Birth keeper or Baby catcher?

I felt compelled to comment on a great blog my the brilliant Rebecca Wright today. It can be seen here entitled “Are you a birthkeeper? Then don’t catch babies.” She was commenting upon the language used by birth workers in a facebook post which said “because maternity care providers are not serving mothers’ needs, more doulas and non-medically trained supporters being called on to catch babies.” She made great comment about mothers being the ones who should catch their own babies and why.

I’d like to elaborate further on my comments here, as this is an interesting subject, and I didn’t want to fill Rebecca’s site with my ramblings.

I was privvy to a conversation last year about the midwife’s role, brought about by the looming end to legal independent midwifery care. One party said when Independent midwifery becomes illegal we will be doing what doulas do anyway. The other camp were vehermently defending the title of midwife and not wanting to be compared to the service a doula provides. The arguement got heated (as is the way with passionate women!), and it was mentioned that women dissatisfied with their maternity care were indeed employing doulas to attend their births. Further heated discussion about the legality of this followed.

This got me thinking about what Independent or Authentic midwives do at a birth. I’ve been very honest over the past few years, telling my clients that I won’t actually be delivering their baby, they will. In fact most of my time (between the nurturing/ loving type of things) is taken up writing notes and drinking tea. I need women to realise that its not like on telly where the doctor heroically swoops in at the last moment to pull the baby out. It is the woman’s body, love, sweat and pure determination which get the baby born.

Several years ago I noticed that some women reach down to receive their own babies at the point of birth, but some are ashamed to touch themselves “down there,” especially if they are being watched! As a student midwife I recall watching my mentor move a woman’s hand away so she herself could ‘do’ the “delivery”. I’ve never been very directive myself, and have learnt the most by observing what women do naturally. Some women need to be informed that catching their own baby is possible as the power has so often been taken away from them. Professionals sometimes forget that they are there to serve the needs of the mother and baby – and not tell her what to do! (another post brewing on the balance of power). I remember telling a friend pregnant with her second child that I thought she could catch her own baby, for a number of reasons. I had seen many women slow down the birth of their baby if it was coming quickly and others who protect their own body in this way, giving tissues time to stretch (after practicing 11+ years I have never seen anything worse than a second degree tear). My friend did catch her own baby and tells all her friends that they can too!

I’ve been mulling over what it means to be a midwife, what Independent midwives can call themselves, and how they can still serve women after October this year. I’ve also been thinking about what difference there would be between what a doula or I could legally do at a birth. There is potential for several posts on this, so I’ll try to stick to the current theme.

As a midwife I know it is the woman’s baby and not mine. I’m sure he prefers his mothers touch to mine, and encourage women to receive their own babies. I’ve shied away from unnecessary internal examinations, and refrain from telling women how, or when to push, because I have attended many births where the mother does something totally unexpected and it turns out brilliantly. I remember being present at a birth centre birth where I was the second midwife. The woman was in advanced labour and spontaneously pushing with her first baby . We were prevented from being nosey, birth coach midwives, as visibility in the room was poor. The lights were dimmed and the water was a little cloudy, so our torch light couldn’t penetrate the water. Despite our efforts with torch and mirror we could see nothing. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to help her prevent a tear if I couldn’t see when to tell her to pant, or give smaller pushes. As she pushed she spontaneously reached down and told us that she could feel the baby advancing, and before long told us baby was emerging. She lifted the baby triumphantly to the surface knowing she had done it all herself! We examined her perineum a while later and she had no tears. I told myself that women can obviously prevent tears better than I can with all my experience.

I cannot bear midwives or doulas who brag about their ‘catches’ or how many deliveries they’ve done. I’ve no idea how many births I’ve attended (although it must be several hundred by now), and feel that keeping numbers makes it into some unsavoury sort of competition (like notches on a bedpost), rather than a unique event in someone’s life! Its a shame this bad habit starts in midwifery training where students have to get 40 deliveries to qualify as a midwife. Its not about numbers, its about people. I fail to see what student midwives learn when they are shoved into rooms to deliver a baby at the last minute, without knowing the woman, just to get their numbers. It can’t be nice for the mother either.

Being an authentic midwife means having the wisdom to not do everything you’ve been taught to do. The past 10 years of practice have been about unlearning the medical model, and learning from women. I like to think of it as a reverse Ina May Gaskin midwifery journey. A journey back to basic loving care, and being a birth keeper for the women and babies I serve.

Last word from Rebecca Wright: “Not all doulas or midwives are birth keepers, of course, but the essence to me of this concept is exactly what you express here: service to mothers and to birth. Birthkeeping (and authentic midwifery) to me is about holding mothers and babies at the centre of their own experience, bringing with us whatever skills or talents we possess that are needed in that space, but always with humility and discernment.”

Thank you Rebecca for fuelling my fire. xx

19 thoughts on “Birth keeper or Baby catcher?

