I get paid to watch over women during childbirth. It is incredible, and amazing, labor-intensive and sometimes heartbreaking.
There’s a moment, when a woman realizes that this thing she is doing, is really happening, and there is nothing she can do to change it. In this moment, there is a look of panic on her face, as her eyes lock on mine, and I hold them there. I do not look away, and I say to her, I know. Sometimes she will fight it. She will try to get away from it. But eventually, the realization comes to her: This is mine to do.
I love watching women change during childbirth. For that brief period of time, rules of polite society are put aside. As she sinks deeper into herself, she cares less about what is happening outside of herself. She is focused on one thing. It’s raw, and it’s honest, and sometimes it’s ugly.
After years of this work, I was taught a new lesson this week. I observed a girl, in her first pregnancy, labor so beautifully, so instinctually, so powerfully that I was stopped in my tracks. I was awe struck by her peace, and by her connection with the process and with her body. The way she moved, as she worked through contraction after contraction, could not be taught. No class or book could ever standardize the way she gave herself over to this thing that she had never experienced before.
After many (so many) hours of labor, and many more hours of pushing, during which she was completely present, for reasons completely out of her control, I ended my night with her in the operating room, numb from the chest down, covered in blue sterile drapes. She could not move, as her baby was pulled from an incision in her abdomen. She had done everything “right”. She’d had no medications, as few interventions as possible, and good labor support. She had walked and squatted and used gravity to ensure safe passage for her infant into the world. She did everything within her power to get that baby out the way she had planned and desired.
And it was not going to happen. It didn’t happen. She didn’t get the natural vaginal birth she desired, and had worked so hard to give herself and her child. I was disappointed. Perhaps a little disillusioned. I wanted so much to see her get the beautiful moment when she pushed her baby out and heard him cry.
It is easy to become cynical sometimes as a caregiver. I see so much that makes me roll my eyes. People in ridiculous situations of their own choosing. People in horrible situations through no fault of their own. Women who are so caught up in themselves, that they choose meth or other drugs over the lives and safety of their babies. I’ve heard the wails of women who are told that their perfect, almost ready to be born, babies have simply stopped beating their hearts, and there is nothing anyone can do. And then I’ve watched, as those dreadfully still and silent children are born.
I’ve sent women home either giggling or tearful, because I’ve told them that no, their water did not break, that they simply wet their pants. I’ve sent women home angry, because I cannot predict, nor influence the time and the day that their labor will start. I watched a woman punch her stomach and call her unborn child stupid. I’ve been snapped at by women who later apologize; I’ve been sworn at by women who never apologize.
We get the hand we are dealt. The cliche is appropriate. There are things we can control and there are things we can’t. Knowing the difference, and making the thoughtful choices when they are ours to make is the secret to contentment.
I only hope I’m playing my own cards wisely and thoughtfully.
Something about this particular patient made me remember what it is that I love about what I do. I’ve lost some of that over the years, and I want it back. I came home after this delivery exhausted and aching and a little melancholy. At the same time, I was content, and I was happy.
I’m a lucky girl.