Alina has a daughter, Dina, who is a bright, energetic three year old. I am using their real names, with Alina's permission, as it would be difficult to tell their story without giving some of the detail of this family.
Today, after the birth of Alina's beautiful new baby girl, I noticed Dina looking intently at the placenta in the green plastic kidney dish on the floor. Immediately I understood - she knew about the placenta. So I held up the umbilical cord and Dina looked very pleased. Later, when I was putting away my equipment, Dina was interested in the Laerdal bag and mask resuscitation kit. Dina knew about that too!
Dina and I can't understand each other's language - she speaks fluently in Russian, and in Japanese too I think, but not English. Fortunately, Dina's parents speak English very well.
Having moved to Melbourne a couple of months ago, their priority was to be ready for the birth of this little one. They are living in a furnished unit, and waiting for their boxes to be delivered from the wharf.
As Alina and I talked and prepared for the birth, little Dina was with her mother. One day I loaned Dina a copy of 'Hello Baby' [http://www.capersbookstore.com.au/scripts/shop_item.asp?by=cat&item=2229], and I read it to her in English while Alina translated into Russian. Alina has told me that Dina has had the story read to her every day since!
It would not have been surprising to Dina when she heard her mother's noises - 'singing' an ancient and wordless song that rises and falls with the power of the new baby's progress. Dina understood that her mother was doing something wonderful, important, and very demanding; and that she had her daddy home from work today to look after her. Dina knew that the placenta came after the baby, and was happy to check it out. She had also seen a picture of the midwife's resuscitation equipment in 'Hello Baby'. She knew that her mummy needed to rest with this new baby sister, who was very hungry and needed to take mummy's milk.
Alina called me thismorning to let me know that her labour had begun. Today was 42 weeks - 'post-mature'. We had waited for spontaneous onset of labour, and Alina was confident that her baby was well. She had agreed to go to the hospital tomorrow for monitoring, but that won't be needed now.
Alina was lying on the bed, curled up in that excellent left lateral position that is so good in advanced labour, when I arrived at their house. I did not know what Alina would be expecting from a midwife. Dina had been born in Japan, and it seemed from what Alina told me that she had given birth spontaneously, and that the hospital staff had done their job around her, without really making any connection.
I sensed that she did not have long to go - she was focused and the contractions were powerful. After a while I asked if she was feeling any pressure in her bottom. She wasn't sure, but decided that was possible, so she got up and knelt beside the bed. With the next contraction she felt the baby move. Another and the waters broke. A couple more and she birthed her daughter through the intense pain. Baby was fine, and lay on the mat below her mother until Alina was ready to take her in her arms. It was a beautiful, normal, undisturbed birth. The baby took the breast and stayed there for the next hour or so. The placenta came away about 1o minutes after the birth.
After finishing my paperwork I was enjoying the quiet bliss that seemed to radiate from Alina. I mentioned that there was no hurry to bath the baby - it could be done when they felt like it. They were surprised - it had seemed such an important 'next' in the list of activities last time. "No, it's just a ritual. She's not dirty," I said.
There is so much that is just a ritual in birthing. I want to hold on to the important parts - the freedom to sing the birth song, and to share birth with a three year old, who understands it all so well.