The last couple nights my husband and I have hopped into bed, fired up the iPad, opened up YouTube, and done some serious research for the upcoming civic election: we’ve been watching Ace Burpee’s “Candidates in Cars” video series.
To date, Ace has interviewed six mayoral hopefuls in a super-casual setting: driving around in Chrissy Troy’s sweet ride with a camera capturing their conversations.
I found it fascinating to watch how all the candidates handle themselves so differently, and with varying levels of comfort in the presence of a veritable local celeb. While of course there’s a certain amount of subtle and not-so-subtle campaigning, it’s pretty entertaining and revealing to hear what random topics come up, and what kind of interests and passions the candidates have. Van Halen (Brian Bowman), second-hand clothes shopping (Judy Wasylycia-Leis), karaoke (Paula Havixbeck), “meat carts” (Robert Falcon Ouellette), the chaos of youth hockey (Mike Vogiatzakis) and Sudoku (David Sanders) — it’s all fair game. I actually learned a lot of interesting things about our city, not just about the candidates.
My favourite moments from each video:
- David Sanders giving a shout-out to the Traveling Wilburys
- Paula Havixbeck blushing as she names the bars she went to when she was 20
- Mike Vogiatzakis talking about going to Greece with his mother
- Brian Bowman bringing up Van Halen approximately 46 times
- Robert Falcon Ouellette saying his dream musical performance would be with an Eastern European gypsy band at a wedding. (“But not too polka-like”. Heh.)
- Judy Wasykycia-Leis talking about taking her son to a Beyonce concert
- Ace asks advice on rules of the road (every video)
Part personal interview, part city tour, with some good laughs and of course a few awkward/cringe-worthy moments, this series is pretty revealing, and I think everyone should check it out. Hoping Ace is able to get the rest of the candidates on board for interviews!
And so, in no particular order, here are the videos – hope you enjoy them as much as I did!
I’ve been blogging in one form or another for a loooong time… I started a LiveJournal in 2002 and didn’t look back. Over the years I’ve blogged on personal topics, on work-related topics, and on local topics, and though I don’t get a lot of time to do it these days, it’s still important to me. I got to thinking about all the positive things that blogging has brought into my life, after a friend of mine, whom I met through this blog, moved away from Winnipeg. So without further ado, I present to you, five ways that blogging has changed my life.
Probably the best thing about blogging is that it has given me the chance to make new friends. When I moved to Winnipeg I had one good friend of my own here, and when I married her husband’s brother, I was welcomed into one the most awesome families in the world, along with their social circles. But it was (and still is) important to me to make “my own” friends, and as an introvert, that’s not always easily.
An unexpected but very welcome gift that blogging has given me is friendship with three wonderful gals — all of them relatively new to Winnipeg, like me. They have become an important part of my life, especially as we entered into the seasons of pregnancy and parenthood around the same time. As I mentioned earlier, one of these dear friends just moved away, and I will really miss her. Fortunately, she’s planning on coming back for a visit next summer
Okay, so I’m still perpetually confused by certain quirks of our city*, but blogging has given me the opportunity to become a lot more familiar with Winnipeg than your average newcomer. I love the reaction people have when I mention that something is a “Manitoba thing” and find that being this nerdy about my chosen hometown has provided me with a certain amount of “insider knowledge” – which comes in very handy when meeting new people or making small talk (again, something the introvert in me really benefits from). The other day, a friend remarked to me, “Why is it that every time I search for some sort of local dish or food item, your blog comes up?” I get a big kick out of that!
I think no matter where you’re from, there are certain local quirks that everyone is really proud of. It’s nice to have a good sense of what those are, and to catch and understand subtle references. And on the flipside, because I’m not from here, I have a decent sense of what “Winnipeg things” I don’t think are anything to be proud of, and I try to be especially careful not to adopt certain attitudes (e.g., dismissing the usefulness of public transit, being irrationally cheap, casual ignorance/subtle racism, etc.).
Another major benefit has been the boost in confidence I’ve gotten about my writing. I’ve always loved to write, but for a long time wasn’t doing it particularly publicly. The positive reception I’ve received has been really encouraging for me. Even though I realize it’s probably an evil genius plan for getting free content to publish, being selected as the Freep’s “Blog of the Week” several times has been pretty cool (but watch now, I’ll never get chosen again)! Having such encouraging feedback to my posts from various audiences was what finally nudged me towards freelance writing, which is something I’d wanted to do for a long while.
Blogging has opened a lot of doors for me. Long before we ever worked together, my boss and I struck up a friendship because we were both library bloggers. That connection eventually paved the way for a job opportunity. Another contact I made through library blogging was a big asset when I was looking for work here in Winnipeg (better yet, she became a great friend and colleague too!).
