Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 24, Winter 1992. Reprinted in The Heart and Science of Homebirth, 1999.
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Midwifery requires love and a lot of it. As Carla Hartley says, “Love is a verb.” It is not just a feeling; it suggests action, protection, trust. The Bible supports that definition. Two of my favorite passages on love read: “If you love someone you will be loyal to her [him], no matter what the cost. You will always believe in her, always expect the best of her, and always stand your ground in defending her” and “(Love) always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” I want to address the aspect “to protect,”
As childbirth attendants, we must vigorously protect the birthing woman and her baby against wrong information, overly interventive technology, a convoluted system of law and medical ignorance that fuel interventive technology, and individuals who do not have her best interests at heart. Often we have to protect her against her own fears.
How do we do it? We educate and counsel her and her family. We define a safe space that says “Pregnancy and birth are natural and normal. You can accomplish them and we will be there to help you.” We feed her both physically and emotionally. We love her. Our greatest concern is our mother and her baby.
We are also charged with the responsibility to protect midwifery, what it means and how it is implemented. We must define who we are and what we do and stay personally within the realm of our definition. We may each have somewhat different philosophies but I would hope that what prevails is with-woman care and protection of the safety and sanctity of each mother and baby. We must stand strong in the face of outside resistance.
If mothers and babies are our overidding concern, what does that mean in our practices? Protecting. Advocating. Consider this scenario: You know in your heart that your laboring woman can birth naturally, though her labor is progressing slower than Friedmans curve indicates it should. Your backup doctor is pressing for a Pitocin augmentation and the woman’s mother thinks the baby should be here by now if you were doing your job right. You are steadfast but gentle against the onslaught. You speak for the birthing woman, firm in your philosophy and your love for the birthing family. You know who you are there to serve. You know right from wrong within the definition of who you are and what you know to be true of birth and women and their capabilities.
We must be clear about who we serve and who we are committed to protect. As one obstetrician stated, “I wish I were the only one in the room with the birthing woman, but I’m there with the insurance companies, the legal system and the courts, all the hospital staff, my colleagues and established standards of care.” Who else is in the room with you and your birthing mother?
Sometimes you’ll feel like the Lorax, the little Dr. Seuss character who tries desperately to save the trees from being chopped down. He cried, “I am the Lorax; I speak for the trees!” As midwives, we fight to stop women from being cut down in childbirth, and we scream, “I am the midwife; I speak for the women!” We are the last voice crying furiously into the wilderness. We must protect this voice and make absolutely sure it is not suppressed or co-opted.
We teach, counsel and make difficult calls constantly. Midwifery is not for the weak- or faint-hearted. It takes strong women to stand firm in what we believe, what we know. Whenever a really tough call comes you might ask, “What is the most loving thing to do or say in this situation?” Follow your heart’s answer and do it with kindness to everyone concerned. Kindness is itself a form of protection. The proverb “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger,” is so appropriate.
Why go through the trauma to protect, to love? There are probably as many reasons as there are people. Maybe you do it for self-esteem, to feel good about yourself, because you value people, for the betterment of society, because loving is our reason for being. I think a line in the last song of Les Miserables sums it up for me, “Remember the truth that once was spoken, to love another person is to see the face of God.”
Toward Better Birth,