When I was in labour with my first child, I remember gripping a pillow tightly between my fingers, my head resting on my forearms. The room was too silent. I wanted a distraction. Something to focus on other than the intensity of the contractions. A story. So I asked my midwife, who was unpacking her equipment, why she chose the profession. She said, “You want to know that NOW?” and then added in one breath, ‘Well, I was a nurse back home and someone helped me with my birth and when I came here I wanted to help new mothers with their births.’
How utterly disappointing. That was way, way too short a story to distract me from anything.
I wasn’t a midwife then, but that night played a big part in the years to follow.
I was under the care of a family doctor for most of my pregnancy. She is one of the diminishing number of family physicians in Canada who manage low-risk obstetrics. Now, those who know me know I’m a research junkie. And a skeptic. And a bit of a geek in the physiology department. All that to say, Dr. Google was my Best Friend. As I researched various aspects of pregnancy, and read about different mom’s experiences, mention of midwives kept popping up online as a Very Good Thing. Huh.
But here’s me: skeptic.
And here’s my mental image of midwives: Oh wait, you know that one! Right, that image. You’ve got it.
Very, very late in my pregnancy, I discovered that one of the midwifery practices had just opened up some space for when I was due. If I wanted it. I asked my family doctor what she thought, expecting disapproval. I respected her opinion. But she said, “Good heavens, yes. I can’t provide the kind of care they can. Absolutely, do it.”
So I found myself sitting on a couch in front of our own Josee (yes, it’s a small world), in the care of midwives. Josee was talking about choice of birthplace. “Oh, you don’t have to talk about that,” I said. Skeptic, remember? “We’re planning a hospital birth.”
Famous last words.
The night I went into labour, Ottawa was hit by a large ice storm. No, not -the- ice storm. But big enough that all the major roads were closed and it took the midwife about two hours to get there. That wasn’t Josee, by the way, it was someone else, equally marvelous.
When she got there she wanted to check my progress, and asked if I would move onto my back. I politely declined her request (more of a gutteral grunt in the negative) and so she checked my cervix while I remained on my hands and knees.
“Well,” she said, “If you’re going to go to the hospital, we’d better leave now. You’re 9 centimeters.”
Hold the phone. Did she say 9? And didn’t she say the roads were closed? (9!) And didn’t it take over two hours to get to our house? (9!) “What’re the chances we’ll have the baby in the car?” I managed, between contractions.
“Your guess is as good as mine!” she replied cheerfully. Too cheerfully. I was in transition here! Nobody was allowed to be cheerful!
So, that settled it. The woman who swore up and down she wouldn’t have a home birth had a home birth. And it went much like most home births go, where another midwife is called, and a (gorgeous) baby comes out, and the mom and the dad and the baby snuggle in bed, while the health care providers swirl around like unnoticed, benevolent spirits and make sure everything is okay. And it was.
The story could’ve concluded there. But at this point in my life, I was planning to go back to med school to become a family doctor. I was a web developer, and the bottom had fallen out of that market as the government, every web developer’s biggest employer in that city, hit a budget wall. I had spent the last several years being the primary developer on several huge municipal sites. But with budget woes, come project cuts. I had many other contracts, but I always hated billing the small businesses, and hated going from project to project and hunting. Government was reliable and long-term. So, it was a good excuse to go back to my first love of preventative health (I was a competitive rower and coach then, and coached all kinds of atypical athletes) and follow my dream.
This experience, though, was different than what ol’ Skeptic-FP-to-be-Me had expected. Maybe even (gasp!) a Game-Changing Experience.
Ironically, my midwife looked like the stereotype I had mentioned earlier. But she also really, really knew her stuff. She was prepared for anything. She could quote all of the pertinent recommendations from countless organizations to any part of my care. She brought all sorts of emergency equipment and laid it out efficiently. She kept me informed, made smart recommendations, then gave me a choice. And then, she listened to and respected it. And she did all this in the comfort of my own home!
Until I had experienced it, I didn’t actually realize how big a thing all that actually was. I mean the listening and choice thing. But also: the health care system, skilled and knowledgable, actually came right to my door when I needed it. As easy as pizza!
And then she just kept showing up. Day 1, day 3, day 5… and got me in superfastpronto to see a specialist when my PUPPPs (itchy pregnancy rash thing, if you know what it is, trust me, I feel for you) got worse instead of better after the birth. Serious gold star treatment. Still I didn’t know what I had, until I spoke to friends that didn’t have that close personal care. The level of care was astounding. I realized that the close personal care was key to those excellent outcomes, and that I might be better off choosing midwifery over medicine as a way to help families and focus on preventative health..
So… I switched gears. I didn’t apply to med school. I applied to midwifery school. When I applied, over 650 applicants were vying for 90 spots. Most of them had extraordinary backgrounds, most with degrees ranging from BA to doctorates, an astrophysicist, a physiotherapist, backgrounds in nursing, social work, epidemiology, research, overseas aid, music, nutrition and a dozen others. Talking to the applicants was a daunting exercise in diversity.
I got in.
And now, many years later, Josee and I get to attend births together. Isn’t that cool?
Maybe even yours.
Perhaps I’ll even have a story ready for you.
Heather Mason is a registered midwife with Generations Midwifery Care. You can read more about her here.