I am super excited about today’s interview, which is a first of its kind on two fronts. Jennifer is our first woman interviewee (it was starting to feel a bit like a boy’s club in here), though far from the last—we’ve got plenty more splendidly inspiring women coming soon. The second first, is that Jennifer is a personal friend. We met in September on our very first day of the Camino and it was my pleasure and delight to share my walk with Jenny for several days as we walked together to Pamplona. Kind, caring, smart and insightful, Jennifer is a registered midwife from Sydney, Australia. I’ll let her introduce herself:
Being the eldest of four and blessed with a wonderful mother, the nurturing gene came through strongly in me. Becoming a mother and a midwife were written in the stars. My children are my greatest education and joy, and my work with women during pregnancy, childbirth and early motherhood has provided great satisfaction.
What really drives me though, is creating and making things. I have had this powerful urge since I was a child and have potted, painted, photographed, sculpted, crafted and designed intensely for short periods in my life. For much longer stretches I have had to attend to paying bills and raising children, but I have usually had some creative project going on the sidelines. It is however a calling that I have not yet succeeded in fully answering,….or is it perhaps just my ego reaching for something sexier?
What was the last experiment you ran?
I run micro experiments all the time, like brushing my teeth with my brush in my left hand instead of my right; saying “Hi” to people walking towards me on my daily walks (sadly many will instinctively avoid eye contact); varying my interactions with the world and seeing what happens. I suppose it’s the human way to try this and that; we are a curious and resourceful species. Having largely conquered basic survival (if we’re lucky), we search for meaning, connection and wholeness. In the West, and increasingly globally, we are all implored by self-help books, gurus and advertisers to do better and be better; the best of it sometimes leads to healthier and happier lives, the worst, to dissatisfaction and anxiety. Buddhist philosophy increasingly makes sense to me. In the last few years I’ve been enjoying practicing yoga and taking some long walks. Being a bit of a restless soul, I like change, discovery and adventure.
I’m fascinated by the science of nutrition, gut flora and bioscience and soak up any information that I can. I recently saw ‘That Sugar Film’ by Damon Gameau which documented Damon’s experiment changing his diet to include 30-40 tsp of sugar daily, which is equal to that of the average Western diet. These sugars were hidden in foods that many would consider to be a “healthy” diet. The results were alarming. Over the past 2 years, I’ve been trying to stick to the ‘5:2 diet’ developed by doctor, writer and journalist Michael Mosley. I’ve had some success in dropping a few kgs. In addition to weight control, many studies have suggested that having a couple of lean days per week confers other health benefits. So far the best and simplest advice that I have heard is summed up elegantly by Michael Pollan who says, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU FEAR AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR FEAR?
In my life I have been privileged with safety, plenty and love. Of course, I have fears common to many of losing loved ones. The fear that will have me lying awake at night with catastrophic rumination, is of something happening to one of my children, now young men. I have dealt with this by being completely candid with them about the kind of life choices I hope they’ll make in general, and naming the fears I have for them in specific circumstances. In short, I put my fears on the table and have a good look at them with them. Those conversations, though sometimes tense, have usually been very beneficial as we came to understand each other. I didn’t pretend with them; if I felt afraid for them I said so and said why. They didn’t always agree with me but they understood and respected that my fears came from great love. I recognize that ultimately I have to let go and trust them. I stand in awe of the great human beings that they are and feel blessed every day at having the privilege of being their mum.
WHAT BREAKS AND DELIGHTS YOUR HEART? IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN AND SURRENDER TO?
I believe in nature. We live in an incredible world that is complex and works beautifully. I surrender to this and remain fascinated by life. From witnessing women growing and birthing a child, to seeing my own babies through to adulthood, and my own life as it unfolds, I stand in awe of nature. For me there is no need to look for God, it is here in this wondrous life. When people are arrogant and think they are above and apart from the natural world is where disease and disaster starts. Again and again I’m taught the lesson that nature always wins, work with it, don’t fight it. We are a smart species and we have been incredibly inventive and resourceful to our great benefit. I remain hopeful that our innate good sense will help us to move towards harmony with the planet and all the life that inhabits it.
In my work I encounter sometime tens of women daily, each of them going through pregnancy so ordinary, yet so extraordinary for each of them. I try to stay present and encounter each woman afresh; giving her my full attention and care in the time that I have with her. I delight in that moment of connection, which may be just a shared smile, or may become a wonderful conversation.
Just last evening a woman told me about the birth of her last baby in the bathroom of a department store. She felt no pain, just simply noticed a foot emerging as she peed. Yes, breech! Wow! I said expecting a tale of trauma. Instead she laughed and told me, “I was the only one who was fine, everyone else panicked. Another woman raised the alarm. We had the security guards, cleaners and shop assistants all there. The head cleaner delivered the baby just as the ambulance arrived.” That funny, relaxed woman brightened my day.
That same evening there were tears as another woman nearing the end of her pregnancy revealed her sadness around the ambivalence of her baby’s father. He had let her down once again after she had given him another chance in the hope that her baby would know his father. Her own mother sat beside her, distressed to see her daughter in tears, imploring her in their mother tongue to not cry. “It’s ok to cry mum, sometimes I feel sad,” this brave woman said. Through her tears she explained, “My mother loves us too much.”
WHAT IS THE MOST PROVOCATIVE IDEA YOU’VE COME ACROSS IN THE PAST DECADE?
Quantum physics though I can’t even begin to understand it, is pretty mind blowing. The idea that our gut microbes affect our overall mental and physical health is incredible to me also.
Provocative? That there are people in this world who will kill for a belief, that there are people who rationalize and glorify immense greed and arrogance,… It’s disappointing beyond words. I guess if I’d studied more history this should have been no surprise to me, however I think 9/11 took away some of our innocence, it did for me anyway. I do believe though, that there is way more good than evil in this world.
CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT A TRANSFORMATIONAL MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?
I guess I’m still looking for a transformational moment, a blinding light; that would be kind of wonderful. Maybe I’m not the kind of person who has an epiphany, I tend towards pragmatism and skepticism where high emotion is involved. Perhaps transformation has been more glacial in my life and hence only recognizable with hindsight. Making big decisions such as having a child, buying a house and even ending a marriage have always led me to a better place often from a low point in my life.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?
Tread lightly. Take what you need and leave enough to go around. Be thankful for your good luck and don’t take it for granted. Practice compassion, gratitude and kindness.
COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THRIVING AS A HUMAN BEING?
In each moment remember to breathe. Keep making courageous and responsible decisions. Make your life meaningful. Remain curious and open to life. Enjoy and love. Don’t waste time. Do it now.
WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?
How do I bring my efforts into alignment with my passion ? Where best to direct my energy?
ANY BOOKS OR MOVIE YOU RECOMMEND?
So many. I’m still excited by the magic of the big screen and in awe of the many talented filmmakers. I like feature length documentaries and international dramas. Documentaries I’ve loved include: Bill Cunningham New York; Babies; It Might Get Loud; 20 Feet from Stardom; Searching for Sugar Man; The Green Prince. Dramas, too many to mention. Off the top of my head, Lost in Translation; My Life as a Dog; Rumble Fish; Amelie; The Spanish Apartment; Talk to Her; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Babette’s Feast… Each has left my world and my heart a little larger.
Some great fiction by Australian writers that I could recommend include Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey; Eucalyptus by Murray Bail; The Book Thief by Markus Zusak; Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks; and Remembering Babylon by David Malouf.
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THANK YOU, JENNY!