Posts

2014 Grateful 34

Apparently there was a storm in Budapest tonight. A big storm. A storm so big that the plane I was on from Belgrade had to turn back. Weather happens.

In Belgrade, we had a choice. Wait until 10.3opm tonight and catch a bus for a 5-hour trip (minimum) to Budapest Airport. Or stay overnight and catch the evening flight back to Budapest tomorrow evening. Or be rescheduled to anywhere else we wanted to fly  – tomorrow.

cancWe had a choice. A choice. And to hear some of my fellow passengers go on, you’d swear that choice was between having teeth or toenails pulled. Perhaps I was mellower than usual because I was so tired. In Skopje last night, I lost my apartment key and couldn’t get old of the booking agent so I had to check into a youth hostel across from an outdoor concert that went on until 3am. I’d just gotten to sleep when the agent called me back putting paid to any more sleep that morning. So I was tired.

A sleepless me can go one of two ways – I can be obnoxiously cranky or mellow to the point of it seeming brownie-induced. Tonight I was mellow. So when Mr Austria started mouthing off at the airline official and calling her a liar and asking her if she had a pilot’s licence, I had to interject and point out that no matter how talented the girl was, even she couldn’t make storms disappear. Get a grip mate; it’s not her fault.

Then Miss America started demanding a full refund and saying that her dad would take care of these morons (the pilots) as she’d seen the airspace over Budapest and it wasn’t as if it was San Francisco – I mean, what could the plane smack in to? Duh. She ended up renting a car to drive back to BP. Patience dear.

Then others stepped forth with their plans and their meetings and their needs, demanding satisfaction. We had three choices …. what part of that didn’t they get?

It’s been a long week. A good week. A week that didn’t exactly go to plan. And at the end of it all, I’m so very grateful that I was too tired to get worked up about cancelled flights and unscheduled changes. I’m grateful, too, for the realisation that I always have a choice, even if it’s simply choosing an attitude. Of course, it helps that I can work from the office here in Belgrade tomorrow so all that changes with my day is where I’ll have breakfast 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Clemency and choice

Some people took issue with me regarding a piece I wrote for the Budapest Times a while ago. It had to do with choice – and a woman’s right to choose.

Dr Ágnés Geréb was since arrested, tried, convicted, and is now in prison. Somewhat ironically, what she was imprisioned for has now been legalised so technically her crime is no longer a crime.

The situation:  On February 10th, 2012, the Budapest Appeal Court announced the verdict in the case of Dr. Ágnes Geréb (an OB/Gyn as well as a midwife) and four other Hungarian midwives. The terms of Ágnes Geréb’s sentence of two-year imprisonment were tightened, a ban on practicing doubled to ten years.

No less than full clemency is needed (although, one wonders, in the absence of a President, who would grant a presidential pardon?) Dr Geréb is a pioneer, to be championed not incarcerated. She was the first in Hungary to let fathers into the labor ward, allowing families to experience the miracle of birth together. She assisted several thousand normal births without complications, and facilitated the beginning of numerous happy lives.

So far, more than 6000 people from all over the world have signed a petition for clemency. Remember, it is the ability to choose that makes us human. Not one given to putting my name to anything without due thought and consideration, Ágnés Geréb does not belong in jail. She should be out assisting those women who have chosen to give birth at home She should be out facilitating a Hungarian woman’s right to choose.

Grateful 47

Airports are a wonderful laboratory in which to study the human mind and make-up. I am convinced that some people pack their frustrations  alongside their socks and then spend their two hours at the airport before boarding trying to dump those frustrations on someone else. At Malta airport this week, my flight to Munich was delayed by a whopping 26 minutes. It was due to board at 9.05 and when nothing had happened by 9.20, some people were getting a tad anxious. Three men  – one German, one British, and one Maltese – were in particularly irritable moods. They seemed to be travelling individually but were drawn together by a shared frustration. They had connections to make in Munich – that was obvious – but hey – sometimes connections are missed.

The Maltese guy was having it out with the airline staff – he had a business meeting he needed to get to and why was the plane late. Technical difficulties. What kind of technical difficulties (as if that mattered!). Technical difficulties. Then the British guy adds his two pennies worth of a rant and explained that technical difficulties meant that there was no plane and we wouldn’t be flying at all. Then the German, for good measure, starts on about airlines having no respect for schedules and the importance of people.

