Typically announcements are made when something practical or tangible has already happened, like “we bought a house” or “our baby has been born” or “i just got a new job” or “we’re engaged!” This doesn’t fall into the practical/tangible category.
And yet, it feels like something worth announcing. Or maybe it’s more like declaring a college major, or setting an intention.
In any case, here it is:
I intend to become a midwife.
If you want to read some long and soul-searching details about how thing have gotten to this point, please read on.
For those who want cliffs notes, here are they are: I’ve been a birth junkie for years, and finally God brought it to the forefront and asked me to own the desire in my heart that I’d been trying to deny. My family and I are trying to sort out the timing and details of what pursuing this will look like. It will involve, I hope, a combination of apprenticeship and self-paced distance education. I haven’t taken a single practical step yet, nor made a single commitment, but I’ve explored options and hope to start SOMETHING within the next year. 🙂
Now, the long version (for those with interest and time to read)….
I have spent the last 4.5 years dismissing the idea of becoming a midwife.
It’s not that midwifery was foreign or unappealing to me. On the contrary: as a long-time holistic and natural health aficionado who holds a holistic health counseling and nutrition certificate, plus 4 years of working for a naturopathic chiropractor, I had long known that a midwife assisted home birth would be my first choice when it was my time to have babies.
It was about 9 months after the long and transformative home birth of my firstborn in 2011 that my established skill as a photographer first led me into another woman’s birth space. I went in to try out something that had recently been added to my bucket list: birth photography. I shot a home birth with my own midwife. It was instantly a peaceful and joyful space for me to occupy. I remember the moment that in my entire body I knew that birth was imminent, though at the time I knew very little about stages of labor and emotional signposts. It was sacred and the air was electric.
I came home on a high. The yes was immediate, intuitive and decided: there MUST be more of this in my life. And so I began seeking it out. My midwife offered me many of my first opportunities, as I rode into home births on her coat tails. I begged my sister-in-law to let me photograph her nurse midwife attended hospital birth. I added birth photography to my list of services on my photography website, along with my tiny portfolio, and set up a very inexpensive birth photography package in my city where I knew only one other birth photographer. Families started to hire me.
Every time I came home on a high and completely energized. No matter how disruptive it had been to my sleep or how long the on-call periods stretched out, I didn’t even care. It was undoubtedly worth it. I attended (and still attend) home and hospital births, attended by CPMs, CNMs, and OBs, with and without doulas, some medicated, some not. At the time of this writing (10/25/16) I have attended 43 births other than my own. I gave birth two more times, at home, in 2013 and 2015.
Meanwhile, I began reading memoirs written by midwives and biographies about them. Many of them, and all the time, to the exclusion of all other genres of books. I started reading many articles and blogs about natural birth, midwifery, evidence based birth practices, holistic remedies and care for pregnancy, birth and postpartum, woman-centered and baby-friendly birth standards. I learned about and began offering mother blessingways to all my expecting friends. I began a Pinterest board on which to save and file away all the interesting things that I was learning, and shared the board with friends who were expecting. I couldn’t shut up about these subjects on social media, so first-time mamas in my extended social circle began privately sending me messages upon learning they were pregnant, asking me questions about how to take care of this or that, who I’d recommend as a doula or midwife, and much more. The area doulas added me to their study group and started referring to me as a “birth worker,” a term I hadn’t heard nor thought to apply to myself as a photographer. I became a self-professed birth junkie.
As a photographer, my mission was to show women their power, to hold up a mirror that would allow them to see them at their most vulnerable and transformative moment. I wanted to also show them the freshness of their new babies, which so quickly disappears, and the love and support that was demonstrated so powerfully between them and their partner. I wanted to be present to pray them through, and to be another face in the room that would smile confidently at her as if to say, “You’ve got this. I’m not the least bit worried about you!” On a wider scale, I became devoted to sharing their stories and images on my blog so that my generation could begin to reimagine birth. I hoped that in letting my followers see natural, empowered, supported birth that we could begin to crowd out the media images of screaming women — who went into labor suddenly with spontaneous rupture of membranes while out in public — writhing in agony on their backs in hospital rooms as they cursed their husbands for “doing this to them.” I wanted the stories women hear at their offices and churches about terrible labors that would have ended in disaster had it not been for the blessed intervention of modern medicine and cesarean section to be replaced with a new narrative, and a new set of beliefs and expectations about their body’s capabilities and their rights as women to be supported and respected through this rite of passage. As a photographer, the best thing I could offer was the SHOWING of these true things. So often I get messages from women approaching their first or subsequent births, and they tell me how they pour over the birth stories on my blog as part of preparing their minds and hearts for labor. This means so much to me.
Sitting at so many births in a necessarily observant role due to the cameras that I carry, I began to watch and take notes. I started to learn the progression of labor, to begin to know approximately how dilated a mother was by her behavior and vocalizations. I could sense the shift into active labor, the moment of transition, and when the moment of birth was imminent. I didn’t just watch the mothers, I watched the midwives and their apprentices and assistants. I watched what tools they carried and noted how they were used. I took note of all the supplies needed, the check-ins and measurements they took throughout, the consults they had between themselves, and when and what they scribbled in their charts. I noticed when they suggested a change in position or when they moved out of the birth space to give a mama some space. I watched their soft hands as they caught the babies, their eyes as they carefully took in and anticipated upcoming needs. And whenever I could, I sat with them in other rooms, asked them questions about what they were doing and what was going on with the laboring mother. I’d test the theories I was developing in my own mind against the actuality of what they told me was transpiring at a birth, and I began to find that I was often pretty close to spot on accuracy.
