Saturday, October 06, 2012

The midwife

I have been enjoying the BBC series 'Call the Midwife', which has been shown on Australian ABC TV.  This week we will see the fifth and final episode in the series.

(If you go to You Tube you can apparently download and watch the full first series.)

Since I began writing my stories in the mid 1990s, in The Midwife's Journal,  I have hoped that I am setting down on the record something of the essence of midwifery, within the context of ordinary life, so that it is available to future generations of midwives, and anyone else who is interested.  The discipline of writing down the stories as they happen must have been similar for the writer, Jennifer Worth, who journaled her experiences in London in the 1950s.

Last week I wrote about women's rights in childbearing.  This is a very important topic, but is likely to lead to a skewed view of birth, unless there is an equal emphasis put on the midwife.  The partnership of midwife and woman, working in harmony with sensitive natural physiological processes, is precious, but easily disrupted.

Just as without a strong healthy mother the baby is unlikely to thrive; without a strong, confident, and capable midwife, the woman is unlikely to progress safely along the pathway to birth: a mystery journey each time.

Today's world offers women a potentially overwhelming burden of knowledge about aspects of birth, without preparing a woman for the real job, which includes giving birth and nurturing their young.  Women are bombarded with an array of mainstream and alternative treatments, for their bodies, their minds, their relationships ...
By the way, I am referring to the woman, because only the woman can give birth.

A woman (or couple) may attend childbirth education classes at a hospital, independent childbirth education, exercise classes on balls, exercise classes in a yoga studio, exercise classes in the local swimming pool, and video sessions with commentaries by consumers, professionals, and lay activists to name a few.  They may follow pregnancy-birth related social media groups and forums.  She may see her primary maternity care provider for basic check-ups, as well as a naturopath and homeopath and acupuncturist and chiro or osteo or any number of other therapists and healers, each of whom offer to have some part of her body in tip-top shape for the big event, but none of whom can offer what the midwife does.

I said it's a potentially overwhelming burden of knowledge about aspects of birth.  I rarely see women coming to birth with calm confidence in the wonderful processes that our minds can not fully grasp no matter how hard we try.  I see a father anxiously coaching the woman who is carrying his child, telling he how to move or what to relax.  I wonder where he obtained this knowledge.  I hear recorded voices of unknown strangers who guide visualisation of climbing a mountain or a flower opening.

One mother who gave birth about a week ago had confidence.  I have been with her for several of her babies.  She is a beautiful, gentle woman who invests herself fully in her family, and avoids the public gaze.  Her preparation for birth included good food, adequate rest, and work about her home.

As the labour became strong this mother withdrew from her children, knowing that they were all in bed and quiet.  I rested on the couch.  Then she invited me into her bedroom: "it won't be long now," she told me.

Quietly and steadily she guided her baby down and out.  There was a cry as the little one's head passed over the perineal threshold - the older children said they heard it.  Shortly afterwards there was another cry, as the newborn took air into her lungs and made that amazing transition from placental to lung circulation.  The third stage proceeded without the need for any medical intervention, and there was minimal blood loss.  When I visited this mother she was sitting outside in the gentle spring sunshine.  I saw a well mother, with a well baby at her breast. 

In telling this story I have not mentioned the buzz word of the day: collaboration.  Those in authority today will insist that collaboration is the key to safe maternity care.

Yes, there was a collaborative arrangement in place, a letter of referral from a suitably qualified doctor, enabling this mother to claim some Medicare rebate on my fees.  The birth plan was, as is usually the case in primary maternity care for planned homebirth, to proceed under normal physiological conditions, working in harmony with the natural processes, unless complications were to arise. We planned to go to the nearest suitable public maternity hospital without delay for urgent obstetric concerns, or to refer to a local doctor for non-urgent medical indications.  This is basic midwifery.  The baby is born safely; the mother recovers quickly; all without medical (or midwifery) intervention.

Thankyou for your comments.

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