Twenty years ago I gave birth to my son with the assistance of a birth midwife. I only personally knew one woman who had done this for the experience and “to save some money.” Of course my OBGyn was dumbfounded and flabbergasted, questioning my sanity and “Why in the world would you want to do that? I’m perfectly capable of letting you go as far as you can until I see a problem.” Well, I had a “problem “with that, and as I was retreating with my head low his trailing words meant to intimidate or undermine my decision, “Remember this is a V-back and can be very dangerous to you and the baby.”
My doctor was pretty close to a god and well most are to us. There are people who consider me a bit unconventional and my “not the norm” choices don’t come without a price to pay. Yet I found myself questioning my instincts. Was this really a wise thing for me to even attempt? Can a woman still give birth without medical assistance? Those ridiculous thoughts slapped me back into reality and fueled my desire. My husband and I met with the midwife to make a plan and at my next doctor visit I excitedly announced, that my midwife would be wanting to discuss the details with him. Because my midwife wasn’t on “his team” he wouldn’t feel comfortable bringing her on “his team”. There was no negotiating. My doctor was not the only outspoken voice during this time. I had very little support from family or friends. I clung to the wisdom and assurances from my midwife that “I can do this”. Over the months, I prepared myself for a natural birth, my way. Oh sure I immersed myself in abundant literature, but to take a birthing class I knew for sure, would not help me at all. The only “pact” was made between my midwife, husband and myself. “If I beg for pain relief, don’t give it to me.” Call me crazy.
Fast forward to labor day. What is important to know is that my midwife had hospital privlages and staff knew her, I didn’t say they liked or appreciated her nor respected her wisdom. She on the other hand always maintained professional courtesy with a continuous need to reaffirm her place on “my team”. We had visited the hospital several times prior, to familiarize ourselves with the place because I’m not completely irresponsible or out of my mind….a V back, (vaginal birth after c-section) can have complications.
Arriving at the hospital, we were taken to our birthing room. I of course am in fast hard extremely painful labor and this is where the “Where is my midwife! What’s taking her so long to get here?” comes in. My midwife was speeding her way to me, however this gave the labor and delivery staff full access to do as they saw fit all knowing the prearranged protocol and who’s care I was under. Poking, prodding patronizing my request to “not touch me”. The final straw was when a nurse decided to forcefully check to see how dialated I was. “Just need to check things out dear.” This of course began my full blown hard core labor, me screaming and wailing “leave me alone, I want my midwife!” And my husband quietly saying, “I think she wants her midwife.” Well you can get the picture of the riduculousness of the scene. Sound like a good birth to you?
Like wonder woman my midwife appeared, ran the entire room out with a SCAT, more like a bark and that is when the good birth was able to take place. The staff poked in as required but only to provide any asked for assistance. I was left to bring forth life my way with support next to me. Worst physical pain of my life I thought, but I don’t remember the pain. I only remember the beauty of it all, my strength and allowing things to unfold naturally. Even to do battle with the staff through the 24 hours I was there for observation was exhausting and intrusive. It felt as if I were talking to a wall. “Please turn the room light off. No you can’t take my baby to bath him. No, we opted out of that stuff you put in the eyes. No, I’m nursing him. No one is doing anything to him without my permission.” I felt intimidated, and well frightened. Unable to rest for a second. Not a good environment for a new mom to be in. this one anyway.
The reasons I share part of this experience are many. Because I am a death midwife I see many paralells to the process of birth and the process of dying. Granted giving birth through a midwife/ doula isn’t for every woman, I get that. Using the services of a death midwife isn’t either and seems just as crazy to seek out as a midwife was 20 years ago. Similar to when death was occuring 100 years ago. Who do you think took care the situation when a doctor would come around and might have pronounced “there is nothing more we can do, best get your affairs in order and call the family.” Yes I know times have changed but why such a struggle to take back the right to die or give birth naturally with the use of a midwife or very little intervention. Some of us wiggled and fought to get here, some will do it on the way out, with or without support. There is a big difference in checking your vitals and holding your hand. Helping you write that letter, tying up loose ends or go over your chart.
I don’t want to scream for my death midwife. The battle that rages on between hospital staff and doctors over the importance of options given to patients to make informed decisions and provide options that may be considered “outside the norm” are worth taking a look at. What is the big deal anyway, why the turf war? Degreed professionals argue that we aren’t degreed and “go highly unreglated”. I say, “how can you degree something that is non medical and primarily a supportive, spiritual role? Doctors and nurses for the most part are there to make sure you don’t die and that you get well, or if you are dying to hopefully bring you the best palliative care and freedom to make end of life decisions. Doula’s are there to support you in the process of dying in the way that you see fit among other very helpful things that nursing staff simply don’t have time for. And that is O.K. Each doing there part for the patient. A team right?
These days giving birth has come a long way. The fancy hotel like rooms and such. Death, not so much. Lots of bells and whistles and new ways to keep us alive but, what about what a hospital looks like during death? What I’m trying to say is there are differences in medical care and what a doula can provide. There is a big difference in checking your vitals and holding your hand. Helping you write “that letter”, tying up some loose ends verses going over your chart. Some medical persons even suggest that this is what a persons family should be doing. I say that isn’t always true for many reasons. An unwillingness for loved ones to face the patient and even an uneasyness surrounding the entire situation.
Medical staff is just that, medical. There is no shame in admitting this. Yes there are some that would give anything to spend more time, heart time with their patients. They are the first ones to tell you how impossible this can be. The stress and exhaustion alone is an unacceptable burden. So I say, open your arms to the Doula’s. All we want is to be supportive to you and mostly to the patient. We are not here to take over our take your job. We are not here to “get in the way”. It’s not about you, it is about the patient and delivering an age old wisdom and care that was around long before the medical profession. This extra benefit just makes sense to give a more perfect balance especially during end of life scenarios. After all, to die is hugely significant. To give a dying person all the support should be a mandatory part of our healthcare system. This should naturally include death midwives or Doula’s.
By the way, I did scream for pain relief. Just as my beloved midwife raised her trusty syringe, my husband looked me in the eyes and sweetly said, “honey, remember you said not to give you any pain medication?” It was the one time he opened his mouth during the process that I welcomed. At that moment he had become my Doula, reminding me of my own commitment to myself. Part of my chosen team. Was my midwife’s ego challenged? No, she was more invested in honoring her role which comes with boundaries and able to embrace being “just a part of it all.” Within seconds our beautiful boy slithered into this world eyes wide open in a quiet room surrounded by those I chose to be part of this small yet profound moment in time. To witness my strength and acknowledge a right of passage with very little medical assistance.