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Saturday, 24 December 2011

The same, but different.

"Oh my gosh, you have to hear this!"

I couldn't help but phone my husband in the middle of it... just to share (and to gloat, but mostly to share). I was smack-bang in the middle of a swirling pool of sound - soaring African melodies all around me and those voices were lifting the roof with joy! I was blessed to be attending a midwifery-student-friend's daughters wedding - a full-regalia Zimbabwean wedding with all the colour, costume and music you could imagine. Sadly for me, Kelly hadn't been able to attend - the wedding fell on the same day as our children's Sunday School concert... so we had split up between the two events...

Now I am an African music lover from way back - as my CD collection will attest. So to be sitting amidst live, impromptu songs of praise and celebration gave me quite a thrill - and I really wanted Kelly to share in the experience. "Can you hear that!?!?!?" I was yelling down the phone. (Honestly, how could he NOT have heard!)

So the wedding was completely amazing. But guess what? Even though the colour, the sounds, the multi-language conversations and all that beautiful wedding joy was quite something, there was just one thing on my mind on the long drive home...

We're all SO different, but really, we are all the same.


And so it is with birth, too.

Rich or poor, black or white, young or old, surrounded by whanau, or on your own, birth is THE great leveller. It meets you at the door and says: You know what? You're mine now. Doesn't matter who you were yesterday, today you are a birthing woman, just like the thousands of other woman around the world who are doing this right now. Your pain is the same as their pain. Your anxiety is the same as theirs. The doubts about your ability to cope mirror those that are running through their minds. Dirt floor or sterilised hospital birthing suite - in the middle it's you and me, together. A birthing woman.

As a student midwife, and in the years leading up to this, I have attended many births, with women from many walks of life. It never ceases to amaze me that regardless of who is birthing, she needs the same basic things:
To feel safe
To feel loved
To be told that she is doing a great job
To be reassured that she CAN do it
And to know that until she has, you aren't going to leave her alone...

Ah, birth.
Full of colour, costume and soaring voices.
All so different; yet, all the same.
All amazing.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Holding on to the future.

We all have a birth experience. Our unique walk on this planet began with a unique birth experience - in which we were brought forth and started to be the person we are now. Track backwards through all of your life's rich experience - each shaping you into your current form - it all started from your birth. 

It is a priviledge to see the beginning of a new person. A midwife shares in a small portion of a whole life - the first 4 - 6 weeks or thereabouts. Usually, it's just enough time to see a glimpse of a baby's future self. One day, these newborn babies will become adults - what will they be like then?

I love to hear a mother talk about her unborn child and share what they know about them already - how baby moves, how they react to familiar voices, when they wake and when they sleep. The stories about the rascally ones who kick their dad in the back when he's trying to sleep in. The 3am flip-floppers when mum is trying to sleep. Then there's the ones that make this student midwife grin: after a longer-than-usual 'learning' palpation - kicking back at my hands ("hey man, this is MY space - back off!"). So even before they are born, they are already giving us a hint as to their future personality...

The other day I looked down at a freshly-born little person and thought: Today is the start of your future.  Fast forward, and one day it could be you in this room, catching babies. You could be the doctor that was here earlier, or the administrator that took the call when we were coming in. And one day, when I am most likely long gone from this earth, you could be pacing these very corridors, waiting for your grandchild to be born...

But today you're here; and its you being born. Full of potential, bundled up in a perfect little body, primed for learning.  I wonder if our paths will cross again, when you are grown?

When a midwife catches a new baby, she holds - ever so briefly - the future in her hands. She can look straight into those first-blinking eyes of a new person - who will go on to influence the world in ways we can't even imagine yet...

source: google images
I can't think of better hands for the future to start in...

Monday, 28 November 2011

A moment in time.

There's a part of birth that I love the most. Don't get me wrong, I love the whole package: seeing women become mothers, a couple become a family, welcoming into the world a new little person... aaaah. Gives me goosebumps...

Midwives are so uniquely placed in the world to witness miracles every day. Perhaps in the complexity of birth that society has created now, the miracle is lost in the web of medical knowledge. I've witnessed this already as a student midwife - we begin as (reasonably) empty vessels, keen to be filled up with knowledge so that we can graduate safe and competent health professionals. As the first year of training draws to an end, I have learnt so much about the unseen parts of labour - the complex hormones, the anatomy and physiology of the body, the beautiful design of it all. A triggers B triggers C triggers D... At times, I've felt bogged down by all this knowledge - I mean, I get that we need to know it - but where is the 'art' of midwifery - when will we be taught how to be a midwife... not just the head knowledge but the heart knowledge as well...

Sometimes its good to just step back and remember the small miracles of birth. To just accept the amazing process for what it is - which brings me to my favourite part of a birth...

