Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Psychology of (some) Birth Workers

The more birth workers I have met over the years, the more I realize that many of the women drawn to working with birth are some serious bad asses. I mean that with awe and respect, of course. I am making a sweeping generalization, so if you are and have always been an upstanding member of society, from an amazing family, and with impeccable mainstream morals who happens to be a midwife or doula, obviously, I am not including you in this. It in no way means I wouldn't think you were just as an amazing birth worker as a woman with the profile I've noticed. There are rarely black and white absolutes in anything, and I mean to offend nobody. I'm just mentioning some interesting similarities I and my colleagues have seen and discussed.


If you are to witness a birth at home or a birthing centre with midwives who choose this out-of-hospital venue, you will notice a distinct difference from the vibe of the caregivers in a hospital. Doctors, while usually kind and compassionate, are primarily clinical. They come into the hospital room, murmur some reassurance, then walk out again until they are needed. They are not generally emotionally involved. When they speak, it is to give clinical updates. Sure, they joke and have fun too, but it's usually just in little spurts. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. We appreciate that physicians need to maintain focus where they do, and don't ask to rely on them for the majority of our emotional support. We're glad they are there for our health concerns and sticky birth situations.

The room in which a midwife is catching a baby usually has a very sexy vibe. A lot of midwives I know have a very warm, comfortable-in-their-skin, good sexual energy. I was at a birth recently in which a few midwives were present, and the room was just pulsating with a very earthy, feminine, unselfconscious energy. It was wonderful! I'm not referring just to young, hot midwives when I say "sexy", but to midwives of all ages, sizes, and religions. Sexual energy is a way in which people relate, not a way they look or talk or act. A hug is not normally a little over the shoulder, kiss the air kind of dealie with a midwife or doula...it's full body contact, warm, loving embrace. Held eye contact, comfortable posture, easy flow of words, and lots of touch are things you will see many of these women demonstrate. Midwives will hike up their skirts and get on their hands and knees on the floor, their bums in the air and cleavage bared, to catch a baby if that's what's required. A doula will do all kinds of gymnastics to support her client however she is comfortable. Doctors may certainly accommodate, but don't usually adopt these postures without you seeing some mental whirrings first and perhaps making sure everything is tucked in.

I know this may seem a little like i'm saying midwives and doulas are always all motherly, comfy, and sexy and doctors are all sort of rigid and cerebral. Obviously, there are some very clinically oriented midwives and super motherly doctors. I worked with a doctor who moved recently, who would just love sitting in the room for as much as the birth as she could manage given her time constraints, comfortably helping herself to the snacks the mom had set up, chatting about her own natural births and how powerful and beautiful she felt natural birth was. She would hug and slow dance with her labouring patients and rub their backs. She would cry when they achieved the births they wanted, and really knew about their emotional lives. I would feel comfortable coming up behind her while she was sitting there, rubbing her shoulders or giving her a hug here and there. She just had fantastic sexual energy, as well as being able to put on her doctor hat and get down to serious business when needed. I always sort of thought of her as a midwife with a medical degree. The lines can certainly be blurred....you have doctors like this, and "med"wives, who take a very hands off clinical approach. Either way, the ladies who seem super comfortable with and excited to sit with birthing energy tend to have some bad ass qualities.

What does "bad ass" mean? I don't mean it in the criminal, miscreant kind of way (though I know fabulous midwives from that background too), but more in a fierce, awesome, unique, talented, creative, freaky, hardcore kind of way. I mean people who have lived and transformed and don't give a crap about what people think. They have pasts. They may have been some of the "bad girls" in school, black sheep of the family, or "asked too many questions" as little kids because they were fascinated by everything. I mean they are usually rich in experience, having seen stuff and hung out in dark places, having wrestled a few demons for physical or emotional survival. They could not be boring if they tried.

Midwives and doulas often come to their professions with a lot of passion. Perhaps they have always been drawn to birth, or perhaps they birthed their own children and found their passion there. In any case, what I have found is that these women often have a lot of life experience under their belt, and funny enough, a lot of it is HARD life experience. They have had time in their lives to explore other avenues. Lots of women who work with birth have been something else in their younger lives, like English students, stockbrokers, yoga teachers, or world travelers. Many of them have had time to explore lots of relationships...sometimes some pretty awful ones. I don't know if anyone else has noticed this, but a lot of them have lived some pretty intense lives. Perhaps this having lived on the edge for at least part of their lives...more on edge than the average person..has created this ability to be so comfortable with the intense, unpredictable nature of birth. Or perhaps this "edge-i-ness" is simply part of their make-up, and they thrive in these environments.

When I studied Psychosynthesis Psychotherapy, which is a spiritual approach to counseling, my teacher talked to us about the seven spiritual paths. There was a path of science, a path of knowledge, a path of devotion, etc. Those who choose to work with birth seem to be on the path of science (doctors), or a path of love (doulas and midwives). What this means is service motivated by deep love for those we serve. Doulas and midwives love women, babies, and the process of birth. We stay up all night, stand on our heads if we have to, forgo food, risk heartbreak, and get our hands dirty to ensure a woman comes through birth as safely, comfortably, and as loved as possible. We are dedicated, expressive, creative, and focused to a crazy degree on something that defies expectation and prediction. These are great strengths.

Each path has some challenges too. Many of the psychological similarities of those on the path of love have to do with difficulties with relationships, stemming perhaps from boundary issues having possibly been created by iffy boundaries within the family of origin. Self esteem is often a challenge with those on this path. Some can have challenges with focusing on other things in their lives outside of the love and service stuff, therefore have some organization/health/financial challenges.

The nature of birth work is very suitable for those midwives and doulas who are on the path of love. If there are those on this path who experience relationship challenges, working with birth can be very appealing. You forge and experience intense, love filled, helping, healing relationships with people, making a profound difference...then it's done (to that intense degree, anyway). There's no time to create baggage and risk all the messy stuff long term relationships and friendships can potentially cause. Seeing a baby into a family you've helped to create more solidity for is perhaps a way of healing the experience of being in a family that was perhaps not so solid. Helping a woman experience the peak sexual experience of birth in a safe and empowering way can be a way to heal times in our own lives that were not perhaps so sexually safe. We love unconditionally, non-judgmentally, in the face of a peak experience of pain and perhaps some cases terror. Our being able to hold this for others may in a deep way be inspired by knowing what it's like to feel otherwise. Perhaps we can hold intensity or potentially be a rock in the face of loss, trauma and heartbreak because in varying degrees, we have been there.

Again...all kinds of people come to birth and work that energy with skill and love...not all are of the profile I describe above. If you are a birth worker, on a path of love, devotion, science, or otherwise, let me know if you have noticed this tendancy towards bad-assed-ness. I am curious if this rings any bells.
Lesley Everest
http://www.motherwit.ca/