How the Podcast Was Born
with April MacKinnon

10 episodes. I can’t believe we’ve made it this far. The Ripple Effect was an idea that came to me sometime between spring and summer of 2019. I realized that I had been collecting stories for a really, really long time. Back when I was working in engineering and I was working in the field in various small towns throughout Nova Scotia and in Newfoundland and I would sometimes be in these towns for up to a month and staying in motels or in small Inns and eating at pubs and bars and in places where there were only just a few hundred people or maybe a thousand people. When you’re there for a month eating three meals a day, you start to really get to know people and they tell you all kinds of things because they know you’re leaving and you’re probably not coming back. And so over the years I have really learned a lot about people. I have been told stories about women whose husbands have been working out to sea on fishing ships. I’ve learned about women who had dreams of singing country music in Nashville, but have ended up hosting karaoke in small town Legions. So many things that people have told me and that have stuck with me over the years and how in my own life they have been so many moments where the trajectory of my life has changed with one split second decision. The whole reason that I am sitting here today, and I am recording this from the third floor studio of CHMA, which is the Mount Allison University radio station on the Mount Allison University campus in Sackville, New Brunswick is because I found out that I was having an unexpected third baby and that was the moment and not only the one moment, but that was just one moment out of many that changed everything for me.

Before that we were living in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. I had a business that I had founded called Nurtured Products for Parenting, which is a store that still exists in the North End of Halifax today and is now owned by Jolyn and Eric Swain who graciously took it over for me when I was moving away and it in itself exists because of another pivotal moment in my life, which is when I gave birth to my first child who is my daughter. She’s now almost 15 years old and on the day that I gave birth to my daughter, she was five weeks early when she arrived at the IWK in Halifax and because I was a first time mom, I had no idea what the doctor meant when they said she has low muscle tone, she’s not scoring very well on her Apgars. She’s kind of mewling like a sick kitten and not having that quiet awake stage that I now know babies have when they’re born. And I didn’t know that something was incredibly wrong with her.

I was sent into recovery having just had a Caesarian section. I had a baby that was semi responsive – well enough to come into the room with me, but not feeding, not interested in feeding. Lots of things seemed to be going wrong. There was one nurse in particular who just had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right and took her away for observation. What I thought was going to be a two- or three-hour period of my daughter being sent for observation and tests ended up being the beginning of a three-week intensive care stay for us. And that experience changed me forever. The next day when I realized my daughter was not coming back to me and needed to stay in the NICU, I realized that everything was not going to go as planned. I was not able to breastfeed her the way that I had intended right away.

I instead had to get acquainted with pumping and pump flanges and setting myself up on a three hour schedule to wake up in the middle of the night to ensure that I was pumping enough to establish a milk supply so that when that day came we could actually be together and feed. I began running a fever and the doctors thought that I had some kind of infection. So I was held in the hospital for a few extra days. It turns out for me personally, when my milk comes in, I run a fever. This is something I did not know happen to some women, but I am one of those women. I was stiff and in a lot of pain. It was very difficult to lay flat. I’m really thankful for adjustable hospital beds. And on the first day that I went to see my daughter in the NICU, I actually went in a wheelchair and I held her in my arms and I tried to breastfeed and it did not go very well and we struggled and I continued to pump and I got very little sleep over the next three weeks while my daughter became sicker and sicker.

And on day three she started to run a fever. And this is another thing I did not know at the time that babies less than three months old generally don’t run fevers. And when they do it is extremely serious. So we went from a general NICU stay to a baby that was now intubated and not breathing on her own to being isolated in a special room that was segregated from the rest of the hospital NICU where everything needed to be double gowns and double contained. So I had to wear two gowns, two sets of gloves, a mask I had to scrub in as though I was going for surgery every single time I wanted to see my baby. My baby was in an isolette. I was not allowed to hold her. I was only permitted to look at her from through the aquarium glass and speak to her.

I read Sandra Boynton books day in and day out and listened to CBC Radio. And in the spring of 2005, what was happening is that the London Underground had experienced a terrorist attack and a bombing and the world was scared. The world was beginning to be very scared. This was coming a few years on the heels of the attacks on the world trade tower and now we had terrorist bombings in London coupled with talks of climate change that were happening at the top of every hour. It seemed it was really becoming on the fore of conversation and I was sitting all alone pretty much 24 hours a day with the exception of the time that I was pumping and a few hours to sleep, sitting next to this isolette and just hoping that my baby would eventually get better. I didn’t realize at that time that I really was not giving myself any time to heal, whatsoever. Not from the physical surgery, not from the emotional impact of having a baby born early, not from the emotional impact of having a baby who was in experiencing a lot of needs at that time. No one had any idea what was going on with her. And on one fateful afternoon, I happened to walk in to the isolation room where she was being kept just as doctors were taking a spinal fluid sample. And if you have ever seen the length of the needle that is required to take a spinal tap, it is quite something to behold. And at that moment, my exhausted self buckled and fell to the ground and the doctors had to stop what they were doing. A social worker on either side of me picked me up off the ground and escorted me out of the room. And that was the day that I knew everything had changed.

