Midwifery is a profession practiced by daylight for clinic visits. Timed, scheduled, and pretty predictable, these visits last between thirty and sixty minutes and cover all of the details and measurements of how a mother is feeling, and how her baby is thriving. We spend a lot of time just talking and hearing about mothers’ lives and day-to-day struggles and joys.
Under ideal circumstances, these visits give us more energy for the work we do. They leave us feeling inspired and connected with each other and the mothers we serve. Even as the family ramps up preparations and excitement for their birth, we are also ramping up. We talk a lot about what we expect from a certain birth, challenges that may come, emotional hurdles we will be there to coach a mother through. We laugh at the funny things toddlers say and do and bask in the remnants of oxytocin expecting mothers leave behind them like a trail of glitter, everywhere they go. It does not feel like work-work, it’s a special kind of heart work that happens to require plenty of knowledge and experience.
At a recent birth we sat through the night with a lovely mother, who was intent on moving heaven and earth all on her own to have this baby on her terms. She had a lousy experience with her first birth and no desire to repeat that. She didn’t need much from us through the night, just the knowledge of our presence was a comfort to her as she labored. As the sun rose and we made plans with our own families to make sure our children could get to school or work and all of the minute details it takes to get the day started, this mom turned a corner in her labor. We stretched and made coffee and settled in for the exhilarating moments ahead. Mom did birth her baby, in her home, on her terms, surrounded by people who believed in her. A few days later we did it all again with another family. It may sound like each birth is some repetition of the one before, but the truth is that each mother is unique, and even after hundreds of births I can still say that every birth is different. Every family brings me new lessons and insights into birth, the meaning of family, and my understanding of the world. And I’m just one midwife. Every week midwives all over the city, the country, and indeed the world go to homes in the middle of the night, rearrange their family schedules to accommodate their absences, sit with women through the long hours as they labor, encourage them through the hard parts, cheer with them in the joyous moments, and watch over the birth of wonderful babies who bless us with their presence.
When the moms and babies are tucked in with their families and resting and I drive away from these births I rarely view the time I just spent as work. I feel these families on my heart; like little post-it notes, they stick there and are warm and welcome additions to my person. They expand my capacity for seeing love in the world and feeling that there is goodness to be had. The work of midwifery is sometimes just work-work, but most often it is heart work. And I carry it with me on my sticky heart, full of the stories, joys, and triumphs of the families I have been lucky enough to serve during this vital time.