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A Question of Midwives...

Yesterday was a big day. I met my first American midwife. As a fan of midwives, I was giddy with expectation! My over-excitement might also account for the reason I accidentally dropped my pee sample down the toilet at the clinic before I met her.

The practice I use has two midwives who deliver at the local hospital. After such a positive birthing experience with my daughter Eliza thanks to midwives back in the UK I was very keen to meet one here in the US.

I’m surprised by how differently midwives are viewed here compared to the UK. Having a midwife deliver your baby in the US is almost regarded as some hippy, alternative health movement for the hessian smocked, alfalfa sprout-eating, anti-leg-shaving and barefoot minority. But in the UK under the National Health Service (NHS), it’s the norm. What that says about Brits and alfalfa sprouts, I don’t know. I’ve never dared try one. But between you and me, I will let my legs go unshaved for a week in the winter.

When I was pregnant with Eliza, all my pre-natal care was with community midwives and that’s standard practice providing you’ve no pregnancy complications. The schedule of visits was pretty much the same except we brought our urine samples in tubes from home, rather than peeing in cups at the clinic.

Come the big day, it was a midwife I breathlessly spoke with between contractions on the phone who gave me the okay to come in to hospital, it was another who once I was there checked dilation and officially admitted me, and as it was such a long labour and we went through a shift change, I’d see another two before I was finally holding Eliza. I’d never met any of them and it was my first time in the hospital. The only time I saw a doctor was to be given a dose of drugs, something midwives aren’t qualified to administer.

Despite its length, there were so many positive parts to giving birth to Eliza. I never felt rushed or like I was being frog-marched into making decisions about what to do next. My labour room was equipped with a small birthing pool which I skipped in and out of until finally deciding my grand plans for a water-birth were not going to happen. Drugs were needed, not H2O.

All the while my final midwife Helen – ever patient, ever calm - followed my lead. I’d chosen drugs which allowed me the chance to relax, quieten and most importantly gather my strength after over 12 hours of coping with contractions on my feet, before the final push. As luck would have it, she had qualifications in aromatherapy massage so she instructed Husband N to knead my hands then lit burners with lavender oils before gently massaging my knackered feet. By push time I felt rejuvenated and ready to be on my feet again. It was hard work and painful but her guidance and support as I pushed Eliza out I’ll never forget and when she finally handed me my baby with tears in her eyes, I cried too.

It was only afterwards when Eliza was settled in her cot beside me that Helen confided that doctors, after finding out the length of time I’d been in labour had been “circling” outside the room. She and her boss had considered both my condition, the unborn baby’s and my wish to have little medical intervention unless it was completely necessary and had conveyed my message without me or Husband N having to state our case. After everything I’d been through, I was so grateful.

Friends have had very different experiences with midwives so I know it’s not all rosy in the garden. Giving birth comes with complications and doctors are there for good reason. All new parents want at the end of the day is a safely delivered, healthy baby. But many – like me - want that to be a natural childbirth experience with as few surgical tools and drugs as possible. And when you’re new to childbirth and exhausted with the emotion, stress and pain that comes with it, it’s often easier to be led into making decisions that can be unnecessary and ultimately, colour your memory of one of life’s most incredible experiences. Mine wasn’t quite as I’d pictured it but thanks to my midwife,  it’s left me with memories I’ll always cherish, once I stop thinking about the stitches that is....

So how was my meeting with the American midwife? Fantastic. She wasn’t barefoot and was in fact wearing rather enviable black leather boots. Turns out she worked in the UK for ten years and had her children there – she ‘understands’ and has first-hand knowledge of the UK system. More importantly, she seems to understand me and what I want from childbirth with Number Two. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee she’ll be on call at the hospital come my big day so that lies in fate’s hands. But whether it’s a doctor or a midwife who delivers Number Two and providing we’re both safe, I want to be the one making the decisions about how my baby comes into the world.

What I must remember is that no other midwife or doctor can be Helen and my next childbirth experience will not be the same as the last. Of course I’m grateful for the knowledge I have of labour going into it again as I have more realistic expectations, but ultimately, giving birth will be different. Besides, lavender oils and foot massages a second time? Now surely that’s just wishful thinking....