6 things I loved about this week’s birth
I’m a doula not because I’m a birth junkie, and not because I’m soppy about babies. I’m a doula because birth has the potential to be potently positive, to augment women and reveal their power and potential. Every birth I go to reinforces my view that we just don’t give either women or birth their due. After this week’s emotional & impressive, intense & epic home birth, here are some reflections...
1. The first thing – always - is the privilege of being invited in. Birth is intimate and personal, and I get to see the visceral connections which are usually shared in privacy, held within and concealed from scrutiny and judgement. He held her. She leant into him. Her response to his touch. His strength, and the vulnerability in his concern for her. In birth, everything is revealed. There can be no artifice. We become our truest, rawest selves, and in these moments connections are forged which can’t be unbound. I cannot tell you how affirming & humbling it is to see trust and intimacy in action. It was a new chapter in a love story unfolding before my eyes.
2. As another mighty contraction rolled through her, she knelt in front of him, dropping into his body. I crouched behind her, piling pressure into her sacrum. Either side of her two midwives rested their hands on her shoulders. As the five of us connected in those moments, I was awed, again, by the spontaneous, elemental rituals that take place at almost every birth. She disappeared inside herself to collect her baby, and while we could not do it for her, we anchored her to us. We rubbed and held and gave resistance for her to push against. We murmured to her, breathed with her and absorbed her roars. We encouraged and reassured and consoled, and I wondered how many times the world has witnessed this liturgy of touch and sound as a next generation edges towards the world?
3. The word ‘midwife’ comes from the middle English meaning ‘to be with a woman’, and this is what these midwives did. They sat with her faithfully as her body did its work. Watchful and waiting. No imperative to insert themselves into the process without good cause. She gave birth to her baby, and we were fortunate to witness it.
4. Much of that watchful waiting took place at the kitchen table, until she voiced a contraction in a quite different way. The midwives and I met in the hall, me on my way to tell them there was a change, them on their way to find out what the change they’d heard meant. Birth is so much more than cervical dilation. Measurable, empirical, medical knowledge is an important part of maternity care which can keep women safe, but it’s barely half the picture. To observe the Whole Woman in birth is to see how her body moves, hear her voice change, observe her pass between lucidity and intense focus. Following a woman in this way is really something special. Being tuned in to other women following a woman in this way feels incredible.
5. That shift between labour and birth is astounding. Suddenly a new person is in the room. Labour drops away, vanishes, suddenly shifts from overwhelming internal intensity to light, bright connection with this new being. Her eyes went from tight shut to wide with astonishment and pride. She shot back to us from the depths inside herself, with her child in her hands. It seemed as though she could not believe it, that she doubted it had happened, but there was the soft, vernix-ie evidence. Huge black eyes locked onto hers, rosebud lips, perfectly shelled ears. Still connected and sharing her blood. There is nothing more than this moment.
6. The last is a question I don’t have an answer to, although I’m formulating it, and it’s filthily prosaic in contrast to what I just witnessed. The question is: how did we relinquish ownership of something so meaningful and transformative? I go to many different types of birth, and regardless of how the baby comes out of the body, women always astound me. Birth is rarely easy, whether it’s first time mums, in hospital or at home, induced or spontaneous, long, short or intermediate, caesarean births, hypno-births, spiritual births, super-pragmatic births, births after trauma, births after loss. However birth happens it requires women to face fear, uncertainty and the potential for pain and suffering, and it’s a process that women ultimately have to face alone. There are no easy answers or get-out-of-jail-free cards. Mothers are resilient, determined and bold. So how is it that we have landed here? Birth has become institutionalised & faceless. Midwives over-worked and under-valued. Support for pregnant and new mothers stripped away and cut to the bone. A culture that pits women against women and their own bodies, and offers little or nothing beyond an annual schmaltz-fest and persistent judgement? How have we lost our cultural respect and reverence for this mighty endeavour?