Let me tell you about Rose.
I met her at antentatal clinic a few weeks ago. She struck me as a bright and bubbly 16-year-old who could have as easily been browsing a Hello Kitty catalogue as having a baby, and yet she seemed to be taking it all in her stride. Her tummy was perfectly round; one of those 'basketball' pregnancies - not an ounce of extra weight and a tight, compact belly poking out the front.
When I got a text to come up to a birth it was just after 1am and I was in that delicious almost-asleep phase after tossing and turning for a couple of hours in the heat. I was glad to glimpse Rose's face beyond the labour room door - I got a quick smile of recognition before her next contraction hit. For the next half hour I monitored her contractions - they were short, snappy little suckers coming frequently. Rose was pacing, pacing, pacing. Lunging. Rocking. Squatting up and down. Her back hurt - but she was taking care of it - massaging up and down her lower back herself while she walked round the room.
Midwife means 'with woman', and I did my best. Rose was hard to keep up with and I offered several times to give her arms a break by rubbing her back for her. "Its OK" she would pant out, pumping her arms up and down her sacrum. After an hour, my arms were aching just watching her. "Rose", I said, "please let me help you, even for just one contraction..."
"It's OK. It's Ok. It's OK"
I didn't feel OK. I felt conflicted - watching this young woman labour on her own - her partner hadn't responded to her midnight texts. I wanted to help, to be there for her physically as well as emotionally. My mind flicked home, rolodexing through the other teen mums whose labours I had attended. They had a distinct commonality - big hospital, big drama, big-gun pain relief. Fed with a diet of television birthing those young women had seen birth through television eyes and - unsurprisingly - their own experiences were mirroring those pictures.
But not Rose.
Her birthing was guided not by layers of visual, but an internal compass that told her to move, move, move. Keep busy. Rub. Walk. Get on with it.
She named her little girl Princess. A teeny dot of a baby that I passed up into Rose's tired arms. I checked Rose afterwards, and was disappointed to find she had had a tiny tear as Princess had been born. I felt like I had let Rose down; like guarding her perineum was my only real job to do and I hadn't done her justice. It didn't matter that the midwife told me I had done everything right and the tear was almost inevitable, I had so wanted that final part of the birth to go perfectly too.
Later in the day, Rose's friends came to visit her. She had sent out a group text to announce little Princess's arrival - some things are the same the world over, right? I glanced up from the book I was reading on the porch to see Princess's daddy cradling her like an armfull of eggshells, surrounded by their friends. While earlier he had been scared to hold her, now his confidence was growing as he proudly showed off his little Princess.
I guess he was getting on with it too...