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Midwife & CEO Langevin on Becoming an Eco-Mom
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This feisty Fire Dragon leads Topline Marketing, one of the most successful wellness and grocery brokerages in the premium sustainable sector. She's got the gift -- get your product into her goodie bag and it will get prime shelf space. Environmental cluster cancers in the family led Karen to study herbalism, which then led to midwifery. She has assisted more natural births than she can count, including in Indonesia, just after the tsunami, and Haiti the week of the Earthquake. Little Ry is Karen and hubby Karl's first-born son. I was curious about how she felt being the one having the baby this time.
Zoe Helene: As a midwife, how did it feel to be the one giving birth?
Karen Farrell Langevin: Intense... blew my mind! The intimacy of birthing your own child is an experience that can't be described in words. I know that now. I thought I knew what to expect but in fact I had no idea how deep his presence would move me. It was as if I had never seen a baby before.
ZH: You were in labor for quite some time.
KFL: Ry was my first birth and my body took its time. 28 hours! Still, I was patient and trusted the birth process and he was born at the base of our bed at 5:36PM.
ZH: During labor, did you think of the other births you'd attended?
KFL: Yes, and it deepened my love and caring for the women I have assisted in birth. I revisited a few midwifery moments and asked myself questions like, "Did I support her enough? Was I compassionate enough?" I am a better midwife now because I have more understanding.
ZH: When you think back on Haiti, what is the first memory that comes to mind?
KFL: I think of the baby that was born into my hands on the streets outside the Port Au Prince General Hospital, just a few hours after the second earthquake.
The hospital had to be evacuated during the earthquake while a mother was in labor, and just after that her baby was born. It was also moments after a young man died only a few steps away from us, and I had just watched the life leave his body. When the baby was born, one of the Haitian American Doctors screamed out to the crowd of people, "A baby has been born! There is HOPE, there is HOPE for Haiti!" And all these Haitian women started jumping up and down and chanting, and the moment was so full of meaning and motion and demand.
It was one of those moments that when it was over, I just stood there silent, almost paralyzed, wondering what could possibly come next. Then someone screamed "Karen! This woman is about to have a baby!" and in came three men carrying a woman on a stretcher towards me and then yet another woman in late stages of labor. Haitian Women must be some of the strongest women on the planet for all they have been through and all they must face in the days to come.
ZH: That's a wild scene, Karen. You are very strong too. Do you ever think about where those mothers and babies are today?
KFL: I do and it makes me cry because I think they are homeless. I hope they have food and clean water. I hope they are alive! I pray for them.
ZH: Indonesia was a very different experience, wasn't it?
KFL: It was totally different, yes, although in both places the human mental damage was deep. I was in Indonesia a couple of years before Haiti and thought conditions there were terrible. As it turned out, Indonesia was nothing compared to Port Au Prince. Don't get me wrong -- conditions were harsh -- but Indonesia was so much more sanitary because the Tsunami had come in and washed away the debris and the dead, whereas in Haiti the earthquake landed on top of everyone and the dead were left to rot in the sun and there was nowhere to go.
ZH: OK, that's horrible.
KFL: Compared to Haiti, Bali was a land of Buddha bliss and incense.
ZH: Tell me about Bali.
KFL: We lived in Bali for the first week at a Birth Clinic called Bumi Sehat, which translates to 'Health World.' We had supplies and an Ashram to sleep in with mattresses and canopies. Then we took three more flights to a small fishing village in Sumatra where the last surviving Sumatran Elephants live, and we lived there for three more weeks before flying back to Bali. Sumatra was very rural so supplies were extremely limited, but we had a clinic and an 'ambulance' and there was some staff there. Here is a poem I wrote for the Indonesian babies:
"Bali Sehat (Translates to Healthy Bali)
The babies in Indonesia
Are born with
A full head of black hair
And slant of eyes
And Buddha smiles
They are bathed in
And breast fed coconut milk
They will walk barefoot to the ocean
And listen to stories
Of the wave that swept the world
They are born of the lucky to be alive"
ZH: Would you do it again?
KFL: Yes, when my son is older and I can travel like that. Not for the next several years though, and maybe not Port Au Prince again. I would like to do some longer-term work, maybe in South America or Africa. I would like to do this work in my crone years.
ZH: Why is being an eco mom so important?
KFL: True health cannot be achieved in the presence of toxic chemicals, which are now routinely found in breast milk. I'm an eco-mom because -- what other sane, loving choice is there?
ZH: How did you find the natural products movement?
KFL: I came to understand the importance of natural medicine and organic food because of environmental cluster cancers in my family (my brother and father). I've been committed to green for many years.
ZH: How do you see the future of our planet?
KFL: Human beings are at such a crucial stage of development. We need to decide whether we will safeguard the future or trash the planet to the point of no return. And not just for our own descendants, but for all living beings.
ZH: What do you wish for little Ry?
KFL: A vibrant life full of happiness and possibility -- which is what I wish for everyone.
ZH: What is he like?
KFL: My little man is so, so sweet. He's a little Buddha love bug. He does not like to cry -- he is very content and satisfied. I keep thinking of him as on old Maine Lobsterman that landed on my door after years at sea.
ZH: What's the most challenging thing about motherhood, so far?
KFL: Balancing work and baby and "me" time. I never get a minute alone any more. My poor kid is 4 months old and has been to five trade shows, nine plane flights, 11 states ... We're dragging him along and hoping it will make him worldly and flexible!
ZH: How's the new daddy doing?
KFL: Daddy is doing great. Karl is very patient and kind and is enjoying this part of his life journey. He quit his job and is staying at home until we figure out what we want to do for additional care for the baby. I am not in a position to be at home or to take more time off, and we want family to care for him while he is this young.
ZH: What are some of the sweetest things about motherhood?
KFL: The sweetest thing is breastfeeding and falling asleep together. Nourishing and loving my baby is sublime.