Today is International Day of the Midwife, and after a truly trying week I started reflecting on what this day means for me and my colleagues.
Much of the work we do as midwives is completely invisible and this international celebration of midwives brings to light who we are and what we do. It makes me feel connected to the long and beautiful history of all people who have helped women and pregnant people bring forth new life, acted as confidants and advisers as the wise women of their communities.
“We’re going back to the OR. Now.” I hear my voice get slow. Calmer and calmer as my heart starts to race. I’m not allowed to show my distress, not until later when I can have a few solitary moments of nausea, retroactive fear and the grounding ritual of slipping my wedding band back on after tearing off my face mask and surgical cap. I stare down at my booties, splattered in blood, amniotic fluid, and God knows what else. I hate nights like these, I think to myself.
Unfortunately on this night, I don’t have the luxury of wallowing in my occasional regret of choosing a profession with the infrequent instances of terror that punctuate my shifts. I move on to the next crisis, quickly scrubbing some blood off my shoe and hurtle down the half-way lit hallway.
We midwives are often the first to see women through crisis worldwide. We were sorely needed in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. We are being called to the U.S.-Mexico border to help care for women and babies in one of the greatest refugee crises North America has seen. We’re on the shores of the Mediterranean ushering new life into the world amidst such turmoil and political upheaval and pain.
I burst into the room, parents terrified, nurses moving in every direction as I thrust my clammy hands into gloves. The slow dum-dum of a distressed baby’s heartbeat slowly returning to normal prompts me to let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. There are tears, long discussions about risks and benefits. Everyone stumbling over words. It’s 4 a.m.
By the time I return to my call room to lay down for a few minutes and collect my thoughts before starting to write down the last several hours of the care I have provided the sky has turned the grey, dusky, pre-dawn glow that midwives everywhere know so well.
Lots of posts today about International Day of the Midwife are optimistic, warm, glowey and proud. I am all of those things, but as I also stare down the growing crisis of maternal mortality in my own country and the almost complete lack of progress in reducing maternal mortality world-wide I am ashamed to admit that I feel helpless and rootless. The vast majority of maternal deaths are completely preventable but because women everywhere are valued so little, and midwives valued so little along with them we’re barely scratching the surface of what can and needs to be done.
I try to bring to light the more invisible work of midwives everywhere. We catch babies, yes, but at least for me, that’s probably the smallest part of what I do. We’re primary care providers, abortionists, and experts in family planning and birth control. We’re experts in sex and sexuality, helping women and people through all the transitions of life: menarche, parenthood, menopause, and increasingly, midwives are branching out into death work.
So, dear midwife siblings, know that while the romantic notion of what we do is mostly being celebrated today, your darkest times, your hardest times are seen and known.