As I mentioned earlier, blogging also provided me with a portfolio to use when I started freelance writing. Now I get paid to write about stuff I’m interested in – still kind of blows my mind! (You can check out my pieces on The Baby Post and the Virgin Atlantic blog, if you’re so inclined.)
Because I don’t blog all that often these days, I’m pleasantly surprised that I get a fairly steady stream of emails from all sorts of people, for many reasons. Sometimes it’s because they’re thinking about moving to Winnipeg — a job that would bring them to the city for the first time, or an opportunity to move back to the city after having been away. Or, they don’t live here anymore but enjoyed a trip down memory lane and being reminded of the great times they spent here.
Whatever their situation, I’ve had emails from people literally all over the world asking if I have any advice for them. (I don’t think I’m particularly qualified, but I’m happy to share my thoughts!) Others have told me that that my words have been useful to them in some way. The best compliments I’ve received are from people who say they were feeling uncertain about the city based on its reputation, but were encouraged by what they read on my blog.
Winnipeg has been good to me, and I think it’s really cool that in some small way I can help change people’s ideas about it. I cherish these emails and though I don’t often hear from these folks again, I think of them often and wonder where their journeys have taken them. I always hope that if they did choose Winnipeg in the end, that they’re happy with their decision.
There are other interesting experiences that blogging has brought to my life. Who knew anyone would ever want to interview little old me on the topic of honey dill sauce, or wedding socials (which I didn’t know existed 10 years ago) or speed limits… but that part of blogging is of the “fun yet terrifying” sort, and not particularly life-changing. Then there are the perks, like the occasional swag or free event, which I can’t complain about (watch for my wayyyyyy overdue post on the awesome mural tour the West End BIZ runs, coming to this blog hopefully before too long)! And of course, there are the fun memories that I’ll always have of running the blog with two of my very best friends, Aaron and Laurel. In a way, those feel like my glory days of Winnipeg — being young(er) and having fewer responsibilities, and the freedom to explore the city without kids in tow. We enthusiastically threw ourselves into exploring — and understanding — this curmudgeonly yet charming city, and I think we’d all agree our time here was all the richer for it. At the very least it meant we drank a lot of local beer in the name of research!
Anyway — that’s my take on how blogging has changed my life. If blogging has changed yours in some way, I would love to hear about it!
*Currently confusing me: this city has three high schools that are affectionately known as “[Male name] Mac” (even though two of them are actually Mc, not Mac) and four elementary schools whose names are “Lord [Something]“. Once I set out to investigate these topics I realized it was not as confusing as I thought. I was sure there were at least 16 different Lord Something schools. Three cheers for blog research!
Given the nice, hot summer weather we’re finally having, it’s hard to remember that this past winter was a record-setter. During those long, cold days, local software developer Thu Tran and his colleagues at iQmetrix made a cool little video about Winnipeg, and I know that readers of this blog will appreciate it as much as I did. The video is called Muddy Waters: Your Official Guide to Being a Winnipegger.
Thu tells me that “in about March of this year, during what seemed to have been the coldest winter in history, the morale of the entire city seemed to be in rough shape. So we just thought, we would try to do something about it. Make a fun video that poked fun of ourselves a little bit, but also reminded everyone that this is one great city.”
This video captures many of the classic Winnipeg references that we’ve come to expect from any discussion of Winnipeg (socials, Slurpees, snow, and mosquitoes), but still manages to evoke happy feelings of recognition and pride. I loved the part about taking visitors to the Forks (so true!) and the hilarious Skinners/VJ’s/Mitzi’s/Nucci’s/BDI drip sequence. As a non-born-and-bred Winnipegger, I had lots of fun seeing how many prominent ‘Peggers I could identify during the last part of the video! I admit that I even got a little teary-eyed towards the end
Thu gives props to all his fellow video collaborators, especially Chad Kipling (the “eating guy”) and Jessica Watson (the “thumbs-up girl”).
Thanks, Thu & co., for bringing a smile to my face today – this is one I’ll be revisiting again this winter!
