Recently I was told that I don't have the skills nor the capacity I should have for the amount of years I have been practicing as a midwife. I was told that I am out of my depth here, and that the support I requested in order to perform well, was unacceptable and equal to what a junior midwife would need. The context being a birthing center in the making, the one I thought I would be involved with. Part of the problem was that I felt somewhat overwhelmed when told that I should be available and on call for upwards of ten births per month as well as educate and lead a team of four to six training midwives.
I thought, can't I grow in to the role? Take it slow? Perhaps three births per month along with learning a new system and leading a team as an educator? I had never taken on a position like this before, I felt I could do it, but slowly, being well along the way and integrating as I go along. I came here for this.
As the midwife passed judgement on my practice (of which she had no direct experience of) I had images of regiments and army nurses, and the thought of 'leading a team' conjured up images of going in to battle. Hearing those words caused deep and long reflections on what midwifery is and what it is not, at least the way I understand it. I was thrown in to a crisis of confidence.
You see, I can't separate midwifery from who I am. I see midwifery as a function that matures with life and experience. I know I have the skills to resuscitate a baby, keep a mother alive, and respond to episodes of bleeding; so do obstetricians and GP's but they aren't midwives. To me midwifery is an art that has everything to do with what it is I am hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, feeling etc.. It has to do with the capacity to be with discomfort, to not know and be willing to burn there until such a time clarity brings a sense of knowing, or intuition about what might be needed, wanted and welcomed. It involves deep listening and requires a spaciousness of rooted presence.
When I am asked to midwife a woman, a family, their baby - it includes the whole of them and the whole of me. The whole of life as nourishment, including the environment, presence in my own skin and the emergent qualities we create together. It encompasses the whole field of existence. It has to do with the capacity to be with others as We are, and to shine the light on the areas yet to be seen and welcomed home in the woman herself so she can be as willingly present during the growth, birth and nurturing of herself, her baby and her family.
Midwifery is a slow art, like slow food, it's a way of life that accepts what comes, moves with the tides, and requires an in sync-ness with the innate rhythms of life. I believe my job is to model and awaken in others the same capacity that is awakened in me, so that women won't need a 'team' but rather, a competent mother, a grandmother and a few sister or two to help her along as her time arrives.
Here is what an ancient Indian text has to say about the Dai (traditional midwife in Tamil Nadu) - referred to as the mother of all obstetricians:
"Women who have given birth to many children, who are friendly, devoted, well-mannered, resourceful, of loving nature, free from grief, tolerant of hardship and respected (should be present at the time of birth)".
Sareera Sthama, chapter 8, Verse 34
I take comfort from reading this as it highlights the importance of lived experience, of the deeper resilience that comes from hardship and challenge, and most importantly it speaks to the capacity to be here, as the loving nature that in essence is free from sorrow, anger, grief and despair. Like a beacon of light for the woman to orient to in the dark hours of her passage.
Finally, midwifery is generosity. If I have done my job well, I have given her what I have to give, helped her see where she needs to wake up in body, mind and spirit, so that after she births her child, she knows what it means to be midwifed and can provide that same function for others.