Written by Mary Love
The first time I met a midwife was the night I was born. It was my mother’s third birth, her first at home, and first attended by a midwife. Of course, I don’t remember it, but I like to believe that it helped set the course for my life.
Growing up, I wasn’t aware that being born at home was considered radical or even out of the mainstream. In our house, some babies were born at home and others in the hospital. In fact, the family joke is that my sister was born in a parking lot. (The hospital where she was born was torn down not too long after and turned into a parking lot). As kids, and maybe still as adults, we all thought that was hilarious.
This was who I was. I was a midwife. I don’t think I have ever been so sure of anything in my life.
Twenty years after my own birth, I read the novel Midwives by Chris Bohjalian. It isn’t a tale of a beautiful birth where everything works out perfectly. It has death, politics, and a lot of humanity. Reading it was like having a fog lift from around me and I could see myself for the first time. This was who I was. I was a midwife. I don’t think I have ever been so sure of anything in my life.
When I told my mom I wanted to be a midwife, I felt something inside her opened up to me, or maybe something inside me opened up to her. She shared the stories of her births in a new way, she told about the emotions, choices, and lessons. Her experience with her midwife changed her. It was in pregnancy and birth that she learned her strength and found a voice.
Thus started a twelve year journey to officially call myself a midwife. I studied and spent time with Pamela Hunt and the other midwives at The Farm in Summertown, TN. I read every book available about birth and midwifery and started a bachelor's in nursing program at Tennessee State University. While pursuing my undergraduate degree I worked at a pediatric primary care clinic.
It was at the pediatric clinic that I began to form the “why” to the “what” it was I wanted to do. It wasn’t unusual, when working the triage/helpline, to have mothers say to me, “oh, that was what I thought, I just didn’t want to trust myself.” Too often this response followed the answer to questions like, “Why is my kid’s poop fluorescent green? Could it be from the blue frosting he had yesterday?” I was struck by how many mothers seemed to lack confidence in themselves.
One day I picked up a call from a mother who called frequently. I no longer remember her question from that day, but I do remember her excitement to tell me something else. Her son had been ill the week before and she had remembered, and followed, the home care advice she had been given on a previous occasion. Her son got better! She hadn’t needed to bring him to the clinic, nor had she needed to call to ask what to do. She remembered what to do and she just did it. Her joy, pride, and confidence were bursting through the phone! It was an ah-ha moment for myself as well as my philosophy as a nurse and midwife took on a new shape. My role isn’t to take care of people. Instead it is to help people develop the skills and confidence to care for themselves.
I carried this philosophy with me as I finished my BSN in 2006. I worked first as a pediatric emergency and trauma nurse, and then as a labor and delivery nurse. In 2012, I earned my Masters in Nursing from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. I graduated with dual certifications as a nurse-midwife and family nurse practitioner. Working as a CNM and FNP over the last eight years has strengthened my practice philosophy, but becoming a mother myself opened new dimensions of understanding.
Birth is not the finish line, it is the starting block.
Although birth is a life changing experience, it is just a blip on the spectrum of lifetime. Like getting married, or losing one’s virginity, the event is usually anticipated, planned, and culturally celebrated. The anticipation is like a great crescendo, and in the course of a day or two everything is entirely changed - but it is also all still the same. Birth rarely unfolds as the laboring person imagined it. The emotional experience of labor has the ability to set the tone for life after. It isn’t really about how the baby comes out, but how an individual internalizes the narrative.
Successful birth is often defined, especially among those who have only witnessed it within the walls of a hospital as, “a healthy mom and a healthy baby.” Well sure, but that is basically getting a C on an exam. Just getting everyone out safely (and we don’t even do that very well) is setting the bar pretty low, and in some circumstances, not even possible. Following a “successful” birth, families should feel supported, heard, central, and empowered. Mothers and fathers should not leave feeling defeated, marginalized, or even traumatized.
Birth is not the finish line, it is the starting block. There may be joy, but there is little glory in postpartum and parenting. It is hard - REALLY HARD! Imagine how it might be made better, even just a little, if every mother started with feeling of success rather than failure. What if when she held that warm tiny baby for the first time, she beamed with pride and said, “Yes! I did it!” Witnessing a person “own” their
birth motivates me as a midwife.
As professionals, we are stronger when we are given the opportunity to practice to our strengths and work together, rather than deny our weaknesses and compete.
As a nurse-midwife, working within the conventional hospital based maternity system, I have had the opportunity to work beside skilled midwives, nurses, obstetricians, maternal fetal medicine specialists. I have witnessed each profession's strengths and weaknesses. As professionals, we are stronger when we are given the opportunity to practice to our strengths and work together, rather than deny our weaknesses and compete. I believe that in every pregnancy, even the most complex and high-risk, normal still exists, and there is a need for midwifery. This isn't a radical idea, in fact midwifery-led care, has been shown to improve outcomes not only in the US, but around the globe.
It sounds cliche, but the development of Heart of Houston, is a labor of love. It is also a result of my never ending need to make things better and improve what isn't working. I truly believe in our vision to be a leader in maternity and wellness care by providing meaningful, evidence-based, and truly collaborative care that encourages individuals to embrace their birth experience, provides support through the journey of parenthood, and strengthens community.