Sunday, 5 August 2018

Awake to the mystery, power and magic of birth

There are many aspects of childbearing that are mysterious. Those of us who live, work and breathe in the childbearing space are often in awe of the beauty, power and magic that is a woman birthing her precious baby. This post by midwife Pat Schwaiger from Mountain Midwives in Montana USA appeared on Facebook a few days ago.  I got goosebumps while reading it as Pat articulates beautifully what many of us midwives have experienced.  I wrote about 'calling the baby in' at birth in another post on this blog and I'm thrilled to have Pat's permission to share her story about this phenomenon here with you. For those of you who want to explore the spiritual aspect of childbearing further, I'm happy to tell you that a new book on the topic has recently been published. It's a cracking read and the stories in it, and other stories such as Pat's below, gives us to pause to contemplate what we are doing to this most wondrous process with the purely medical approach of the dominant 'mainstream' western health systems. Could the medicalisation of childbirth be another 'flat earth' belief system to overcome?  Read on and enjoy this most interesting and awe-inspiring story.

by Pat Schwaiger, RN, CPM, Mountain Midwives, Billings, MT (artwork by Catie Atkinson)

I hesitate to write about some of the more mysterious aspects of birth. I cringe when other midwives publicly speak of birth as “sacred”. I hate it when well-meaning friends introduce me as the “magical midwife”. I prefer a more professional reputation.

You see, for centuries, midwives have been judged and jailed and even burned at the stake, for their involvement in things that could not be explained (mostly childbirth), and even today, the medical mainstream accuses midwives of practicing less-than-scientific methods of care. Because of this, we midwives have perhaps over-compensated in defending our truly professional and educated selves, relying on evidence-based research to support every move we make.

But if a midwife does this work for very long, she will indeed see things happen that surpass all science and statistics, things that reach far beyond her wildest imagination. And if she witnesses these things with openness and a humble heart, she will eventually come to understand … that she really DOESN’T understand birth at all. Nobody does.

Still, she must be careful describing these experiences, lest she be labeled a quack or accused of telling tales. We don’t get burned at the stake anymore, but we get burned in other ways.
So, with a half dozen credentials in my pocket and 36 years of midwifery practice under my belt, I’m stepping out on a limb here, to tell you one of those amazing birth tales.

It happened last night, in Laurel, Montana.
Having attended several previous births for these folks, I’m practically one of the family by now. I’m comfortable in their home, and their kids know me well. Yesterday evening, I arrived to find the mother soaking in her bathtub, with contractions coming on strong. (She loves water birth). Her dilation was seven centimeters, and fetal heart tones were good. I set up for a delivery, and left her and her husband alone, because this is how they like to have their babies.

I was right outside the door, listening and charting and waiting for them to say my name. That moment came, and I stepped into their space and knelt at the side of the tub, ready to catch. Baby’s head immerged. The cord was around the neck, and I slipped it off quickly and asked the mother to push again. A beautiful black-haired boy came out into the water, and I lifted him into his mother’s arms. There was no cry, but his movements were lively and his color was good. He kept his eyes shut. With my stethoscope, I listened to his breath sounds and his heart beat. Everything checked out fine.
As his little knees moved outward, we saw that this was a boy. The other children were waiting in the next room, and when the dad announced the gender, a giant whoop and holler filled their whole house with joy. I was observing the baby closely then. He didn’t respond to all the hullabaloo. Still in his mother’s arms, with his mother still in the tub, his little feet made ripples in the water as we waited for the cord to stop pulsating. It had been a beautiful birth.

I stood back, watching the parents adore their child, teary-eyed and tired. We would cut the cord soon and help the mom get into bed. I kept my eye on the baby too. Although all things measurable were totally perfect, he seemed to still be in another world. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but there must be some other realm where babies live before they live here. Perhaps it is just the womb. Or perhaps it is some other un-mapped reality. But when people move from that reality into our own world, it’s a conscious move, and they each do it at their own pace. Now, I’m not talking about APGAR scoring or length of second stage. No. Those things are measurable, and this kid was doing fine in those categories. But he wasn’t quite here yet. Other midwives have seen this, I’m sure, but we don’t talk about it very much.

Last night’s baby was hanging out in the other world. There was a blue-ish distance behind the tiny slits that were his eyes. His little lips were pressed shut and he was silent. He appeared closed off, somehow. It was like he was way inside of himself … or maybe somewhere way out in the Cosmos. Yet everything I could assess was totally functional. He was here. But he was somewhere else.

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I’ve only said this a few times before, but last night I heard myself saying, “Come be with us, little one. It’s a good place here”. Technically, he was several minutes old by then, so it seemed an odd thing for a midwife to say.

That’s when two of his sisters, ages five and six, quietly slipped into the room. I think they knew. They stood near the tub and one of them reached forward to hold the newborn’s tiny hand. She said softly, “I love you, baby”. The other one leaned over and kissed the infant and told him “We waited so long for you”.

IMMEDIATELY, there was a spark! The baby began to wiggle like most babies do. His eyes opened wide and focused, absolutely beaming at those two little girls. Then he moved his head to look around the room and he let out a cry. It was a powerful cry, as if to say, “OK! I’m here now. I’m home. Hello everybody! It’s me!”

We already knew he was healthy and whole. I’d officially assessed everything about him, and even written it down in the chart. Obviously, we all loved this baby boy. But it took those two little girls to convince him to actually come into our world, to join us here, and to become one of us.
So … what was their magic?

Love. Spoken without fear. Spoken outloud. Pure, innocent, unscientific Love. That’s what lit the spark.

OK. Try analyzing THAT. Try identifying the evidence. Try even talking about it without losing some credibility as a professional. You won’t find this stuff in the text books or on Youtube. But it’s all true. Sometimes Love is what brings babies around. Sometimes Love is what brings all of us around. Love is mysterious and sacred and effective.

Now, I need to say that this doesn’t happen at every birth. In fact, I’ve only seen it a few times. But it does happen. I’ve never been bold enough - or silly enough - to write about it before. But today, it seems like a worthy birth tale to tell, because it all happened last night, before my very own eyes.
Go ahead. Burn me at the stake.

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