Every so often, your path is crossed by someone truly extraordinary. Someone who changes the way you understand life, and opens your eyes to new vistas of possibility. Someone who seems to know instinctively how to make the world a more beautiful place, and bring out the best in everyone else.
I first heard about Jennifer Gallardo when I was newly pregnant with my first child. My midwife lent me an incredible video portraying babies being born peacefully under the water. It had been filmed at Jennifer’s Andaluz Birthing Center near Portland, Oregon. And at her other Andaluz Birthing Center in Guatemala. Inspired by that video, I birthed my daughter, Axa, at home in the water in 2005. I never thought I would actually meet Jennifer, let alone have a baby with her birthing center’s midwives. However, two years later, we had moved to Vancouver, Washington, near the birthing center in the video. When I became pregnant again, I knew right away that I wanted the Andaluz midwives to attend my next birth. With their help, we had another beautiful home waterbirth with Dominique. As a bonus, we also became part of the wonderful Andaluz community, a group of families who are pregnant or have birthed babies at Andaluz. Hundreds strong, they come together regularly for potlucks and parties, and even visits to the Gallardo farm.
Jennifer is like the glue that holds the community together, and the warm, motherly heart of the birthing center. She seems to be everywhere, know everyone, and always have time to chat or give an encouraging word. She also has nine children, including a baby born just last year. In 1995, a year after becoming a midwife, she opened the original Andaluz Birthing Center in Guatemala, where she helped hundreds of women to have safe, natural births. Later, she founded the Andaluz Birthing Center in Tualatin, Oregon. If you are pregnant or even thinking about having a baby, just a peek at the Andaluz website will make you want to move to Oregon too. Jennifer’s husband, Fernando, is equally amazing. He built the Oregon birthing center out of the shell of a 1925 building, and provides constant behind-the-scenes support. Few couples I have met work so seamlessly and joyously together.
In 2010, right after the earthquake, Jennifer and Fernando, like many of us, wished there was something they could do to help. But they did more than just wish. They founded a nonprofit organization, MamaBaby Haiti, which runs a birthing center and clinic in northern Haiti. The birthing center provides free 24/7 prenatal, birth, postpartum, and pediatric care to women and their families in the area. They also travel to neighboring villages to provide healthcare for families there, as well as prenatal health and nutrition, hygiene, childbirth education, and breastfeeding education.
Right now, MamaBaby Haiti, with several other charities, is in the running for a $5000 grant from Floradix. $5000 will go a long, long way to keep babies and their mothers alive and healthy in Haiti. Please lend the Gallardos a hand and visit the survey site to cast your vote for MamaBaby Haiti:
Thank you, Jennifer and Fernando, for bringing a neglected corner of the world just a little bit closer to heaven. And for renewing my faith in the inherent goodness of the world.