From the day I heard the word “midwife” spoken, I knew that was what I wanted to be. Before I knew anything about labor, or birth, or life itself, somehow I knew that was my destiny, what I was created for.
I began attending births as an apprentice at the tender age of 18. I was at my sixth delivery at Family Birth Services, that hot July of 1988, when I realized why my DNA had called out for this job.
We were attending a reserved Muslim woman of Arab decent, age 32, having her first child. She had dilated efficiently enough, but then, because the baby was posterior, had trouble pushing her daughter out. As the midwives did what midwives do- repositioning, encouraging, coaching, maneuvering, consulting, trying new positions- I ended up doing what the apprentices often naturally did at that time- taking the role of support person and doula. I ended up on the bed next to her along with her concerned husband, providing not just emotional support, but physical, as we got her into a variety of positions together in an attempt to bring her baby under the pubic bone.
As she pushed, she became less and less inhibited, and more and more desperate. With her arms around my neck, her hand in a vise grip around my hand, and her sweat mingled with mine, she bore down in response to her midwife’s directions. I felt the pain and the anguish and the desperate desire for the baby to come right along with her.
When at last she triumphantly delivered her first born daughter after three hours of pushing, she and I together explosively burst into tears of mutual joy and relief. As she grabbed my face and kissed me passionately in gratitude, my life’s calling fell into place.
I wasn’t able to define it at the time, but I can now. Under what other circumstances would I been seeing, much less sharing the agony and joy of this woman? She and I, and her husband, and the midwives, in that brief eternal three hours went beyond the veil of social, cultural, racial and religious boundaries that would have normally separated us, dropped all our inhibitions together, and brought her child forth.
The more I attended women, the more I noticed the uniqueness of that day or night when the outside world ceases to exist, creating a bubble of time within which a woman labors. Inside this bubble, the rules change. Under what other circumstances does a woman lay aside her coverings- both literal and emotional and become so utterly without reserve, pretense or hypocrisy?
That’s why I love most about being a part of this special time of labor and birth. You can’t pretend during natural childbirth. You can’t act like you have it all together. You can’t bluff your way through and act like it isn’t hard. You can’t act at all.
You have to be real. And those who are with you when you birth share that moment of realness. Because un-medicated childbirth is as real and raw and honest as it gets in this life.
Now that I’m more than twice the age I was on that pivotal July afternoon, I’ve come to value honesty and transparency even more than I did then. I’ve learned that people have many motives for the things they do and say that aren’t fully honest, and many ways they act that are misleading. I’ve come to despise insincerity above almost everything else short of a full lie. And I’ve been told plenty of those too.
But when I go into the birthing room, I leave the insincerity and lies behind, and go to a place of ultimate realness. This is the place I am most at peace, where I find the antidote for the superficiality that inundates most of the human experience.
The blue light of early morning slips in between the blinds of the same birthing room where I was sweating twenty-five years ago. Today I calmly sit in front of a woman from Nigeria pushing on the birthing stool. My hands hold the head of her crowning child, and my eyes hold her eyes. She tells me she can’t. I tell her she can.
And her baby slips out into my hands.
Footnote: The pictures I posted here are not from either of the birthing stories I wrote about in this blog- because there were no pictures taken at those births. These pictures are from Sarah Warnick's birth, photo credits: Reflecting Grace Photography: http://www.reflectinggrace.com I chose them because I felt they were an accurate "reflection" of the theme of this post.