I am one of those people who never really dreamed about becoming anything. Near the end of high school, in grade 12, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to be in a career where I could help people, care for them and love them up. Health care seemed like a likely place for me, but none of the conventional health care careers were all that appealing to me. I had grown up hearing about my family history and the fact that my great-grandmother was a midwife in Northern Ontario. My grandfather had shared with me stories of her and some of the births she had attended. One day, it hit me, I was in grade 13, my final year of high school, and I decided that I would be a midwife. It seemed to suit my personality and excited me. I had never seen a birth in person, nor did I know any midwives or anyone who had ever had one. Somehow though, midwifery resonated deeply with me and now I had a focus.
When I first looked into the Midwifery Education Program at Laurentian University, I realized that this was an intense program that required dedication and a commitment to being on-call. I decided that I needed some time to live a little more, mature a little more and have the fun that most students have in their first years of university. I did 3 years of varied university studies, enjoyed my free time and got to experience life as a young adult with very little responsibilities. After that, I felt ready for the life and commitment of being a midwife. I applied and was accepted my very first year into the french stream of the program. I will always remember the day I received my acceptance letter. I cried joyfully and felt a deep sense of peace knowing that this was going to change my life in ways that I could never imagine.
In the program I met amazing people who encouraged me, inspired me and supported me. I was rather unlucky in my first year of the program (or so I thought at the time) because unlike all of my other classmates, I did not get to attend any births. By the time I was in second year of midwifery and entering my first clinical placement, I had yet to attend any births but all that changed very quickly. On my very first day of placement I was invited to a hospital birth. She was 16 years old, having her first baby, scared but trying her best to remain calm. Her midwife was doing such an amazing job at helping her to relax and reassure her. I watched through tears as that baby navigated it’s way out of her momma and couldn’t believe that this was actually happening. A baby was going to come out of it’s mother right before my eyes. I cried joyously as I watched it happen, holding the momma’s hand as she pushed with all the courage she could muster. Her baby finally came out. It was blueish-white, was not crying and appeared pretty life-less to me. The midwives were calm, rubbed up the baby, suctioned her, put on the bag-and-mask to breathe for this limp but beautifully perfect little girl. I was scared. So was the mom. The midwives then gave the baby a shot of Narcan in the thigh (I had no idea why at the time) and then the baby came around and started to cry and I started to breathe, as did the momma. The midwives gave the baby to the mom and explained that because of the Demerol that mom had gotten in labour to help with the pain, her baby needed an antidote (Narcan) to help her get going and that all was now well.
What a first experience for me and surely for that momma too. I was pretty shaken up and didn’t realize that this is what birth could be like. The midwife who had been present at the birth came to sit with me the next day, and over a cup of tea we had a very intense chat about the fine line between life and death and that in our lives as midwives we would get to experience the fragility of that line over the course of our careers. She told me that in most situations there would be joyful outcomes for all involved but that from time-to-time we would have to sit and be present with families in grief. She told me that part of what I would be doing as a midwife is seeing, knowing and appreciating the fragility of life and death and that I would hopefully someday come to understand that they are truly part of the same continuum. She also told me that if I wanted to be a great midwife, I had to make peace with the fact that people die, and that sometimes those people are moms and babies.
I did a ton of soul-searching after that birth and decided that I could do this. I could love and walk with people in their joy and in their intense sorrow. From that moment on, my focus became on the connections I made with families. I would be there to walk beside them, provide support and to love them up.
Since that first birth there have been hundreds more. My life as a midwife has led me to interesting places and connected me to such incredible people. I have had the privilege of living in the arctic for a few years working as a midwife in remote fly-in communities. I learned a lot about birth from Inuit women. I came out of the arctic with a rock-solid faith in the birthing process, my ability as a midwife to handle (or figure out) whatever comes my way and the experience that birth is safe, even when you are 4 to 7 hours away from a hospital by plane.
I feel so rich that so many families have welcomed me into these precious moments of their lives. Women and their families have shared so much of themselves with me and helped me to grow, both as a person and a midwife. I have walked with hundreds in their most joyous moments and also with some in the most terrible of times. In both cases I have felt blessed for having had those experiences that have made me the midwife I am today. I look forward to my future with a full heart, knowing that I have many years of catching babies ahead of me and that there are so many more beautiful families that I will have the privilege of knowing.
Josée Nolet is a registered midwife with Generations Midwifery Care. Learn more about Josée here.