Friday, July 12, 2013


I did not meet Rosemary because I was in need of a midwife, but because her Quaker family hosted folk dancing every Saturday near the college campus where I lived and my girlfriend Laura did not want to check it out alone. They also made space in their home for Sunday silent worship. During the week the house was home to Rufus Jones School, a private open school that they started back in the 1960s. Rosemary and Howard raised 6 children in this house. It was yellow. There was a row of Dutch wooden shoes neatly lined up by the back door, ready for chores. Most days in Washington State start out muddy.
 Known for its record levels of rain, the joke among the locals is that you can only tell that summer has come if the rain feels warmer. Over the years they raised ducks, chickens, cats, dogs, goats, horses, sheep and several strays, like me. The year I was 16 found me at my lowest ever, emotionally, but Rosemary could somehow read hearts and invited me to live with them. That spring changed my life forever.

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."  ~ Maya Angelou 

Rosemary was a pioneer, way ahead of her time. In the 60s she trusted her own intuition and homebirth before anyone else did. She was a precursor to the home- and un-schooling guru John Holt, who advocated “an extravagance of creative space” in order for children to learn properly. She understood what was troubling teenagers in the U.S. during the tumultuous 1960s long before others even began speculating, and many still don’t know what that was all about today. She said that if children had not met with enough affection when they were growing up and especially during the unlovable, often obnoxious teen stage that they will simply look for it outside of their families, and jump into bed without a second thought with anyone offering a hug.

Every night during the time I lived with Rosemary’s family I would climb under the patchwork quilt on my bed and wait for the last ritual of the day: Rosemary would go from room to room to each of her own children and whoever else was in the house at the time, candle in hand, her long hair brushed out and flowing over her shoulders in her floor length nightgown and tuck us in.  

Years later when we were visiting, back before we had children of our own over 32 years ago now, Rosemary invited my fiancĂ© and me on a picnic outing and hike with their family up to Table Mountain just west of Mount Shuksan in the Washington State Cascades. Two things stand out in my memory of that day: one, that the 12 of us had to wait for what seemed like forever for the bread to finish getting baked so we could pack up and leave (that bread was worth waiting for!) and two, when we stopped for gas half way there, little 3 ½ year old Elizabeth started drawing a picture to pass the time and Rosemary politely asked one of her sons who was the driver to wait before starting the car so Elizabeth could finish her creation without bumping along on the road. I couldn’t believe my ears! We were all supposed to wait for a three year old for as long as it might take to finish her drawing? Yes, that is exactly what we were going to do. What I struggled with was not the fact that they had a seemingly endless amount of patience and respect for children, but that I had never before experienced that level of care and concern for such little people. I have never forgotten that lesson.

There were other lost young people like me over the years. Unwed mothers whose babies she ‘caught;’ people suffering in body and mind, all nursed back to health by Rosemary’s unconditional love, and sometimes with a little help from her famous watermelon cleansing diet, too! Margie’s babies were helped into the world by their grandma, though two didn’t stay with us for long. Margie and Stephen’s first baby, Rose only lived for a day being born with multiple unusual congenital birth defects that had no medical recourse and were not compatible with life. Then she birthed a healthy baby, Elizabeth before tiny Emily came along. They brought Emily to Children’s Hospital in Seattle, which is one of the best in the nation, and in trying to help her, they contacted other hospitals, among them John’s Hopkins, but no one had ever seen quite that set of anomalies before. Margie brought her home and cared for her for all 7 months of her little life, feeding Emily with an preemie nipple since she could not suck properly because of a cleft palate, keeping her warm inside her blouse years before anyone had thought up kangaroo care. 

In Margie's own words, "We believe that the Lord allowed these defects for a purpose; certainly we saw the hand of the Lord in every aspect of our care for them. It is not a burden to take care of your own baby even when you know she will not live to grow up. I did “wear” Emily a lot.  But I did not know about kangaroo carrying and the value of skin to skin contact.  Both Stephen and I had grown up with very nurturing mothers who did not let babies cry, and so the front pack or a sling, smaller than those used now, was an obvious choice, especially with Emily. I often zipped her inside my jacket and went for walks with her and Elizabeth.  Emily was clearly happiest when she was being worn and carried.  Rosemary, with her interest in other cultures, had already concluded that most other cultures tie the baby onto the mother, so she used a Japanese style carrier for Stan, and I liked that idea, but chose the front pack (with all my babies) because I could manage it myself.  We carried them all kinds of ways!"

