Thursday, April 20, 2006

From "The Story," by Michael Ondaatje


For his first forty days a child
is given dreams of previous lives.
Journeys, winding paths,
a hundred small lessons
and then the past is erased.

Childbirth with Joy

“Joyful” was the first word that came to mind when I was asked to describe my son’s birth. At that time, in 1987, I was a self-proclaimed “west-side woman,” a studious and conservative academic...wary of anything east of Granville Street (don’t laugh.) So, for me to start spouting words such as “joy,” “transformation,” “energy,” or “empowerment” was a major departure from what people expected of me - or of what I expected of myself.

I have to thank an outspoken Scottish woman who sat next to me at a mum’s group in 1983 for pushing me towards a different view of birth. She told me about a new midwifery pilot project at Grace Hospital which cared for 4-6 patients per month. “Well, as long as they’re British-trained nurse-midwives,” I said. That’s my upbringing talking. As the only Canadian-born child in a British family, I held anything “British” as the gold standard. So, that’s why I chose midwifery care. No deep-seated granola philosophy...just a blind trust of anything British. Silly of me - but the result was amazing.

I was looking for greater respect in my second birth, and hoping for less medical intervention. What I didn’t count on was that this birth would shake my Type-A personality to the core and transform me. By trusting my body, my intuition, my husband, and the midwives I had chosen to support me, I had found the way to birth with joy. So there I was...the conservative west-side woman in labour...

I danced with my husband
The midwives left the room because they said the dancing seemed too sacred for their presence
Felt the energy of my midwives raise me up off the floor
Bizarre experience
Sat in yoga positions toning
Had I ever even heard of toning? No, it just came out of me
Sang in the shower
“Row, row, row your boat” and the Anglican “Gloria” - who knew that would come to me?
Visualized floating in Hanauma Bay
What an amazing memory of the imagined sun beating down on my back!
Became connected to every other woman
Past, present and future
And birthed my son without muss nor fuss
Just a leg thrown over the midwife’s shoulder

Who knew that there was poetry in birth?

And that is why I have been a doula ever since...
To help women labour freely...
To help women see the joy and poetry in birth...
To help women trust their intuitions and their body...
To transform these women into mothers who are trusting of themselves and their babies...
To create strong families...

What surprises and saddens me is that, after all this time, normal birth is still something that is difficult to achieve in our society. Medical caregivers often are surprised when a normal first-birth occurs. Enlightened doctors are struggling to maintain a positive atmosphere in institutions that increasingly view cesarean birth as totally acceptable. Midwives are finding some hospitals less supportive of their presence. And the women in labour find it increasingly difficult to have their voices heard in the over-crowded medical system.

How much have we lost if there needs to be a Campaign for Normal Birth spearheaded by the Royal College of Midwives in Britain?? How much have we lost if the family physicians are feeling lost, and midwives are burning out?

Think about it. Perhaps each of us need to be even more courageous in our attempts to support normal birth, so that the words “joy,” “transformation,” and “empowerment” become not condescendingly tolerated, but encouraged. The paybacks are life-changing - isn’t the battle for normal birth worth it?