But as a birth photographer, I got to experience a small taste of the on call lifestyle and the costs of that to my family. I also got to see the toll on midwives’ and doula’s physical health, personal life, and emotions. I saw the liability inherent in being a midwife, the weight they carry in taking on work that is controversial and which takes place somewhere between legal and illegal. From where I sat, perched nearby with my camera, I was safe. I wasn’t in danger of screwing up anyone’s life, of having to feel responsible (whether justly or not) for the death or injury of a woman or her baby. I wasn’t in danger of the criticism or the lawsuits, nor was I in danger of disappointing a mother whose birth didn’t go as she hoped, or who believed that her midwife didn’t do what she ought to have done. Birth photography was a risk-free way to come close to birth.
And so, in spite of clear and abundant evidence that my heart was fully sucked into birth work, every time I was asked — by a midwife or doula also present at a birth, or by a friend watching me read my latest midwifery book, or by my own heart in quiet moments alone — whether I myself would ever consider becoming a midwife, my answer was always no! Or I would make a joke that in Life 2.0 I was going to be a midwife. How quickly I dismissed it, citing reasons like liability and the cost to one’s personal life, or perhaps the fact that I too deeply love taking photographs to consider putting down my camera in order to play a different role. Midwifery is a calling, I emphasized emphatically, and because I wasn’t having any thunderbolts from heaven, I presumed that that calling was not mine. Perhaps, I reasoned, my intense interest in all things birth was merely a function of the season of life I am in (my childbearing years), and the interest would fade after I was done having babies.
And then one day in September 2016 — fully 4.5 years after I attended my first birth — one of my close friends, who has become acquainted with the idea of home birth and midwifery largely because of my passionate influence over the years, signed up as an apprentice with a local doula and began exploring a training program with my beloved midwife. My immediate and unexpectedly intense reaction to her announcement was jealousy and sadness, and later that night when my kids were in bed, I cried heaving sobs for an hour straight. I was so disappointed in myself for responding with jealousy and territorial impulses when I had typically been so quick to use phrases like, “collaboration, not competition” or to agree readily with the idea that strong women empower one another. So, why was I a raging mess of all things the antithesis of those deeply held beliefs?! It took a couple days to move past the feelings themselves and then through the shame and guilt over having those feelings before I could finally see: I was jealous because what she was pursing was something my own heart wanted much more than I was willing to admit to even myself. Her pursuit of it opened my eyes to what had become a much bigger chunk of my identity than I had previously been in touch with.
So I gave myself permission for the first time to move past my initial dismissive response to the pull of midwifery and into dreaming and wondering and dismantling my reservations. In a craze of slightly OCD behavior, I began looking up midwifery education options, reading the stories of midwives’ call and path into midwifery, reaching out to midwife friends for their feedback and advice, and identifying some lies I had been believing about what midwifery would inevitably do to ruin my life and my family’s health. Several days later, I was expansively and glowingly gushing to my husband about all the possibilities and how excited I was becoming, about how I felt so free in admitting to myself that maybe I did in fact want to be a midwife. He stopped me and said, incredulously, “So what’s going on with you right now? Are you…becoming a midwife?” I laughed uncomfortably, feeling that surely I couldn’t declare in that moment — without a bit of training or trial — a yes to such a question. And yet, in those moments, a conversion was beginning in my heart. There may be YEARS between this moment and the fullness of being a practicing midwife, but in my heart, I think I am indeed becoming one.
How vulnerable and tender it feels to confess that. And yes, it feels like a confession. To say that opens up the door to so much potential failure, to the humility of a steep learning curve, and to the possibility of deep disappointment. Working up the nerve to begin a conversation about this with my own midwife — who has become a dear friend and with whom I’ve attended over a dozen births besides my own three — rendered me teary-eyed and heart-pounding with nerves. She knows me well and has seen me around birth often, so HER input would weigh especially heavily to me. I tentatively ventured to ask her simply, “Could we talk sometime about me and midwifery?” She replied with ecstatic, capitalized yeses and tears in her eyes. In a longer conversation, she told me that she has known since before my second child’s birth in 2013 that someday I would be her student and that she has been waiting a long time for the day when I would begin this very conversation with her. How like a midwife to wait so patiently and long for a birth to take place, with no interference or rushing, simply her presence and nurturing (and maybe some under-the-radar teaching). Upon being invited by her to begin apprenticing immediately, I insisted that I was ready to commit only to reading books and praying. She gave me three book titles, and in the months leading up to the birth of my 4th child and in the sweet postpartum period after, I will be studying and wondering and leaving the door open.
I’ll write again soon about the type of midwife I think I may want to be, and the pathway to getting there, as well as some of the experiences/qualifications God has built into my life up until now and which suddenly make more sense in light of how they come together to prepare me for this vocational change.
Thank you for listening, friends!