Kangaroo care is a method of holding a baby that involves skin-to-skin contact. The baby, who is naked except for a diaper and a piece of cloth covering his or her back (either a receiving blanket or the parent's clothing), is placed in an upright position against a parent's bare chest. This snuggling of the infant inside the pouch of their parent's shirt, much like a kangaroo's pouch, led to the creation of the term "kangaroo care."

Kangaroo care came about as a response to the high death rate in preterm babies seen in Bogota, Columbia, in the late 1970s. There, the death rate for premature infants was 70 percent. The babies were dying of infections, respiratory problems, and simply due to lack of attention. Researchers found that babies who were held close to their mothers' bodies for large portions of the day, not only survived, but thrived.

When I was visiting Rosemary after we started our own family, and it was time for supper, my toddler kept pushing away all of the little tidbits I was offering him, all except the oranges. I was getting impatient with Avi and wanted him to at least try some of the yummy salad or beans or cheese. Rosemary patiently explained that I should rather trust his instincts and let him eat two whole oranges and nothing else if that is what he wanted. I couldn’t agree and thought that this would only spoil him, but she pointed out that he wouldn’t become spoiled. She told me about a study she had read -- she was also a skilled nutritionist -- where they had studied a group of toddlers and had offered them selections of uncooked fruits and vegetables and plainly cooked meats and eggs, unseasoned, unsalted and not mixed with gravies or butter. All of the foods were in their original state as far as possible. The researchers noted what each child ate, three times a day, for one week. At the end of the week they tallied up all of the calories and nutrients and found that although some of the children had eaten only eggs or only oranges at one meal and nothing else, that by the end of the week all of the children had consumed a full complement of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and proteins. “Child and Family Magazine” published the study but is no longer in existence. I wish it were.

So I let Avi eat two oranges and the next day he woke up with a cold, which Rosemary assured me would have been much worse had he not eaten a fruit-only supper. As a result since then I have never made any of my children finish everything on their plates, or even insisted they try a little of everything, though I caution them to take only what they will eat. I have never had a picky eater and find that, to the contrary, they are all very international in their choices of food, and none are obese.

I look back now and realize how many things that I learned from Rosemary have shaped how I mother in particular and how I look at life in general. When I was living in New York a few years ago and heard that Rosemary had died, already 93, I immediately called Howard to offer my condolences. In his 90s, ever the philosopher and professor he summed it up this way in his slow, patient drawl: “Well, it was quite a funeral. An awful lot of people said an awful lot of nice things about Rosemary.”

So I now imagine an eternity – my eternity - with Rosemary as part of that picture. After birthing so many babies and never taking payment for her services, she has herself been born into a new life. When her granddaughter Anna Rosemary Harris (pictured below) tragically died in an accident this past April 2nd while visiting friends in Taiwan, my first thought was, “but Rosemary will take care of her now.” Tim, Anna's father was only 14 when I went to live with Rosemary’s family. A few years later I had been privy to his getting to know Ellen and eventually their wedding. I watched Stanley grow up from a preadolescent 10 year old into a fine mustached young man and father. With the rest of the family I too welcomed Margie when Stephen married and they started their family. Heather and Holly were older than me, but both were the older sisters I had wished for and never had, till then. And David, the eldest son was my quiet, gallant big brother. Through the years we have moved away and gone back to visit, always catching up just where we had last left off.

I flew to Bellingham for Anna’s funeral. She had just turned 19. Her two sisters, Sofia, 17 and Emily, 15 were devastated, as was the rest of the family. There was little I could say that would take away any of the pain, but I knew I had to be there and just bring what love I could. I wrote in the memory book in the back of the church: “We will all miss Anna, but Rosemary was at her birth, which wasn’t an easy one, and I know Rosemary will be midwifing Anna into Heaven now.”

With an unshakable trust in the Holy Spirit Rosemary traveled the earth bringing peace and more than just an inner sense of rightness. In her quiet, determined way she brought us all along on the journey with her, healing some, encouraging others, and affirming those in doubt. I am confident she can see us and might even be able, from where she is now, to bestow blessings still.

Written with the permission of Rosemary's family July, 2013.

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