I recently prepared a panel presentation on the topic of “Keeping Birth Normal” for a midwifery convention, and it dawned on me how insidiously the quest for standardization has permeated this sacred blood rite. Gearing midwifery practice to a reductionist, generic view of birth is but a travesty of our time-honored proficiencies, our ancient arts. There is no “normal” birth–each is individual and nonconforming. Childbirth opens an extraordinary spectrum of physical, emotional, and spiritual growth opportunities that is nothing less than extraordinary, which women should be supported in freely exploring. The Midwife must guard parameters of safety, yes, but she should also encourage women to play their edges, experience deep currents of emotion, discover their own ways of transformation, and chart new creative territory. This is “taming” based not on repression or control but on integration, being in synch and in surrender to one’s true self. Midwives must find ways to make the unseen visible and comprehensible, they must learn to recognize and validate gut instincts, heart feelings, or any other messages coming from the body, and they must translate these perceptions into tangible action and/or words.
I recently reviewed the book More Than a Midwife and the author, Mary Sommers, has a beautiful way of describing the role of a midwife:
Midwifery is about guiding women through the internal and external journeys of their everyday lives. The birth of our children may be without regard to a fixed date and time; the experience of birth is the expression of eternity. Women in labor have the ability to transcend time and space, to regain a deep appreciation of the nature of their internal selves…She…is immersed in a journey of recognizing a part of her that had remained a mystery until this moment…
We long to have our internal and external dimensions integrated. In birth, this naturally unfolds. You do not need to be a spiritual scholar or have a daily practice to gain spiritual growth. A woman only needs to go into the experience and the spiritual journey unfolds. Nevertheless, I have also found that women who live in harmony with nature in their daily existence can access the journey more readily.
Midwifery asks us to truly become at home with ourselves, with nature, and with women. Birth takes us out of our external experiences, our linear timing of progress, and our everyday rituals. In contrast, birth time is measured in a circular movement like the seasons. There are rhythms and patterns. If we let birth unfold with spontaneity and attuned to nature, we will end up appreciating the nature of our souls as well. For women in birth, there exists a duality of time and space. They are present in both the physical and the internal dimensions. Midwives are called to not only be medical providers, but emotional guides, allowing women to get in touch with their innermost selves, the place where the soul dwells.
Both of these passages are beautiful explorations of the multifaceted and relational role of a midwife. I keep thinking I’ll have more time to explore these quotes in a more fully developed post, but I just don’t have room to do it today after all. The piece I particularly like from Davis was about there being no normal birth. I feel the same about the birth profession’s obsession with, “evidence-based care.” I’ve often asked myself, is evidence-based care enough? Do we really need to quantify everything? I think it should be a given that women receive evidence-based care. It is a travesty that it is often, apparently, too much to expect or hope for. I think women deserve loving care, respectful care, humane care, personalized care, beautiful, life-celebrating care. I think evidence-based care sets the standard too low…at obvious rather than profound.
In the second passage, my eye was caught by the phrase, “I have also found that women who live in harmony with nature in their daily existence can access the journey more readily.” Is this true in your experience? I have conflicted feelings about it. Do I live in harmony with my daily existence? My birth experiences certainly reflected a “harmony” with body, instinct, mind, and surrender. But, in daily life, while I certainly live close to nature and view it as sacred and while I choose many practices of “natural parenting” my head is often in conflict with what really is. I often find myself arguing with reality and in a mental state that feels more scattered than harmonious–and, angry with myself for not being more skilled at “surrender.” Luckily, that part neatly shuts off during labor, freeing my body to do the work of birthing with relatively little interference or struggle.