Where to start… I think actually she was the one, the one who helped me put it together, pull it together and really start the life I’d come for. She helped me connect my spiritual life, my shamanic practices with my professional life and my practice as a homebirth midwife. She helped me realise it all belonged together.
I wonder what she thought of me when we first met. She was so gentle with me. But also a bit impatient. I met her in Texas on the floor in a circle. She called the group together at a preconference workshop with the enticing title ‘Shamanic Midwifery’, this was in 1990. We emailed back and forth, long letters about the meaning of life and what the ‘fuck’ was going on. I’ve kept all these emails; it’ll make a great book. ‘Conversations with Jeannine’.
Jeannine stayed with us in Australia on our property in Kangaroo Valley a few times, once alone, once with Halley and Quinn and once with Rico, Halley and Quinn. We shared fun family times together. I especially remember an event they participated in ‘The Mad Hatters Tea Party’ with Jeannine telling stories and Rico playing saxophone. And that night the ‘Spring Ball’, fancy dress come as your inner treasure. I was dressed as a warrioress and she was an Indian Goddess. She was a funny woman, the classic ‘hippy’, sometimes shy and often times brash and as an Australian would say – American! Full of her knowingness and ready to share it with you. Blessed be! And as she would say Blessed Do! And that’s what she was always doing, the Goddess’s work, being and doing.
I was sitting on my veranda in Australia in the rain, full of the news of her death. The brewing storm came on strong, wild winds, thunder and lightning and I cried out in pain and anguish at the devastating loss of one of the greatest human beings I knew. How could we do without her here? Where is the wisdom in this?
Jeannine was, or I should say – is, my mentor, my teacher and my dear, dear friend. She taught me so much. One of the things I loved was her explanation of her lifestyle as an experiment, not a prescription. She called her vision, as she lived it, the ‘possible family’, and the way she nurtured and cared for hers was inspirational. She was so allowing of the ‘all’ and so out there on the edge. ‘Way before her time’. What does that really mean – she was a pioneer, a way shower, a seer and a revolutionary.
“Do you speak Astrology?” she would ask. Herself so eloquent in the language of the stars, the planets and mythologies. I’ve often thought if it were possible, ‘Matrix – style’, to download someone’s mind, knowledge into your own, that it would be hers I’d want!
When I wonder what to think, when I’m lost, I conjure two voices in my inner ear, as she would often call it, and I ask: What would Jeannine say? and What would the Dalai Lama say?
I’ve kept all the cards she sent me, the words such rich prayers, the envelopes a work of art. Her music compilations I have and I have loved. Her poetry is outstanding and her writings, her books, such treasures. I said to her often how amazing she was that she had achieved so much, written so much, travelled and taught so much and I compared myself to her at my age and felt so inadequate. She said, ‘but you’ll live longer than me.’
Jeannine worked so hard, tirelessly, travelling and speaking and writing for ‘the cause’. Whatever that was then. She spoke out against harmful environmental practices, against circumcision, and for women’s choices in childbirth, lay midwifery, free birth, and gentle newborn baby care.
It was her ‘word medicine’ that we all loved so much; she called herself a neologist – an inventor of words. God-Us was a great one. And one of the ones most used now is Birthkeeper. Jeannine was a birthkeeper and I give thanks and honour her for that. Jeannine taught me to see the ‘other worldliness’ of birth; she introduced me to the shamanic birth realm. And 19 years after I met her, I started The School of Shamanic Midwifery.
I invoke the spirit of Jeannine at my Pregnancy – The Inner Journey workshops, I have dedicated my book “Ten Moons – the Inner Journey of Pregnancy, Preparation For Natural Birth” to her memory and I am forever quoting her in my presentations. Jeannine lives on in many of us, the ‘Sisters in the Clan of Encouragement’ as she would say. I give such great thanks for having her present, sometimes very present, in the work that I do as Birthkeeper.
I spent a week staying in Joseph, Utah, at ‘Hygeia House’ sitting with Jeannine as she was dying. It was a painful process to watch, so painful. We researched together the possibilities of a liver transplant. This seemed like the only thing that could save her and it was out of her reach. “I’m dying” she said to me. “I know” I replied.
She shared some deep wisdom that week. She said that she had realised the purpose of life – to bring beauty to the world.
Jeannine’s ‘work’ lives on in me and many others, She was and is a constant source of inspiration and encouragement, sometimes I feel like I am ‘channelling’ her! She was, is, an icon, a representation of what’s possible.
She was named as one of the “3 Homebirth Icons”, in a DVD made by another of my mentors Maggie Lecky Thompson for the 24th National Australian Homebirth Conference in 2006. The DVD tells the story of three great women who have greatly influenced homebirth practices all over the world. The other two women featured on the DVD are Dutch Australian Henny Ligtermoet and New Zealand Joan Donley.
Maggie writes: “Jeannine Parvati Baker (1.6.1949 – 1.12.2005) A native born Californian, Jeannine derived her energy from her spiritual beliefs and values to work for women’s health, promoting herbalism and illuminating damaging environmental issues. She was a teacher and an activist, a writer and a midwife. Her books and teaching circles live on to continue her influence and spread her considerable knowledge. Her trips to Australia instilled in her a love of our country and the warm friendships she formed here reflect those she made all over the planet. She remains an inspiration to all women to tread their own unique paths with courage and feminine authority.”
I thank Jeannine for introducing me to the music of Ani di Franco! And for her great questions, the maieutic method and ‘one liners’ that I ask and say over and over.
How does this serve?
The wound reveals the cure.
You birth how you conceived.
Every woman is her own midwife.
And driving out in the dark of night, feeling cold, alone, sometimes nervous and wondering why I do what I do, I would remind myself of my mission so eloquently served up by Jeannine– Heal the Earth one Birth at a Time.
And just recently, due to the wonderful find of one of the School of Shamanic Midwifery students, herself the muse for the school and a self confessed ‘JPB-o-phile’, I had the absolute pleasure to watch a series of YouTube videos of Jeannine and Rico co-presenting at a conference some years ago. It was so lovely to see and hear her again!
Blessed Be and Blessed Do