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Sunday, 1 December 2013

Looking up

Being short means I can’t see over a lot of things. At a concert, I see armpits, not band members. Come Christmas time, Kelly puts a gift at his eye level and I have no chance of spotting it. And that’s not even on the top shelf... <sigh>

Being taller is well documented as being an advantage in life. Perhaps having people always looking up to you gives you a constant psychological boost? Of course, sometimes the opposite is true. I can recall several girls I knew growing up (literally) whose hormones kicked in sooner than the rest of us who towered over all the other girls and boys in class. In an effort to fit in better, they would hunch their shoulders in and hang their heads lower. Being tall made you stick out – I wonder if as adult women their height has become an asset.

If our physical position impacts on our view of the world, both what we see and what we feel, what does this mean for me as a midwife? The women in our care often end up lower than us. We stand over them to measure their tummies, to do an examination, and often, to assist at their births. Sit down. Lie down. And while I do my work, I stand over you. I’m the professional/you’re the patient. (I know more/you know less?) I’m not intentionally doing this; it’s just the way it is. It’s socially constructed: I’m a student midwife and we generally do what we see... so the system replicates, ad infinitum. 

Sometimes it’s good to reframe all this from the woman’s perspective. I can clearly recall a conversation with one lovely lady who was a few days in after an emergency caesarean. It wasn’t the actual surgery that had freaked her out, she said. It was all the people stooped over her, while she lay on the operating table. Her perspective reduced to a sea of hovering faces looking down on her; she felt tiny and powerless...

So finally, I get to the crux of this post: birthing stools. I’ve talked about them before, and I must be honest, when I first saw them in constant use in the birthing room, I was sceptical. Were they just a default – like birthing on our backs on a hospital bed back home? But believe me, I’m a convert. Right now some Filipino craftsman is carving me one out of native mahogany and I will give away possessions until my bag is under the weight limit so I can bring it home! 

Here’s the deal. Using the birthing stool, as the woman labours, and we sit at her feet. It flips my ‘normal’ on its head. She is high, we are low. In this male-dominant society, birthing may afford her the only opportunity to demonstrate power. So, on this stool, this temporary throne, she sits in the dominant position – and calls on her unique power to bring forth new life.

That is an important message to reinforce with these women - you may live in a squatter village, with meagre possessions and only have means to buy the simplest of things for your new baby. But woman, you are worthy. You are valuable. You have meaning and we care about you. Right now, we sit lower than you... 

Because we are here to serve you.

“Though my work may be menial, though my contribution may be small, I can perform it with dignity and offer it with unselfishness. My talents may not be great, but I can use them to bless the lives of others.... The goodness of the world in which we live is the accumulated goodness of many small and seemingly inconsequential acts.”
― Gordon B. Hinckley

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