Actually, this could be called my midwife/motherhood/breastfeeding/womenhood journey, since in my story, they are all connected. When I was expecting my first child, I was 19. I was so excited to be a mom and wanted to do everything perfectly. I read everything I could get my hands on, one article in particular was on episiotomies. Being 19, I was completely shocked! They actually do that to people?! The article said midwives and homebirths had a much lower episiotomy rate. I explained the whole thing to my husband, and suggested we think about a homebirth midwife.
We talked about it, but thought it would be more responsible to have my first baby at a hospital, and like everything else, money was a factor. Insurance covered a hospital birth, and not midwifery care. I continued to read (makes me feel old, but this was before the internet was part of our daily lives) and discovered Mothering magazine. I loved to read birth stories, especially natural ones. They were so much more emotional and you could really feel the transformation to motherhood.
The time came and my sweet girl was born. In a hospital, with an OB I had never met, and an (I believe unnecessary) 4th grade episiotomy. I could write a whole book on this event, but for the purpose of this blog, I will condense it to the parts that led me to midwifery.
Cloey was not breathing at all at birth, she was rushed to the NICU and then promptly taken by air-evac to another hospital. She has a rare genetic disorder with major health problems. They have nothing to do with her hospital birth and I am grateful for medical care that has saved her life time and time again. My passion for midwifery does not come from some bitter resentment of “the system”. Hospitals are good at what they do, and are certainly necessary in some circumstances, but it was with her birth I realized that they are completely lacking in the natural birth process and labor support.
Traditions that have transcended cultures since the beginning of time are lost completely in the American hospital birth. The whole thing was so sterile. I was dressed in paper and people were moving me and touching me that I didn’t even know. I was so focused on being a good patient, I disconnected from my own birth. When I spoke up and said what I felt was happening, I was told I was wrong. I lost trust in my own body. Then when Cloey was flown away, and my husband followed her, I was alone. I was wheeled into the maternity room by a nurse I didn’t know. The room had a baby bed, diapers and “welcome baby” written in dry erase. I, of course, had no baby in my arms and started to cry. The poor nurse scurried away to find someone to clean out the room, and I was left alone to cry in the wheelchair.
After I got settled (and medicated) I asked the nurse what I was supposed to do if I wanted to breastfeed? More impersonal red tape as they tried to figure out what to do, and eventually a nurse wheeled in a breast pump and said “here, put one on each side and turn it on” it wasn’t her job, she had patients to tend to and I couldn’t see a lactation consultant because they are billed to the baby, who wasn’t at the hospital. I figured out the stupid pump by myself, and decided right then and there I was going to breastfeed her if it was the only thing I COULD do for her. Needless to say, I checked out as soon as possible the next morning and went to see my baby.
I didn’t think too much about birth and midwifery for a while as I focused on her care, but my passion for breastfeeding grew. The only time she showed cognitive development was at the breast looking into my eyes, her little hand reaching for my face. It was hard. She was sick and I pumped for a long time. She had to learn to be at the breast after being fed through tubes in the NICU. But with the help of an angel Lactation Consultant, we did it. I nursed her for 3 years. I have no clinical evidence, but I believe the breast milk is what helped her survive and reach those developmental milestones. Breastfeeding her empowered me as a mom. I became confidant. I wanted other moms to know, that even if it seems impossible, you can do it! And it is worth it. So I started helping moms breastfeed and talked about it all the time, unofficially giving advice. I thought maybe someday when I had time, I could become an LC.
When Cloey was 6 months old, I very unexpectedly found myself 3 months pregnant. Because Cloey’s syndrome is genetic, I knew I was possibly facing the same situation again, but I was determined not to have it be that same nightmare again. I was going to at least have a better birth experience, so that baby and I both could have the best start to our journey.
