When She Met Her Baby

I walk into the hospital room with my preceptor to back-up a birth. I have not met this client before, but she had told the primary midwife that she was okay with having a senior student attend her baby. I creak open the door. The room is quiet, the woman between contractions. Her partner is sipping water, everything is very calm. The primary midwife sees us. She turns to the client and encourages her to follow her body and keep pushing on her own for a bit. Then she steps aside to give me and my midwife preceptor report. When she finishes updating us on the progress of the birth, she goes back to coaching the woman in her pushing. Acting as the back-up midwife, I find the infant resuscitation area and begin to set-up all the equipment.Best to be prepared for anything, because you never really know how a baby will come out until … well, after it’s out. I turn on the suction, oxygen, warmer, confirm the mask size, and do a series of other checks. I end by flicking open the intubation blade to ensure the light works and pass a hope to myself that no one has to use it today.

I throw the infant stethoscope and a baby blanket around my neck and walk toward the bed. I take over documenting the fetal heart rates and settle into my role as a back-up midwife. My job is monitoring baby before and after birth, and supporting the primary midwife in whatever she needs. The woman is still pushing on the bed in the centre of the room and the pushes are not effective. The midwives and I discuss different positions we can try with an epidural in order to encourage fetal descent, and the mom compliantly flips from hands and knees, to side-lying, and then to waterski.

Hours pass, more things are tried, descent is still poor. OB is consulted to assist with the vaginal, instrumental delivery. The baby is born. It needs help to breathe. It is brought to the warmer – the same warmer that I set-up earlier. Pediatrics is there to assess baby. The baby is breathing on its own but poorly – the decision is made to take it across the hallway to the more advanced resuscitation area. Dad follows baby, Mom is in shock.

Respiratory therapy is in charge of the resuscitation. I am running between rooms, providing Mom updates on what is going with baby and providing Dad updates on what is going on with Mom. After a while, the baby is stable enough to breathe on its own, but the pediatrician recommends the baby be monitored in the special care nursery for 12-24 hours. The Dad agrees, and the nurse offers a quick stop to see Mom before heading to special care.

She hasn’t, after all, met her first child yet.

I hustle over to Mom’s room to give her the update. She looks obliterated with exhaustion. We hear Dad walking in and calling Mom’s name. He gently pulls the curtain aside and reveals a little, blanket-enveloped, human burrito. As soon as they make eye contact, Mom and Dad both start crying and reaching for each other. Mom is hysterical with joy. She longingly stretches out her hands toward her baby, frantically waving them back and forth to encourage her partner to walk faster toward her. It’s hard not to take a direct hit to the heart from all the grief and love in her voice as she cries out for her newborn; as if those 20 minutes of separation were the longest, most grueling 20 minutes of her life.

Maybe, they were.

I’m completely stunned and overrun with emotion. I started crying the moment she reached her hands out for her baby. Mom and Dad grip each other and their baby with such an intense relief that I can physically feel it. Their united sobs are accented with exploding moments of pride: “Isn’t our baby perfect?” I want so badly to make this moment last as long as possible for them.

Eventually baby goes to nursery and Dad goes with. I wrap up my duties as a back-up midwife, which are minimal considering we transferred to OB care and baby is now in the nursery.  I convince Mom to eat a little something. I grab her an orange Jell-O from the kitchen. I tell her that I am leaving, and thank her for allowing me to support her in such an important moment. She looks up at me, a stranger she met merely 5 hours prior, with tears in her eyes. “Thank you for being here and for your help. I am so happy you were here.” Then she hugs me. I mean, she really hugs me. The kind of hug you reserve for the people you want to receive a deep loving intent from your soul. I almost start crying but instead put together my feelings:

“I’ll never forget you, or your family. You inspired me today, and I’m so grateful.” 

She nods.

As I exit the door I yell, “I’ll hear about it if you don’t eat that Jell-O! Get to it!”

She smiles as I duck behind the curtain and out the door. Back to the real world. Although, I don’t think it gets much more real that what I was just doing for the last 5 hours.

Level 4: I wanna be like you, midwife

When I arrive at a birth, I try my best to think of the major things I need to do before I get there. Immediate needs:

  1. Fetal heart rate, contraction timing
  2. Maternal vitals
  3. Set up equipment and document
  4. Offer vaginal exam (VE)

Generally, as I’m washing my hands after arrival all I’m thinking about is how am I going to do this vaginal exam, steps to finding a cervix, and what different centimetres feel like. Oh ya, and where is the piece of paper that I need to write it down on?

Meanwhile the midwife has already washed her hands, is doing a blood pressure, counting contractions, setting up equipment, explaining the plan to the client, assessing the heart rate … wait, how did she end up sitting on the couch with her hands poised, handing me a piece of paper, waiting patiently for me … who only had one job?

She even has enough time to tell the client to position herself in the position I need to do the VE … damnit, I barely have one glove on … and I forgot to open the gel before I put gloves on so my preceptor has to do that for me … I was getting there I swear!

Is that going to be me someday? I wanna be like her, someday (in 9 months, to be exact). Right now that seems unlikely …

Slowly, slowly, catchy monkey …

Level 4: Rough start, rough feels

Fourth year is intense. I promise to update with new stories of what’s happened and things I’ve experienced, but for now, I will give you the inside scoop of how I’m feeling.

The first three weeks or so of this placement were a bit of a fucking disaster. I say that carefully, because I naturally expected the first month to be challenging given I have not done much of anything midwifery-related in a long time and the level of student responsibility leaps up 1000 fold. On Day 1, I was given a key to the clinic and on Day 2, I was taking pages from clients. I also had the added stresses of unpacking my house, (I didn’t get a couch until May 22) getting to know a new city, and a having been allocated a preceptor that was on the brink of a stress leave.

It was a lot to deal with.

I felt confused, guilty, and stupid every moment of every day. There were no good moments, and I questioned hard what I was even doing in this job that asks so much of midwives’ emotional and physical selves.

My preceptor situation was sorted out at the very end of May, after which I was paired with a new preceptor midwife. Things have been more clear since, partially due to the preceptor situation but mostly due to me getting a feel for expectations and my role.

I am behind, though. While my classmates were getting orientated and learning community standards, hospital protocols, paperwork, and other basics, I was barely floating.

Now that it’s into June, I still feel stupid most of the time, but now I feel stupid with structure. The basics are forming. I have some good days, whereas in the beginning I really had none. I’m still tired as fuck every day, but I’m able to keep my dishes clean, my groceries stocked, my cat fed, and my homework done now.

I feel more hopeful than I did in May and early June. I feel my confidence creeping back, and I feel less horrified at the idea of going to a birth. I’m trying to get my midwifery mojo back. It is, after all, the whole reason I started this journey to begin with.

One day at a time, they say.