Friday, March 22, 2013


Following on from the previous post about submission to the spontaneous natural processes of birth, it may appear that I am fence-sitting to now write about strength.

Yet in normal childbirth, strength is the other side of the submission/surrender coin.  There is probably no more emotionally challenging, physically demanding event that ordinary women face in life than the act of giving birth and nurturing a baby.

Readers who are mothers may recall the evenings, just prior to the births of your babies, when you have doubted your strength for the task ahead.  When you have gone to bed hoping the baby doesn't need to be born tonight: "I just don't have the strength!"

(Your midwife might also experience that!)  

Or, in labour, when you experience that overwhelming feeling of weariness.  "How will I have the energy to keep going?"

(Your midwife might recognise that as progress, moving into an altered state of consciousness, when your thinking mind is suppressed, and the more instinctive, hormonally driven activities of your body can be freed up.)

Readers who know the ancient Biblical stories may remember Gideon, who was told by an angel that he had been chosen by God for the (rather daunting) task, to "deliver Israel from the hand of Midian" (Judges 6:14).  Gideon argued that he was not suited for the task, that he came from the weakest clan in Israel, that his family were inconsequential, that he was the least significant person in his family ... .  In response to Gideon's obfuscation, God's angel said "Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel."  The power to achieve was there, even though Gideon continued to duck and dodge and try to avoid the job.

The strength to give birth is a deep inner strength that resides in a woman.  Not in her logical, calculating mind.  Not in her organised, planned day.  But it's within her body, wonderfully made.  And that strength can only be realised when we (the woman and the midwife) submit to the natural physiological processes, and refrain from interrupting these processes without a valid reason.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Submitting to the spontaneous

learning to breastfeed at an early age
This word, spontaneous, is repeated over and over again in my writing.  (you can check - do a word search using the search function on the right side of the screen)

Today I am thinking especially of the lovely young mother in my care, who is waiting for spontaneous onset of labour (and all that follows).

I am also thinking about the young midwife whom I am mentoring, and who hopes to attend the birth with me.  The work commitments that she has, together with other unpredictable factors, mean that each birth, each mother-baby consultation, needs to be negotiated in real time.

We are experiencing hot, dry weather, with hot nights in Melbourne at the moment. Energy is depleted as everyone goes about their tasks a little slower than usual.  Perhaps this baby is waiting for a cool change?

The challenge of waiting for spontaneous onset of labour, and working in harmony with natural physiological processes demands submission from the midwife as well as the woman.  Waiting and watching.  It's a discipline, in which the midwife supports and watches, and in which the woman makes preparation, nesting and waiting.

Submission to the natural order, as well as to social expectations, happens moment by moment in life.  Couples submit to each other, knowing that together they can achieve more than the sum of two lives.  We submit to the road rules, not because we enjoy driving slowly, but because that's the way we can reduce the risk of collision and harm in built up areas.  Parents submit to the needs of their young children, reorganising meal times, sleep times, ensuring healthy eating, and lots more to achieve harmony. 

Submission will, at times, include an element of frustration.  We all like to plan our days,  We all value knowing what we need to do, and when we need to do it.

A midwife is unusual in that she has an imperative to accept unpredictability, and submit her own will to the greater forces that are at work in childbirth.  A person cannot be an authentic midwife if, for whatever reason, they want to work 9-5, Monday - Friday.   In recent decades the progressive medicalisation of birth has led to increasing rates of induction of labour, business hours maternity services, elective caesarean births, and the like.  Medical management of the birthing process is the opposite of spontaneous birthing.  Managed birthing sets up processes that use the staff and facilities of a hospital in the most productive way.  Managed birthing tells midwives they don't need to submit to these unpredictable, wasteful, hormonally driven processes.

Yet it is the hormonal environment of spontaneous birth that sets a woman up for the next demanding steps in her journey: nurture, bonding, mothering.  Without respect for these finely tuned processes, mothers can feel as though they are being processed in a factory.  Without submission to and engagement with the natural processes. midwives become technicians who manage machines and who maintain the records for their employers.

Thankyou for your comments.

Monday, March 04, 2013

the second child

sister love

The work of preparation and thought and learning that went into bringing my first child into this world, caring for and nurturing her through each day and night, with varying degrees of success, contrasts strongly with the ease of doing the same things for my second child.

The epiphany I had experienced in the sudden realisation of a new and deep loving for my first child contrasts strongly with the ease of spontaneous expansion of my capacity to love my second child, and each subsequent child, individually and without reserve.

I have observed the 'second child' phenomenon many times, and talked with mothers about it.  As the months of the second pregnancy proceed there is often a niggling feeling of fear, that this wonderful mother-love that has been learned in the presence of the first, may in some way be threatened or diluted by the entry of the second into the home.  Whether this fear is articulated, or merely pondered, it's often there.

And the answer arrives with the transition of baby#2 from womb to arms.  How could I ever have doubted?

I am a second child.  I experienced first hand the realities of being second.  Parents who had done the hard yards, learning how to nourish, nurture, live with and teach a little person who is initially totally self-centred, how to think of others.  Parents for whom the routines of parenting are much easier the second time round.  And, the second child is never bored:  the older sibling is on hand, so capable, giving the younger a model to aspire towards.

My mother, Ella White, holding baby Rebecca, our second child

When my second child was born I spent a long time just looking at her.  She was wonderfully different from her sister.  Her darker complexion followed my features, while her sister was very fair.  My mother had come the long flight from Brisbane, Queensland, to Haslett, Michigan, and she nurtured me so that I was free to nurture my children.  She prepared simple meals that nourished my heart as well as my body.  She encouraged and supported her son-in-law.  Together we welcomed the second child into our home, and into our hearts, that had mysteriously enlarged to multiply the love that was available for our children.

I wonder if any of my readers have noticed the 'second child' phenomenon?

ps - Perhaps I handled my second child with greater confidence than the first?