Birthing can be loud. Birth sure can be messy. And birth can be incredibly intense for everyone in the room. But for me, time stands still when that little head emerges, and that slippery, squirmy little body follows - and then... that moment of quiet. Everyone stops and stares. We wait, expectantly, air hung with hope and promise... it might only take a few moments - a second in time, a millisecond even. Everyone draws in their own breath - do we do that on purpose? Are we subconsciously breathing in to call that brand-new person into action too?

Then it happens.

That amazing miracle.

My absolute FAVOURITE part of a birth.

Baby's first breath. Inhale.

And with that first gasp, then we can all breath again too.

Exhale. Does time stop? Of course not. But it feels like it. And the rush of grateful joy flows straight through me after every 'first breath' moment. The energy in the room changes - there will be laughter, happy tears, sometimes even cheering from a proud new Dad.

Inhale. Exhale. Surely the most unified human experience, breathing. Welcome to the world little miracle.

"I took a deep breath
and listened to the old bray of my heart:
 I am, I am, I am."
Sylvia Plath

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The chase starts here...

"You really want to do this... right?"

Those were the words that came out of my husband's mouth as we drove away from our home of 6 years and into the future. It was scary and exhilarating, but as I glanced into the back seat of the car to see our three young children's faces staring back at me, I had a moment of doubt. Was I really ready to do this? Was it ridiculously selfish to uproot our wee family and relocate to a new town to chase my dream of becoming a midwife?

Rewind 10 years.  It's 2001 and I'm expecting my first baby. I can remember sitting in antenatal class listening to the midwife giving a talk about natural pain relief options for labour. An overwhelming feeling hits me all of a sudden - not (surprisingly) about the expected pain of a looming labour, but a sudden clarity of purpose. I could totally do what she is doing right now. Not the teaching, but being a midwife. It was like a revelation to me. I'd drifted a bit over the years with sorting out a life direction - been to university, felt disillusioned about my career path, and then fallen into the family business for a few years. I'd married, and here I was ready to give birth to our first child. Motherhood seemed to be the next career move on the cards! But this sense of midwifery - a wee glimpse into the connection between midwife and woman - lit a fire in my heart. Finally I felt like I might have a purpose in life... a calling.

Fast forward a few years. I have a toddler at home and another on the way. I've decided that a three year degree in midwifery is too much to take on with a growing small family, so I've completed a Certificate in Childbirth Education, and begun teaching antenatal classes. It's a stepping stone towards a future in midwifery, and an amazing opportunity to meet and connect with women and families in the community, and to 'dip my toes' into the world of birth support. Over the next few years I meet many, many amazing women and their partners, and am blessed to be asked to attend such a variety of births. I meet wonderful midwives who show me the skill of being 'with woman' just by being their awesome selves. So I love teaching antenatal classes - but the voice that speaks to my soul won't be quiet - it's midwifery that I am really yearning for and so I look again at my options for study...

December 2009: I've applied and been accepted into the closest midwifery degree provider. I'm ecstatic about finally getting started! But come the end of January the doubt is setting in. How will we pay the bills without my part-time income? Will I cope with all the time out of the house. It's a 45min journey to school every day (and the same to get home). The programme leader tells me to have iron-clad babysitting ready to go, day and night... but we are far away from family support and while I have an awesome support network of friends around - how can I ask them to be ready to take our (now) three kids in without much notice if I need to go to a birth? We have a great employer - but surely their patience will run thin if my husband has to leave work  urgently (and repeatedly). Doubt takes over - I feel dejected and trapped. I'll never be able to do this! I don't want to wait any longer! I withdraw from the course before even sitting in on one lecture. 

Feb 2010: I'm having a heart-to-heart with my dad. I ask him: "Do you love what you do?" "Not particularly," he says, "... but I'm good at it." 
"So why don't you do something else then?" (Mum and Dad and pretty well set up with a sucessfull business - he could leave it running itself and study botanical painting or underwater photography or mountaineering or whatever... :-D)
"But Dad, you could, if you wanted to. You don't have to do what you do forever - you could just start up on anything really... follow your dreams and all that..."
Then followed a long discussion about dream-chasing... and the things that stop us from chasing them. Finances, social expectations, the safety of what we know versus the scariness of doing something new...

I'll cut the (very) long story short and go back to where this post started... 

"You really want to do this - right?"

My answer is emphatic, coming deep from my soul and chasing away all my doubts. "YES! I have never been so sure of anything."

So we've moved town to live (literally) next to my mum and dad... moved our kids to new schools... husband moved to a new job... put our much loved family home on the market... left behind very dear friends...taken on a (growing daily) student debt...  and here I am, chasing the midwifery dream.
source: google images

I'm 9 months in, but starting this blog as a way of recording my journey from the past to the future... if you love birth, babies, midwives, or just new beginnings, feel free to tag along...