Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 6, Winter 1988. Reprinted in Life
of a Midwife.
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IN GREGORY STOCK’S THOUGHT-PROVOKING Book of Questions the author queries, “What is your most treasured memory?” Without hesitation my reply was “the homebirth of my second daughter.”
Days later I put the question to a friend who seven years ago had given up her only child for adoption. “The birth of my daughter,” came her immediate reply. I wondered how many more women shared the same feelings. I soon found that the sentiment is shared by women of all walks. A workmate who is “clean” after 16 years of drug abuse and who is the mother of four children answered, “The birth of my second child. I watched her in a mirror as she was being born.” Another woman, who is gay, responded by saying, “When my son was born, of course.”
Four women, each unaware of the others’ responses, had answered in much the same way. How important birth is to women! And soon I found it wasn’t only women who feel that way. A male friend answered by saying, “First meeting my wife, without whom I wouldn’t have had my beautiful son. Together we are practicing the art of the family and learning to share a collective ego.”
As midwives it is important to remember at every point of our practice that we are blessed with the opportunity to help others realize the “most treasured memory” of their lives. Ina May Gaskin refers to birth as a “sacrament” and that word comes as close as any to describing the experience. A sacrament has deep spiritual significance, which is shared by all who take part.
Remember the word “sacrament” when you are caring for each of your pregnant clients. And remember that you are safeguarding that woman’s—and probably her partner’s—most treasured life experience. Remember it against the backdrop of your own life of dirty dishes, getting dinner, problems with kids, a husband you wish was more caring, gassing up the car and facing an avalanche of bills. Whatever the details of your life—and life presents many problems of a worldly nature—you must be somewhere between an angel and a counselor for each pregnant family.
A new element—technology—can complicate the picture. A technology-prone approach to birth has a tendency to derail the spiritual/emotional aspects of preparing for and giving birth. You must wrestle with your own belief system, a cultural belief system and a greedy blame-oriented society. In the midst of these and many other factors you try to give the best care at each visit with each family. You can accomplish it through communication and caring.
What is caring? It is love. If you do not know what to do, say or how to act in a given situation ask yourself, “What is the most loving thing I can say or do here?” The answer will help you through a tough birth where the family will be certain they were cared for in an effective way. The most loving thing to do may be to order a test you really don’t like to use. It may be to have a difficult talk session after a particularly hard birth so you can communicate what happened and help a family deal with their feelings. You might say, “I have no time.” Try to find some time—you are dealing with matters of eternity. That your car has just been towed is of little consequence though it may seem like it at the moment. It is a matter of this world and its importance will pass away. But this mother giving birth and this child coming through this mother are of the heart and the spirit and their importance will not pass away, ever.
Midwifery will take all the love you have to give. It will take over your life and be your major focus. It is an identity that God made strong, much like that of being a mother. Only your most compassionate self will do when you are attending a birth of a baby, a mother, a family. People’s most treasured memories are in your hands.