Sunday, February 17, 2008


‘Stubborn’ is the word that settles in my mind as I reflect on this mother who gave birth, who I will call Sally (not her real name). Sally was uniquely, beautifully, proudly, strongly, and wonderfully stubborn. She is a mother, and in her mother-role she is stubborn. She has three young children, born overseas, and a new baby born at home in Melbourne this week. Sally grew up in USA, and her husband grew up here.

Sally stubbornly prepared for this birth, finding the people and the type of care that she wanted. She stubbornly ignored the custom of her community as she made her plans. She stubbornly informed me of what she wanted from her midwife. I don’t think she really believed, until after the birth, that what she wanted was the same as what I wanted.

Birthing, the quintessential female state, transcends culture: Sally’s culture, and my culture. That’s why as her midwife I can know, without doubt, how to be ‘with woman’, no matter what her, or my, culture, religion, or place in a society.

Sally’s knowledge, upon which she confidently built her birth plan had been set down in the experiences she had had in her birthings. She had gathered the best of women’s knowledge over the past seven years. She knew what was good because she had tried it and it had worked for her. She knew what was not good from experiences of being disturbed and distracted in labour, being unable to progress as her time of surrender drew near. She understood, and planned to avoid, separation anxiety that had come when her new baby was taken from her for hospital procedures like weighing. Her stories of the three previous births included signing herself and her baby out of the hospital’s care, stubbornly demanding her own place as mother of these children.

I think of Sally as a she-wolf: independent and confident in her own role, and keeping any unwelcome intruders at bay.

Sally prepared her birth plan with the same stubborn authoritative spirit that I saw in her birthing. The memories of that birthing and the subsequent visits I have made to their home are fresh in my mind, and in writing this memoir I want to honour this strong woman. But rather than writing what I experienced, Sally has given me permission to share excerpts from her birth plan, and I know these statements will tell something of Sally’s story. She had written:

“This baby was planned and made with love; the birth is very much an expression of the culmination of our love for each other. It is very meaningful to us that our love can be so powerful as to bring a new person into this world. Please respect our need to make this birth an intimate and spiritual experience by reading through our birth plan. …

“I want to have a baby and that’s why I’m pregnant and going through the journey of labour and birth. Please let me do my job as a mother - just being present is supportive and it may be the only role I need from my support person or midwife. If a further role becomes needed, please act. …

“I trust in my midwife to follow a non-interventionist birthing approach as we’ve discussed. In the event that another midwife or doctor is present at the birth, please note that I don’t want my baby pulled out: let my body birth the baby. I also don’t want the cord yanked: I want to give my body the benefit of the doubt that it will birth the placenta without intervention. Please don’t administer artificial hormones without justification. I will cut the cord when I’m ready: please don’t clamp the cord until then. Unless needed don’t suction the baby’s mouth: let the baby learn its own body. Establishing breast feeding is a priority for me.

“After birth any separation between me and my baby can be stressful. Please keep this in mind, when wanting to examine and weigh the baby.”

Sally’s plan was to give birth: “Please let me do my job as a mother”. Her expectation of me and my apprentice midwife was that we would be with her, and not interrupt or interfere without valid reason. The time we had spent together prior to the birth, learning how to listen and respond to each other, enabled the partnership between woman and midwife to function well at the time of birthing.

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