When we talk about the healthcare crisis or legislation and its potential impact, we must remember faces and stories of people. Real people, people with real needs.
I hear the stories all the time. Women with a Medicaid plan that doesn’t cover prenatal care, only the birth. Women who are told they can’t get care unless they can pay a deposit bigger than a week’s income. Women who are told they can’t pick up records to change care unless they pay hundreds of dollars. Women who are told that their birth will be $20,000 cash. Women told they can’t be discharged from the hospital until they pay five or $10,000.
I could go on. These are just stories that I’ve heard this month. Legal? Yes. And no. But common, nonetheless.
As a healthcare provider in this community in this time in history, how do I show up?
Showing up has to look like bold justice, gift wrapped in creativity.
For me, it looks like a radical sliding scale, with births from $500 to 4000 depending on income. It looks like forgetting about what I’m “supposed” to be doing in my practice, and wrapping women around with the kinds of services I think they deserve. It looks like finding ways to nurture them, bringing in Wise and caring birthworkers who support Lactation, encapsulate placentas, give massages, do acupuncture. It looks like providing birth supplies and pools. It looks like five or six postpartum visits, maybe in the home if that’s what’s needed. It looks like herbs, lovingly crafted into teas and baths.
I’m not saying this to promote my practice. I’m saying this is what every single one of us needs to do in some manner. Call the legislators yes. Yes and….
And come up with creative solutions within our sphere of influence, solutions that empower women. Solutions that treat them with dignity. Solutions that create safe spaces for their babies to be born. Solutions that hold space for trauma to be healed, for redemption to occur.
Maybe that’s what’s required. To do justice. To love mercy. To walk humbly.
Yes, We stand alongside, lending support, and each one has to face her fears, find her courage and let go.
Wise words from my midwife sister and friend. Words for the midwife, although they sound like they are for the mama.
This is the work, isn’t it? Not just the work of having a baby; but the work of life. And I need others in this journey. To remind me of truth; to draw me back to trust.
This is a day where we remember the waiting, the not knowing what would come next on that long ago Saturday. The day between.
Waiting is SO hard. Especially when you are 39 or 40 or 41 or 42 weeks. Or a giraffe who is 16 months pregnant.
And the world watches.
I got a call this morning, early, that a baby was coming. This happens to me pretty often. As a midwife, my phone is on loud, 24/7. But this was different.
The baby was a giraffe, and two legs were already out!
As a midwife, I know that it’s “hands off the breech”. Let the baby come in it’s own time, letting the weight of the body gently drop. Don’t engage the startle reflex for the baby, or the tightening of the sphincter that fear produces in mom. Only touch if absolutely necessary.
The zookeepers knew what many in obstetrics have forgotten. Birth happens best when it is undisturbed.
And so we watched. The mama walked around, two legs out, taking an occasional lick of the amniotic fluid for energy. And finally, so slowly it seemed to the watchers, the body began to slip out. Slowly at first, then all at once, the baby giraffe emerged.
And then the drop. Six feet to the ground, the whoosh stimulating the baby to breathe. And the mother watched, curious. She gently began to lick the baby with her tongue, encouraging it to breathe, replenishing her strength with the fluid. “Plop”, the placenta came. (They do that, you know, without pulling or tugging, often as the mom stands).
Did you keep watching? Did you see the baby stand on wobbly legs, then fall down? The mama was so patient, letting the baby smell and nuzzle. Finally the baby found the teat and began to nurse. What a delightful surprise! The colostrum, or “liquid gold”, was tasty!
The zookeepers began to become impatient, their curiosity winning. They came close, talking and jockeying for a better view. April noticed too. Her tail began to twitch. She arched her head. She curled around her baby, shielding it from view. Mamas do that too.
It matters how we are born.
It matters how we welcome babies.
April has given us a gift, this holy Saturday. Birth is holy ground, when we let it be. As a midwife, my “job” is to let it be.
When you think about starting out a new relationship, Mary and Joseph sure got thrown in the deep end!
Strict dating rules, a betrothal, a long distance relationship without cell phone service, a sudden return, scandal and gossip, breaking up, and a nighttime angelic visitor. What a beginning!
And that doesn’t count a donkey ride in the middle of prodromal labor! Seriously?! Not one of my midwifery clients would sign up for that.
I love how the Nativity movie portrays the growing love and respect between this young couple. It is inviting to consider this home that Jesus grew up in. They needed that foundation! They were about to become immigrants, and just have each other; perhaps in a land that did not want them. Not so different from our precious immigrant families I get to do life with.
This is a hard season for us in many ways. The holidays, always; my father-in-law died our first Christmas as a young couple. But this year has been a hard season on so many levels.
I am so grateful for the love and respect in our marriage and home, which undergirds this unknown path. This young couple, married 29 years last August, got thrown in the deep end too.
This Advent, may there be space to remember the journey. Theirs and ours….
I said goodbye to a precious friend today. Not the long goodbye, as C.S. Lewis says; but a goodbye nonetheless. And goodbyes are full of grief. They hold the not knowing and the not yet together in equal measure. They weave longing and loneliness into a braid of beauty and pain.
I wonder what it was like for Mary, holding a baby that she knew would move beyond her. Was there an ache mixed with the joy of watching him play? And then he stayed around longer than expected perhaps… 30 years. He left home to go be with a bunch of friends, new friends really. They were going to go travel the country without a real plan. Rumors came back, bits and pieces of stories. They probably seemed much bigger than life. And in the middle of the wondering, always the ache.
