Monday, September 26, 2011

The knowing

All of my adult life I 'wanted' to be something other than what I was, for the most part. It wasn't until about two years ago that I finally reached a point where I just wanted to be good at what I was already doing. I had realized that I did not want to be a midwife; it was too political, people were too mean, it was too much of this or not enough of that - all of which amounted to "it's too hard".

Previously I wanted to be a childbirth educator. I sort of became one. Previous to that, I wanted to become a doula and I did do that, and intermixed in my doula career I entertained becoming a midwife, postpartum doula, lactation educator, etc etc.

I felt like I was always coveting being something I wasn't, and it is a pretty common thing I see amongst my colleagues- we start with something and become hungry for more - but there's always something in the way. Lack of a supportive network, supportive partner, children too young, can't afford training, and a lot of times it just amounts to "I'm really scared to say yes to this path and so I'm allowing these obstacles to stop me for now." At least, I know that was true for me a lot of the time.

I entertained the idea of becoming a midwife because it made sense- because it was my personality, to be in charge, to engage the medical side of things, to be on the 'edge' of a culture, to put my hands on families, and to generally not have to be told what to do. I dig that. I loved the romance of it, the birth stories, and I ached sometimes to be the one to get to make the call about what a woman in labor needed or didn't. I was good about keeping my doula hat on at ALL times but my heart longed to be making those calls.

At the same time, I never thought practically about what it would actually mean to be a midwife. I didn't think about the education- it was more like an detail than a major decision. I'd pick the school that would get me through the fastest and the most affordable and I would get started! It would be so amazing! Malpractice insurance? Getting paid on time? Licensure? Peer review? Having a car that worked, missing several days a week of my family life for birth and prenatals and postpartum and lab runs and transfer sto the hospitals and..... none of that ever occurred to me. I would make all the right decisions so I never worried about having a client or baby be injured or die because of my decisions- I already knew that I would do all the right things!

 I assumed that it would all work itself out, I didnt' need to think about it. I was going to be a Midwife. Surely the universe would just allow for me to do this sacred work, no?

I went to a birth with a local midwife as a birth assistant and I thought I was ready, and was not. It was a difficult experience because I was thrown into a role I had absolutely no experience in. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to and not supposed to do - it was clear I was not the doula, but what was I? How was I to relate to the family? I didn't know how to do vitals, or assess mom or baby- I could hold a doppler to her belly but did not know how to count heart tones. I had no business being in that role at a birth and after the smooth, complication free birth was over and we had taken care of everyone and gone home, I felt a little shell shocked. Was this how we were supposed to learn- thrown off the dock and expected to swim or drown? It was after the birth and processing it, and subsequent experiences that all led up to my deciding that I wanted nothing whatsoever to do with midwifery, I was no midwife! Clearly I wasn't, I mean for one thing, the whole thing did NOT come naturally to me and I totally thought it would.

After a long journey, some of which is documented here, I no longer fantasize about becoming a midwife. I realized a long time ago that I already am a midwife. This is where the more medical folks get to check out of what I'm saying and maybe even make fun of me - and that's okay, because I know who I am. I have been providing that care that women seek from midwives with my friends, clients, family and even strangers - for years and years. The thing that women seek from their providers, which often leads them to midwives, is a sense of connection. That was something I was and am good at. I, like anyone who desires to, can learn what is necessary in order to be a safe, professional clinician- but being dialed in is not something everyone learns or is good at.

I describe my knowing that I will be catching babies like knowing when you are pregnant that you must somehow give birth to your baby. It is not a hope or a fantasy anymore. I do not fantasize at all about becoming a midwife, I am realizing as I write... it is more that I fantasize that I will pull all things toward me, with the myriad exemplary educational opportunities I have, to be the safest and most responsible midwife I can be.

Today I sat with families with one of the midwives I assist- in their homes, amongst their children. I watched the midwife touch the bellies and connect with the hearts of these mothers and address the fear and concerns of the fathers. I saw in those moments that romantic, timeless thread that ties my midwife to the midwives who came before us- riding horses to distant homes, slogging through snow or mud or up mountains or down into swamps, riding boats or motorcycles or hitching rides - and with those same hands, touching gently the bellies, soothingly cooing to the nervous mothers, reassuring the families and holding them through the whole journey.

As much as I respect the allopathic approach, I experienced it three times and am no worse for wear - there is something so precious missing. Five minutes a month is not enough to touch a family. It is not enough to forge that deep connection between provider and family where they become a unit.

Obviously this is not the be-all-end-all of care. There is so much more to it.  As I attend every birth as a birth assistant, that hypersensitive sense of observation does not wane with each client, where my intuition becomes stronger and more reliable, where when every mother begins to push her baby out my heart races in a way it never did as a doula- I know that I know diddly squat about catching babies, about being responsible for the health and welfare and LIVES of two individuals. Squat. I am humbled every time by what I do not know, and the many years that I know it will take for me to learn what I need to in order to be truly ready to take responsibility for it myself.

I also know, like I knew that my babies would come out of me somehow, that my day will come to hold my hands at life's entrance and receive the baby that emerges. It isn't a hope or a wish - it's just what is.