A Midwife’s Experience of Birth (and Life)

by Stacey on April 26, 2010

Most of the instructions given to pregnant women are inadequate – not least because they encourage women to focus on the little things related to their pregnancy and miss the big picture. For example, early in my career as a midwife I was surprised by how many times women called me thinking they were in labor, not because they were having contractions, but because they lost their mucus plug. Then I picked up What to Expect When You’re Expecting and saw that it was listed as one of the common symptoms of early labor.

When I’m in clinic, I spend most of my time disabusing pregnant women of misconceptions like these. And I also try to give them a bigger message: pregnancy is the “new normal.” When you’re not pregnant it’s not normal to feel nauseated, dizzy, and most of all, in pain. But when you’re pregnant it often is. That’s the bottom line, and it’s unlikely to change.

Notice that I said pain and not something else, like discomfort. I remember when I was pregnant thinking that if I hadn’t known that such multifaceted pain was normal, I would have gone to the ER and presented my complaints with a hope for a cure. But there is no cure. There is simply the will to bear it. You either have the will to dig in and prepare for more or not.

That may sound frightening, but what I mean is that women are strong, incredibly strong. And yet even in a world full of amazing women athletes, entrepreneurs, and even astronauts (not to mention billions of mothers), most of us don’t know how strong we are until we gestate another human being. Maybe if more of us knew our strength ahead of time, we would prepare more and become even stronger. We should behave like we are in training, like Olympic athletes, or serious applicants for the space program.

And yet, even for those who have trained for years, actually performing – whether in a stadium or on the space shuttle – remains the ultimate challenge, achieved under unique and unpredictable circumstances. There are as many experiences of labor and birth as there are women and no “correct” way to do them. So my first suggestion for any pregnant woman is to find a provider you trust. And my second suggestion is to go into birth with a clear vision of how you want things to go.

I chose to have a homebirth with my midwife, a dear friend, attending me. As we talked about preparing for the birth she asked me what my greatest fear was. I told her that I was haunted by the story of one of my fellow students in midwifery school: She too had planned a homebirth with a midwife, but after many hours of labor at home she ended up in the hospital with an epidural and forceps delivery.

Long after the birth I asked my friend about her birth experience. She offered that if she could have changed anything it would have been to listen to her midwife more. She remembers having been almost paralyzed by the pain of labor and only able to sit and rock on the floor as her midwife implored her to move and try other positions.

I told my midwife, with my husband and doula and best friend in attendance, that I was afraid I would also suffer the same fate. However, since there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the more a woman states what she does not want in child birth, the more likely it is to happen, I kept my birth plan simple. “I know what I want. My support team knows what I want. I will do what my midwife says.” That was it.

Was it any surprise that I came up against my greatest fear? After a fairly short labor (12 hours) I was fully dilated, but I didn’t make much progress after pushing strenuously for two hours. I had been experiencing a lot of pain in my lower back, and the only thing that seemed to help was lying on my side while my husband or doula pressed against my sacrum with all their might. So far everything had gone according to plan, but absent any more progress I knew I would soon be taking that ride to the hospital.

At this point my midwife told me to get into a squatting position. In my exhaustion, I told her, “After the next contraction.” When the next contraction came and I said that again, I glanced up just at the moment when all of my support people looked at each other as if to say, “Here it is: the thing she feared.”

And then the vision I had for my homebirth, the one they had supported me in, took hold. In the next moment they had taken me in their arms to support me in a squat. I found the position better for pushing, and although it took another hour, my baby was finally born. Instead of fearing the pain and running from it I and the team I had put together heard what it was telling me – this way isn’t working – and shifted.

Enduring pain does not make one a better person: I’m all for pain medicine if the woman wants it, and I’m convinced that gestating and giving birth to another human being brings meaning and joy whether it happens with or without medical intervention. But if your mind and body are prepared, the pain you feel in labor – and the effort to embrace it, move toward it, and work with it – can be transmuted into a gift that informs the rest of your life.

