I'm not even sure where to start in saying thank you to her.
Just 3 days ago I was thinking of sending her an email wishing her well on the publishing of her autobiography next month. I was planning to tell her that I was hoping to see her to get a signed copy. In the end I didn't email her though because I thought she may be busy with the book.
Among the many things I've read in the papers about her, there were a couple from her husband that made me smile. The first informed us that she was eating chocolates and drinking Kir Royale until 3 days ago and the second proclaimed her as an icon of home birth who decided to have a home death.
To me Sheila was energy, life and passion. Sheila had a clear focus, to share her vision of womanhood, birth and life. The force that drove her was unstoppable.
My last memory of her came to mind just last week as I was teaching in the same conference room where three years ago at the age of 83, she demonstrated an orgasm to a room full of laughter and dropped jaws. In that same talk, after I'd told her how much I'd loved reading her "controversial" book she had out at the time, Birth and Sex, on the tube proudly displaying the title, she jokingly replied, "Oh Jesusa, you're such an exhibitionist!"
This being the same woman who had just faked an orgasm to a room of over 50 people!
Sheila shook people. To some of us she shook us to our very core until our life was changed irrevocably. Others she shook and left with uncomfortable truths they simply couldn't accept. One obituary reminded me today that not everyone understood Sheila, but even those women to who Sheila was like an acid to their beliefs, had something to thank her for. We all do.
Among many other things we owe to her the concept of a birth plan, something she introduced in the 1960s. It's worth mentioning that she also gave a clever analogy of planning a birth when comparing it to a picnic in England: you might plan for a lovely day, but it could still rain or be windy.
And thanks to Sheila, husbands were allowed into the labour room to support their partners and women in prison were no longer handcuffed whilst giving birth
One could say that Sheila was like King Midas, only that instead of turning you into gold when she touched you, she turn you into a revolutionary.
Personally I owe so much to Sheila, so much that I find difficult to extract it from my life. Reading her book Rediscovering Birth felt like an oasis of womanhood in the middle of a patriarchal, medicalised desert when I was trying to birth my first child.
Thanks to that book I remembered all the forgotten matriarchal knowledge that I needed and I went on to become an Antenatal teacher as a result. I did my training with the NCT without knowing at the time that Sheila had contributed enormously to its beginnings.
In 2009 I had the pleasure to be at her beautiful home, a gift from Henry VIII to Ann of Cleeves,
in order to attend a workshop for Birth Crisis, for which I still volunteer today.
This work inspired me to create a twin project in Spain where for the inaugural session in Girona, Sheila happily accepted my invitation to lecture and she came accompanied by her daughter Jenny.
|In Girona, Spain. From left to right Sheila Kitzinger, Jesusa Ricoy and Isabel Vidal Photo by Luz Viudes|
The last time I asked Sheila for help was when dealing with the terrible case of a mother who had been separated from her baby in an institution in Spain. It became known as the Habiba case and happened in Madrid in 2011.
Sheila went on to give an interview to the Independent and I believe this had a hugely positive impact on the case.
When I contacted her with the news that Habiba and her baby had been reunited, not only did she thank me for getting her involved, but also asked what else she could do for them.
Her life and activism were one and it was honest, this was her real strength behind all her work.
That is what I choose to keep from Sheila, her honesty because beyond learning from her how to be an activist, or remembering how to birth, Sheila Kitzinger also taught me how to be a woman in all its entirety - standing on my own two feet, with head held high, fighting until the end for what is ours, and doing so with a smile being colourful, joyful, sexual and alive, with coherence and passion.
As much as I am terribly sad at Sheila's passing, I remain happy, because Sheila was life itself.
And I'm also happy for having met her and I'm happy knowing how much better this world is because of her and how much better many births and lives are and will be as a result of her life and work
For all that #thankyouSheila, always!