Ah, summer in Winnipeg. I guess it’s nothing if not unpredictable! I don’t have a super-cohesive post today; just some random stuff I wanted to share, a question to ask, things to complain about, and others to rave about. In no particular order…
Toasts: We love the garage we take our car to (Midwest Tire at Regent & Lag) for many reasons, not the least of which is the oil change perk – often a voucher for a free carwash at the The Chamois. I had never experienced or even heard of something as awesome as the Chamois until I moved to Winnipeg – does this sort of thing exist elsewhere? I feel like you could make millions! Yes indeed, we love the Chamois (truth be told, we always, always call it the Sham-Wow) and even my mum looks forward to her visits to Winnipeg specifically for the opportunity to visit the Chamois. For the uninitiated, the Chamois is a magical place where you can get your car cleaned on the inside and outside AT THE SAME TIME. All the while, you get to sit in a nice, cool, air-conditioned area on comfy couches, drinking a cup of free coffee, while your 4-year old presses his face against the glass, entranced, as he watches the giant scrubbers give your car a serious cleaning. As the outside is cleaned, a team of cleaners is inside the vehicle, wiping it down, vacuuming up a winter’s worth of gravel and a spring’s worth of those annoying elm seed pods, and, should you desire, adorning it with an air freshener in the scent of your choice. Take my word for it. The Chamois rules.
We were visiting with family in West Hawk Lake last weekend and it happened to be MeteorFest. What a fun little community party! Even with the off- and on- crappy weather, we still got a decent amount of beach time in, and there we met a team of lovely young women running the Recycle Everywhere tent. They gave the little ones in our group free Frisbees, temporary tattoos, and beach pails. I couldn’t resist offering up my thoughts on how Manitoba seriously needs to get on the deposit-for-all-beverage-containers train, and despite my ranting they were still nice to me, and even gave me one of those cool folding reusable shopping bags.
Lastly in the toasts category… I went on a great tour this week: The West End BIZ Murals Tour! Our friendly and knowledgeable tour guide Sasha took us to see a whole bunch of cool murals in the West End and I learned a lot about the area. I’m planning an actual blog post on that soon. There was an added bonus to the tour, too: it gave me the opportunity to finally meet Chris Cassidy, of West End Dumplings fame — we’ve “known” each other for years online but never met in person.
Roasts: Speaking of elms, yesterday while walking in my neighbourhood, a gentleman who was coming out of his house pointed out yet another of our area’s ancient elm trees has been tagged for removal because of Dutch Elm disease. SO SAD. We chatted for a few minutes about the trees, and he told us that Glenelm’s trees were actually planted as a Depression-era make-work project in the 1930s. It’s truly painful to see these beautiful, giant trees come down and the exchange served as a good reminder for me to be diligent about banding our trees – and even got me thinking that maybe I could organize a block-wide banding effort this year.
Also, come on, mosquitoes of Winnipeg. Why you gotta be that way? Seriously, even with the fogging, the mosquitoes are BAD this year. The other day I took the kids grocery shopping and between leaving the front door, buckling them into their seats, and closing my car door, I had three new bites. Plus, on the drive, I killed many more that were trapped in the car. I was at Vita Health earlier today and noticed a big display of anti-mosquito products. One suggestion was using lavender oil in an aromatherapy diffuser to keep the bugs away while you’re on the deck. The cashier also told me neem oil seems to be very popular this year. Anyone had luck with either of those?
Question: A question for you born-and-bred and in-the-know Winnipeggers – what is the scoop with the beach at Birds Hill Park? I always hear people talking about what a great family beach there is, but I have also heard mixed information on whether it’s part of a privately owned campground (Oasis?), and that it was actually closed for a while… can anyone clarify? When people talk about the beach, are they referring to one actually in Birds Hill Provincial Park? I’m super-confused. Help!
Thoughts (food-related, natch): I think we can all agree that Winnipeg just keeps getting more and more awesome for food lovers. Every time I read about our growing food truck fleet, I am practically drooling. Gourmet tater tots? Yes please. I tried some pizza from Red Ember at the St Norbert Farmers Market a few weeks ago… wow. Visiting the food trucks is definitely on my to-do list this summer.
A year I wrote that I was hoping to check out the Scoop n’ Weigh one of these days, and I did make it there! What a great store. I love that they have kitchenware AND food. And their play area for kids is fantastic.
A new shop is about to open up in my ‘hood… Fresh to the Bone Meats at 260 Henderson (in the old Elmwood Hobbyworks space). Don’t know anything about the store, but I’m psyched that a food store is coming back to the area after the Pal’s at Johnson & Henderson closed. I have a secret dream that maybe Neechi Commons could open at satellite store in the old Pal’s space. Frankly, Pal’s was not the most appealing grocery store, but everyone in the area really misses being able to pop in to grab milk or other staples. Neechi is such a wonderful and surprisingly well-stocked small grocery store, and I would frequent it regularly if it were within walking distance.
Over & out for me today… happy summer, everyone – stay cool (or warm) and dry, and above all, bite-free and having fun!
