Recently I had a new apprentice midwife call me to debrief a birth that I wasn’t present at. She just needed to bounce a few thoughts and feeling around with someone she trusted. This was only the third birth she had attended. She described a water birth that quickly needed to become an earth birth a few moments after the baby’s head was born. A change that let the rest of the body easily, (and a little to fast) be born.
As she told me the story I could hear her fear bubble up, I could hear her questions and doubt about what had happened. “Was that right? Was that normal? Why do I feel so traumatized? Will it always feel that way”?
My initial response was to talk through the birth……Step by step. I’ve attended hundreds of births, and I find it so interesting to listen to a student’s perspective, but reflect on the situation from my midwife perspective. Do babies sometimes come faster then we think they will? Oh, yes they do! Can meconium really not present until the whole baby is born? Shouldn’t the midwife have noticed that? Shouldn’t we have moved the mom to her hands and knees instead of standing? Who knows……. The answers are not always clear. Midwifery is an art, not a science and our intuition plays a HUGE part in each and every birth that we attend.
Having this conversation with the apprentice pulled my memory back to the beginning of my training and to some of the first birth I attended. I shared with this student midwife that I remembered crying at almost every birth that I witnessed. My eyes would be blurred with tears the moment that baby was born… which made it difficult to do my job, but non-the less I was overwhelmed with emotion, even at the sweetest, most simple birth. When you add any kind of sudden shift to the birthing dynamic, be it poor heart tones, meconium, a mother who is frantic and unable to focus, a tight nuchal cord…. Any and all of the above add a significant level of additional stress to the energy of birth. Like I said, even the most straight forward birth is BIG, it’s profound, it’s life changing for everyone in the room.
So, I was reflecting with her on why I cried. I know now that there were many layers. The first and most obvious is that it’s just so beautiful to watch a women become a mother! That moment of transition is amazingly heartfelt…. And overflowing with Oxytocin!! There was more to it for me though. Sometime I would go home and sit in my shower and just cry a deep cry, letting the hot water wash away my sorrow. When I started my formal apprenticeship I was 2 moths postpartum with my second daughter. She was a planned homebirth that ended in an unnecessary transport to the hospital. I think, now on looking back, that I cried for those first two years for the beautiful and sacred moments of birth that I missed. Of being honored as the powerful mother I was becoming and having the loving care of my midwife tend to me and my daughter, not a grumpy OB with terrible bedside manner!
I finally did learn to stop crying. I become a fantastic and skilled midwife. I have had the honor to love and support many, many families welcome their new babies into the world….. And then, somehow, about 10 years later I started to find my eyes blurred and teary again. The overwhelming power of birth had somehow caught back up to me. I know I wasn’t crying for my lost homebirth any more. I learned too much from my own transport to have regret around that.
Maybe it was my age? Maybe I was just tired and that left me vulnerable? Maybe I started to get scared of bad outcomes or legal prosecution? Or maybe I was feeling the loss and grief that the baby was feeling from being born? Maybe it’s the increase in birth violence and trauma that I have seen? I still don’t have the answers…. I must not need them yet, but they will come.
For the last decade I’ve had the chance to work in second and third world countries providing midwifery aid, and education. I have also learned a great deal of knowledge that is absolutely unteachable through a classroom or books. The indigenous midwifes that I have had the honor sit with, pray with, eat with and birth with have touched my midwife soul with a whole new light. My eyes continually are opened to the mystery of birth, blurry or not.
I recently came across a book called “The Smell of Rain on Dust”. I was on my way down to Guatemala to meet Mayan Midwives who were running a birth clinic called ACAM, a locally run and owned center serving low/no income women in the western highlands. Words can not describe how breathtakingly beautiful it was. Surrounded by volcano’s, shaken a little by earth quakes, drenched in rains, and on clear days the massive blue skies were hanging with white fluffy clouds and full of colorful kites.
If you’ve ever had the opportunity to travel to Central America, you will know that, beside being stunningly beautiful, life…slows…way…down. Electricity is unpredictable, internet is rarely available, and hot water is not a daily luxury. In being able to open myself up to this life style, this pace, and allowing myself to learn the ways of these wise women, I was gifted with the time and space to quiet down and reflect. It’s been an intriguing and soulful exploration of everything! Reading this book has given me a new perspective and understanding of my tears, and of my grief. I still don’t know all of the answers….. but I do have bigger questions.
The author of the book, Martin Prechtel says “Our very lives start out from the very beginning by us crying out as hard as we can in a newly found voice, not in a complaining squeal of rage for not having things stay the same, but in a sorrowful musical wail, tiny and beautiful, that says, “Mama, where are you? Where am I? I’m cold and alone here without your drumming heart. It’s the first grief pome, a song.”
My midwife tears are also not a complaining squeal of rage or a sorrowful wail, but a pome of gratitude… a heart song that sings to all of the women who have become mothers under my watch.