Midwife to mother

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Katie's story.....

There’s a fairly collective misconception that midwives who are pregnant have it easy because we know exactly what’s going on. I mean, we have a degree in being pregnant after all.  I would like to state for the record that this isn’t true. Not one bit. Pregnancy is hard. Just because you know what’s going on doesn’t mean you’re immune to what every other woman goes though. In fact, there’s a little thing that the insiders call ‘the midwife curse’. You know all the stuff goes wrong because you’re supposed to nail the whole pregnancy and birth thing. I, myself, was lucky that I had a very healthy and straight forward pregnancy. It was still a slog towards the end, but I managed to avoid that darn curse.

Being a pregnant midwife is like being pulled in two directions. You believe in the body’s ability to make and birth a human and the power of women to do so, you see it every day. But, then again, you’ve seen and experienced a lot, not everything positive. Knowing as much as you do is a blessing and a curse. There are times when I honestly wish I knew less. Alas, we are the sum of our experiences and while not all are positive, those experiences have help to mould me into the practitioner I am today.  Being pregnant gave me the ability to see midwifery from another point of view. 

As you get bigger the women you see in clinic listen a little closer, because you’re living it too. They smile knowingly as you waddle into the clinic waiting room to call their name, clomping back down the hall together in wobbly comradery. When looking after a premature baby in the nursery, I would look down at the tiny little figure in the humidicrib and think ‘that’s how big my baby is’, and feel deep empathy for that mother, and grateful to my body for holding onto my bundle. I smiled at the women in birthing suite who asked if working as a midwife put me off having children of my own. ‘No’ I replied, ‘this is how the body works. This is how babies come’.

I decided quite early on in my pregnancy that I would hold my profession close to my chest. I was an expectant mother first, and midwifery came further down the list. I wanted to be cared for, to be educated and built up the way that every woman should be. I was excited to be on the other side of the partnership and looked forward to the journey. As excited as I was, there came a time that I was very grateful that I knew the amount that I did about pregnancy and birth. When it was time for a late pregnancy pathology test I knew that I wanted to decline. I knew the research surrounding the test well, and the implications of testing vs. no testing. During my next obstetrician appointment, the doctor told me that I was due for this test and to complete it today, handing me a pathology request form. I politely declined. I did not expect what was said next:

“Sepsis is a real”
“I’ve seen babies die from this”
“Just do what’s best for the baby and do the test”
“Who told you not to do this test?”

I sat there, taken aback, jaw clenched, heart pounding, gobsmacked and (uncharacteristically) silent. I swallowed my shock and stuck to my guns. The doctor scribbled something in my notes and continued the appointment, obviously disgruntled. I was not overly surprised when my blood pressure hit the roof and I was sent for further monitoring. Still in a daze, I sat silently stewing in the monitoring centre. I reflected how lucky I was to have the knowledge to stand up for myself and my decision. How quickly I may have gone along with any suggestion made to me if I lacked confidence. How stern and intimidating the onslaught of words, and how quickly I felt my own power drain away from me.

I want to make it very clear that not all practitioners are like this, in fact, they’re very few and far between. However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t ever come across someone like this, after all, I did. I was thankful for the knowledge I possessed. I also knew all too well that not all women seek out information regarding their pregnancy and birth.

The last few weeks of my pregnancy were uneventful. A bit puffy, uncomfortable and oh, the noises I made getting up from the couch. 

One day past my due date my body kicked itself into labour with gusto. I had prepared myself and husband for the classic first-time mum, longer haul labour. One that stops and starts and seems to go on forever. I wasn’t prepared for my body to have 3 minutely contractions from the get go, like a switch had been flicked and all of a sudden it was happening! I have absolutely no shame in telling you that although I should have ‘nailed the birth thing’ (because midwife), I lost my marbles. Everyone has a crisis, mine just came early, and then again multiple times after that. My posterior, asynclitic baby, who I had tried so hard to turn in the days leading up to labour, stubbornly held her ground. The incoordinate, back wrenching contractions were challenging to navigate and meconium liquor was an unwelcome surprise. Before I knew it, I found myself having to again weigh up the pros and cons regarding how things were going. My experience as a midwife meant I was pretty much as informed as it gets regarding the whole baby having thing, and yet it was still hard to me evaluate what I thought was best for me and my unborn bundle. I was exhausted, in pain, and hardly holding my thoughts together. But we did it. Decisions made. 

Eventually, my baby daughter, who’s sex had been a secret, presented herself to the world all flailing arms and covered with goo. The best Christmas present ever. 

One of the quick realities of being a parent is that you must make decisions for this small squishy person, and those decisions have consequences. It starts from when they’re bubbling away inside you, and carries on for pretty much forever. The beauty of informed consent is that you make a well researched and confident choice, and then wear the results of those decisions. The consequences belong to you. If my baby did get sick as a result of me declining that test, that outcome would have been all on me. Not a fault of the doctor, the hospital, or the universe. The responsibility of my verdict weighed on my shoulders alone. That is the crippling responsibility of being a parent. Welcome to the jungle. 

I can only reveal my own experiences from both sides, the midwife and the mother. When it came my time dig deep and make a choice, and then defend that decision, it was challenging. If I didn’t have that knowledge to draw on, it would have added uncertainty and stress to an already charged emotional experience. 

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make that horse take antenatal classes. Most hospitals and communities offer stellar education programs. It’s been proven that a solid program with knowledgeable evidence driven teachers has the ability to empower and inspire. It brings partners into the women’s birthing space, physically and emotionally. However, not all see that as essential to their pregnancy journey. As a practitioner, it is very obvious who has had education and who has not. From my experience, everyone views education differently. Some find power in knowledge and education, and others feel that the less they know the better. Even so, there are women and families who go without antenatal education not out of choice. They’re limited due to availability or they’re own ability to attend, perhaps due to isolation or financial stress. The right of antenatal education should be available to all. That’s why New To The Tribe are happy to provide free education to one family for every two women who sign up. Pay it forward and empower those around you.