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 we...in 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."