It was three weeks later that my daughter finally got better and we were discharged from the hospital, still not being able to feed, me still pumping every three hours and feeding her breast milk through a bottle. We were allowed to go home after weeks of not knowing whether or not I would leave the hospital with a baby at all. It was very touch and go for a few, for a few of those days. I refused to leave the hospital the entire time that she was there, I just couldn’t do it. And I was so wrapped up in the fears around climate change and what kind of future was my daughter going to have. And the environmental waste that I was creating every single time I went in that room and had to put on two sets of gloves and two gowns and two masks and then throw it all out so that it could go out to be incinerated.

Not to mention all of the diapers, all of the medical equipment and the tubing and the, just everything that was involved in this situation of trying to figure out what was wrong with my daughter. I could not bear to think of the environmental impact we were having coupled with how much climate change was dominating the conversation in the media at that time. And I knew something had to change. In the end, it turns out that my daughter had viral meningitis. I only found this out on the day that we were walking out of the hospital and the nurse chased me down to remind me that I needed to bring her back in three months for her hearing test because of the meningitis. And I looked at her and I said, what meningitis? Because no one had actually given me the diagnosis. The other thing that was super frightening about that experience was that when doctors would come around on rounds, they would largely speak to each other and ignore me. I made sure that I was present at every single opportunity that there might be a medical professional within our midst because the only way I could seem to learn anything was to overhear their conversations and try and interpret what they were saying.

I do not have a medical background.

When we arrived home, the trauma of what had just happened to us changed the trajectory of my life in such a way that I could not fathom the idea of leaving my daughter and going back to work as an engineer. Up until that point, I had loved my job. I had loved traveling. I had loved the small communities that I was in. I had loved the work that I was doing. I felt I was doing meaningful work. I was helping to bring, I was helping to bring clean drinking water to these communities, making sure that it was up to the Canadian standards of Drinking Water Quality. It was work that was fulfilling. It was fun. It was challenging. It was so many things, but now I was a new mom and being out on the road was not really going to be as easy as it had been before and I spent every single day of my maternity leave trying to figure out how I was going to stay at home with my daughter and not go back to that engineering career that I had worked so hard for.

My engineering career in itself I came to through a bit of an accident. My big dream was to become an architect. There were many entry points to architecture at that time. I could either go directly to a school that offered it – the closest one to me growing up in Sackville, New Brunswick was McGill in Montreal. The alternative method was to take two years in a related undergraduate degree and then transfer to the Technical University of Nova Scotia to finish your architectural degree there. I had longed to go to McGill, leave everything, get out of this small town that I had grown up in and see what the big city was like. The practical point was that I grew up in a family that was very working class. My mom was a stay at home parent. My dad was a heavy equipment mechanic and before that he had been a truck driver. We didn’t have a lot of extra money. Being fairly financially conservative, my dad made it very clear that going to Mount Allison University in Sackville was really the only option. Why would I spend all of that extra money to go off to Montreal when I had exactly what I needed right here in Sackville? And so with that, the plans were laid and, and the two years of undergraduate study became a two year certificate program in engineering that I completed at Mount Alison in the 90s. It was a program I did not love. I struggled through almost all of the classes. I was not technically proficient. There were a few that I really loved, oddly enough, thermodynamics was one of them, but a lot of them I just kind of grinned and bare it and tried to get through it so that I could get through to my architecture program and then everything would be great.

I applied to architecture at the Technical University of Nova Scotia. I was waitlisted and so I also applied to the engineering program at the Technical University of Nova Scotia to which I was accepted and just before Labour Day at the end of August, the summer that I was supposed to be entering my third year, I found out that I actually had been accepted into the architectural program and so I moved to Halifax and attended my first week of classes. And had the strangest feeling that I have only had once since then that I just really didn’t belong, that I was really in the wrong place. This was the wrong decision. I shouldn’t be here. Something was – alarm bells were just going off in my head and I walked up to one of the professors after a lecture that first week and said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on with me. I just don’t feel like I belong here,’ and I have no idea what he said to me in return, I was in such a state, I’m not even sure to this day what it was, but I walked out of that room and I walked across campus to the Department of Civil Engineering. I dropped all of my architecture classes and started the next morning having missed the first week of school in Civil Engineering and I continued to struggle through my program for three more years. And I graduated with a civil engineering degree and walked out having met the man who has now become my husband in that program. Whether that is what I was meant to do in order to meet him, I still today to this day, don’t know, maybe? So maybe it was just sheer fear that kept me from doing it. I’ll never really know, but that’s what I did. I walked out of my architecture lecture and walked across campus and became a civil engineer and then went out into the world and had a great career, even though it was short, doing work that I loved in communities across the Maritimes.

