Posted by: emjb | April 17, 2007

The gospel of I’m Here for You

Even though it’s impossibly far away, I can’t help thinking about what my approach to midwifery and birth education will be. Especially about what I want to teach in childbirth classes. And to any woman who’ll listen to me, really.

I’m not crunchy granola, first of all. Or rather, I am, but not for spiritual reasons. I like organic things because pesticides are bad for you, and torturing animals for hormone-pumped meat makes me uneasy. I like clean water and air, etc. because I enjoy continuing to exist without having to wear an ozone-proof suit to go outside. I like this planet, I think it’s a nice place to call home, and more importantly, we don’t have any replacement ones lined up at the moment. So it’s just plain stupid to make the one we have unlivable.

You do not need to believe in crystals, auras, past lives, Wicca, or any other religious ideas whatsoever to understand this.

You also don’t have to believe those things to be a homebirth and natural birth advocate. I think the science is there, it is tested, and it is logical. I think taking care of the psychological state of a person about to undergo tremendous physical and psychological stress is a no-brainer, quite frankly. Hospitals are the least relaxing and reassuring places on earth, short of the middle of a shopping center, to give birth. And at least most shopping centers have fountains and plants. And a food court, for if you need a giant pretzel to keep up your strength during labor. Now that would have been handy.

We associate hospitals with crisis, with pain and sickness, because that’s what they exist to treat. Birth was only moved into hospitals for the benefit of the doctors, not for the women…in fact, postpartum deaths initially rose when women began birthing in hospitals, thanks to doctors who didn’t understand why it was a good idea to wash your hands after touching a corpse, but before examining a patient.

Anyway. It’s improved now, but hospitals are still the best places to catch some nasty drug-resistant bugs. If you’re sick, or have a labor gone wrong, obviously it’s worth the risk. But if you don’t have to go there, you shouldn’t. And that has everything to do with the research I’ve read, and nothing to do with wanting to birth in the woods to meet my inner goddess. Though certainly, if that floats your boat, great. But that is not what motivates me.

While I was in my third trimester, I was told to do things like drink raspberry leaf tea, walk by the water, picture flowers opening, etc. etc., to make labor hurry up, none of which had any effect and all of which made me feel silly. Plus I hate hot tea. And while the tea was just an unproven but harmless birth-starting legend, the other two were sheer magical thinking; no different from when my mother was told to put an open pair of scissors under her pillow to “cut the pain of labor.”

Now I respect (and as a midwife, certainly won’t gripe about) the idea that some kinds of magical thinking can help some women go into and get through labor. But for me, it added stress; because if I did the magical thinking and nothing happened…well then obviously I wasn’t doing it hard enough. I wasn’t clapping enough and now Tinkerbell was going to die. And actually, I didn’t believe in it, and found it disquieting to be told to do something I thought was crap by people who were my support team. It felt patronizing. It felt like they didn’t believe in me either and so were giving me something to keep me from getting hysterical.

I think there are a lot of women out there like I was, facing birth with uncertainty. Not wanting the Hospital Special, but not really able to muster up the requisite enthusiasm for birth altars and mystic placenta-rituals. Childbirth is very powerful, but also very mundane. There is grunting, sweat, and poop (yours and the baby’s) involved, after all. It is not dignified, and not always particularly spiritual. And even if it is spiritual, the ready-made spirituality you get with a stereotypical crunchy-granola birth sometimes gets in the way of whatever real feelings the mother is having. Or even just her feeling of “screw the placenta, my ass hurts!”

As a midwife, I’d like to be able to honor all my client’s feelings without trying to fit them into any kind of a mold. If they’re spiritual, then I want them to tell me how that affects what they need from me, but not for me to tell them what anything means or should mean. If they’re not, then we’ll just concentrate on the basics; helping create an atmosphere that makes it possible for them to put their whole body and mind into birthing. What I call the Gospel of I’m Here for You.

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Responses

  1. Love this post.

  2. Came here from Doctormama’s blog and cried over your awful birth story – all the more because I had my daughter Julia the same day you had Nathan. I’m beyond thrilled to learn that you’re going to be a midwife. I think you’ll be amazing.

  3. Thank you Yatima, that means a lot to me. Sorry it took so long to approve your post, it got caught in my spamfilter.

  4. I so wish you could train as a midwife in the next five months, and then come attend me. For free. Because of course my insurance only covers hospital birth.

    I wish I were having a homebirth. I wish I had the perfect midwife, someone who understands all the science without any of the spiritual baggage. But it won’t happen, and so I’m doing the best I can with what I have. So far my midwives seem not bad, but they’re constrained by the system in which they have to work.


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