I delivered my son at a birth center that was just across the street from the hospital Cloey was flown to just one short year before. The Midwife was patient and kind, she listened to me, was with me for every contraction. My son was born in the water, 2lbs heavier than Cloey and not a single tear, even with my scar tissue. My husband “caught” him, and it was exactly like all those beautiful stories I read about. I felt great and recovered quickly.
That year, at the end of my Christmas letter, I wrote that someday I would like to be involved in midwifery–again thinking it would be after my kids were grown. My third baby came four years later. This time, I wanted a homebirth. I got an amnio to be sure the baby did not have what Cloey had–or anything else–and could be safely born at home. I received all my prenatal care from the same midwife, she did a visit to my home to prepare for the birth, and we became friends.
At the very end of my pregnancy, I stopped gaining weight. This may sound great, but you’re not supposed to do that. My midwife was meticulous, since anything outside of normal cannot safely be done at home. She sent me to an OB to get an ultrasound to make sure everything was ok. She went with me to the appointment. Everything was not okay; my placenta was over-matured and basically, my baby was not receiving adequate nutrition and needed to be born 3 ½ weeks early.
This had to be done as an induction in the hospital. I was devastated; I had planned for a home birth. My midwife held me as I cried in the parking lot. I was induced the next day and had a beautiful natural (besides the Pitocin used for the induction) birth, with my midwife there for support every step of the way. It was then, that I saw that midwifery isn’t just about hippy granola extremists, it’s about women helping women, and having the best possible birth, whatever that looks like. I knew then that I would be a midwife someday.
Two years later, we tried for another baby. After two years with no success, I decided to become educated as an LC. I figured it was something I could do while my kids were still young. I love it. Helping moms get over those hurdles that seem so insurmountable at the time, and watch them become champions at breastfeeding never gets old. I can see in them the same empowerment I felt with Cloey. And of course, those happy healthy, milk drunk smiles are the best.
About a year or so later, my midwife needed help with childbirth classes. I thought it sounded fun and could use the money, so I started helping and then eventually took over teaching. I was nervous at first, after being a stay at home mom for so long, I was afraid I would come across as unprofessional. But it came naturally to me. I love giving families the information I wish I’d had before my first birth, and it was nice to get dressed up and “speak adult” for a while. Then the midwife became desperate for help on births; she kept losing her apprentices.
I didn’t feel I could do an apprenticeship with young kids at home–especially with one with special needs. But I told her that while I wasn’t trained, she could call me and if I could get away I would be an extra set of hands for her. I showed up at my first birth green as I could be, but I was hooked. Before I toot my own horn, let me just say I am not “good” at much. I am not athletic, or crafty, or creative; I can’t sing or dance, but being at a birth feels as natural as walking. And when that baby comes into the world, it’s like heaven and earth meet for just that moment.
Needless to say, “helping out” quickly turned into an apprenticeship. I still have so much to learn, and the balance is really hard. I am not just a stay at home mom anymore. I have to really engage with my kids when I am home to maintain that close relationship with them. I have to schedule vacations and “Mommy/child dates” to make sure that they get undivided attention from me. I miss things I would never have dreamed of missing before, and will probably miss more big events like ball games or birthdays. I also can’t come home from a birth and immediately catch up on sleep or decompress; it’s usually right back into laundry, bandaids, wiping butts and breaking up fights.
They don’t care that I just helped bring a life into this world, I am just mom. But even with all of this, I hope that by being both a mom and a midwife, they learn at least these two things. First, to grow up and follow their passion, whatever it may be. Not just a career path or someone else’s idea of what you “should” do. I don’t take time away from my family for the money, or just so I can drive a nicer car. I do it because I am following my passion, and I want them to know the difference. Secondly, I hope they learn the importance of compassion and serving others. We are all in this life together, and our talents and skills are best used in helping others when they need it. I try to lead by example and let them know that when I leave for a birth or prenatal appointments that I am helping women. I hope someday they realize that teaching them these important lessons, outweighs missing a few ball games.
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