Being a midwife starts with the ego. Our “ego selves” see the status, admiration and responsibility of the job as an attraction. What the ego cannot see is that the aspiring midwife has placed her foot on a road by taking up the work. This road will take her on a journey, which she will only finish when they chisel the word “midwife” on her gravestone.
The midwife will know days when the road is clear and smooth and her heart is bursting with joy. Along the road, she will also be ambushed and attacked. This is the nature of life and it is not personal, but it will seem to be personal. Childbirth is so pivotal to society and there have been so many years of misinformation that the attack that befalls midwives is swift and harsh—it is not for the faint of heart. Many good women have left the midwifery road because the attacks were just too violent for their spirits in this lifetime.
The midwife who sticks to the road learns to temper her pride in her work, knowing that, to the degree that she is pumped up by success she will be devastated by failure. Failure and success become less important to her as she walks the road and her focus on the birthing family becomes more important. She begins to disappear as an individual and a personality and, in that disappearing, her true Self emerges.
She learns from the mothers. The most important things are the simplest: be on time, keep your word, keep confidences, be organized and, above all, be patient. These things take a lifetime of mistakes to master. She constantly looks critically at herself to unearth her failings in these areas. The midwife makes many mistakes. There can be no learning or growth without mistakes. She doesn’t make the same mistakes over and over. She listens to the experiences of others to avoid those mistakes she can avoid and is grateful for the teaching. She is able to be honest with herself and her clients about what she learns.
She is averse to condemning other practitioners, knowing there is a karmic come-uppance that comes with self-righteousness.
She understands that her words are remembered for a lifetime and chooses them wisely. How she speaks results in the birthing woman being honored, respected and dignified. She knows her role is to be transparent in the process of birth. She has a quiet, dignified way of being. Her context for each birth is, “This is the only one.” Her actions and attitude at the birth will affect the family for the rest of their days. She is trusted because she has shown by her actions and speech that she is trustworthy. She has no need to prove anything and is able to discover some new lesson from every birth.
Numbers of births, degrees and licenses do not concern her. She knows that she chose her profession with all its inherent risks and she refuses to portray herself as a victim.
She takes responsibility for passing on the knowledge to the new ones; her legacy will be generations of women who emulate her. She teaches the old ways because birth is ancient and it works. She distances herself from the crowd. She takes the time and space to develop and formulate her own values and ideals.
She has known the warmth of the placenta, the tear-filled eyes of a happy new father, the devastation of miscarriage, the freedom of a fast car and the fear of imprisonment. She has been honored and insulted, blessed and cursed, loved and hated and has reached a place where she likes the woman who gazes back at her in the mirror. She is excited about her future and at peace with her past. All this she brings to the birthing chamber as her contribution.
Written at Burnaby Correctional Center for Women in 2002.
First published in Midwifery Today Magazine Issue 68, Winter 2003