Saturday, March 1, 2014

Student Midwife Thoughts

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a ‘women’s circle’ as part of an indigenous awareness program.  Our circle of women included an aboriginal elder, midwives, academics and my group of student midwives.  As we brushed ourselves with eucalyptus leaves, removed our shoes and stood in a circle clasping hands, I felt an overwhelming surge of emotion - of sisterhood, of motherhood and of womanhood.  

Once I started crying, it became difficult to choke the emotion that had been released as a flood of tears.  So instead of fighting it, I allowed myself to ‘feel’ my experiences of the last 8 months and to remember them.  To be honest, it was a healing experience for me.   So, in the spirit of a new beginning I thought I’d share a few things I have learnt as a student midwife:

“There is secret in our culture, and it’s not that childbirth is painful, it’s that women are strong”

I don’t think I will ever forget the experience of my first birth.  Everything was so new - it was hard to process it all. 
I remember there was a woman on the bed, giving birth. 
It must have been sensory overload because I didn’t feel a thing, no emotions.
My background in surgical nursing had exposed me to many things, but not THIS.  Namely, a baby’s head was coming out of THIS woman’s vagina!!!  As the head crowned, the baby did a little head turn (restitution) and then all of a sudden a child was born.

Starting out, I believed that women can give birth - that our bodies are designed for it.  In my naivety I assumed that all women felt the same.   It was eye opening for me to come to understand the anxiety and sometimes fear that many women carry.   However, the real education has come in being with these same women in labour and coming to know that they are, in fact – strong. 

-          One woman worked so hard to push her baby out after experiencing the loss of her first child at 6 weeks
-          One woman decided to carry her baby to term and birth him, despite knowing that the likelihood of his survival outside her womb was very slim
-          One woman birthed her baby alone on the couch in her home as her husband packed the car, ready to drive her to hospital
-          One woman waited days in hospital for an induction – and then gave birth within 50 mins
-          One woman, after enduring IVF treatment for years – had a failed induction and an emergency caesarean section

And the list goes on…

What is clear from this list is another truth that I have learnt along the way: the most predictable thing about childbirth is its unpredictability.  Although childbirth is a universal experience, it is also one of the most unique.  No one birth is the same.  Coming from a nursing background where everything is black and white – this required a change in my thinking. 

In Ursula K LeGuin’s science ficton novel The Left Hand of Darkness, Genry comes to a world in which some can tell the future.  He asks Faxe, one of those who can, why he does not use this gift more often:
“The unknown,” said Faxe’s soft voice in the forest, “the unforetold, the unproven, that is what life is based on.  Ignorance is the ground of thought.  Unproof is the ground of action.  Tell me, Genry, what is known?  What is sure, predictable, inevitable, the one certain thing you know concerning your future and mine?”
“That we shall die.”
“Yes.  There’s really only one question that can be answered, Genry, and we already know the answer...The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next

Another thing I have learnt is that the birth experience is special and watching it unfold is an experience like no other.  After my first experience of birth, I gradually started to see things as a whole.   I cried and I hugged the women’s husbands J I felt angry when some women suffered.  I took photos and then left the couple to experience their first moments as parents together. 

Whenever I watch shows like ‘One born every minute’ (the American version) - I cringe.  The women sit there in bed strapped to a machine, while their husbands eat chips and play on their iphones.  The nurse enters the room chewing some gum and checks the clock.  

Where is the celebration of birth as a rite of passage? 

There are so very few things in life that remain unknown – for example:  we don’t actually know how labour starts.  I like that. 

Bridgitte Jordan said:

“…if we consider the sparse ethnographic record, we find that there is no known society where birth is treated, by the people involved, as a merely physiological function.   On the contrary, it is everywhere socially marked and shaped”

Five years ago... when I became an Aunty for the second time :)