And then after I became a mother, I just had to change. Something had to change. My husband also worked in civil engineering and we were both in consulting. Consulting is a career that demands your time. When it’s busy, you need to work, and when it’s not busy you need to be looking for work. And so it is an all-consuming job. We realized that both of us probably couldn’t continue to do it and raise the kind of family that we decided we wanted to and it was because I was no longer as passionate about it. Once I became a parent, it was really clear it was me who was going to give up her career.

The impact of all that waste that we generated during our NICU stay never really left me. I left the hospital, convinced we needed to make changes as a family. My mother had used cloth diapers on me when I was a baby and she had talked to me about it during pregnancy. She had offered to buy me cloth diapers that she saw in the Sears catalogue, and I politely declined wanting to make my own decision. After coming home and after thinking about it more, I realized, yeah, this is something I can do. And so as any new mother would, I took to the internet, and I discovered an entire world of cloth diapers and a whole community built around them. I discovered that there were people who connected on this topic who met for playgroups, who subscribed to something called Attachment Parenting that I had never even heard of before, who felt and used parenting techniques that went with their instincts and didn’t rely on a lot of outside parenting influences, who picked up their babies and met their needs when their babies needed their needs met, who just parented on instinct and parented in a really authentic way.

And I found my tribe. I had no idea that this was something that I wanted, that this was the way that I wanted to parent, that this is who I was and I found my community over the course of my maternity leave. I was really cognizant of the fact that we had very adult responsibilities. We had a mortgage, we had student loan payments, we had car payments, we had a child. We needed to do things like set up a will and RESPs and all of these things. And the thought of leaving my baby in daycare to go back to a job I didn’t love, just really wasn’t going to work. It would work for my heart. It wasn’t going to work for our budget. And so in the very last month of my maternity leave, I decided to start a business. I went through several iterations of just stuff that I could sell online that somehow I could start this website and a business would somehow take off and I would be able to pack and ship orders in my pajamas during nap time and at night and I could be the perfect parent that I wanted to be and also somehow generate an income.

It took a leap of faith. I ended up borrowing some money from my mom and dad who believed in me even when I wasn’t sure, and to this day I’m still so grateful for that. I hired a lovely lady named Janet Murphy to build my very first website. She’s the one who creates all of the graphics for this podcast every single week. She does a lot of the social media work for Anointment. She and I had been working together now for 15 years off and on in various incarnations through moves and babies and life. My website was not ready, the business was not ready in time for my return to paid employment and I was also pregnant with my second baby. On the day that I had returned to work in engineering and the day that I dropped my daughter off at daycare, I was crying, not wanting to leave her, hormonal, being newly pregnant again and I managed to scrape the entire side of the car against a lamp standard in a parking lot to at her daycare center. I was somewhere else completely. It was one of the darkest days that I think I have ever had and for nine months I did my job as an engineer. I probably didn’t do a great job. I got through it. I was trying to build my business on the side. I managed to gather some local media coverage, which I had not told my employer that I had started this business on the side, but was greeted the next day with a copy of the local paper with my face plastered on the cover sitting on my office chair. I had never acknowledged it existed. I never said anything about it. To this day, I don’t know whether it was a ‘good for you’ or ‘what are you doing’? I will never know. I forged ahead. My second baby was born just at the time that bisphenol-A hit the news and if anyone remembers when this happened, it was absolute pandemonium.

Everyone was suddenly terrified of plastic and everyone was looking for alternatives and I happened to be the only person in all of Halifax who had glass baby bottles with old-fashioned rubber nipples and I had stainless steel sippy cups and water bottles when no one else did and all of a sudden the fledgling business that was supposed to be something that would allow me to pack orders in my pajamas and tuck my babies in at night was becoming something that was taking all of my time. I was getting up after putting my toddler to bed in order to work until about 11:00 PM, midnight, sometimes 1:00 AM -whenever the baby woke up, nurse the baby, go to sleep until 6:00 AM when the toddler woke up, try and get some work in during nap time. Repeat every single day. I was seeing customers seven days postpartum with my second baby seven days after a second Caesarian section.

I was driven. I was so driven to make it work and I put everything ahead of my own physical and mental health and it was starting to pile up. Don’t forget that I had not actually taken any time to recover from all of that trauma that happened with my first birth and now I had a second birth – and the story of that second birth is an entire episode in itself. I became a guinea pig for a nurse and a doctor who seemed to have some kind of acrimony between them. It was not pretty and also has taken me a lot to work through.

