Beautiful Beginnings Birth and Women’s Center currently staffs one professional midwife and her three students. A question that often comes up is, “What is it like to be a midwife?” We are asked this by clients, their families, and some who are looking to decide if this career path would be right for them. We have decided to get real with you about what our lives truly look like. Our midwife path leads us out of the hospital, attending births in a birth center and in the homes of our clients. (There are two types of midwives: nurse-midwives who operate under the supervision of a physician, often in the hospital, and professional midwives, ones who do not have hospital privileges. We are the latter.) There are many reasons that one would choose to become a midwife, but a general theme seems to come up. Someone who becomes a midwife believes in birth, trusts birth, and wants to support her clients to experience birth. Most think that living as a midwife is a glamourous lifestyle, after all, we are always surrounded by cute babies and the miracle of life. While this is true, this life is not without its’ hardships. We live a life full of sacrifice and suffering, but also, satisfaction.
Sacrifice seems to be at the core of our very existence. Our clients’ needs often come before our own needs, our families, and our friends. Midwives choose to have open communication with clients, always accessible by phone and never using an answering service. This means that we may be in the middle of a shower, getting our hair done, or a relaxing massage when the phone rings, but no matter what we are doing, we stop to answer that call. That call could be something as innocent as an insurance question, or it could be a first-time mother whose baby is not waking to eat and is losing weight. Whatever we were in the process of doing, it all must stop as we counsel a client through her needs. Our husbands are accustomed to our leaving in the middle of the night for a client in labor and having no idea when we will return. We miss out on special times with them too. Imagine being in the middle of your anniversary dinner, stopping to answer a call, and having to run out the door because the client is sure they will deliver that instant. When you arrive at the clients’ home, you find that she is only having gas pains and not true contractions. You come home to find your husband asleep. You wouldn’t change it for the world though, because that mom that you went to attend can now relax knowing that she and her baby are safe and can rest through the night. All of the staff at Beautiful Beginnings have our own children and we are willing to miss our own child’s birthday to attend yours. Our friends are used to us accepting an invitation to an event with the caveat of “unless someone goes into labor.” Friends have learned to ask if we are “off-call” before they ask us to partake in a bottle of wine. We have to weigh purchasing tickets to the zoo or amusement park carefully, knowing that we may be there thirty minutes before we have to leave and attend to a client. We can never truly commit to anything in life, knowing that we must be ready to jump in the car and vanish from our own lives for an undetermined amount of time. We do not make promises to our friends and family, only to our clients, that we will be there to support them whenever they need us.
Not only do we invite our clients into our free time, but we also carry them in our minds and hearts at all times. Your worries become our worries and we truly think of you all the time. When we have a client suffering, we are suffering with her. It is always our desire to provide a client with the birth that she desires, a birth surrounded by those that love her and care for her, peacefully and quietly, as she births her baby into loving hands. However, reality tells us that not all births go as planned. Some days we have to transfer a client to the hospital for her and her baby’s safety. As we dial the phone to complete the transfer, our hearts are breaking for her disappointment in her birth. Yes, it is needed. Yes, it is often life-saving. But we do share in the suffering. Even a birth that seems to be progressing smoothly does not ever let us rest easy. In the seconds between the birth of your baby and your baby’s first breath, you will find that your midwife is also holding her breath, willing the baby to initiate that first cry and fill their precious body with sweet oxygen. It is gut-wrenching when we must make the call to provide assistance to a baby who is a little delayed in that transition. We are trained and skilled, but that does not mean that we are not human and that we are not feeling every second of that clock just like you are. We calmly go through the motions, we restore peace, calm, and life to the room, and then, later, in our private time, we have a little cry over the tenseness of the moment. And not often, but occasionally, we suffer alongside the strongest of women as they process the fact that the life that are carrying no longer has a beating heart and we cry with them. The most we can do is love them and offer our strength through this time. It is said that a midwife must have the hands of a lady, the eyes of a hawk, and the heart of a lion. These traits are tested and refined at every birth.
So far, you must be thinking, ‘Why would anyone ever do this?’ This leads us to the satisfaction that comes when everything goes as planned, the births that end in a new mother glowing with pride over her baby, but also over what she has endured and overcome. We have seen a first-time mother who labored over a period of days lose faith in herself, but her partner had the will and the strength to hold her hand and get her through. That day we didn’t just attend the birth of a baby, but also the birth of a strongly bonded family. We have been able to witness the birth of a rainbow baby, a baby conceived after miscarriage, a baby that has been desperately hoped for. The love that fills the room when a mother delivers her second child and the older sibling gets to hold their sibling for the first time. The fire in the eyes of a VBAC mother after her first vaginal birth as she triumphantly exclaims, “My body really could do it!” The mother who comes into our care very late, after being told by a physician that her baby will be too big to deliver vaginally, and yet, here she is, cradling her child in her own bed, none the worse for wear. The foreign woman who travels across continents to have the birth that she desires, and no matter the fact that verbal communication is next to impossible, the international language of love and care transcends all. These are the moments that we live for, the moments that we thrive, the moments that make all the sacrifice and suffering worth it in the end. These are the women that we serve, women just like you, looking for a different experience, a birth the way it was intended to be.
The life of a midwife is not without struggles, but it is our life, and we couldn’t imagine it any other way. We want to thank each and every one of our clients who have trusted us and honored us by allowing us into their birthing space.