Sunday May 5th is International Day of the Midwife, and this week at Mothers of Change we’re going to be highlighting midwifery care; what it is and isn’t, accessibility, birth stories and a LOT more. For starters, however, I want to focus on how different my midwife experience was with Katherine than my ob/gyn experience with Gabriel. Their births are six years and four provinces apart and are vastly different. Gabe’s story is found here, and Katherine’s here. This entry is NOT to say that ob/gyns don’t care about their patients, or that every woman who has a midwife will have as great an experience as I did. This is to compare and contrast the two vastly disparate experience I had, and noone else’s.
The main difference, to me, is that word; care. When I first met Lillian and Rhonda I was instantly aware of their deep caring-for myself, for my baby-to-be, and even for my husband. We spent an hour talking together, going over not just my physical stats, but slowly getting to know each other as people, not just as carer and caree. Contrast that with the hurried and impersonal visits I recieved in Ontario for Gabriel; in twenty minutes I was in and out of the office after having peed in a cup, been weighed, had my blood pressure taken and asked “Do you have any questions or concerns?” Even after one episode of nearly blacking out while at the bus stop one morning, it was a simple bp test and “Didn’t anyone tell you that pregnant ladies sometimes just black out? No? Well now you know.” kind of conversation.
I looked forward to my visits with Lillian or, as time went by, Rhonda; talking about the kind of experience I’d had with Gabriel, what we were doing to try and avoid it, pain management techniques, going over worst case scenarios so we wouldn’t be caught off guard if something DID happen, what to do if I found myself depressed again, the possibility of a homebirth, and on and on. Until I went and got a doula for myself, very little of that came up with visits to my doctor in Ontario, (who I actually rarely saw; more often than not it was a nurse practitioner at my doctor’s office) and looking back now I realize how badly prepared I was in some ways for Gabe’s arrival. With Rhonda and Ryan at my side, however, I felt invincible. (I wasn’t, but that’s besides the point. Even the best prepared mama and team are at the whims of biology and random chance.)
When it came time for delivery with Gabe, after 23 hours of intense back labour and very little pain relief, the doctor on call repeatedly urging me to have a c-section all day and eroding my confidence, nurses who didn’t really know what to DO with a stubborn, moaning woman, I had the surgery, Gabe was placed in the NICU for no apparent reason and they sent my husband home. My first time meeting Gabe, other than a quick peek over the surgical cover and beside my head, was nearly four hours later when he was screaming with hunger and probably had no idea who I was; not my smell, not the feel of my hands or skin on his, nothing but my voice but he couldn’t hear that over the sound of his own screaming and me asking the nurse in a panicky voice “What am I supposed to do?” She simply handed him over and said “You said you wanted to breastfeed so we haven’t given him anything.” She then proceeded to push his little head onto my breast, causing him to yell even louder, and then she left. It was a very rough start and definitely contributed to my post-partum depression. There was no connection, no bonding, just me struggling in the dark ward with this tiny human who needed me so badly and I didn’t know what to do. Eventually they came back and took him away, returning every few hours for the next day or so for me to try and feed him, until Ryan was finally allowed to come stay overnight with us. My recovery had been very poor up to that point and I hadn’t even gotten out of bed yet.
Again, contrast that to the care I recieved for Katherine; it was another long labour, but at no point did Rhonda or the doctor on duty suggest that I should just go get a c-section. Rhonda and Ryan were a great team together and I felt everyone respected what I was trying to do. We were all in it together and from the labour to my surgery, to the surprise rupture, to getting Kat latched on for the first time, to settling in as a family for our first night together, it never felt otherwise. Rhonda was 100% on my team, supporting both me and Ryan through a difficult experience and she’d been on our team since the very first email I sent reaching out to them at Sunflower Midwife Services.
Midwifery care is exactly that; CARE. In my experiences, the traditional model of ob/gyn care vs midwifery care couldn’t be more different, though ultimately the outcome was basically the same; two healthy babies. It’s worth noting, however, that MY recovery after my second birth was drastically better than that of my first, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. Ob/gyns don’t make house calls; midwives do, for six weeks after your baby is born, and in the weeks immediately preceeding birth. Ob/gyns don’t care for texts from their patients at gods know what hour, saying “Hey quick question; I’m bleeding! What should I do?”, whereas Rhonda was quick to reply with a couple of questions and some good advice. There’s no guarantee that the doctor on call the night you go into labour will be YOUR doctor, the person you’ve supposedly built a repetoire with the past nine months; with Gabe I had two different doctors, and same with Katherine. Long labours mean a new team at shift-change, but a midwife is there from start to finish and then some. When you look up at your doctor, afraid and exhausted, and see over the white mask they’re clearly exasperated with you, it can damage you. When you look up at your midwife, afraid and exhausted, and see over the white mask the compassion shining in their eyes, it can heal you. Thank you to all the midwives out there doing this difficult, time-consuming, sometimes heartbreaking but much more often rewarding in a way that no other work is, work.