Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The making of a midwife

I have recently finished reading Patricia Harman's memoir (pictured here), Arms wide open: a midwife's journey. I have enjoyed the journey.

As I progressed through the book I welcomed insight into the way Patsy, an idealistic hippy wild child in the early 1970s, learnt about life and in that learning, she found midwifery.

I welcomed insight into the realities of the American counter-culture, war resisters, commune life, living without what most of their peers would call the basic necessities of life.

I welcomed the honesty of statements by Patsy, now a grandmother with a nice home and a day job, no longer attending births, such as "You'd think by my age I'd have everything figured out, but I don't have a clue and I'm more confused than when I was thirty."  I concur.

I found to my surprise that Patsy's midwifery journey reminded me in many ways of my own. I was at the same time, learning about life, and discovering my midwife identity in a sort of mirror image journey.

Here's what I mean by a mirror image journey.

Patsy and I must be about the same age, and we gave birth to our babies at about the same time. I was living in Michigan in those formative years, the 1970s, in a little brick house with a basement, surrounded by tall oak trees that shed mountains of brown leaves each 'Fall'. I raked leaves in autumn, shovelled snow in the winter, planted spring gardens, and enjoyed home grown veges in the summer.

While Patsy learnt how to stay warm and well in an isolated primative log cabin, I, who had spent most of my life in the sub-tropics in Queensland, learnt how to live with central heating, and cook in a kitchen that had green carpet on the floor.

While Patsy and her companions had dropped out of education, I had already graduated as a midwife in my home country. Noel, my husband was a graduate student at Michigan State, working on the fascinating and previously unnoticed protective effect of colostrum in the newborn calf. I was absorbing scientific literature and knowledge as fast as I could, broadening my understanding of reproduction, and particularly the needs of mammalian newborns.

Like Patsy, I attended the local Lamaze birth preparation classes and learnt psychoprophylaxis and Lamaze breathing. Unlike Patsy, I did not discover homebirthing. I gave birth to my first three children in the local hospital, was moved in second stage to the delivery/operating room, positioned with legs in stirrups and hands held to boards by big pieces of velcro. I was told to "take a deep breath and push push push!"

While Patsy raised her children in a loosely knit 'family' of a commune, I was away from all my family, became a full-time mother, and was satisfied with that role. Apart from the help offered by a few neighbours and friends from our Church, I needed to be emotionally and physically self-sufficient.

While Patsy developed a sort of faith in the forces of nature, I continued in the Christian faith in which I had been nurtured.

My awakening in midwifery came later, in the early 1990s, when I thought that my four children no longer needed a parent to be at home for them all the time.

I was able to move without difficulty into homebirth, even though I had not given birth at home myself.  The knowledge that stood by me had been instilled in my mind over the years of my own childbearing, building on the foundation that I had learnt in my student days at the Royal Women's Hospital in Carlton.  The years of breastfeeding had given me insight into mother-baby bonding and nurture.  The years of parenting had given me an understanding of what it means to promote health, and work in harmony with natural processes.  The years of part time shift work, usually nights, in hospital maternity wards, had taught me that I wanted to be 'with woman' - that the 'one night stands' I was having in the hospitals were not optimal in any way.

Like a butterfly emerging from its quietness in the crysalis, I had metamorphosed, and came out of that space ready for action.

Enough from me for today.  Your comments are, as always, welcome.

ps Arms wide open is Hardcover, or eBook, 324 pages.  Publisher: Beacon Press. ISBN: 978-0807001387


Marissa said...

Joy I am so glad you enjoyed the book! What a great write up!

Patsy Harman said...

Thank you, for the beautiful review and for being my far-away friend. It was great to see how our paths crossed and diverged.

Peace, Patricia (Patsy) Harman,
author of The Blue Cotton Gown
and Arms Wide Open: A Midwife's Journey.


Carolyn Hastie said...

I heard about this book for the first time a couple of days ago. Now I read your write up and am inspired to buy the book. I see that Patsy has commented on your review and I agree, it is a beautiful review. Your comments about your own journey are delightful to read Joy. I remember visiting you in the 90's as you were embarking upon your private midwifery career and I thought how fortunate the women were to have a beautiful midwife like you to support them. Working with women and their families in the midwifery way is such a privilege and such a delight. Thanks for this opportunity to discover more about you and Patsy's book, love, Carolyn

Anonymous said...

your blog post is awesome. Thanks for sharing, would love to read your book.