I recently attended a friend’s baby shower, and only just prior to walking in did I realize this was the first baby shower I have ever attended. The room was filled with women in my same age group, by all appearances in my same educational sphere and economic status. A few were pregnant, my friend the closest to her due date and others much earlier in their pregnancies. I knew only my friend at the party, and was meeting the other people for the first time.
Conversation flowed easily among them. Doula interviews. Home birth midwife prenatal care stories. Cloth diaper services. At first I was enthralled: these were not my typical conversation topics with the women for whom I provide care. I was curious what these empowered, educated, opinionated women were currently seeking in their pregnancy. Many did not know I am a midwife, so I listened quietly and took it all in. They sounded confident in their midwife’s advice, laughed at repeating her jokes, and listed the best and most-sought-after doulas in the city and what they thought of them.
Games were played: listing baby animals, discussing my friend’s mother’s words of wisdom. It was a lovely celebration. Gifts were opened: everyone brought books instead of cards, and the mother in the crowd ooohed and aaahed over their and their child’s favorites. Bamboo fabric onesies. Debates over furniture from Land of Nod and clothes from Carters. My friend freely commented on adjusting to this time right before the baby comes, sharing her feelings regarding the strangeness of owning baby toys, where to put them in their home, how this all still feels odd to her.
Everyone prepares for a growing family in their own way. Everyone must obtain the necessary items from somewhere. Everyone deserves respectful and supportive maternity care in whatever setting they may choose. The women at this party are teachers, social workers, and care givers of the same community I seek to serve, and all deserve to have their own experience in their own way. We all struggle with what can feel like the divided worlds of our own lives and the lives of the women, children, and families to whom we dedicate our working hours and, often, our emotional cores. Having my friend and my peer group feel guilty for privilege is not the point of this post. Rather, I have come to a point where I have realized that I am processing my own feelings of loss.
It was in this setting, feeling like I was at the nexus of my current universes, stuck between the desire to be a resource for these women, and at the same time striving for the same joy for my patients who have me focused on the nitty gritty in birth care, that I finally realized that I have not become a midwife for my peer group. In many ways this makes me incredibly sad, that I am missing out on what some assume is the core of midwifery. I am not a midwife who can debate herbs or oils. I do not know the best chiropractors or acupuncturists. I am unable to list by name the top midwives or doulas in my city. I was overcome with sadness, feeling lost among my peers talking about those who are peers in my own profession. In saying goodbye to my friend at the end of the party, I was saying goodbye to a moment when I recognized and realized that I had lost a part of myself and my profession I had priorly assumed that I had.
Simultaneously, I felt completely overwhelmed when I thought about one of my women being a fly on the wall in that room. I am usually reviewing the WIC program, discussing support programs for teen mothers still in school, discussing affordable locations for car seats in the last week before due dates. I spend a lot of time discussing what a midwife is and how we are different. For many women, kind care is a new concept, as well as my mentioning their abilities to make gift registries, asking someone to throw them a shower, and encouraging them to pick out some items that really get them excited about the coming baby. Would they be wondering, “Is this how the ‘other half’ lives? The beautiful pregnant people?” Or do they already know? And how much do any of either halves in the United States know about the struggles and beauty of pregnant women I have worked with in low resource countries, who hope for basics like availability of trained attendants, medication, and for live birth. I feel sad for them, but proud of their strength, their beauty, and their progress.
I cried in the bathroom when I found the ability to excuse myself. And then I cried the entire way home. I have avoided writing this post. I would feel terrible if my friend read this and thought I am anything but proud of her, excited for her, and thrilled about her growing family. I have processed this for myself, and for my personal thoughts of the people with whom I want to surround myself if or when I become pregnant, and for all of my past and future friends who deserve everything they want out of their pregnancy. I believe in every woman’s ability to attain every thing she wants, and that does not stop at any level of privilege.
I have everything I want out of my birth work. But it took recognizing what my birth work does not currently encompass, and may not ever encompass, to realize that. It took that loss to see the gain. I have my closest of friends whom I feel may call me to be with them if and when they birth their family, and for them I would step up my game at any moment, to provide the care they would want. But for now, my focus is on different needs, both for myself and for the women I serve.
For now, my midwifery is the basics in birth care. I recognize that I am midwife of a different sort. I spend much of my time explaining that I do not attend home birth in my current practice, that I work at an inner city hospital, that I provide midwifery care for those who both break my heart and repair it. I love each patient as though they are my family, and in the world of feminism and the world of women, they are. Each and every woman deserves that. I do. You do. And every friend and woman you have ever met, does.
“Something’s lost, but something’s gained, in living every day.” – Joni Mitchell