Thursday, April 15, 2010

Don't Underestimate Your Power

I ran into the midwife of my fourth birth this weekend at a workshop. She had just popped by for the end of it, so I only encountered her briefly. I haven't seen her for a few years, and when I did my heart gave a little flutter. The emotional connection you forge with someone who has been with you for a short but very intense, intimate event in your life is bonding. You don't bond with everyone who may see you birth. I didn't bond with the nurses or doctors at my second kid's birth, as lovely as they were. But I bonded very strongly with my midwives, as I chose them to be the physical and emotional keepers of my birthing space.

People who know me well know I usually keep my emotions pretty close to my heart. It's not that I'm not an emotional person...I most definitely am, perhaps even more than the average person. I am moved deeply. It's just that I'm not emotionally effusive. In public anyway. Most of my bestest friends have not even seen me cry before, even in the face of some pretty intense things. I don't think my mother has even seen me cry since I was 14. I tend to hold it in until I get space alone. I have always been this way. I remember hiding under tables as a child to sob inconsolably when I heard a sad story, and didn't like people looking at me and calling attention to it. I'm just sort of private that way. As a student of psychotherapy, most students took the opportunity to do a session with the trainer while the rest of the class observed, and most were absolutely transformed, having felt safe and enveloped by the group's loving energy. We who observed learned so much and I was always grateful for those brave souls who could bare their innermost selves so easily. Yet I never took that opportunity to be observed in session, as I just felt like my emotional expressions were not something I wanted shared in a group. So if you ever see me in a very emotional situation but don't see me being emotionally expressive, please don't assume I'm unfeeling. I just process it in a more solitary way.

Anyway, the relationship with the one who holds the space for your birth is a different thing. My midwife knows all my physical and emotional history. A woman's social masks are let down throughout the natural birth process, and we become raw. There's not much of me my midwife hasn't seen. She knows the dynamic between my husband and me (having seen us labour together), she knows first hand how I respond to pain, stress, and fear. She understands my deepest needs as a woman to express my birth authentically and undisturbed. She has seen pretty much everything my body is capable of emitting up close and personal. We met my son at the same time. There is really nothing more intimate than that.

When I saw Isabelle this weekend, she came up to me and gave me a huge hug, and it just felt SO good to be in her presence again. I have been fully myself before her in a way nobody else (except for those who attend my birthings) has seen. I am absolutely safe with her. I chatted with my midwife for a bit, and she told me how she had such fond memories of Finn's birth, that her apprentice learned so much by attending a birth that was "held" as opposed to "managed". I said to her, "You said something to me that I will never forget. You told me I was a woman who owned my birth...I'm not sure why, but that moves very deeply, resonates through all my cells, and I am just SO grateful for those words." And as I said that, tears arose unchecked, and they could, because it was Isabelle who was standing in front of me...there is no point in my hiding anything from her. There are probably not that many people I trust more.

Isabelle told me she always teaches her students to be so careful with the language they use. She said, "The words that come out my mouth could potentially be somebody's magic words." She certainly spoke mine.

As doulas, midwives, nurses, and doctors, it's important to never underestimate how deeply entrusted we are with someone's most vulnerable, raw, authentic self. We witness their heroic journeys, see them emerge with their babies, hearts wide open, and a few words gleaned from our observations can support or warp their impressions of themselves for better or for worse. This is an emotional responsibility unlike any other. We must always remember to hold our ladies (and their partners) tenderly. We must be so gentle with their vulnerable, fledgling mother/father selves. Our words and actions could potentially hold some powerful magic. They may stimulate a healing impulse, or soothe away deeply embedded self-doubts. Isabelle's words touched my spirit in such a profound way, they create waves of power and strength within me each time I utter them them to myself...years later. Nobody can ever take them away from me. I am a woman who owns my birth.