‘The littlest feet make the biggest footprints in our hearts.”
“In all cultures, the midwife’s place is on the threshold of life, where intense human emotions, fear, hope, longing, triumph, and incredible physical power-enable a new human being to emerge. Her vocation is unique.”
We often hear echoes that are meaningful. Songs, words and sounds that say so much. At a recent meeting of midwives and midwife students a non midwife heard a phrase that sung through the air. It had a refrain that had echoed down the ages. It was the term ‘The Women’. It kept appearing in conversation. The midwives said it with such passion and compassion it was clear it embodied something vital and central to their work. The onlooker saw that this phrase was all about their commitment to the women and their children they worked with. They repeated the words with energy and devotion. Those two words summed up for the hearer that this was the heart and essence of midwifery. He later was not surprised to find out that the word midwifery was from an old English word midwyf meaning ‘with woman’. This noble vocation was about being present in these special moments where new life appears on our planet and a woman becomes a mother.
In such a special calling and work there is vital need for the woman to be listened to. Not only listened to but to feel listened to. One friend of ours – a midwife of many years – describes this as the ‘core of my midwifery practice…the right of a woman to a space where she feels her joy, ideas, expectations, anxieties and concerns are listened to.’ The role and honour of midwifery is to help create this space – this circle of support and engagement. Listening cannot just be be with our ears. It has to include and involve our whole person -heart, mind and body present to the woman and her child.
These spaces allow deep and dear conversations to flow. They express what Erving and Miriam Polster the Gestalt therapists wrote of. They mentioned how ‘When the listener hears, she knows she is in good contact and when the talker knows she is being heard, she is also enlivened.’ The way they describe this encounter is almost like a radio. Needing to tune in perfectly and listen closely. These speaking and listening spaces are spaces open to possibility and connection. They are not essentially a place where every question has an answer nor every anxiety a solution. Sometimes we don’t have the answers. Rather these are spaces where thoughts can be vocalized or validated. They are points where fears, hopes and doubts can find a place to be heard with care and kindness.
The midwife we mentioned shared with us about the centrality and vibrancy of this listening. She saw the benefit to women in her own work. It wasn’t always easy. To be present, to be kind and to want the best for the woman and her child. To allow these things to burn bright in our hearts and work was the very essence of compassionate midwifery.
She knew of a young woman who suffering postnatal depression had been brought to despair. It was the listening presence and kindness of a public health nurse that made the difference and allowed a breakthrough. It was the nurse asking “How are you” and meaning it that helped the young woman on the path back to feeling good about herself. The words of this good nurse saved the young woman literally. Yet it was more than her words it was the kindness and being present laying behind the words that did the work. Our midwife friend knew of what she spoke. That young woman had been her. As a midwife she saw the power and beauty of listening to the women and their needs. As a woman she had been the grateful recipient of this kind practice. Listening matters because people do. Women do. Many women are just looking for permission to speak and feel listened to on our wards and maternity services. We owe it to them and to ourselves as human beings, even in a busy environment to make time to listen. Even for a few minutes and even if we can’t fix the issue. It is the actual holding of the experience that matters. It’s the sign that another human being hears and understands.
Midwifery is the art of holding the hand of the one bringing a new life into our world. The Tao Te Ching the ancient Chinese work records words as true then as now;
‘You are a midwife, assisting at someone else’s birth. Do good without show or fuss. Facilitate what is happening rather than what you think ought to be happening. If you must take the lead, lead so that the mother is helped, yet still free and in charge. When the baby is born, the mother will rightly say, “We did it ourselves!”’
The duty and glory of midwifery is perennial. The song remains the same. Midwifery has the noble call to support those little feet emerge and continue their journey. Being there for the woman and her child even if issues can’t always be fixed is what midwifery represents at its finest. The non midwife attender at that meeting saw this quality written on the faces and hearts of the midwives and midwife students present. He listened and what he heard and saw was something truly good.
Jeannine Marie Webster & John Walsh
Thank you to Jeannine and John for sharing on my website. You can find the original post here – https://yestolifeblog.wordpress.com/2015/09/09/the-women/
Jeannine is a mother and a late comer to Midwifery, who trained in her 40’s. She has as a keen interest in Perinatal Mental Health both her own personal experience ,over 20 years ago, and now in her role as a midwife. Her post graduate studies have included modules in PMH and she is keen to see the role of PMH specialist midwife developed in Ireland. She serves as a member of the REFOCUS committee in the Irish College of Psychiatrists. She has recently been involved in the formation of the Irish Midwives association, one of the primary aims is to see an improvement in services and supports being provided to women experiencing PMH problems.
John Walsh works at York Street Health Practice which is part of Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust in Leeds, England. John has worked there for two decades at this centre which works with people who are homeless and in the asylum system. His present work also includes leadership development, culture change theory and the spirituality of care.