2 homebirths this week, each equally beautiful and magical and both offering me a similar insight. Less, less, less, I say to myself at every birth. How can I “do” less?
My mantra of “do nothing, say nothing, be nothing” is put to the test as I observe each and everything that occurs at a birth as either a potential benefit to the laboring mom or a potential detriment. I see so clearly now how the cascade effect of fear and disconnect can happen at a birth, and how I can so quickly become a part of that. In watching this mama labor yesterday, and being extra cautious about everything I did or said, I realized how bad at it I can be! It is so easy to talk and explain and feed your own ego about what you are “doing” for this mama. It is so much harder to hang back, go do the wash or cook, to just smile or utter a few quiet words, to not suggest or add or explain.
As birth workers, it seems we are trained to “do” and that we must untrain this doing-ness. “Being” is harder to train in someone, harder and more elusive to get a certification in. “Being” at birth means that we put ourselves aside, we refrain from anything at all that is really being done for our own satisfaction or for the satisfaction of anyone but the mama. Without all the “doing” we can feel lost at first. We realize that so much of what we think is “help” to the laboring mama is really just ourselves wanting to feel useful, or smart or worthy. I find, even in myself, that the examples are endless. The couple words too many, the eye contact, the in and out of the room. With a normal, healthy labor at home, the less the better. Every word I say or anything I do has the potential to draw the mama out of her element. To distract her, to engage her brain and possibly to engage fear, even if that was never my intention. On the positive side, my energetic contribution can be more powerful and supportive than words. The fearlessness and confidence I have in birth, and in her, can be in the room with us and not be about me. But about supporting and witnessing her as she undergoes this transformation.
Because, especially as birth workers, we must all acknowledge that we can’t really do anything for her, after all. We can pretend like we can, that what we are offering her is something better than what she can give herself, even when we have the best intentions. But Birth is a one-woman journey. I believe that we can be there to support her, and forge a relationship with her that is based on trust and friendship. But, when it comes down to it, at the end of the day (or labor, as the case is), there is NO ONE but her that can do it. And the more I focus on being with her, the easier it is for her to find her way. It almost seems counterintuitive; the more helpful words, the more back rubs and offering of herbs or other things to “help” her- the louder the message and feeling is to her that she needs help.
I notice that I benefit from just “being” as well. I spent these last two labors at a distance (in the same house) from these mamas and began to fine tune the art of my listening skills at births. Yes, watching is an art too, but listening, especially with a wall between you and tell and teach a lot. So, in engaging my “being” and not my “doing” I am also honing my other senses, and my sixth sense as well. There is a connection, an intuitive strengthening that I feel and can honor when I am in this space. And I think it no coincidence that these 2 births in particular have been the epitome of the way birth flows–I know, in my deep knowing, that while I am not responsible for her ultimate experience, that I have been chosen to be there. Just by being with her, I have the ability to either let the process flow with her or hold it back.
I think back to my student days and I realize I have always held these deep beliefs about birth. I was always happy hanging back, not wanting to get in the way so much that I am positively sure that my preceptors thought I’d never want to take the reigns. And in a way, I don’t and never have. That’s not the kind I am. Funny, one preceptor in particular admonished me more than once, with disdain in her voice, telling me that I’d be the kind of midwife that knit in the corner. Well, I don’t knit, but I think she got it! I thank her for her astuteness, but no longer make any apologies. To each her own! And for every woman, another woman that supports her birth vision.
As for me, I will continue to watch, listen and learn. Every minute, every labor, every mama. To put myself to the test each and every time that I am adding to her experience–not for my own self worth, but to reflect to her the power she already holds in birth.