Preface to Bad Beaver Tales (second edition)

I became a widow at thirty-seven years of age and my world came crashing down. This is what I wrote in the Epilogue of my memoir of that time, Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart, A Midwife’s Saga:

“And I…I lost my mind for quite some time. I knew I had to stop working before I hurt someone. My grief was much too raw for me to be able to take care of others. I had to heal myself. I built a lodge out of woven saplings at the base of the Tree where my husband died. I covered the saplings with tarps and made a fire pit in the center. I stayed there for the better part of a year without speaking much.

Looking back on this, it seems a little insane, but I had the support of my family and friends. It was a painful time but also a time of intense healing, living in the beauty of the forest. The Tree and the deer and the pileated woodpeckers and the coydog all healed me. I began to recover.

I had a spiritual decade, where I delved deeply into women’s spirituality and the blood mysteries. I went back into midwifery practice in the late nineties. I opened my birth center, Longmeadow Farm Birthing Home, and attended births at my home.

I’m OK; I made it through. I’m happy now. I am married to a wild French Canadian redneck builder, Tom Lajoie. Tom is eighteen years my junior. Actually, Tom and his family lived across the street from Ken and me when we lived in the little farmhouse in Concord. Little Tommy was my “handy-boy” when he was young; he stacked my wood. He says he’s been in love with me since he was eleven.

Tom and I have a four-hundred-acre parcel of land in Ellsworth, Maine, that we are making into a tree farm. We are doing sustainable harvesting, and Tom has a sawmill and a shingle-mill there. We have named the land Bad Beaver Farm.”

The following tales are a collection of stories not just about Bad Beaver the place, but stories that meander around in my life, past and present—at the same time, Bad Beaver is where it all leads.

As a writer friend says, “These stories from Bad Beaver are, at turns, brave, beautiful and just plain badass.”

Enjoy!

Carol Leonard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Antlions and Invaders from Mars

When I was about eleven years old, in the very early 1960s, I watched a movie by myself called Invaders from Mars. I was sitting downstairs in our dark basement “rec room” and I got terrified beyond all rationality. In the movie, a young boy about my age, sees a spaceship slip under the sand in a sand pit next to his house. People who walked across that area were sucked down under the sand into tunnels to the spaceship. There the Martians drilled holes in the nape of their necks and inserted mind-control electrodes into all the humans’ brain stems.

I remember I was eating walnuts as I watched the movie. I was nervously cracking whole walnuts and picking out the meat and frantically munching them as I watched, spellbound and horrified. I ate a lot of walnuts. About the time the head Martian appears in the movie, and he was literally only a HEAD, I started to get a bitter aftertaste of stale walnuts in the back of my throat. I ran to the closet bathroom just in time to throw up.

At the time, I had a little cowpony named Liberty Belle. My father and I had built a small stable for my horse that was in a field next to our house—in a field that was on the far side of our septic tank’s leach field. Unfortunately, the leach field was large and was all sand. The was no way in hell I was going to walk across that leach field and get sucked under the sand. I had to carry two water buckets to Belle every morning and every night. I walked with those heavy buckets all the way around the leach field for many years. By the time I was in my late teens, I was extremely proud of how muscular my arms were. I could win a bicep contest with a boy any day.

Predictably, that movie scarred me for being able to watch any sci-fi horror movies ever again. I did try two more times. When I was a freshman in high school, I tried to watch Psycho in a movie theater with a bunch of friends. About the time they find the “mother” in the cellar, I had to run to the Ladies Room. My friends gave me grief about that for a long time. The last movie I attempted was when I was an adult and was Alien. Someone said it was “funny” and not scary at all. Same result—but this time I blamed throwing up on too much wine.

Flash forward to the present: Yesterday, Tom and I were walking in the woods when we came to an old sand pit. Tom grinned hugely and crouched down and pointed to a small indentation in the sand. It was only about the size of a quarter. I never would have noticed it as anything special if he hadn’t pointed it out. He said it was the lair of an antlion and that when he was a kid, he and his brothers used to torture ants in a sand pit in East Concord for hours.

With this non-explanation, Tom got up and rolled over a rotten log and grabbed a hapless ant. He dropped the ant down in the center of the sand saucer—all of a sudden, two huge pincer jaws exploded out of the sand and grabbed the ant! There was sand flying everywhere as the ant struggled desperately but then it disappeared under the surface.

Gone. All was quiet.

My mouth was dropped open. Holy Martian Reprise! Tom was grinning at me. Immediately, I got a bitter aftertaste of stale walnuts in the back of my throat. I knew what was going to happen next.

I ran to the bushes.

Carol Leonard ~ Woman Beaver Trapper

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Carol Leonard is a midwife, a writer and a beaver trapper. She is the author of the best-selling memoir about being the first midwife licensed to practice legally in New Hampshire, LADY’S HANDS, LION’S HEART, A MIDWIFE’S SAGA, Bad Beaver Publishing, 2010. Carol and her husband, Tom Lajoie, are building their sustainable homestead ~ Bad Beaver Farm ~ on 400 acres of wilderness in Ellsworth, Maine. Carol and Tom are also raising about a hundred beavers there that they argue about on a daily basis.

The following is the evolution of my thought process as to why I trap my beavers (~from BAD BEAVER TALES, 2012).

Why I Would Like to Learn to Trap
(This is my letter to the Maine Trappers Association-Union River Chapter-
asking to be considered as an apprentice trapper)

When I was a young girl, my mother arranged for me to be able to tag along with old Doc Kennard of Bedford, NH. Doc Kennard was kind of famous as a naturalist/surgeon and he had a bird-banding station at his house that I helped him out with after school. I say he was famous as he wrote many articles in bird-banding journals, including: Reverse migration in the Dark-eyed Junco. Anyway, he was a wealth of knowledge and he taught me how to identify birdcalls and to track animal and bird tracks in the snow and how to identify scat. He also removed my appendix.

I was a free-range kid. I was in love with the outdoors and built many “camps” in the woods where I set up small snare traps. I would camp out at my trap-lines overnight. I never caught anything, not sure I knew what I would do if I did find something in my snare. Actually, that’s not true. I did once catch a vole but it got away. I still have a crescent shaped scar on my right thumb.

Most people automatically assume that I am a vegetarian. I have no idea why. Even as a young kid, I craved protein. While my younger siblings would be delighting in sweet treats, I would go straight for the leftover hunk of steak in the fridge. My sibs would be wallowing in chocolate pudding and I would be smeared with A-1 Steak Sauce.

I did go through a spell of vegetarianism in my late teens, as being macrobiotic was all the rage. By the time I was down to about 100 pounds, my hair began falling out and my periods stopped, I realized I had to embrace my Inner Carnivore. The migraines ceased with my first cheeseburger.

As an adult woman, my diet preference was fish with occasional poultry and no “red meat.” By the time menopause hit, the migraines were back with a vengeance. I realized I needed to embrace my Inner Carnivore once again. I craved all things red. It was a little scary. I became like Rosemary’s Baby.

Now on to trapping. I don’t have a good history with guns. There was a very, very bad incident 25 years ago with my late husband and a 12-gauge shotgun. It did not end well.

My current husband, Tom, likes to hunt and we have good hunting land in Ellsworth, Maine. I took a course in “Field Dressing Big Game” so I can help him out. Tom is fine with killing but he developed a mild allergy to eviscerating. I found this out when we did in our 12 roosters that were originally sold to us as “pullets.” I found that I love having my hands in a still warm animal. It must be the midwife in me. I am totally fine with cleaning out entrails.

Tom and I are at a point in our lives where we would like to know the origins of the food we eat, as much as possible, especially meat. I would like to reduce the amount of commercially raised meat that we consume; the more we can avoid the hormones and antibiotics of supermarket meat, the better. Our dream is to provide as much sustenance from our own land as possible. This has become very important to us.

I am healthy and strong. I would be honored to be able to apprentice with a local trapper to learn as much as possible from an experienced and skilled practitioner. If you would consider taking me on, I would be truly grateful.

BEAVAH DIVA!

Postscript: Carol ultimately did apprentice with two seasoned New Hampshire trappers. One very experienced, life-long trapper was an older gentleman named Mutton Chop. The other trapper was a fearless Algonquin Indian woman trapper named Bonnie.

Carol got her NH Trappers license when she was in her early 60’s.

Hillbilly Hot Tub Epiphany

Carol in the Hillbilly Hot Tub

Epiphany: sudden realization: a sudden intuitive leap of understanding, especially through an ordinary but striking occurrence.

We buried Gladys, our dog, at Bad Beaver on a spring day that can be so typical of Maine in May—cold and windy with a nasty freezing drizzle, totally miserable. The weather matched our moods. It was a sweet celebration of her life though. Several family members attended as well as a few friends and neighbors who brought dogwood flowers. Tom dug a hole with Maryanne, the excavator, next to Phaedra in the family cemetery. Gladys’s body was shrouded in a pristine sheet that was entwined with gay yellow forsythia flowers. Tom carried her into the hole and gently laid her down with her snout facing East. I knew it was hard for him to see through his tears.

We began the ceremony by greeting the four directions with burning sage and a prayer to the four Grandmothers. Several of the group told a fond story of Gladys that was their favorite memory. I told the story about when Gladys accidentally pushed me off the stairs at the Beave and I landed on my back in front of the sink in the kitchen—with Gladys landing squarely on top of me. She thought it was terrific that I had volunteered to be her own personal airbag. Some friends brought very expensive champagne and we all toasted to Gladys who had lived a long great life.

In the early evening, after all the friends had drifted away, Tom and I sat together in mutual miserableness. We were going to miss Gladie terribly. Tom sat silently, morosely, staring out over the back field. For some inexcusable reason, I added to the depression by starting to complain bitterly.

“I’m so sick of this effing rain. I’m sick of it being cold and dreary. It seems like it’s been raining for weeks now. I’m chilled to the very bone. All I want is to be warm and yummy.” I whined on and on ad nauseum.

Tom got up without saying a word and walked around to the side of the cabin. I could hear him rummaging around under the porch. Eventually, he reappeared dragging a large porcelain clad, cast-iron claw-foot bathtub that was really very heavy. I’d forgotten about this tub, it was given to us by a friend who was retrofitting a bathroom in New Hampshire.

Tom wrestled the behemoth to the fire pit where we had nightly bonfires. He put the tub right in the center of the pit up on some rocks. Then he connected a garden hose to the frost-free farm hydrant that he had installed next to the front deck. But before he could fill the tub, he had to plug the holes that were left in the tub from the missing faucets and overflow drain. Tom just happened to have two 1-½ inch corks that fit perfectly in the hot and cold water faucet holes. But the overflow hole was a big problem—the hole was 2-½ inches wide.

I have to admit; at this point I was thinking we’d just have to make do with the water level being only half way full. But I should know better by now. Tom disappeared under the porch again and came back with the top to an old, inexpensive Styrofoam beer cooler. He traced the circle on the cooler top and cut out the Styrofoam circle with a utility knife and plugged the hole. (I have to say right here that once the Styrofoam got swollen a little bit from the water…it didn’t even leak a drop!) Tom started filling the tub.

Then he made a raging fire under the tub with cedar kindling that was leftover from making cedar shingles with his shingle mill. Cedar burns like hell. It only took about an hour for the water to get toasty hot. I was a little fearful that the iron in the tub might conduct the heat and get dangerously hot from the fire and cause second degree burns on my delicate bum…but I was pleasantly surprised that the tub itself stayed cool. The porcelain on the rim was actually cold to the touch. The water had absorbed all the heat!

I slid like a grateful whale into the deep hot depths. Ahhhh. Then Tom handed me a glass of wine.

I said, “Tom, you have no idea how much I love you.”

He turned and walked back into the camp to read “Cops & Courts” in The Ellsworth American.

As I floated in my warm and delicious watery cocoon, my reverie deepened. The spring peppers were making a deafening racket with their frenzied mating calls down at the beaver pond. I was astounded to see a light in the sky…a STAR! The overcast skies had cleared and the clouds scudded away to reveal a single bright evening star. It was startling to see heavenly light again after weeks of dismal fog. I breathed in the crisp night air mixed with wood smoke.

I became acutely aware that I was floating in a watery realm above a raging FIRE. The seeming impossibility of this spiraled me back to the prayers we had said that afternoon for Gladys—prayers to the four directions. As I floated in my amniotic abyss, I could feel the solidity of my body; my weight and the lessened pull of gravity. I thought of Gladys’s body now in the ground, of her flesh and bones and her skeleton that would become a natural feature and merge with the earth and return to soil and dust.

I knew at that moment that she had pulled away from us and left us behind. I knew that her spirit was traveling faster than the speed of light back to the center of all Creation. I knew she was going home.

GODSPEED YOU ON YOUR JOURNEY, DEAREST GLADYS

a

Gladys Almost Kills Me

Gladys laughing

Tom got up before the crack of dawn to go saw lumber. I just don’t know why this man cannot sleep in. He’s got some kind of infernal-internal alarm clock that makes him start fidgeting and getting antsy if he is in bed after 5:00 AM. Not me, Lovie, there’s nothing I like more than luxuriating in bed with Mossy Oak camouflage flannel sheets and a down comforter reading People magazine with a steaming cup of Earl Grey tea with milk and honey.

I am in the loft at the Beeve with our two black mutts, Phaedra and Gladys. All of a sudden, Gladys makes a frustrated sound that sounds eerily like ChewBacca. She is at the top of the steep cupboard stairs and she is furious. Gladys has gone to work every day with Tom for fourteen years. She doesn’t understand why Tom is leaving her behind these days. She doesn’t realize that she is getting too old to brave the elements the way she used to, that in her senior years, she doesn’t thermo-regulate well at all.

She looks at me. She is clearly angry. Gladys is Tom’s first and only dog and he is profoundly attached to her. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel competitive with her. She’s been with us since she was eight weeks old. I adore Gladys. I just think it is sad that she can’t accompany Tom all the time on the job any more.

I say, “All right, Gladys, I’ll take you down the stairs so you can go to work.” (Tom has been carrying her down the stairs which I simply cannot do because she weighs about seventy pounds.)

I start at the top of the stairs—which have no sidewalls—and I hold onto her collar to coax her down. We get only two stairs down before her hind end gives out and she slides sideways. She slides and I fall over the side of the stairs—in slow motion—floating through the air about ten feet up with Gladys following after me. I watch this as though detached.

I land on my back in front of the sink in the kitchen. Gladys lands squarely on top of me. I swear I hear Gladys laugh. She looks at me as though this has been great fun—I have been her personal airbag. She shakes it off and gets up to go to work. I, on the other hand, think I have a stress fracture in my right heel. I check every bone in my body. I can put weight on my heel, even though it hurts like hell, so I guess I’ve been lucky and it’s only bruised.

Two days later, there is a lovely cedar sidewall along the staircase enclosing it in from the kitchen. I thank Tom for building it.

He says, “No problem. I was really worried about Gladys.”

Sometimes I don’t know if Tom says stuff like this so he’ll have to sleep alone for the next six months.

~Excerpt from BAD BEAVER TALES by Carol Leonard, Bad Beaver Publishing, 2012.

OBITCHUARY

Gladys Louise Lajoie

Gladys Louise Lajoie

Hopkinton, NH – Gladys Louise Lajoie, 15½ (108 in human years), died outside under the lilacs at her residence in the early evening of May 14, 2013. Gladys passed peacefully to the great field of fetching rocks in the sky, much to the deep sorrow of all who loved her.

Gladys was born on December 7, 1997 in Hillsboro, NH, one of 10 in a litter of fat, roly-poly, rollicking black and white puppies. Gladys crawled into Carol Leonard’s lap to lick some cheeseburger grease off Carol’s hand, and then curled up and fell sound asleep. Gladys was named after Carol’s notorious Great Aunt Gladys whom Carol admired as a child for her Aunt’s amazing ability to perfectly pencil on her thin eyebrow lines.

Gladys Louise Lajoie grew to be an upstanding, conscientious dog. She became a construction worker at the early age of one and was a most valued asset to the crew. She was employed by Tom Lajoie Construction and never missed a day of work for 15 years. She rode shotgun with Tom in the Dragon Wagon every day to the many job sites in central NH. She greeted visitors and workers to the sites and checked their credentials. She made sure all employees were safe and accounted for—and checked out their snacks at lunch.

Gladys was an avid rock fetcher with an incredible talent for locating the correct rock underwater. She retired from the construction business in her last year and spent her time lying outside in the shade, riding in Carol’s car and checking out the compost heap for new and interesting stuff. In her last year, Gladys was stone deaf due to not wearing hearing protection on the job. When she barked to clear the back field of possible vermin, her bark was unbelievably monotone.

Gladys’s favorite place to be in the whole world was Carol and Tom’s farm in Maine. Just two days prior to her death, Gladys made several trips from Camp Kwitchabitchin all the way out to the barn to see what the hell Tom was up to now.

Gladys was a wonderful, funny, brave dog who will always have a bright place in our hearts. There will be an internment service on Saturday, May 25 at 2:00 PM at Bad Beaver Farm in Ellsworth, Maine.

GODSPEED YOU HOME, DEAREST GLADYS

Spring Mating Ritual of the Spotted Salamander~

Early Carol and Tom

High Heels and Headlamps

For many years, I’ve had on my bucket list to observe the spring midnight mating frenzy of the ever-elusive Spotted Salamander—Ambystoma masculatum. I’ve heard about this legendary event but have never had the privilege of witnessing it in the flesh, so to speak. I say “ever-elusive” because about the only time the spotted salamanders come up from their subterranean existence is for one night in the spring when they return to their natal vernal pools to perform their secretive annual mating ritual. (Vernal pools are temporary—therefore predator/fishless—pools of spring melt-water.)

This year I was determined to be a salamander voyeur. I asked my friend, Dave Anderson who is a naturalist and Director of Education for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the way to tell when the “Big Night” was about to happen. Dave is a veritable encyclopedia of natural history phenomena, especially when it pertains to lusty mating habits and procreation.

Here’s how Dave explained what to look for: “It is the first overnight rain when temperatures remain above 42 degrees. The salamanders only move under the cover of darkness and they migrate en masse to their ancestral vernal pools. They remain there for mating purposes but need rain in order to migrate back to the woods. Obviously, rain or lack thereof, and intermittent freeze and thawing can disrupt their migration. The males typically arrive first—just like wood frogs. A really good proxy for when to pay close attention is when you hear the very first spring peeper calls—the earliest single spring peeper. Also, when you hear the wood frogs by day—like quacking ducks in vernal pools.”

Dave continued with his directions: “Salamanders make no vocalizations (even during mating!) They hide beneath leaf litter each day. The only way to watch their slimy dance is with a flashlight and going out to a vernal pool on a rainy night often called “the big night”—you’d feel the same if you only mated once a year. Males attend females while wafting pheromones with their tails and nudging the often-larger females to go down to the bottom of the pool to collect a few sperm packets called “spermatophores” from the bottom. It’s an amazing backyard ritual that few people ever see because you have to go out in the cold April rain with a flashlight and stand at a vernal pool in the dark woods. That’s a hell of a commitment.”

Now I was more determined to invade salamander sexual privacy than ever. On April 10, I was pulling the last of my traps out for the end of beaver trapping season. I was on Long Pond Road near the town reservoir. I heard a cacophony of “quacking” coming from deep in the woods. I followed the racket until I came to a large, beautiful vernal pool full of wood frogs calling and cavorting on the surface of the water. I just knew this would be the perfect place for the slithery Rite of Spring.

That night there was a light rain, more like a drizzle really, but it had been such a dry spring that I was afraid I was going to miss the show. I dragged Tom out there at 10:00 PM anyway. I bribed him by packing up some snacks and a jug of cheap vino. We trooped through the dark woods but when we got there…nuthin…nada…dit-squat. We were met by an eerie silence and no movement in the water either—not a frog-quack to be heard.

I was so disappointed. I was beginning to think this whole orgiastic event was a figment of some bio-porn writer’s lusty imagination. I gave up on seeing the magical dancing salamanders until next year.

Several nights later, Tom and I went out to dinner at the Gas Lighter in Concord. When we exited the restaurant, it was pouring rain—an unexpected torrential downpour. Driving home, frogs were crossing the roads en masse and, unfortunately, there were dozens of squished frog bodies littered everywhere.

I said to Tom, “Tonight is the “Big Night!”

Because I wasn’t counting on this and we had been out dining, I had on very high heels—of course I did. But we did happen to have two headlamps in the car, so we headed back to the same vernal pool. I stumbled through the dank woods in my stilettos, trying desperately not to break my ankle. As I hobbled up to the far side of the pool…there they were! Shining in our headlamps in the leaves in the bottom of the pool were the ever elusive, horny salamanders. There were dozens of writhing balls of spiraling salamanders weaving in and out and around each other. I couldn’t believe how excited I was—what an honor. This was the nuts!

I watched, mesmerized, at the courtship dance driven solely by odor. The salamanders themselves looked beautiful and glistening in the flashlights. They were about six inches long, jet black with bright yellow spots running along their sides. They began by rubbing their chins together gently and then circled each other on the bottom of the pond, placing their heads under each other’s tail as they spun around and around. The male then climbed on the female’s back and repeatedly rubbed his chin against her. Then he would try to lure her away by wiggling the tip of his tail enticingly—thus apparently wafting the pheromones—to direct her to his spermatophore. How unbelievably sexy is that? In this dreamy state, they spiraled around and around each other, dancing in total silence.

I was in awe. What is it about this dance that is so soulful? I think there’s something about the pheromone/lust, gentle chin rubbing, spiraling slow dance in the ancestral pool that reminds one about the cycles of the seasons and the emergence of Spring and fertility and rebirth and the wonder of life itself.

I looked over at Tom who was squatting next to me, shining his headlamp beam into the pool, enjoying the show immensely. What other man in the world would put up with my insanity like this? What a gift he was.

He said, “Looking for love in all the right places.”

Tom plucked a spinning salamander out of the pool and placed it gently in my hand.

I said, “Coitus interruptus” and let my smooth amphibian go back to his date.

Ah. But what was this? Did I just get a waft of human pheromones?

I leaned over and began rubbing my chin seductively against Tom’s shoulder.

He grinned at me with rain dripping off his nose. He said, “Let’s go home.”

BUCKET LIST # 13 ~ CHECK!

~Excerpt from Carol Leonard’s new book, MORE TALES FROM BAD BEAVER, FURTHER STORIES OF EXTREME BUILDING, BAD BEAVER TRAPPING AND LEARNING THE WAYS OF THE LAND from Bad Beaver Publishing, due out May 2013.

An American Midwife Behind The Iron Curtain ~ Day One

Carol in Russia

Yesterday, I was cleaning out my library to pack up for the move to Maine—and I found part of an old JOURNAL that I kept while I was working as a midwife in Russia (actually, it was still the USSR in 1990, right before the collapse). I forgot that I even kept a journal! Another midwife and I had been asked by an early-on, joint Soviet-American business venture to go to the USSR to try to help improve maternity care there. I was, purportedly, the first American to deliver a Russian baby. The birth was filmed and aired on 20/20 with Barbara Walters. Such an honor!

This part of the journey is about our first days there, trying to find our way around the chaos that was Moscow.

November 23, 1990.

Flying Into The Dark

Moscow. So here we were. We had left Finland sparkling in the sun, looking down on adorable miniature farms with their barns painted red. We were healthy and happy and excited.

It had been a very turbulent flight over the polar ice cap. I found myself praying to the Gods of Aviation a lot. Now as we approached our destination, we came through the clouds to a disturbing atmosphere…like impenetrable smog. The sparkling sun was gone, replaced by a steely grayness—a seemingly total lack of daylight—I thought, so this is what they mean by the “Iron Curtain.”

My traveling partner was another midwife named Karen. Karen was part Native American and had a long black braid down her back. The Russians that we stayed with said she reminded them of Pocahontas—so I affectionately nicknamed her “Poke” and called her that for the rest of our time behind the Iron Curtain.

Poke commented on the surrealness of the landscape at the time of the landing—so it wasn’t just me. The “suburbs” had weathered, unpainted shacks and dilapidated dwellings. The land was stark with silhouettes of solitary, bony black trees.

We cleared Customs without any problems, which was a miracle because we had so much equipment with us. We came out through a throng of waiting people, again darkness…dark clothes, gray faces. The throng didn’t feel particularly menacing, just desperate somehow…as if wishing we were coming for them. I realized how conspicuous we must be with our three carriage loads of supplies. I also realized, for many, we were the first glimpse of Americans that they had ever seen.

I had a momentary feeling of being “larger than life,” of being very tall. It was probably from finally being free of the bucking plane.

I stood waiting and watching and I knew immediately when the two women walked by us—yet I still approached them from behind and stood to the side when I called, “Alla!” The surprised women wheeled around and held up a little sign that said CAROL LEONARD.

They said, shyly, “Carol?” (Pronounced Karo.)

They were absolutely adorable, so wonderful, these two little women smiling enormous smiles. Alla had a dark complexion; Vera was a light blond. Both women were fiftyish with the most incredible, sparkling eyes full of mirth. We immediately hugged and in a threesome “pod,” we went and pulled Poke into our huddle, all of us laughing. I was extremely relieved. We had made it without a hitch and these two tiny Russian women were obviously very glad that we were there.

They had a van waiting for us, a van with fabric curtains and a driver named Constantine. Constantine was relatively young and very nervous but friendly and shy. As we drove towards the center of the city, we were asking millions of questions—and being asked many in return. Alla was interpreting.

Of course, quite soon the topic turned to obstetrics. Vera, who was doctor and an OB/gyn, stated that their foremost problem with deliveries was postpartum hemorrhage. A long discussion ensued about the importance of diet, with Poke doing a short discourse on the benefits of aqueous extracts from carrot seed, nettlewort, spinach, burdock root, and ocean kelp. Ah, midwives. Apparently, anywhere we were in the world, it took approximately ten minutes of foreplay before the exchange of hot information began.

Constantine drove us in the gathering gloom, which was dusk in Red Square. We stopped in front of a park with hundreds of squatters’ makeshift, cardboard shelters—they were protesting the lack of housing. As we drove on to Vera’s place, I was profoundly struck by the bleakness—street after street of sooty gray buildings with lines of darkly clothed people. A total lack of color—very Felinni-esque.

Our hosts told us that the electricity was being rationed at the time, so the streets were very dimly lit, adding to the otherworldly scene. The only color seen for miles was a garishly lit-up bright red star—HUGE—high over the Kremlin.

I remembered a friend’s cryptic words when I was leaving the US. She said, “You will soon be entering the dark. All the teachings will be about how you deal with the dark.” What in Hades did that mean?

At Vera’s, we drove through a very tall, arched entryway into a compound of old buildings about nine stories high. It seemed as though we had stepped back into the Middle Ages. In the entrance to Vera’s building, the once lovely tiled floors were destroyed and covered by pieces of cardboard. The entry hall was concrete that was painted a god-awful dark, seaweed green.

Constantine and the two Ruskie women began loading all our luggage into a rickety wire-mesh cage that was the elevator. Watching the cage dangling from cables, swaying back and forth, made my old elevator paranoia kick in full-blown. I opted to run up the seven flights of concrete stairs. At every landing, there were buckets of refuse; old potato-peelings and cabbage, etc. Alla left us, saying she would call for us in the morning.

Vera’s apartment was a tiny, one-bedroom affair, but it was very orderly and lovingly kept. Poke said she thought that Vera was comparatively “well-to-do.” Vera had been a gynecologist for thirty-one years. Lesson # 1: We may be in the heart of darkness here—but Vera is filled with joy and laughter and delight. Our dinner consisted of Vera frying up some pork chops. (That left out Poke, the Vegetarian Princess…and, yes, I did resort to eating my totem animal.) I knew those chops were very expensive and hard for her to get. Vera also sliced some tomatoes and put cilantro on them, which was a wonderful surprise!

Poke and I offered some of our American bread and cheese, and Vera brought out some Ruskie Vodka (pronounced Wodka). We commenced to laughing and trying to communicate with hand signals and hilarious, pathetic accents. Without Alla to interpret we were sunk. Vera spoke no English and we spoke no Ruskie. Fortunately, we figured out that Vera spoke Deutsch and I had studied four years of German in school (painfully, I might add). But now it finally paid off! For the rest of the time in the USSR, we communicated by doing a rudimentary job of butchering German.

I was pretty exhausted that first night from the schlep, so I crawled into Vera’s offered bed (she ensconced herself on the living room couch). I dozed off to Poke getting a Russian alphabet lesson in the kitchen. “Ah, Bay, Day…”

However, at 3:15 AM, Poke and I found ourselves back in the kitchen writing by some twinkling candles and drinking tea, our biological clocks gone totally haywire. I looked out the window and down below us was a block long wall topped with concertina wire, curled barbed wire. We were looking directly down into the compound of a prison.

November 23, 1990.

My First Breech Birth

It is amazing to me that just when I think I’ve learned all the
lessons I am supposed to get about a particular situation, more
come. This definitely keeps me humble. Grace is a willowy blonde
with piercing blue eyes and has that old money, WASP-prepschool
look about her. She is pregnant with her second baby
and has been having her prenatal care with me, in conjunction
with Dr. Faith up north, as they live out in the country. I’d like
to blame Dr. Faith for misdiagnosing this one, but I can’t. I am
the last one to see Grace before she goes into labor. I completely
miss the fact that her baby is breech.
I arrive at her house in the middle of the night. When I
check her, I am appalled to feel a single chubby leg and a huge
scrotum hanging down in her vagina. Damn! A single-footling
breech. This is not good. Grace’s labor is moving incredibly fast.
Ultimately, it will be only three hours from start to finish. I know
Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart 99
we don’t have time to make it anywhere for additional help. I
figure it is better to stay where we are and to try to remain calm.
One of the real dangers of a single-footling breech is that the
cord can wash down and prolapse when the water breaks. Grace
has already ruptured her membranes. The baby’s heart rate is
great, so no cord compression yet. We seem to be doing OK—so
far. Time for a consult with Francis. (Time for that bloody job
at McDonald’s.)
Francis’s sleepy voice is reassuring on the phone. He isn’t
very worried. He says that since this is Grace’s second baby, her
pelvis has already been proven to be adequate enough to birth
an average-size baby. The labor is moving along quite rapidly,
so we needn’t be overly concerned about disproportion. The
place where people get into trouble, he says, is by not minding
the store and allowing the smaller presenting part of the body to
descend through an incompletely dilated cervix. This will cause
the arms and head to extend and get hung up in the cervix,
which can result in premature inspiration, possible aspiration of
fluid or meconium, and drowning.
As long as I don’t have her push until I’m absolutely sure
there is no cervix left, the birth should be straightforward—just
backwards. And, he says, whatever I do, be gentle, no traction.
By pulling on the body, I could cause the head to go into an
abnormal rotation, rotating the face up when the back of the
head hits the hollow of the sacrum. If this occurs, the chin
will get lodged against the pubic bone, and I’ll lose the baby.
Otherwise, I’ll be fine, he says, just fine.
Holy Mother, now I’m really nervous.
I take a deep breath, put on my best midwife poker face, and
prepare to deal with this ass-backwards child. I wonder what it
means for this little guy to be coming into this world scrotum
first. Some kind of a statement. Grace does have a rim of cervix
left, and she does have uncontrollable bearing-down urges as
her son’s body starts to slide through the cervix and increase
100 Carol Leonard
the pressure. It’s crucial that she holds off pushing until she
becomes fully dilated.
I raise up her butt by piling folded towels under her bottom.
I hold the presenting part up out of her vagina, with my gloved
fingers in her cervix. This should take some of the pressure off
and buy us some time. I sit between her legs, pushing upward
against her downward force. I have her blow through contractions
to diminish the bearing down. I do a little vaudeville routine to
distract her from pushing. We remain this way for what seems
like an eternity, until I can no longer feel the cervix.
I give her the green light. “Good to go.”
My heart is pounding as the baby’s body starts to emerge,
mainly because it is so bizarre-looking. First, Aaron’s toes are
visible in the introitus, looking like a row of tiny pearls. Then
his fat left leg is born, and his toes search around as if he is
testing the water to see if it is safe to come out. Next comes his
hugely engorged scrotum, and then his penis pops out. He pees
a fountain of urine into the air the moment it is free. I can’t
help but laugh.
But his right leg is stretched up to his head, with his foot by
his ear. The poor guy is doing a complete yogic split. It makes
me sore, watching him stretch in half like that. When his belly
and right thigh are visible, I pull a loop of cord down to prevent
traction on the umbilicus. I am relieved to feel the cord pulsing
steadily—so far, so good. I gently cover his exposed body with
a dryer-warmed blanket. No sense getting him upset and taking
his first breath too soon. His arms are flexed properly, so the
shoulders are born easily with the next contraction.
The next few minutes are critical to this baby’s outcome.
Now, either the head comes out—or it doesn’t. I begin talking
out loud. “Come on, little boy baby. You can do this. You’ve been
doing really great up to now. It’s not bad out here. Please, little
guy, cut me some slack here—just come out. I know you can do
it. We have two really nice breasts waiting for you.”
Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart 101
He isn’t listening. It seems like all movement has stopped—and
it remains stopped for what seems like a full minute. I hear a
roaring in my head. I am thinking about getting aggressive, but
then I hear Francis’s voice in my head. I gently raise Aaron’s
body up just a tiny bit. The head slides down, and I can see his
hairline on the nape of his neck at Grace’s vulva. I watch as the
perineum retracts, and Aaron’s little face is exposed. First his
mouth, then his nose, up to his brow.
I syringe his mouth and nose. I consider giving him some
oxygen while he is hanging out on the perineum, but he is pink
and the cord is still pumping loyally.
We are out of the woods.
But this is as far as he gets. He doesn’t budge any farther.
At this point, it is pretty surreal-looking, because his face is
grimacing—and he sneezes. He is looking around between
Grace’s thighs, her perineum stuck tightly on his head like a
stocking cap.
I say to him, “Um, Bud, you’re going to look a little ridiculous
going to first grade wearing your mother for a hat like that.”
After a while, I get antsy. I don’t like the thought of the
pressure, both to the baby’s head and the mother’s vagina. I
prepare to do an ex post facto episiotomy to release his forehead.
I pick up my scissors; Grace sees me and looks horrified.
She says, “Oh, no, you don’t, damn it!” She pushes Aaron,
eight pounds and squalling, into this world.
I am overwhelmed with relief and gratitude. I whisper a
prayer of thanks to the Mother of the Universe: Whew. I owe you
one. I promise I will never be sloppy in locating the head ever again.
Thank you with all my heart for guiding my hands.
A few years later, this baby boy will be sitting on the same bed
with his older brother, watching as their sister is born. She is a
conformist and comes out head first.
Aaron says to me, “She’s naked!”
“Hm-m-m, so she is. Should we put clothes on her?” I ask him.
102 Carol Leonard
He studies his sister very closely. “Nah. She looks pretty cool
naked.”
“Okay, you guys, what are you going to name her?” I ask the
two brothers.
They look at each other and call out in unison, “Cinderella!”

~ Excerpt from LADY’S HANDS, LION’S HEART, A MIDWIFE’S SAGA by Carol Leonard, Bad Beaver Publishing, 2008,

“Hotter than a red-assed bee!” Part III: Remedies for an Unhappy Vagina

Alright, this is probably an awkward subject, but we know our yonis can sometimes become high maintenance in midlife. And, the problems can be a bit vague and unpredictable which means our doctors don’t always know what to do for us. It can be very annoying, not to mention having a negative impact on our intimate relationships.

Carol Leonard has been practicing midwifery for more than 35 years. She has written this excellent article telling us what is happening to our vaginas during menopause, and she gives us a number of wonderful tips on what we can do about them.

A Baby Boomer’s Survival Guide to Menopause: After menopause the walls of the vagina become thinner and produce fewer secretions. Vaginal lubrication with sexual excitement occurs more slowly. As the amount of estrogen decreases, the vagina becomes less acidic, making women more susceptible to vaginal infections, including yeast. If changes are significant, women may have a feeling of dryness or irritation. Severe dryness can cause vaginal pain. Women are most likely to feel vaginal discomfort during or just after sexual intercourse, especially without being wet enough. Thinner, more easily injured vaginal tissue combined with decreased acidity of the vagina can lead to infections. The usual symptoms are increased vaginal discharge, itching and burning.

The disrespectful, patriarchal name for menopausal thinning and associated symptoms is Atrophic Vaginitis and Dyspareunia (painful intercourse), but this is not inevitable. These symptoms can be remedied with understanding and simple loving care. And, as with all of menopause, good solid healthy nutrition and exercise is key to preventing drying and thinning. Here are some important suggestions for self-care for a dry vagina:

Take 400-600 IU of Vitamin E daily. Again, only 100 IU Vitamin E if you bleed heavily, and only 50 IU if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or rheumatic heart murmur.

• Drink at least two quarts of water a day.

• Take Dr. Christopher’s Change-Ease formula as directed.

• Start your day with two dropperfuls of Motherwort tincture.

Self-help for dry vaginas: Get Slippery! There are several “light, personal, modern lubricants” on the market today, the current favorite being Astro-Glide, probably because the name is so great. It is mostly glycerin.

You can experiment with your own natural concoction to see what works for you. Here are some suggestions:

Coconut oil or cocoa butter — smells great, tastes better, solid at room temperature, liquid at body temperature.
Honey — hydroscopic (water-drawing), will moisturize and heal a tender yoni. Apply directly where needed (and obviously, great tasting).
Aloe Vera and Slippery Elm paste — to sooth inflammations. Mix enough slippery powder into aloe vera gel (bottled or fresh) to form a paste. Apply along the labia and inside the vaginal entrance. This lubricates, heals and nourishes.
Oil from a Vitamin E capsule — use a capsule that has 400 or more IU’s. Some women say this works as well as estrogen cream. Wheat Germ Oil is a good source of Vitamin E, cool and soothing.
Almond oil or olive oil (cold-pressed) are nice. Apply to the fingertips and massage all around the vaginal opening and perineum.
Look for Comfrey-based ointments with names like “Green Gold,” etc. in natural food stores. Comfrey has an alkaloid called Allantion which regenerates skin tissue and will keep skin flexible and strong. I’ve had a long love affair with Comfrey as a midwife, using it to speed repairs of perineal tears. Comfrey could be combined with other herbs such as St. John’s Wort (Hypericum, used for burns) and Calendula (Pot Marigold) for added healing. (Goldenseal will probably be too drying.)
A commercial option is Replens, a new over-the-counter cream available in drug stores. The active ingredient, Polycarbophil, pulls water into vaginal cells and lowers the pH of the vagina, which helps prevent overgrowth of bacteria.

 
For PAINFUL INTERCOURSE: Reduced estrogen levels sometimes cause the mucous membranes of the vagina to become dry, resulting in discomfort or pain during intercourse—just at a time of life when you can be more spontaneous, without fear of pregnancy. I recommend bio-identical, compounded ESTRIOL 0.2% vaginal cream (this is made by a compounding pharmacist and requires a prescription from your friendly Naturopathic Doctor.) The compound diosgenin is found in Mexican wild yam roots (Dioscorea species) but it is chemically changed in the laboratory to produce Estriol. Estriol is the weakest estrogen and when used intravaginally, is a fabulous treatment for vaginal atrophy/dryness.
Estriol is also thought to have a cancer protective factor for women against breast, and other estrogen-driven cancers, such as ovarian and uterine cancers. Estriol may be anti-carcinogenic because it closely mimics the natural human pattern. It reduces excess blood estrogen by competing for estrogen receptor sites with a woman’s own circulating estrogen. Because the estrogen potency of Estriol is so small, it has the net effect of lowering the body’s estrogen when it binds to the receptor sites, thus reducing the risk of estrogen-driven diseases. (I am not talking about estradiol, which is the estrogen used in the allopathic Estrace and Vagifem commercial products, which is the strongest estrogen and not a good thing.)

I highly recommend compounded Estriol cream for restoring youthful moistness and elasticity and, literally, putting “bees in your bonnet”. My girlfriends call this the “Marriage Saver”.
Kegels. Remember the annoying Kegel exercises (squeezing the PC — pubococcygeal muscle) from our child-bearing years? In the car, at every red light? Well, they are back — and they still make the supporting muscles of the vagina stronger and healthier.
And speaking of exercise — of course the health of your vagina depends on stimulation like any other part of your body. It needs to be exercised regularly to keep fit. Remaining sexually active in the second half of your life, either with a partner or by self-pleasuring, is the key to maintaining a healthy vagina.

And self-pleasuring, either by yourself or with your partner is an art to be joyfully practiced. Staying in love and orgasmic with yourself gives you a more positive outlook on life. So, go on girl! There are lots of interesting new toys on the market. Be creative. Experiment! You and your yoni will benefit — and you may discover places of hidden pleasure you never knew existed.

Carol Leonard, a “foremother of the modern midwifery movement,” is a New Hampshire certified midwife who has been practicing for over the last three decades. She is the author of her memoir as NH’s first contemporary midwife, Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart: A Midwife’s Saga, Bad Beaver Publishing, 2008. She is co-founder of the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA), which represents all midwives in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and was elected as the second president of MANA. She is currently building a four-hundred-acre farm in Ellsworth, Maine, named Bad Beaver Farm.