I might be kind of a nerd (okay, I know I’m kind of a nerd), but I really love Thursdays because that’s the day my neighbourhood’s community newspaper, The Herald, is delivered. There are usually all sorts of neat little tidbits inside: notices for upcoming events, stories about area residents and the interesting things they do with their lives, Kathryne Grisim‘s restaurant reviews, and even the odd advertisement catches my eye. One of the paper’s regular columns is called “Community Correspondent”, where residents share short essays on whatever topic is on their mind. Sometimes (but not always) it seems to be written by an older person, bemoaning the current state of the city or the world. Most of the time, I kind of agree with them. I guess I’m an old soul. Or a curmudgeon. Or both.
This past week the column was titled “What happened to the screened veranda?“. In it, Transcona resident Ron Buffie mentions that some of the city’s newer houses have “that old-timey look with verandas across the front”, but wonders why none of them are screened! Buffie’s article is charming and funny and makes some very good points.
Well, Ron, we have a screened veranda (we call it the porch) and we adore it. And I agree with you in wondering “why more houses are not being built with verandas, screened verandas. It seems like such a sensible and inexpensive method of helping to enjoy our summers.”
Enjoyment is the key word here. Call me crazy, but I have never been a particularly big fan of mosquitoes (and unfortunately, they have an absurdly strong affinity for me). And I used to love the intense Winnipeg summer sunshine, but something in me shifted when I had my first baby and now I am a shade seeker. Our shady, screened front porch is our haven from the sun and the bugs, and since the weather has finally warmed up, we’ve been enjoying it at all hours of the day.
Our son begs to eat breakfast outside almost every morning, and it’s a pleasure to breathe in the fresh morning air, watching folks stream up and down the street on their way to work or school. During the scorching afternoons we’ll drag the Exersaucer onto the porch, plunk our daughter in it, and enjoy popping in and out of the porch as we blow bubbles in the front yard, putter in the garden, or chat with neighbours. But the best time to enjoy the porch is at night when the mosquitoes would make it exceedingly unpleasant to be outside. We get a bit of a breeze floating through, and the stillness of the street is calming and relaxing. Add a glass of sangria or beer and it’s really good. And when the bells from the Orthodox church across the river begin to chime, their rich tones meandering through our street’s lush elm canopy, it’s perfection.
Last summer, after our daughter was born, my sister came to visit for a few weeks. She lives in the relentlessly hot and humid climes of the Niagara region, and to be honest, I was worried about how she would fare in Winnipeg. But we lucked out with a couple weeks of marginally cooler-than-usual weather, and it turned out to be a blissful reprieve for her. The porch was her favourite place to be, preferably while snuggled up with a newborn. I will always remember the twinkle in her eye and excitement in her voice as she proposed, nightly, “Let’s go sit on the porch!” Even though I was exhausted and should have been going to bed, the simple act of staying up to enjoy a beautiful July evening made just being at home feel like a treat. With some candles lit and a summery cocktail in hand, it almost felt like being on vacation in some dreamy, distant land.
So, my house is almost a hundred years old (century party next year!). There are a lot of things about it that look shabby without a hint of chic, and it drives me crazy when we have to spend money on boring, invisible things like updating electrical or plumbing. But if our screened porch (or veranda, as I may have to start calling it) is a relic of the olden days, of a time when people spent more time outside with each other and less time by themselves in front of screens, then I for one am glad to have a home that reflects that era. Our screened porch is one of my favourite things about my house, and also about summertime in Winnipeg.
Three cheers for screened verandas!
I am a big fan of Douglas Coupland’s earlier books, and Life After God is one of my favourites. In one particular passage from the Patty Hearst chapter, the narrator is talking to his brother about a neighbourhood dog named Walter who died of a broken heart after one of his owners died. His brother gives him a new way to look at the situation:
“He said that duration doesn’t mean anything to a dog. Whether you go to the corner store for ten minutes or you go to Hawaii for two weeks, all your dog experiences during your absence is a ‘sadness event’ of no fixed duration. ‘One hour… two weeks–it’s all the same to your dog. Walter suffered and was miserable, but not the way a person would have suffered.’ “
In the midst of this relentless winter, I keep coming back to this passage and applying it to winter. A winter event of no fixed duration. Normally I’m not one to talk much about the weather – because we have zero control over it, I kind of find it a pointless subject and not worth much brain space. I have so rarely looked at the forecast these last few months that when people start talking about weather to me, it usually is actually news to me and therefore sometimes even interesting!
But truly, this year has just been crazy. My massage therapist, who lives and works in my neighbourhood, told me that the word on the street is that someone is gonna get beat up soon if this weather lasts much longer — people are that out of sorts about it. I laughed, but it’s probably true. Especially with having little kids, this winter has been very hard. Most of the time it’s just been too cold to be outside at all. And inevitably when it’s not too cold, we’re sick. We can’t win.