That’s because labor and birth are intensely spiritual and physical all at once. As such, they are also apt metaphors for life. To stay open and willing to receive the messages in pain – whether that pain is physical or spiritual – is one of life’s greatest challenges, and running away from it is one of life’s greatest temptations.

It takes enormous courage to stay with the pain long enough to hear what it has to say. And yet, working with pain and developing the ability to rise above it to reach our vision allows us to tap into something profound and magical that can remind us of our true power. And that will serve us well for the rest of our lives.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Old School/New School MomNo Gravatar September 9, 2010 at 3:49 pm

As someone who is planning a home birth, I found this post very inspiring!

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StaceyNo Gravatar September 9, 2010 at 8:52 pm

I’m so glad to hear that you found the post inspiring! I wish you great joy and I hope you will let us know how it unfolds! xxoo, s

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AryaNo Gravatar August 29, 2013 at 3:56 pm

, and her aura was not one which installed cmoplete confidence in me of her competence.Eventually, we reached a stage where the lead midwife announced that upon another examination (that we had been told was advisable due to the amount of time my partner had been in labour) that she would be calling in an ambulance as the baby was apparently taking longer to recover it`s heart rate between contractions than it had been previously which was a concern , and that my partner needed to be dealt with in hospital.The reassurance of the surroundings of home was soon replaced by a period of comparative chaos and strange faces which then developed into me travelling with my now scared and distressed partner in a speeding ambulance across a busy city road system amidst late afternoon traffic. This then evolved into my partner going through the extremely distressful and excruciatingly painful process of having a forceps birth with no pain killers other than gas and air, as according to the doctor there was little time. I was at my partners head end the whole time keeping eye contact with her, breathing and pushing with her, letting her grab my arm and hang on, whatever she needed to do, she was in such pain, and so I saw very little of what was happening between my partner`s thighs.I experienced a feeling of profound relief like I have never done before when our son was finally passed, albeit for a very brief few minutes, to my partner`s arms, before she was taken away from us so that her tearing could be stitched.Our son often sleeps on his side, with his neck noticeably bent back, his chin jutting up as if he was star gazing. I have since discovered that such alignment when sleeping is typical of baby`s of brow presentation births. These are apparently unusual. How unusual? Is it possible that a normally aligned baby may be unintentionally shifted to a brow presentation position as a result of an internal examination? In such a case, would it not be better to allow gravity, i.e; the birth mother standing and moving whilst in labour, to take charge rather than the birthing mother instead lying on her back in an ambulance and then hospital along with the accompanying substantial increase in stress levels?I suppose all I am trying to say is that IF my partner and I were to have a second baby, I really would like to support my partner once more in having a home birth. I also would really like to assist my partner in preventing seemingly unnecessary check ups, examining and exploring with fingers and increased risk of possible change of baby position/presentation, however subtle, from taking place. I am not suggesting that such is what happened in our case and I don`t even know for certain as yet whether our son was delivered as a brow presentation. I know that he was not breech. What do you think Lisa? A few day`s after returning home from hospital, as well as the scheduled visits from an appointed midwife (who was absolutely lovely but did not attend the actual birth) my partner also received one unexpected and unscheduled visit from the lead midwife that did attend the birth and called in the ambulance. She was not in uniform and said to my partner that she just was calling by and wanted to check in and see how mother and baby were doing. This seems unusual.Whatever happened, things happened the way that they did, simple as, and nothing can be changed about that. I am not looking to apportion blame now. However I do feel that perhaps we may have resisted consenting to as many check ups, internal examinations etc as we did.Anyway, you seem to be coming from an honourable place, and my understanding is that you possess a wealth of experiential learning that my partner and I could draw from. Your site is definitely needed, is a valuable information and experience sharing resource. I don`t get to a computer much but I intend to support your site. Warmly,Peter

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www.shfonts.comNo Gravatar February 18, 2014 at 5:47 am

That insight’s just what I’ve been looking for. Thanks!

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