In the meantime, on the TV in the nearby café, reporters in Syria were telling the world about two explosions in Aleppo that had killed 28 people. I sat between the TV and the trio, as if watching a tennis match. I thought briefly about pointing out to them that all the complaining in the world wouldn’t make the plane appear. I thought about mentioning that the people they were yelling at had absolutely no control over the situation. I thought about showing them the idiocy of their ways: so their plane would be late and they might miss a connection but at the end of the day, they would be alive.

But I didn’t do anything. Instead, I sat back and gave silent thanks that somewhere along the line I’ve learned to put things into perspective. As  Alice Caldwell Rice so famously said: It ain’t no use putting up your umbrella till it rains.

A matter of choice

It is the ability to choose which makes us human. These simple words are often attributed to American novelist Madeleine L’Engel, who died in 2007, two months shy of her 90th birthday. She lived through the roaring twenties, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the Second World War. Her mid-thirties coincided with the golden age of the 1950s when colour TV was invented, Disneyland opened, and a vaccine was discovered for polio. She was around during the Viet Nam war, the decade of hippies, drugs, protests and rock and roll. The far out seventies brought with them Star Trek and the Jonestown massacre, while the eighties welcomed Glasnost, Perestroika and the fall of the Berlin wall. L’Engel would have read about the end of the Cold War and the release of Nelson Mandela in the 1990s and seen news accounts of the Oklahoma bombing and the Columbine massacre. And as she entered the new millennium, she probably had ample time to think about choice… and to come to this conclusion.

Bringing it home

Dr Ágnés Geréb might well have something to say on the subject of choice. Recently arrested and facing charges for reckless endangerment committed during the line of duty, Dr Geréb has spent her career making choices.

An experienced doctor and midwife, she has attended more than 2000 home births (i.e. not in a hospital). As I understand the current situation, Dr Geréb had a patient whom she had advised not to choose home birth as the patient had some sort of blood clotting disorder. During a scheduled prenatal appointment, the patient suddenly went into labour and the baby was delivered – apparently there was no time to get her to the hospital. When born, the baby had breathing difficulties. Ambulance staff called to the scene began resuscitation and took the baby to hospital. Dr Geréb was subsequently questioned, arrested, and taken into custody.

Dr Geréb was elected to the Askhoka Fellowship in 1997 in recognition of the work she is doing in Hungary with her ‘undisturbed’ birth project. She established the first network of midwives, doulas (mothers experienced in childbirth who provide continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to the mother before, during, and just after childbirth), nurses, and doctors who oversee home birth throughout the country. On 6 June 1998, Dr Geréb won an important legal victory in the area of hospital births: mothers giving birth in hospitals could now request that their friends and relatives be allowed into the birthing room. Her foundation ‘Alternatal’ ensures professional help for those who choose to give birth at home.  She is, in other words, offering women a choice, a choice that is apparently denied them by the state. Or is it?

Personalising the experience

Had L’Engel and Geréb had a chance to sit down and talk about choice, about how human it makes us, I wonder what the outcome might have been? I’m not an expert on the merits of home birth, or any sort of birth for that matter. Thankfully, I can’t claim first-hand experience of the Hungarian medical system. What I am concerned about is the basic right to choose. Pregnancy is not an illness. The right for a woman to choose where to have her baby is surely a basic human right, one recognised the world over. Were I a soon-to-be mother, I would want to deliver my child in a familiar environment; with my family present; with the help of a midwife and a doula. The alternative (unless I had the financial wherewithal to pay for a private hospital) is a state-run, sterile, impersonal environment. I don’t doubt for a minute that there are doctors and nurses out there who genuinely care about their patients; whose commitment to their job isn’t measured by their meagre salaries; who see the birthing experience as something more than just another medical procedure. And I’m sure that for every horror story emanating from maternity wards around the country, there is a glowing report of an equally wonderful experience.  This isn’t about competency; it’s about choice.

In many western countries, such as the UK or Germany, home birth is a legal and respected option; an integral part of the healthcare sytem. In Hungary, it is alegal.  Under Hungarian law, a woman has the right to choose where to give birth. So what’s the problem then? Well, the law makes no provisions for anybody assisting the woman with her home birth; doctors and nurses who choose to help run the risk of being prosecuted for misusing their license; independent midwives may be prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license. So the danger of prosecution is really on the helpers, not on the birthing woman herself…as we’ve seen with Dr Geréb. A woman can choose to give birth at home. Those who choose to assist her show their humanity, and for that, they pay a price.

First published in the Budapest Times 25 October 2010