A baby girl is sleeping, safe and sound, in her home in the hills to the East of Melbourne. She was born on Monday morning, just as the early assessments of the extent of the devastation caused by unimaginably powerful firestorms on Saturday was coming through in the news.
The forest all around is dry - there has been precious little rain for a long time. The magnificent eucalypts surround the little timber houses: tall mountain ash, with huge slabs of bark hanging and flapping carelessly against their trunks. It's these loosely draped bark sheets, and other dry bits and pieces, that ignite quickly and are caught up, becoming burning missiles in the strong dry winds.
On Monday morning I was not listening to the radio, although it was on. I was focused on being 'with woman'. It was only later that I heard about the number of people who had died; the number of homes that had been destroyed; and the communities that had been left as blackened piles of rubble. And the numbers have continued to grow, as the stories and pictures have circulated, and people try to come to terms with the worst bushfire on record. Our world has changed.
The mother mentioned to me, after her baby had been born, that she had had a dream the previous night. She had dreamt that her waters had broken, and for some reason she was on the back of a ute, in labour, being taken to my house. She woke up and found that her waters had indeed broken, and her bed was wet. She got up, had a shower, and called me to let me know about the waters - didn't mention the rest of the dream though.
When the labour became intense the mother knelt on the floor and gave birth in the front room of her home, with her husband and two little boys, and me, her midwife, nearby.
It was only the next day, as I returned for a postnatal visit, that I realised the meaning of the dream. Saturday had been the hottest day on record for most of Victoria. The sky was an eerie smoky brown colour. The wind was strong and menacing. I had stayed inside the house, and when I stepped outside it was like going into a fan forced oven. I realised that this was the environment in which this mother's body was preparing for its moment of release of the little one. In her sub-conscious mind the mother must have known she would need to find a safe place, should a fire start to threaten anywhere near her home. In her subconscious mind she must have seen my home, where she has been coming for prenatal checks, as a safe place. (I don't have an explanation for the ute!)
The mother told me her little boy had been unwell on Saturday - a high temperature, dehydrated. She had been cooling him down with wet cloths, and giving him extra drinks. He improved on Sunday, and the weather was mild. The mother was able to move on from caring for her sick child, to birthing her new baby. She felt safe enough, but in her subconscious mind there was the plan to get out if the fire situation should threaten once more.
Perhaps I am imagining things; making up a dramatic explanation to someone else's dream. I don't think so. The need for a safe place is one of the most basic factors in the nesting instinct of not only human mothers, but other animal mothers too. In the deep sadness that I and everyone who has been touched by last Saturday's fires feel, I am truly privileged to be a midwife, and to help in some way to provide a safe place where a woman can give birth.