Still, even though we’re all close to the end of our ropes, it seems futile to even get any ideas of when it will start to warm up. I guess I’m not the only person whose winter has been neverending. Meagan Francis is one of my favourite bloggers/podcasters and her recent post “Why winter is like early motherhood (and why it’s best to surrender to both)” struck a chord with me for this very reason. Meagan, who lives in upper Michigan, writes,
“When I was a newer mom, I was like I usually am in February: irrationally hopeful. Every time the baby would take a longer-than-usual nap or sleep through the night, every time I’d make it through Target without a single wail or blown-out diaper, I’d think that maybe we’d moved on from the no-sleeping stage or the crying-in-stores stage or the blowing-out-of-diapers stage.
And then, the next time I was holding a wide-awake baby at 3 AM or trying to shush a screaming baby in the checkout line at the grocery store or wondering how to get a completely poop-filled Onesie off over a baby’s head in a department-store bathroom without creating an even bigger mess, I’d get that familiar twinge of disappointment. Oh. It’s not really over yet, is it?
It wasn’t until the third baby that I learned to completely surrender to baby-ness and stop waiting for the less-fun phases to pass (maybe because by then I understood that when one not-so-fun phase passes, there is always another to take its place, anyway.) Much like how, this winter, I didn’t bother keeping an eagle eye on the forecast because I knew it would be just more of the same, with my third baby I stopped watching so anxiously for signs of development, of progress. I knew progress would come in its own sweet time, and that probably the less I obsessed over it the faster it would seem to come.”
Yep. No point being irrationally hopeful that the temperatures will pick up any time soon, or that this snow will be gone in short order. We live in Winnipeg. This has been a year of records, but really, deep down, are any of us truly shocked at this winter’s intensity?
So do not despair. Winter will be here until it is gone. Stay warm in the meantime!
Over the years I’ve been contacted several times by members of the media because of my blogging. Socials, family finance, my neighbourhood of Glenelm, having a baby at St. B hospital, the Winnipeg patio scene — I don’t know how interested anyone is, but I have given my humble opinions about many things for the radio and newspaper. Without a doubt, though, Manitoba’s most famously un-famous condiment, honey dill sauce, is the funnest and strangest topic I’ve shared my thoughts on yet. Be sure to check out Dave Sanderson’s illuminating article in today’s Freep: A Manitoba mistake: Honey dill sauce is strange and it’s zesty… and it’s ours! Some serious investigatory journalism on a very important local matter. But be forewarned. You will almost certainly be craving chicken fingers by the time you’re done reading!
Well, it’s winter in Winnipeg again. There are six-foot icicles hanging from the the side of my house and Winnipeg wrap sightings have gone up by about a million percent. Okay, I’m exaggerating both of those measures, but don’t we love extremes here? (Colder than Mars, anyone?)
I can’t believe how little I wrote here in 2013. I had a good excuse as any; I had a baby halfway through. Sometimes I suddenly realize I have two children who will call Winnipeg their birthplace and probably also their hometown. I guess it’s just neat when I think about how before I lived here, the idea of Winnipeg always inexplicably seemed like home, and now it most certainly is.
Anyway, lately I’ve been thinking about my Winnipeg. (Confession: I still have not seen the movie My Winnipeg. I heard something about frozen horses and can’t seem to muster the courage to face that.) About how Winnipeg is a pretty big city, but there are whole parts of it that I have never been to and am completely unfamiliar with. Last summer I dropped my husband off at a stag in Charleswood. As I drove home I realized that it’s a HUGE neighbourhood that I know absolutely nothing about. This is kind of embarrassing, but I didn’t even realize there was actually so much city there. But many, many people must call it home. When my husband and I had our wedding anniversary this year, we had a newborn and were too exhausted to do anything but go for a drive while my mum babysat. We wound up on Regent and just kept driving, all the way to the end of Transcona. Again – who knew there was still so much city past Lagimodiere? Not me! I guess it makes sense that some of Winnipeg’s larger neighbourhoods were once their own distinct cities.
My own Winnipeg is mostly based in Elmwood, East Kildonan, St. Boniface and St. Vital. I go a couple times a month to Corydon/Osborne, Wolseley, and north Main. Going to the box stores on Kenasten (sorry, Route 90) is a once-a-year kind of deal for me and I usually have to look up on a map exactly how I’m going to get there. But I’m pretty sure I have never been to say, The Maples, or Royalwood, or Lindenwoods (wait, I think I went to a garage sale in Lindenwoods, once.). I don’t even really have a grasp of where they are located. I guess, realistically, most people live their lives in a smaller subset of the city; it’s just weird to think about the fact that there are areas of the city I have only heard because of traffic reports on the radio. I mean, it’s not like this is New York or something!
