Sunday, August 21, 2016

We had a birth recently that brought me to a new place of surrender and humility. My partner was 'catching' and I was assisting but hanging back to be the scribe while the students were taking heart tones and being ready for the baby.

With some difficulty the baby was born (big child!) and wasn't breathing; floppy and blue. After drying him, and encouraging the parents to talk to him, I stepped in with the bag and mask to inflate his lungs so his respiratory center would kick in and he'd begin to breathe. But he didn't. He started up a bit and then stopped. One student was listening and told me there was air going in. It's a mess, resuscitating a baby, equipment flying and palpable tension in the room. I could feel the sweat running down my face. At some point I asked for 911 to be called. I suctioned him a few times and bagged him some more. He was struggling to breathe, eyes open but unseeing.

And then I had an experience of timelessness or transcendence, I'm not sure. He and I had an unspoken dialog while I mentally reviewed a case of a baby who was stillborn a few years earlier. I told the baby it was ok to go or stay, with great love in my heart. I told him we would grieve for him if his time was brief but I was standing in the place to help him if he was going to come and live. I wasn't attached to the outcome, not afraid of the consequences if he died. I was merely a servant to his process, applying what I knew to do when there is respiratory distress. But there was no fight in me, only acceptance.

I have learned so many things in the years I have been a midwife; about relationships and parenting and love and struggle. I have technical skills that feel second nature to me now. And still. This baby brought me such a profound teaching. When he began to breathe and cry, we knew we weren't out of the woods, not yet. The aid car arrived and the nice men in the big black shoes took him away to the hospital where he was deemed fine to return to his home with his anxious parents.

When I visited them the next day, I held him on my lap and we had another silent talk. I welcomed him to his new life. I wished him well.

I called a close midwife friend and asked her why do we continue to do this work when it asks so much of us. This is what she said:

"Why we do this work: I recently helped a woman who started her pregnancy at 340 pounds. Her friends and family said there was no way she could have an out of hospital birth. They said she wasn't in good enough health and she didn't have the stamina to pull it off. She ate a wonderful diet, walked every day and completed her pregnancy at 304 pounds. She had a 4 hour labor, a 12 minute pushing phase and no postpartum hemorrhage. At 2 weeks postpartum she weighs 285 pounds, is nursing beautifully and couldn't be happier.

Another thought to ponder... those of us who went to the school of 'Have one, see one, do one.' We owe a debt to the goddess that walked beside us while relative ignorance, but with strong passion decided to reclaim birth as the true initiatory process that it is. Can you remember the mixture of confidence and fear that we took to those very first totally hippie births? No running water, school buses, yurts, a little magic, and worn out copy of Hearts and Hands or Special Delivery as our only source of information. We were pioneers returning birth to the Sacred Circle of women. No way can I let go of that."


Amen, sister.


Ms. Moon said...

Oh sweet Jesus you have me crying.
For us, it was a copy of Hey Beatnik! This Is The Farmbook! and then Spiritual Midwifery and a British midwifery text that was so old it gave instructions about giving a baby last rights if the priest couldn't get there on time.
I left the field in my own way. I went to nursing school and had more babies and worked at the local birth center with licensed midwives who did not especially like me because I was too vocal in my own observances about how a birth was going.
But. I had a ten pound, 2 ounce baby at home who had shoulder dystocia and came out floppy and not breathing and blue and purple until the midwife (a friend I had worked with at illegal home births years ago and who wasn't really delivering babies by then but helped me because...) breathed into her and told us to touch her and call her by name and tell her we loved her and we did and that was Lily and she's had two home births and Jessie had August at home and it's all worked out and woman- I love you.
It's sacred work. You were called to it. You still are being called.
I believe that.
So much love.

Sabine said...

Same here, shedding a few tears remembering my early onset labour reading Spriritual Midwifery and Jeannine Parvati's book, looking for clues on premature home birth.
After 33 hrs I held a tiny 900 g baby girl on my arms who struggled with her first breath. The midwife did everything from making tea, to wrapping me in blankets and unwrapping me and washing me in our messy bathroom and holding my hands to saving my daughter's life. She was in her early 70s, her husband a farmer. She brought a pint of rich Jersey milk for the weeks my tiny baby was in hospital, so my milk would be exceptionally strong. She did a lot more I only found out later like visiting my baby on the ward during the night when no visitors were allowed.
Beth, your work is the closest we can come to understand what life is. Right at the start. In the weekend paper I just read about the increasing numbers of cesareans and how women are seemingly viewing pregnancy as "projects" requiring perfect planning and safety and it makes me so angry.

A said...

What profound work you do. Heart and Hands. It's been a long time since I heard that title. Elizabeth Davis was my midwife, but she missed the birth – I delivered my daughter by myself. One never knows.

37paddington said...

I am so moved by this, so humbled. Your loving acceptance of that baby's soul choice is perhaps the most profound holiness I have ever been privy to. You are a transcendent being yourself, and how lucky are the women whose children come into this world in your presence. Thank you. I don't know why it feels as if I need to say that, but thank you.

Elsewhere said...


Elizabeth said...

Oh, what a beautiful post. That baby girl is so lucky to have soul-melded with you, Beth. As you are with her. Thank you for sharing this beautiful, beautiful story with us. Thank you for doing what you do.