I was starting to drown. I was coping by living on quick, quick sugar. Quick sugar and adrenaline and so my mood was completely unstable. I was not getting enough sleep. I was not recovering physically. I was not the mother wanted to be. I was trying to juggle all of the things. My parents were telling me I was doing too much. My friends were telling me I was doing too much, but there was nothing you could do to stop me. I was so driven and eventually I hit rock bottom. I just couldn’t cope anymore. I was not functioning. I was starting to get depressed. I was starting to have really dark thoughts. I had no idea what was going on with me. I was lonely, I was isolated. Even though I had this business that was starting to really take off and I should have been really happy.

I was completely miserable and I called my friend Jenn who was the guest on Episode One: Diet Culture is a Life Thief and I told her, ‘Something is very, very wrong with me’, and not a minute into the conversation she said, ‘I think you have adrenal fatigue’. And she got me onto some supplements, told me, told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to make some very significant changes and luckily I listened because she did not mince her words and I took better care of myself and I started to get better. Taking better care of myself for a lot of people might have meant giving up the business. In my case, I opted for childcare, so that baby that I didn’t want to leave for one second was now in daycare while I was trying to build a business. It’s so interesting how perspectives just keep changing.

The business continued to grow and it was such a fantastic and ridiculously crazy time. I had customers coming to my house. I was literally running a little cloth diaper website out of a bookshelf in the corner of my living room. I was checking customers out on a laptop that was propped up on a little IKEA table. I had inventory stashed in Rubbermaid bins in my basement and in my garage. I would have to leave my house and go out to the garage to fill orders for people while they waited in my living room. I built a lot of amazing relationships through those early days. It was really hard to manage the needs of children and customers in my home. The website never really did take off the way I expected it to, but my community bloomed. I had a network of people that I knew that I connected with that I loved, that I enjoyed seeing their babies grow and change and seeing them pregnant again and having tea with them and just sitting and just, it was like playgroup and business and all of the things morphed into one and it was some of the best days and the hardest days of my entire life to date.

By the end of 2008 I had shopping hours in my home three days a week. Customers could and go from a basement store that I had built in my house three days a week. And it was busy and it was very clear that the website was not the focus, but that Halifax really wanted a community. And so in the spring of 2009 I opened Nurtured and for two years that business was the hub of the birth community in Halifax. And it was buzzing and it was amazing. And it again remains some of the best memories that I have when moms would come in worried that, that they wouldn’t be able, that they wouldn’t be strong enough to give birth, that they wouldn’t be able to do what they expected their body to do. And we were able to reassure them and tell them it was okay and just be with them and hold space.

And then in the fall of 2010 I found out that I was expecting a third baby unexpectedly. And at that moment everything came full circle. And that is the long and short of how I found myself here. Sitting on the third floor studio of CHMA on the Mount Allison University campus, talking about all of the moments that change our lives, the small moments that you don’t think are going to lead anywhere that ended up being absolutely pivotal when you look back through new lenses on your life. And that is also how I became extremely, extremely passionate about birth, about the birth community, about women’s health. Because I’ve also lived 15 years as a mother and I was also trying to build a career but also trying to parent three children full time and just how much mothers are swept aside in favor of their children’s achievements or their spouses achievements, how hard women have to work to gain the same amount of momentum as a lot of other people do in society.

For a long time I sat in a lot of anger about all of these things and for a long time I really didn’t feel like I had much of a voice because I really didn’t feel like I had anything to say on the topic. And I’m not sure I still do, but I have a lot to learn and I have a lot of stories to share and I have a mission –  and my mission is crystal clear that I am here to learn everything I can about women’s health and I am here to disseminate that information to you so that you learn it when you need it and not many years later, like I am doing. I am passionate about formulating products that support women – I didn’t even get into the story about how I got into Anointment – that is, again Episode 20 and Episode 30 – I am so passionate about formulating products that support women in their life transitions.

So right now we have products for pregnancy, we have baby products, we have postpartum products. I would love to have a full range of products that support women through menopause and even puberty – starting the very beginning and go through the life trajectory because there are so many changes that happen throughout our lives that we only see in hindsight. And with that I thank you for listening. I’ve been speaking into a microphone and an empty room without a script trying to tell my story. It is a winding, winding path. It is full of a lot of twists and turns. It’s messy, but it’s mine and I love it and I thank you for listening. I hope you continue to listen. Please subscribe to the podcast wherever you enjoy your media. You can find Ripple Effect on iTunes, on Spotify, on Stitcher, on GooglePlay. All of the show notes are always listed at podcast.anointment.ca, thanks to Janet. I hope you’ll join me again next time. It’s been such a pleasure.

The Ripple Effect Podcast

About the Podcast

April MacKinnon dives into how reframing our self-limiting beliefs and behaviours and bravely chasing our dreams, ripple out to change the world, one action at a time. And how, sometimes, it is the small moments in life that lead to a complete pivot in perspective, only to be found in hindsight. More about April »

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