So much of the story is not told. Perhaps there is beauty in the mystery.
So for today, I choose to hold the not knowing. I will trust that the beauty will come as the story unfolds. And dare to hold the ache of goodbye.
Photo Credit Kate Wilder
Darkness and Light.
Waiting and Coming.
Sorrow and Hope.
Death and …
We hold so much at Christmas. All of that not knowing, together with the not yet.
I am a desert girl, mostly. A turtleneck in the morning, just because. And then a/c when kids get in the car. Desert kids don’t understand winter. Therefore, they can’t know the mystery of spring, of green shoots pushing up through the snow. In Phoenix, we force bulbs. We put them in the refrigerator drawer for “winter” and then take them out to let them know it’s spring. A tiny shoot begins, stretching up bit by bit, reaching for the light.
The poem was born from a midwife (Advent, by Sister Christine Schenk).
With quickened hope
For crooked paths to straighten,
With tough-soul’d anguish,
Keepers of the keys
(If such a thing were possible).
And will not be
For tiny shoot
Of Jesse tree
Took root in me.
The tiny shoot.
Toward the light.
with quickened hope
for crooked paths to straighten,
with tough-soul’d anguish,
while blinded keepers of the keys
shut out God’s own.
(If such a thing were possible.)
and will not be dismayed.
For tiny shoot of Jesse tree
took root in me.
(Advent. By Sr. Christine Schenk. A midwife)
I have been bathing in the waters of hospital birth again, this time in a new role. I put on the white coat, with its instant prestige. I put on the title, reluctantly: “Professor Wilder”. I notice I am more comfortable with my first name. I am so aware that the kind of birth I get to do at home is 1% in our country. This 99% is the norm. Full of risk, adrenaline, and hurry, and occasional moments of goodness….the babies are born. There are redeeming moments: the nurse who goes the extra mile, the Doctor who dares to trust, the student nurse who has eyes to see. For this reason, I enter; to offer my gifts.
And yet, I am so aware of the stark contrast. The precious spaces I get to hold in the home with mamas are thick with the sense of the holy.
There was another birth done in a way that was also countercultural. Even then, you didn’t birth in the barn. And yet the sense of the holy was thick, even there.
And so we come to Advent.
We invite the holy.
And we wait.
What does it mean to be a woman?
How was your womanhood welcomed? Was it blessed?
One of the questions in the “medical” history of a first time midwifery visit is, “what age was your first menses?” It is followed by data questions about how often and how long. Good to know when making a guess about when baby might make an appearance!
As a midwife, I love to step into those waters: “what was it like for you when you first got your period? Did you feel protected? Who walked with you?”
The stories come, slowly at first and then with a rush of words. They often leave me wanting to weep. The idea of even being honored is as foreign as can be. Most often, a girl was left alone to figure it out. Perhaps she filled in the blank with fearful images in a culture where blood is “dirty” and a woman’s “monthly” is called a curse. At best, a book or supplies had been provided ahead of time. More often than not, the girls in the school bathroom filled in for mothers.
I was alone, on a trip with my dad. I went to the bathroom every hour, becoming skilled at fashioning makeshift pads out of toilet paper. When I told my mom a week later, she immediately told my dad. I felt ashamed and betrayed. He immediately came and clapped a hand on my shoulder: “that’s my pal!” He was proud I had kept it a secret; in a family where secrets were the rule and the threat of violence ever present. And the message I got, once again, was: “don’t tell” and “you are on your own”.
Let your mind drift back gently to remember your woman-girl of 10 or 12 or 14. How did this rite of passage unfold for you? What messages were spoken or unspoken? What did you carry from those words? Was there anyone, sister friend or mother, who offered eyes of kindness? Have you offered that to yourself, or sought it out from your grown up sisters now? What about to your daughters?
We must begin to bless our womanhood. We cannot offer it first to our daughters. We must first begin to bless ourselves. Welcoming the moon cycle, reveling in its flow, is a beginning. Embracing the rhythms of rest and nurture that your body asks for. Recognizing that there are weeks of the month when creativity and energy will peak, and others where you will want to pull in and be in a cave. Gather in Red Tent circles, eat soup, knit, create, collage, sing. Find your people, your tribe, your sisterhood. Then, and only then, can you and I offer these gifts with open hands to our own daughters.
Embrace all that it means to say: I am a woman.
(Playing off the title of the “I am a midwife” series from MANA. )
I am a keeper of story…her-story. Today I have bathed in words; hard words. Pulled my shirt off, made me get into bed, cut, no food, so tired, so thirsty, told I had to, pulled my legs open, no choices, wouldn’t listen to my no.
What horror is being described here? Let your mind connect the dots, your imagination fill in the blank.
It sounds like sexual violence. One in three children in America. It must stop! When do we say “no more”?
I fight for this.
But these words frame stories of obstetric violence. “Birth rape”, some call it. One in three women in America; cut. Countless more stripped of their dignity. Her story packed in a box and tied with a bow, with a tag that reads “at least you have a healthy baby”. Maybe. This hospital bag may take a lifetime to unpack.
I say “no more”!
As a midwife, I fight for this.
And it starts by daring to listen…to her-story.