to which she exclaimed with a somewhat puzzled look on her face “oh, she’s gone bush to do secret womens business…. or something”. At that moment I thought “Wow! I want to do secret womens business too!”
A few weeks passed and I was becoming anxious to get back to the bush. The full moon was on her way and I was sure a babe would be born under it. I packed lightly… a few clothes, a swag and meagre cooking utensils. This time my family was staying behind.
Fleur’s mother had arrived, her midwife Hazel and there were other sisters coming and going at the base camp & birth site. Talk about an awesome support network! There is something very liberating about only having women around you. Fleur had invited me to sleep out at the birth site and I was more than happy to oblige. It was as simple as picking a flatish spot, making sure there were no creepy crawlies whose home I might be invading, and unrolling my swag and my sleeping arrangements were done. The view from my swag was sensational. If I looked straight up it was a sheer vertical sandstone escarpment above me with a few overhanging tree branches. If you looked across the gorge you could watch the full moon & the stars appear over the cliffs over the other side and track their way across the night sky.
I was acutely aware of the need to be absolutely present and in the moment. To be able to take in every sight, every sound and every experience. These experiences were many and varied. One of my favourites was the morning I lay peacefully watching a hawk fly from one side of the gorge to the other, picking off cicadas one by one and landing directly above me on the cliff. Backwards and forwards she went.
The time I spent alone at the birth site was taken up by a lot of relaxation and contemplation. The song of the water over the rocks made the perfect soundtrack for bush meditation. The shifting sands of the river made for the musing of the ever fluid & changing nature of living. The early morning drops of rain on my face exposed my vulnerability.
The time spent together as a community of women was vibrant and energetic. Dancing, singing and ceremony were a part of the ritual of being on country and the women revelled in it. I cannot think of a better way to honour those last weeks of pregnancy. I can only dream that every woman has the opportunity to relax deeply, honour herself and connect with her sisters, herself and her babe in whatever fashion suits her over those last weeks.
Fleur’s mother, Roxanne, is one of the most generous women I have ever met. Her unconditional support for Fleur was loving & pure. She made sure both Fleur and I were well fed at all times and that we wanted for nothing. I cannot thank her enough!
Secret womens business is called that for a reason. There are some things I will keep between Fleur and myself and there have been some experiences I have shared with my partner and family & friends. This story has been just a snapshot into what was an awe inspiring adventure.
The country onto which young Yiri was birthed is under serious threat from coal mining by by the Xstrata group. It makes me angry and a sadness wells up within with the thought that this stunning area of cultural significance could be disrespected, wasted and destroyed by the mining magnates. The ever increasing thirst for energy is unsustainable and as consumers we are the ones who can dictate how we influence this energy and can demand a more sustainable future. Please show your support for this cause by visiting www.savethedrip.com