But it’s a nice feeling to realize that the parts of the city I am familiar with, I finally really am comfortable in. I still regularly get
lost turned around downtown when coming home from the airport, but now I generally don’t have to pull over to consult Sherlock’s; I can always figure out where I am. It occurs to me that, after five years, I have finally committed to memory the fact that you can’t turn left from Marion onto Archibald during peak hours, and you can’t turn left onto Portage from Main, full stop. (Or left onto St. Mary’s from Marion, for that matter.) I know that the advance arrow to turn left onto Des Meurons from Provencher is perilously short and you have to be ready to go the second it turns green. And I can pretty safely get through Confusion Corner with only mild unease.
Yes, I think I am becoming one of you. I had a total cheap Winnipegger moment the other day. I’d seen Bartley Kives and Bryan Scott’s new book, Stuck in the Middle, at Costco before Christmas, and mentioned to my husband that it would make a great gift. Alas, I guess I mentioned too subtly, because there was no book under the tree for me. So when I was at Costco the other day I looked to see if they still had any copies. They did not. I cursed myself for not having picked it up earlier; I think it was about half the price at Costco as at bookstores. I TOTALLY BELIEVE in supporting local and bricks & mortar booksellers, and understand why their prices have to be higher than online and at Costco – yet I pouted to myself the rest of the trip for not having snagged it at such a low price when I had the chance. (Okay, I just put it on hold at the library. That is the ultimate in frugality!) [Total sidenote: does it seem to anyone else that at any given moment of any given day, the whole city of Winnipeg is at Costco? Seriously, don't we have anything better to do??]
But I also love how generous Winnipeggers can be. That same pre-Christmas trip to Costco, it was a very cold and blustery day as I wrangled my 3-year old and my groceries to the car, when the man who I’d parked next to came back to his car at the same time – and offered me a hand unloading my cart! That brightened my whole day. Indeed, I think Winnipeg has made me a friendlier person to the people I meet day to day. Sometimes, when I catch myself in the act of doing something kind, I’ll humblebrag to myself, “Well, that was a Winnipeggy thing to do!” That could well be the best thing about being a cheap Winnipegger: friendliness is free. And I think friendliness begets friendliness. And if McDonald’s taught us anything, it’s that smiles are free.
So, what is my own Winnipeg? I suppose my own Winnipeg is more than any particular neighbourhood or being cheap or being friendly. My own Winnipeg is dusty – so, so, dusty – and dry in the summer, but also lush and green with treed canopies, and anticipating the big waves at Grand Beach, and walking to an ice cream shop that is only open a few months of the year. My own Winnipeg is permanently dirty snow in the winter, and being a curling widow on MCA (er, Manitoba Open) weekend, and counting down the days to Festival du Voyageur, and simultaneously thanking and cursing the crews for ploughing our lane — and trapping us on the lane side of our back driveway. My Winnipeg is go ahead, make a U-turn! And the beautiful lighted archways on Corydon that I just noticed for the first time this year, and furiously trying to register for swimming lessons with Leisure Online, and missing the turnoff to Assiniboine Park every. single. time! My Winnipeg is yes, “dainties” is absolutely the best word to describe, well, dainties. (I noticed the term rolling effortlessly off my tongue for the first time this Christmas.)
Winnipeg itself is fading into the background of my life more and more with every passing year, but I’m still glad I chose this city to be my home. The thing about Winnipeg is that it can be yours in any way you choose, and that can change as much as you like. And I can’t wait to see what my Winnipeg is like five, 10, 50 years from now.
I’m a huge Carol Shields fan, and as I’ve written before, her books intensified my love of Winnipeg. So I was thrilled to hear that Project Bookmark (a charity that “puts stories and poems in the exact, physical locations where literary scenes are set”) is honouring Carol Shields’ book The Republic of Love in Osborne Village!
I had a lovely email from Project Bookmark’s founder, Miranda Hill, inviting me and all Winnipeggers to attend the unveiling at the Gas Station Arts Centre this Thursday morning at 11am. Folks are also invited to attend the tribute event in the evening. Learn more about the Carol Shields bookmark at the Project Bookmark website.
This now makes two Shields-related landmarks I want to visit; I still have never been to the memorial labyrinth!
My mum has a saying. “You were born in Canada – you won the only lottery that matters.” Although we have a long way to go with regard to certain marginalized groups, I think she’s basically right. We here in Canada are exceptionally lucky to have such good health care and education systems, especially compared to the US. It doesn’t always seem that way – and there is certainly room for improvement in these systems – but relatively speaking, we really are privileged.
