It was, for want of a better word, astonishing. Personally and professionally, it tilted my world on its axis as I found my feet giving everything (and more) you might expect to providing continuity through such an intense time. On-calls and long hours and the utter joy and exhaustion that becomes your normal rhythm of existence. The by-product (see also: central aim and incredible privilege) of such an extraordinary life is the deep and enduring connection forged with women and their families, and the opportunity to help women discover a different story than the one they're so often told.
Louise and her family are one such story; memorable and beautiful as she grew and birthed her second baby; a gorgeous, healthy boy. Every woman educates a midwife, changes her a little, gives some extra or a differing perspective. But I feel that you, Louise, and your children, have left footprints on my practice, and my heart, a little more than most.
I met you early in your second trimester, and from then onwards we did The Great Unpacking that so frequently needs to happen after a challenging first birth. We began to build a trust and an understanding through talking and tea and my searching hands over a stretching belly.
I know that you were anxious. I know that you found the emotional and physical demands of this pregnancy so difficult at times. I know that it was challenging to even put your mind to anything related to giving birth.
Slowly, you got there. Made plans through the discussions (and the tea). We discussed different eventualities; came to a plan you'd be happy with, only to have that removed at the last minute due to the pressures, protocols and non-individualised, rigid styles of care that underpin most elements of modern midwifery and obstetric practice. And yet, you were sure of what you wanted, had come to a place where you had started to trust your own self again, that knowing, inner voice that had been so brutally silenced before. Negotiated and planned and dealt with what must have been an alarming change in the game, with such grace.
Soon after, the sleepy side of midnight, during a December cloaked, damp night, the call came through. Your labour had begun, and please could I come?
I arrived just as your girl needed you, had woken, unsettled by the activity. When you returned downstairs I could see the change; an obvious intensifying of your labour dance.
Shortly after, it became obvious that we'd all be meeting this boy in a shorter amount of time than your plans had really accommodated for. Scrabbling ensued; childcare, car packing, phone calls.
And then, a solitary, revealing little sound; the beginnings of a push during this fierce storm of labour, rocking and rolling through you. I saw you grapple with it, fight with it almost, wanting to surrender yet not quite reaching it as all of the carefully thought-out months of plans unspooled between us.
I wonder if you knew how powerful you were then; made vulnerable simultaneously by the demons of trauma, by a forceful cocktail of labour hormones, by the relentless squeezing of your body. And still you carried on. You reasoned and you listened and you breathed and eventually, finally, trusted; gritted your teeth in determination, began to heave a baby through your pelvis. Oh the strength of it! I am always awed by it, but to see it in you at that moment in that circumstance; brave and afraid and so human.
Birth is both as true and as scary as life gets.
Trust; so often freely given, sometimes hard-won, always treasured. Your eyes were full of it as you met mine, searching for reassurance. I hope you knew how proud I was of you then, how I am still.
My back and knees singing the song of the midwife who adopts whatever position a mother requires her to be in, my head tipped glamorously upside down, I caught sight of him. A little sliver of tiny head pulsing in to being, illuminated by the dim beam of torchlight. The much-welcomed face of a tip-toeing second midwife appeared then, bearing the same signs as me of having fallen out of bed and sped to your home in the quiet stillness of the early hours.
And then he was here! Warm and well and deliciously perfect, unfurling gracefully in to your Christmas tree, candle-lit lounge.
I saw him blink and take two startled breaths in the sacred, instinctive 'birth pause' before giving a loud, lusty cry. Scooping him up in to your arms then, you pressed his slippery skin to your chest. The look on your face cannot really be described. This part of birth, I think, is inherently the most precious. Filled with relief, with joy, raw from the wildness of birth yet immediately gentle and tender with this brand new, seconds old, gloriously alive human. It is timeless and extraordinary; I always feel a little undone. I'm not sure there are any words in any language that could ever be enough to capture it, that first meeting.
My only regret is that in the intense moments before birth, I hadn't thought to remind anyone to snap a picture of those first few seconds!
Your body competently and powerfully completed the process with not so much as a smudge of fuss. You were soon tucked up together on your cosy, squidgy, pale (and mercifully not even a little bit caught up in any birthing fluids!) rug. Blissful, quiet, tender and full to bursting with love. Just as every mother should be.
It is my wish for you that whenever life throws you a curve ball, and you feel lost to its dramatic unpredictability, you remember your strength in overcoming that difficult, joyful plot twist.
That whenever you feel pushed to your limit, recall how you peered over the cliff and leapt anyway, surrendering yourself and in doing so, met the darkness head on.
It is my hope that during these times, you always have someone cheering you on, fiercely sure of your capabilities and believing whole-heartedly in your strength. Because I never doubted it, not even for a moment.
Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your journey, for letting me in to your family and your heart. For your trust. It has been my pleasure, and my privilege.
- Kelly Silk, Midwife
Click here to read this birth story from Mama Bean's perspective!