  1. Pingback: Mother and baby–positioning after birth « Delayed Cord Clamping

  2. Fiona Willis says:

    Great blog Joy! I, like you, believe that women are the centre of their own birth experiences, and her birth attendants are there to serve her. Birth workers (whether they are doulas, midwives or obstetricians) need to realise that the mother has all the power.

  3. Carole Thorpe, Hypnobabies VP says:

    Well said!

    Pizzas are ‘delivered’, and mothers give birth to their babies…if we don’t interfere.
    Lovely blog post, if only all mamas could experience such ‘hands off’ attendance at their babies’ birthings. Thank you for your service.


    Carole Thorpe, CHt, HCHI, HCHD, CLEC, CiHOM
    Hypnobabies, VP
    “Thoughts (words) become things…choose good ones!”

  4. Jenn hodge says:

    Hear hear Joy, I totally agree with yours and Rebecca’s comments on returning birth to a woman centred and empowered

    The only thing I want to add is that I think we need reminding sometimes that it is up to the Mum who catches the baby.. Not anyone else.

    I too am going to blog on this as its got me thinking!

    • admin says:

      Well said Jenn. Mothers of course have the power to do whatever they please in pregnancy and birth without asking permission. Some mothers have mentioned not wanting to catch their own baby, and thats a valid choice too. x

  5. Christine says:

    Hi. I really enjoyed your article! I would never put doulas and midwives in the same category though as doulas are not allowed to catch babies or do anything clinical and that is stressed over and over again in our training. I do thoroughly enjoy working with midwives though and enjoy it much better than working with doctors at a hospital birth. I learn something new every time I work with a midwife!

    • admin says:

      Hi Christine. interesting point about the distinction between doulas and midwives. I understand the doula training informs doulas what they may and may not do at a birth, but I know several women who’ve had planned homebirths with only a doula in attendance. Women are asking for loving support in birth, and some dislike the clinical interventions that some midwives bring. The boundries are begining to blur, as some Independent midwives may call themselves doulas after October 2013! I’m glad you like working with midwives, I like working with doulas. x

  6. maude poulin says:

    thank you!!
    so good to read that, inspiring….
    The tentation of doing something is so strong…
    So often, things are done because doing nothing is too hard…
    Being useful…
    Taking away from the mother something that belong to her: Catching, tearing, birthing…

    Maude (midwife student in Québec…a hand’s off midwife in learning 😉

  7. Gabrielle says:

    Thank you for this post!
    I have been wondering a lot about this issue lately and I think you did a wonderful job of putting words on it!
    I’d like to embark on a journey to midwifery and the path I will take still seems foggy; so, again, thank you.

  8. andrea says:

    As a birthing woman who has chosen a home birth midwife (before any of my family friends or acquaintances did), seeing the number of births my midwife had attended and her statistical outcomes in her well kept records was very helpful and reassuring for me.

    I’ve hired my midwife twice and neither time did she catch our baby. The first was a hospital transfer due to multiple complicating factors and my baby was caught by an unsympathetic, bullying Dr. Kim under bright lights (thankfully my midwife stayed near and acted as a doula and I had a host of kindly ministering nurses). The second birth, I ended up having prodromal labor followed by a precipitous birth. So my husband ended up catching my baby with my midwife on the phone!

    My second was an amazing triumph of a birth and such an extreme opposite of my first birth, but my only regret is that the unusual situation prevented me from tapping into more of my mama instincts. I automatically moved to all fours, for example, but was directed onto the bed (I think there was some small hope of slowing delivery), and I was directed to push once when waiting and stretching might have been better.

    But although I’ve hired my midwife twice and she’s never caught the baby, I’ve always kind of wanted to be the one to do it. In fact, I asked her when preparing for my first birth if I could catch my baby and she offered to remind me since I might be so in the “birth moment” that it wouldn’t be on my mind. My husband was an amazingly wonderful baby catcher though. He breathed, “Oh, Andrea” when he saw we had a second daughter, but let me see her gender for myself a moment or two later. 🙂 I’ll always treasure those special moments when it was only three of us in the world.

  9. Nafeesah says:

    Beautiful Article!! As a Community Doula and Student Midwife, I loved this article. This is the type of Birthworker I want to be.

  10. donna says:

    but really anyone can be a birth keeper or a baby catcher.. as a midwife i don’t need either of those labels. I am a midwife..with woman. Thats all. I am here to be with her in whatever capacity she asks for. I am also here for when things go slightly askew or catawampus and she needs my experience and skills. That is our real maintain space for normal to be a huge spectrum and yet recognise when it is no longer.
    I am not a baby catcher or a doula — I am a midwife and all that for generations that has meant. Women before me who were there for women during this sacred time.

  11. Lori says:

    Thank you for sharing. I think the discussion lends insight into the growing popularity of freebirth or birthing unassisted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *