Life and Death Through a Child’s Eyes
January 4, 2016
The scent was pungent. Odrific. In our neighbourhood the skunks rule the roost, and when one of them got battered by devil-may-care urban traffic, the intense scent would waft over the rooftops and infect every street within a 3-mile radius.
My daughter and I wrinkled our noses in disgust as we meandered home from school. Approaching us from the opposite direction was a father with his young child toddling along beside him. He veered directly towards us and then firmly planted his hands over his 3 year old’s ears. ‘There’s a dead skunk on the road up ahead.’ He hissed. ‘You might want to steer your child away from it, it’s a pretty gruesome sight’. I nodded in thanks as he removed his hands, allowing his daughter be a part of the conversation again. They passed us by, him making obvious efforts to distract her. When we were far enough away, I turned to my little 4 year old sprite. ‘Wanna go see it?’ I asked with a glint in my eye. She cried out with a glee normally reserved for roasted marshmallows and My Little Pony. ‘YES!’
We hurried towards the thickening scent and there we saw it. Flattened by tires with it’s insides spilling out onto the road, it was the skunk. ‘Can we go closer?’ The sprite asked. Who was I to deny? Far be it from me to shelter her from the mysteries of life and death. We ventured closer and stood next to the decaying body. I felt an immediate sense of empathy for the creature. My daughter laughed.
“It was the first time she had borne witness to death. Contrary to the other parent’s warning, I did not think to avoid the issue. Sheltering our children from the realities of nature is a barren attempt at understanding divine methodology.”
I wish to encourage a diversity of thought in my child. How do things work? Why do they work? Our children deserve to know, even if the truth is not always pretty. Far from being obscene, exposing a child to the circle of life and death is a nuanced way to discourage Us vs. Them thinking, a concept that is all too real in today’s modern world.
The idea that any living thing is different or more valuable than another is a sickness that we suffer from in our society. Many communities have lost their innate sense of interdependence. Teaching our youth to foster a connection with the natural world illustrates to them that we are not whole without one another. Seeing a part of our world travel the bodily distance between birth and demise also encourages their inner sense of wholeness. It is this wholeness that leads us all to think objectively and compassionately. It is what I like to call ‘full-circle thinking’.
The gutted skunk may have been a grisly sight, but it really is how you depict it to a child. Children are not preconditioned to the violence that accompanies the blood, guts and gore that mass culture presents to adults on a daily basis.. To my daughter, it was a fascinating look at animal anatomy and a chance to grasp a deeper understanding of the fragility of life. The parent who chooses to shelter their child from these things are teaching them to live in a world where their own senses aren’t able to guide them to an awakened sense of being.
For me, I’ve chosen to parent my daughter in a way that teaches her to use her own instincts as a gauge between right and wrong. This episode with the skunk taught her leagues more than I could’ve ever done with words alone.
The revered Indian sage Ramana Maharishi put it best when he was approached by a seeker. ‘How are we to help others?’ The man asked. To which Maharishi replied ‘ ‘There are no others’.
That decimated skunk by the side of the road was me, it was you, it was the great earth that surrounds us and the sky up above. Describing it as anything less than that does not do fair justice to the hearts of our children.
Maya Bastian is a writer and award-winning filmmaker. Her words can be read in Huffington Post, Elite Daily, Her Magazine and others. She currently works as COO of HoneyColony, a holistic health and wellness website while also developing her first feature film and raising her four-year old daughter to be conscious and content. Find out more at www.mayabastian.com
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I struggled with submitting my latest article for Elite Daily. It’s risque to put yourself out there and coming from a somewhat conservative South Asian family means that my every action is judged. But, I’ve never been one to accept the status quo. Many years ago I acknowledged that I am an artist and that includes a certain vulnerability in the public eye. I believe in honesty. I also believe that sharing moments from your most susceptible place brings a certain sense of integrity. And what do you know? My article became one of the top posts for the week on their site. Of course with that came a lot of judgement and wacky comments from randoms….but I found it more interesting than offensive. I’m glad for the opportunity to talk about one of the biggest decisions of my life. And I also know that whenever you start a dialogue you have to be ready for the worst. So here goes. Read the article and then scroll down to view my public shaming.
5 Reasons Why Constantly Looking For ‘The One’ Will Get You Nowhere March 13, 2015
I decided as of Jan 1st 2015 to do what I love. Sounds simple, I know. But trying to survive while being broke and jobless was immensely scary. I made this decision over the holidays after getting brutally sacked from a job I hated. I never wanted to feel humiliated again, unless it was from an honest effort at doing something I was passionate about. So on Jan 1st, I sat down at my laptop and started to write. Within one month, I got an article published by Her Magazine, Choosing to Give Birth in a Developing Country, and also got accepted as a freelance contributor to Elite Daily with 5 Reasons Why Constantly Looking For ‘The One’ Will Get You Nowhere. Both of those things have been enough encouragement to keep going with this crazy, life-changing initiative. I’ll post everything I do here and maybe you can tell me about what it is that YOU are dreaming of doing.
We all gotta start somewhere.
Choosing to Give Birth in a Developing Country
February 3, 2015
“I don’t ask you for much, but I’m asking you for this.”
The words my sister had written were blurring together on the page. She wasn’t asking for money, or one of my kidneys…but something that she had deemed just as important. It didn’t matter though, because I had made up my mind. I was six months pregnant and had decided to give birth to my baby on the other side of the world, on a small island in the Indian Ocean – Sri Lanka.
Suffice it to say, my family and my partner’s family were extremely vocal in their discontent. “You live in Canada,” they said. “The healthcare is amazing here.” It’s true that the Canadian healthcare system is widely regarded as one of the best in the world. Loosely based on a socialist view, healthcare is free and accessible to all regardless of status, class or creed. In fact I don’t think I would be sitting here writing this if I hadn’t had access to free healthcare throughout my life.
So when we thought about having the baby and how we would fit it in to our busy, world-traveling lives, the choice seemed easy. Stay in Canada. First, I called a midwife. I’m a big proponent of natural childbirth and had always assumed that I would deliver my child in a birthing centre. The first midwife collective I called was booked up. So I called another. And another, and another. In fact, I called every midwife collective in the downtown Toronto area and was put on eight waiting lists. After asking around, I discovered that the general rule of thumb is pee on the stick, call a midwife. Meaning that if you don’t call right away, you won’t get one. It has been 7 months now, and I have still not received a call back.
Okay, I thought, I’ll just find a progressive, holistic-minded doctor. Easy-breezy, in a liberal town like Toronto. Hmmm. Couldn’t seem to get an appointment. So I sucked it up and decided to try to locate a doctor out of the city. I found a woman who seemed very sweet, at first. But when I mentioned that I wanted a natural birth, she visibly shuddered. I’m not kidding, she turned her back to me and I saw her shoulders shake.
After more research I discovered that even if I had found a fantastic doctor and spent nine months developing a relationship with her, there would be no guarantee that she would be the one to deliver my child. It really comes down to whoever is on call on that specific day. This made no sense. Did I really want a stranger to guide me through the most important day of my life?
I decided to meet with a doula, to ease my woes. She shared even more shocking news. There are no birthing centres in Toronto. None. Also, water births are not allowed in hospitals. Another fact? Ontario has the highest incidence of C-sections and epidural deliveries in Canada. I was told that when I go into labour it would be important to wait until the last minute to go to the hospital, otherwise they are likely to induce the birth. The doula told me that she once heard a nurse say to a labouring mother, “You’re here to give birth, not to labour.”
Lastly, I spoke to a friend who is an ER doctor. Many things were divulged, but there was one important fact that could not escape my attention. Ontario doctors do not get paid unless they are present at the time of the delivery. So if you come into the hospital and labour for 13 hours, right through one shift and into another, only the doctor who attends the actual birth will be the one who gets paid. The more research I did, the more I realized that having a baby in Canada has become about money and time.
We were astounded. My partner had a home in California, but I was not insured. It would have cost us upwards of $40,000 US to deliver there, and that’s as long as everything went smoothly.
So we went to Sri Lanka on a work/leisure trip, intending to do similar research over there. We entered the private health care system and found that a birth would cost us about $3000 CDN. Each visit to the doctor cost us $10 CDN. So far, so good. After asking around we found a doctor who had helped several friends through difficult births and also happened to be the head of the Obstetrics and Gynecology department at the University. We made an appointment that week to see him.
Sri Lanka has many large fully-functioning hospitals and several small nursing homes which serve as a type of birthing centre for mothers and moms-to-be. The one we arrived at was simple and sweet with beautiful gardens surrounding it. The doctor was incredibly affable and direct. He believed in what he called a non-violent birth, with full communication. Music to my ears. In 17 years he had only sent four women to the neighbouring hospital with birth related complications.
I was in love and completely placated. Not only were we able to spend time in an island paradise, but we had found a doctor and a hospital that put the labouring mother’s needs above all else. My partner and I are were thrilled with our decision. Our families of course, took time to come around.
It’s hard in Canada to see past our reputation. I love this country and am proud to be a Canadian. But I think it’s important to see the faults in our system. All these little idiosyncrasies about the obstetrical practice are overlooked and therefore come as a shock to many expectant mothers. While delivering our child in a small, impoverished country may seem like a radical choice, it was actually an informed one.
Like any mom-to-be I still have anxiety about going into labour. It is the great unknown, the uncontrollable. But every time I have a doctor’s appointment now, I leave feeling calm, informed and ready – a big step towards the kind of birth experience that I believe every mother should have access to.
Maya Bastian is a dreamer by nature, a wanderer at heart, and an artist when the inspiration strikes. She writes for online magazines such as Dogster.com and HoneyColony. After a decade working as an award-winning filmmaker and video artist, Maya left Toronto and started traveling the world in search of further insight and enlightenment. Currently she is developing her first feature film and raising her four-year old daughter to be tough, beautiful and proud.