On a Thursday last November, I won another lottery of sorts. That was the day that I got a call saying I had been accepted as a client with a midwifery practice based at the Birth Centre.
Two months pregnant with my second child, I had a lot of hopes for this pregnancy and birth. With my first, I had a very difficult birth, and the weeks and months that followed were fraught with a long and painful recovery, almost every breastfeeding issue under the sun, and the emotional challenges of dealing with a colicky baby. Having midwives rather than an OB was the biggest thing I hoped to do differently this time around. The continuity of care (midwives care for the woman and her baby as a pair from her first prenatal appointment until the baby is about six weeks old) and support offered by midwifery just made so much sense. It sounded like a much more logical and beneficial option for someone with a normal, low-risk pregnancy, and I was already sold on its benefits, at least on paper.
Then, when our son was nine months old, my sister-in-law had a planned home birth at our house (their house was under construction at the time, and they were staying with us for a few weeks) and seeing was truly believing. From the expert way the midwives helped her during labour and birth, to the exceptional support they provided her during the days and weeks that followed, I almost couldn’t believe that such an amazing model of care existed. I could see how having midwives the first time around would have been tremendously helpful for me. I crossed my fingers that I would be able to beat the odds the next time I was pregnant; reports at that time were saying that at least 75% of women seeking midwifery care were turned away due to the shortage of certified midwives in Manitoba.
So, last fall, the morning I had a positive home pregnancy test, I called the midwifery intake line, and then began the long wait. At last, just when I was beginning to think that I was out of luck, I got a call saying I was in. I was so elated that my hands shook as I called my closest family members to let them know the good news. From that point forward, my prenatal care was drastically different from that I had experienced the first time.
For starters, my prenatal appointments lasted on average, an hour. The first one was an hour and a half! During that time, my midwives (I had a team of three, and over the course of my care had appointments with each of them, in rotation) wanted to know all about my first birth and postpartum experiences. As I told them about my physical and emotional difficulties and how I managed them, I could tell were really listening. When I explained my hopes for a different experience this time, they were completely encouraging. When we discussed where I hoped to give birth this time, they were all confident that I could have a home birth if that’s what I wanted. I left my first appointment on a bit of a high. Who knew health care could be so… enjoyable?! During subsequent appointments I was provided with plenty of information (the midwifery model expects the mother to be a full and engaged participant in her own health care decisions) and options. All prenatal tests were optional. In my case I opted to have the 20-week ultrasound and group B strep tests, but declined the maternal serum screen and gestational diabetes screen, and decided on these with the full support of my midwives.
Contrast this with last time. When I left my doctor’s appointments during my first pregnancy, usually I felt disappointed – I almost always waited 30 minutes to an hour to see the doctor, and then would be out the door in about five minutes. My doctor was very busy and often zipping back and forth between the office for appointments and the hospital to deliver babies. We once saw her, just before our appointment, in the elevator in her scrubs – she had just delivered a baby! My husband accompanied me to every single one of those rushed and perfunctory prenatal appointments, but when I introduced him at the first one, my OB told him point blank that she “didn’t remember husbands”. While I believe she was a good doctor, I didn’t feel as though I had any sort of relationship with her, or that she knew anything about what my hopes, preferences, and values were. She delivered my baby, stitched me up and then I didn’t see her again for six weeks. At my six-week postpartum checkup she didn’t even ask me what I had named my son. I am certain she wouldn’t have recognized me if we’d passed each other on the street. Still, I don’t blame her for the way things went. The system is not designed for these specialized doctors to spend much time with patients whose pregnancies are progressing without any complications.
This time around, my midwives were always asking about not just me, but my family. We were encouraged to bring our then-2 year old son to the prenatal appointments and have him participate in listening to the baby’s heartbeat, measuring my belly, etc. The Birth Centre has a wonderful child-minding area and service, which is so appealing to kids that when we had to leave it, my son cried the whole way home because he wanted to go back and play. In the wake of our new arrival, they wanted to know how my husband was feeling. How was our son adjusting? How was I coping as a mother of two, and were we finding our rhythm as a new family of four? They asked us and they really wanted to hear our answers. And because the team works on a rotation of being “in clinic” and “on call”, I always knew who my next appointment would be with, and that it would begin on time. I never once felt rushed, and was always provided with ample time and opportunity to ask questions, explore issues, or just talk over things that were on my mind.
