What’s it like to deliver babies?

“Do you deliver babies too?”  I nodded and gave a quiet “yes.”  It’s a hard question to answer these days.  Yes, it’s part of my job.  No, I am not doing right at this moment.  Yes, I do want to someday.  No, I don’t know when I’ll be ready.

“Does that mean you could deliver my baby?”

“You have a one in five chance, it’ll be me” I told her.  It was my standard line- there are five of us midwives who do call and though on occasion our docs end up being the one catching their babies, we midwives attend almost all of the vaginal deliveries.

“What’s it like?” she asked.  “To deliver babies?”

I paused.  I haven’t been at anyone’s birth except my own since December.  What’s it like now?  I have no idea what it’s like to be present at one of the most intimate, life changing, joyous moments of someone’s life.  What it’s like to hold a warm squirming, crying baby up and place that baby on her mother’s abdomen, presuming that’s where she’ll stay until the mom is ready to let her be weighed.  What it’s like to hold a baby that will likely live.  I don’t know what it’s like to do that without being reminded of how none of those things were true with my baby.  My best guess is that delivering a baby now would be painful, heartbreaking and soul shattering.  Handing a woman the baby she will likely take home will be grief inducing.  Just the thought of it, the mere writing of these words causes my throat to clench and my heart to beat more wildly.  I have to breathe deeply to calm myself down.

Up to 5% of women experience PTSD after childbirth with a much larger percentage experiencing some symptoms.  Traumatic birth is the most common precipitator of PTSD in these women.  What defines traumatic birth?  Some definitions are obvious- an emergency c-section, problems with the baby, feeling violated- and some might be less obvious.  Some women can feel traumatized while their providers could think everything were perfectly.  My birth was beautiful and traumatic at the same time.  I found what beauty I could in it, but I did not want to actually birth her.  My baby was whisked away from me a moment after birth.  My baby died.  Whether or not I have PTSD is unimportant to me- but I definitely have some symptoms- avoiding, intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance at times, detachment at other times.  Right now, the idea of returning to attending births honestly feels like reliving the nightmare part of my experience.

I do want to do births…eventually.  It is the most amazing thing to be the first hands to welcome a baby into the world and to be a part of that intimate life changing moment for a family.  I want to help make births positive, not traumatic experiences, for women.  That is my goal.  For now I am on the schedule to return to births in September.  I am unsure if I will be ready.  If I’m not, I hope I can make it work with my job.  But in the long run, in the future, I really do want to return to birth, when it’s less traumatic for me.  Because it is truly amazing.

“What’s it like?” she asked.  “To deliver babies?”

“It’s the coolest thing in the world.”

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3 thoughts on “What’s it like to deliver babies?

  1. I was never really concerned about going back to work because I see mostly teenage girls who are actively trying not to get pregnant, but I think about what it must be like for you often. I know it would be very hard for me to care for healthy moms and babies. I have wondered what it would be like if I still worked in the NICU. I’m positive I would not be able to be there. While I took care of babies who died along with their families, babies were beating the odds more often than not. Fantastic, of course, but I know it would always remind me of my baby who didn’t beat the odds. I may return someday (I loved the work), but I am glad I am far removed from it now.

    Your post reminds me that I have been meaning to write about my midwives. I’m hoping it will be a way to show them how grateful I am even though it’s almost impossible to put into words. They cared for me so well, and I know Owen’s death impacted them. The midwife who attended my birth wrote us a beautiful poem for Owen and brought it to our house with some postpartum supplies the day after we came home, and it captured his first moments so well. I read it almost daily to remember our time together. It is one of my most treasure Owen possessions. I figured it would be meaningful for her to know that, but you’ve reminded me that it is probably more meaningful than I can imagine.

    • I keep reading and rereading this comment- it makes me feel good (?wrong word?). Can I move to where you are and work with teenage girls? I love that part of my job and the young women int their teens and early twenties have been the easiest for me to work with. Hearing your thoughts on the NICU makes me feel very validated- thank you. I feel like a failure even having these thoughts and to know they are normal is helpful.

      As for notes to your midwives- i think that is a wonderful idea on two levels. As a midwife, thank yous and notes from patients are always touching (heck, you dont need to be a midwife to appreciate a thank you), but we don’t always know whether/how much we’ve affected our patients. Your midwife will likely be so touched that you read her poem so often (and really, how very very wonderful of your midwife.) I think you put it well “how grateful I am even though it’s almost impossible to put into words.” As a patient taking time to write each of my providers thank you notes was very therapeutic. I wrote one to each of my four midwives, my high risk doc, every nurse that was with me in delivery, my NICU nurse, the maternal special care floor I stayed on for two weeks, my bootcamp instructor! I find something so peaceful in writing them. I was sad to mail them because I want the opportunity to write more, but I figure I always can write another one if I so choose. write away!

  2. Pingback: What am I so afraid of? | Expecting the Unexpected

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