When I was a young child, I wanted to become an obstetrician and a CIA and FBI agent. I wanted to be an obstetrician because I felt very sure that I would love the work of catching babies. And I was right.
I wanted to be a CIA and FBI agent because I thought that this would allow me access to knowledge and information. I thought at the time that this is where the truth was held! I wanted to really understand what was going on and how the world works. And I still do.
I didn’t want to be a midwife because I didn’t even know that was a thing. When I was fifteen, my older sister, Paula, had a baby. She wanted her partner and our mom with her but told my other sister, Dawn, and I that we had to stay in the waiting room for the actual birth. I am now ashamed to admit it but we ignored her with the kind of arrogant lack of respect that only little sisters can get away with.
Dawn and I huddled together, arms clasped around each other, and peeked around the hospital curtain to watch.
There were several terse medical staff in the room and several machines that go ping. If you are not familiar with the machine that goes ping, please take a moment to avail yourself of Monty Python’s brilliance on the subject of institutionalized birth. Paula’s birth was a lot like this skit except it was a lot less funny.
The feeling in the room was pretty tense. I’m sure a lot of it was my own nerves. Some of it I know came from my mom who was frightened by the amount of blood pouring from Paula’s episiotomy and by everyone yelling at her to push. I don’t remember what baby Kassandra looked like at the moment of her birth because she was whisked away.
Yet, I still wanted to be an obstetrician. I knew birth work was what I was called to do.
A few years later, I had my appendix removed. I was struck by how much my surgery resembled my sister’s birth. It made me think that there had to be another way. By that point I had heard about Ontario Midwives and I thought that maybe this might be a better fit for me.
Very shortly after that, I attended my sister, Nicki’s, home birth (yes, I have a lot of sisters). Just before I arrived, her midwife, Patty McNiven had come to her home to do an early labour check. Nicki had been relaxing in her bath tub through contractions and did not appear to be in active labour. Then she stood up. And the baby came down. And then she was in really active labour! My nephew, a small toddler at the time, was going to the park with his grandma. Gabriel told me cheerfully that mommy was yelling and he was going on the swings. Grandma told me that I better get up there. Patty sent me right back down to grab some of her equipment. Patty was supporting Nicki to get up onto her bed. She asked me to connect her oxygen tank to the hose. I couldn’t figure out how to do it! So we switched places. In a flash, Patty had all of her equipment set up, she calmly reassured Nicki that all was well, monitored the baby’s heart rate, and gently caught a very pink, pudgy faced baby girl all within a few minutes. Baby Saige was calm and beautiful and remained with her momma.
I knew I had found my exact calling.
Before getting my Bachelor of Health Sciences in Midwifery, I attended the University of Toronto and received a Bachelor of Arts in Women’s Studies and Philosophy. I focused my area of study on anti-oppression theory. Basically, the protection of people who are vulnerable or experience discrimination. I practiced as a doula and learned everything I could about pregnancy, birth and babies. I even learned how to connect the oxygen tank to the hose.
I no longer want to join the CIA or FBI. I do still have a passion for gaining knowledge and information about how the world works. These days I pursue this goal by working on the Clinical Practice Guideline Committee at the Association of Ontario Midwives, chairing the CMNRP Midwifery Community of Practice and doing my best to keep up with research to support evidence-based care.
Since watching Paula give birth I have seen obstetricians provide the same kind of sensitive, respectful and low-intervention care that I aim to provide as a midwife. Perhaps if I had seen that care earlier in my life, I would have continued on my path to become an obstetrician. But I am glad that my path led me here.
I appreciate that as a midwife, I am part of the larger health care system and that I can provide care to people
inhospital who want an epidural. But I also really love that I can offer the same level of quality health care to people giving birth outside of the hospital. I appreciate that I can help people to safely give birth in ways that do not resemble having one’s appendix removed. I appreciate that I can support people to experience their entire pregnancy, birth and postpartum year as a normal physiological event in their lives.
I am glad that my path led me right here. That first birth that I covertly witnessed, nervously hiding behind hospital curtains, has come full circle. That beautiful baby grew up and she became pregnant and chose me to be her care provider. And this time I wasn’t nervous and I wasn’t hiding behind a curtain. And this time I protected her privacy. And I was able to offer comfort and security and safety during her journey to motherhood. And a squalling miracle eased gently into my hands in my own home. What an incredible moment.
And I am so glad that I can be here for your moment, too!
Genia Stephen is a midwife with Generations Midwifery Care. You can read more about her here.