Ultimately, I had a peaceful and uneventful home birth – just what I was hoping for! The midwives were amazing – our daughter was born just after 5am and by 9am I was cleaned up, tucked in bed and resting with my family with a cup of tea and a muffin from my stash of freezer meals. The midwife called later that day to see how I was doing and then came to my house regularly over the next two weeks. Not having to leave the house for appointments was so wonderful; it meant that in those hazy days of newborn exhaustion, we could just focus on taking care of ourselves. I will always cherish one particular home visit. My mum, who was visiting from Alberta, made my midwife and I some tea and we all chatted as I finished nursing the baby. My midwife asked my mum about her own experiences and my mum said that when she gave birth to my brothers in the 1970s, her doctor told her she’d have to write the St. B hospital board to obtain permission for my dad to be in the delivery room with her! How times have changed.
When I left my last postnatal appointment, I cried as I said goodbye. Throughout the months of my pregnancy and the six weeks that followed, I became very attached to my wonderful midwives (must have been all that oxytocin bonding us!). They were an integral part of such an intimate and special time of my life, and for their outstanding care I will always be grateful.
I could write a novel about how my care was different this time, but instead I’ll just mention a few other instances that stand out in my mind as examples of the exceptional care I received:
- At one point in my third trimester, I experienced some bleeding at 11pm on a Friday night. I paged my midwife and she met me just after midnight at the hospital to check things out, do a nonstress test and discuss a plan. If I’d not had a midwife in this scenario, I would have been waiting in the emergency room for who knows how long, or in triage at the maternity unit, explaining my situation to countless nurses and doctors who’d essentially be strangers. Instead, in this scary and worrisome moment, I had reassurance and empathy from someone I already knew well and felt totally safe and comfortable with. Even when I was admitted to the hospital for observation overnight, my midwife called me first thing in the morning to see how I was.
- A week or so after the birth, I was still experiencing some problems with getting my daughter to latch properly. I toughed it out for a while and then decided to call for help. I paged my midwife and she came over two hours later to help me out. Then she called in an ointment prescription for me and made sure it would be ready for pickup that night. Without a midwife, I would have had to seek out breastfeeding support in the community*, then see my own family doctor for the prescription, a process that would have easily taken at least a few days – which anyone who’s had breastfeeding issues knows can be too long to wait. Instead the problem was dealt with in just a few hours, without me having to leave home.
- Even after I was discharged from care, I called with questions a few times and my midwives were very helpful in directing me towards the support that I needed.
*I don’t mean to devalue the marvelous resources we do have – free breastfeeding support clinics that run almost every day of the week around the city, staffed by trained, wonderfully compassionate professionals. These are a lifesaver for many, many mothers, myself included last time. I’m sure I will be accessing them again now that I have been discharged from my midwives’ care. It’s just that when you have such a new baby, getting support from someone who already knows you and your baby, in the comfort of your own home, makes a huge difference.
All in all, I can’t overstate the helpfulness – and efficiency – of being treated as a mother-baby pair by a small group of professionals with whom you have an ongoing relationship. In the traditional model, you have public health nurses, but they’re not talking to the pediatrician, who’s not talking to your own doctor, who’s not talking to breastfeeding support nurses/lactation consultants… you get the picture. Individually, I know these professionals are all doing the best they can, but the system is not set up for them to work together, which is what needs to happen for mothers and babies to get the best care possible.
I think it’s important to point out here that midwifery care isn’t your typical style of health care, which some have aptly called “sickness care”. Midwives view birth as a normal part of life, something that women’s bodies are designed to do, and not something inherently risky. They also take a holistic view, recognizing that pregnant women are more than just measurements and test results; they are people with emotions, hopes, wishes, and baggage, and midwives want to know about it all, because it all affects pregnancy, birth, and the eventual family. And midwives will support you whatever your choices are: to give birth in the hospital, at the Birth Centre, or at home; to have drugs for pain relief – or not; to have prenatal and newborn testing and procedures – or not. At the end of the day they are they to educate and support women and their families in their own choices, whatever those choices may be.
I was thrilled to see that a recent study from the Cochrane Review (the gold standard in evidence-based health care) made major headlines when it found that midwifery care is ideal for most pregnant women. Let me be clear: there is an important place for obstetricians, and we are lucky to have skilled ones when we need them. But as the Cochrane Review study confirms, most low-risk pregnancies would be best served by midwives.
From what I understand, the delays in certifying more midwives to work in Manitoba is quite complicated, but I certainly hope that the parties involved will be able to establish and expedite the necessary processes as soon as possible. Having midwifery care is something that every woman deserves, if that’s what she so desires. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that it costs the province significantly less, with equally good outcomes. Last I heard, the waitlist for midwifery care in our province is nearing 80-90%. We can and must do better for women and families. In the meantime, I am sending letters to the powers that be encouraging them to support and improve access to midwifery, and telling anyone who will listen about my positive experiences. And if you’ve read this far, I hope you will join me in pushing for more midwifery services in Manitoba. Because no one should have to win the lottery to get a midwife.