What does a midwife do? What is the role of a midwife within the vision I hold of healthy, vibrant, empowered communities? I’ve been trying to answer this question succinctly and clearly in my brain for a few weeks now, as I feel myself getting pulled into discussions (and sometimes arguments) over the topic more frequently. This post is as clear and succinct as I've gotten so far.
I just crossed the 4 months postpartum threshold, which feels like something I should get a medal for. I could never have imagined the different challenges I have been faced with in the last 120 days or so. We all have our different versions of this, unless you have a magical unicorn baby (I didn’t come up with this term) who eats, sleeps, poops and DOESN’T scream on a really lovely and convenient schedule. Oh, there is my baby screaming now! 10 minutes after she fell asleep!........Alright, I’m back. She just needed me to assume Child’s Pose on the bed and simultaneously pat her back and bottom for a few minutes. Nothing too unreasonable. What was I saying?
Yes, the postpartum is really hard. Before having a baby of my own, I often counseled women (or whoever would listen really) that women and babies need to be supported in the postpartum with food, ample space and time for rest and bonding, more food, leisurely herb baths, other people doing the cleaning around the house, and then more food. Women, especially first time moms, may need help with breastfeeding too, which makes all those other needs even more crucial. A woman needs to be supported on all levels, physically, emotionally and spiritually as she makes this huge shift and becomes a mother either for the first time, or to a new person. No one needs to hold the baby except for the mother, unless she asks them to so that she can take care of herself in some way.
This is all good advice, and probably not new information for you holistic folks out there, but I had no idea how much more these ideas need to be communicated to friends and family, and how hard it would be for me to implement these ideas despite my background and convictions. Do people not remember having babies of their own? Is the generational gap so huge that the postpartum experience of yesteryear was totally different somehow? For some older women that I talked with, there seemed to be an almost pride in having had no rest after birth. But a few generations ago, many women got family and community support after having a baby. How did these traditions get lost and demonized? Was it when birth moved into the hospital? Like pregnancy and birth, the postpartum has become homogenized and Westernized the world over, and it has been reduced to its most basic parts. Many women are sent home to resume life as normal. Many go back to work within weeks, and they don’t have the opportunity to debrief with their care provider until their 6 week checkup which usually consists of little more than a vaginal exam and a short talk about mainstream birth control. This is totally unacceptable, and I would go as far as to say that it would be revolutionary if we were more sensitive about women’s true postpartum needs as a culture.
People gave me the advice to just forget all the things I wanted to “get done”, because the time with my new baby would be so short. They were right and wrong at the same time. I HAD to do a few things that made me feel like a normal human again, or I would have gone off the deep end. But I was very selective, and said no more than I said yes, even when I wanted to do whatever it was. Looking back I see that they were also right, and if I hadn’t done any of those things, life would still be marching along, and there are probably some things I could’ve/should’ve skipped.
BUT, I feel like something crucial is left out of even these holistic conversations – the need for meaningful, respectful social interaction. Because even when I was fed, rested (sort of), bathed, etc, I was still alone for much of the time, and it is easy to lose perspective when one is alone. I wanted to see people and have conversations, but I didn’t want to drive anywhere with a screaming baby, even once I was feeling physically up to it. I also didn’t necessarily want just anybody coming over to my house. I wanted to only see people who understood that my baby was my top priority and if she needed me, I wasn’t going to ignore her needs for the sake of a visit – this is still something I am struggling with when my baby needs a nap but I am out or someone is over. This is all really hard as a new mom who still might not be sure what her baby needs, and is so tired that trying to figure it out while doing anything else (even sitting with a friend) makes her feel frazzled. I loved seeing the few people I did during those early weeks, but after they would leave I would often wonder why I wasn’t able to share more of my frustration, fears and difficulties. It was like the time with another adult was so precious that I didn’t want to waste it on those bummers, but those were the things that I struggled with day in and day out when I was home alone with my new baby.
And something that I think I really could have used was someone to just sit with for a day with the sole intention of observing and being with me and my baby, and helping me sort out what was happening and what to do about it or not. I had some awesome support, but I often (and this is my fault) used the help to run around and do things I was wanting to do, or spent a lot of time having normal adult conversations while just surviving through a normal crazy day. I wasn’t able to see or articulate that I needed more core assistance in figuring out how to manage my day to day life. I don’t know if this would have made a difference or would even have been possible. I’m still trying to figure out what this means or what it would look like to offer this support to others. For a few weeks there I honestly thought I might be trapped on a yoga ball for 6 hours a day for the rest of my baby’s childhood though, and that was some scary s***. Seriously. When someone would laugh and try to assure me that it would change I just felt angry and sad and scared since of course they thought it would be fine, but if it wasn’t going to be fine it was MY ass on the yoga ball, not theirs! How easy to brush off these totally insane, sleep deprived nightmares – but I was feeling lost and underwater, and I’m interested in finding a way (Postpartum doula? Professional baby whisperer?) to help others through such an intense time.
The conclusion I’ve come to is that the 4th trimester is not meant to be braved alone. I had fluffy visions of attachment parenting before my baby came out. Long nursing sessions in a silk robe (I don’t own anything of the sort), laying in bed eating fruit, maybe even watching movies or getting some computer work done. I certainly did not picture bouncing on a yoga ball until my spine felt mutilated. I’ll save it for another post, but I felt like if my baby cried, I was doing something wrong, based on these romantic descriptions of happy, home born, breastfed, coslept, babyworn babies. I don’t know that this description is something anyone actually wrote or said, but it was a very real image in my mind, and it is very much NOT what mothering has been like for me so far. If I’ve learned anything in the last 4 months, it is that the transformation to being a “mother” doesn’t stop when you birth your baby. The role is constantly changing, and full of lessons, questions, and challenges.
So wherever you’re at on your postpartum journey, take some deep breaths, write in your journal about all the weird monotous things you’ve done today, take 1000 pictures of your precious baby if you can, and invite over a really good friend and ask for exactly what you need (maybe have them take the baby for 15 minutes while you figure out what that is). It really won’t be like this someday, even though it feels never ending. You’re allowed to punch me though for saying so.