When I started at the Minnesota Birth Center and was asked to write a short biography of my career, I looked at the bios of the other staff to get an idea of what to write. I won’t lie. I was intimidated. I mean, have you checked out the bios of these amazing providers? They have years, sometimes decades of experience. They have traveled to other countries to provide midwifery care, set up schools, speak more than one language. It got me thinking: what have I done? What do I bring?
When I graduated from nursing school and was finally able to break into OB after 8 months, I was elated. I was finally here. I was prepared to soak up every piece of information shared with me. I was going to read everything, watch everything, learn it all! I was going to be the best. Honestly, I was probably so annoying to the experienced nurses and midwives around me.
But those nurses and midwives took me in and let me pick their brains and learn their tricks. They told me stories about the bad old days and the good old days. When Phyllis suggested I have women sit on the toilet to push, I was shocked to have first time moms pushing out their babies in 30 minutes instead of an hour. When Eileen made an off-hand remark about “why are we in such a rush to cut the cord, why can’t we leave that moment alone” I suddenly became a believer in delayed cord clamping even though I wouldn’t hear that term for about 5 years. When Sally rolled her eyes at me for running to yet another situation that was not an emergency I learned to slow down unless the situation called for it. When Jan told me her favorite part of birth and being with people in labor was the interactions between family members, I started to pay more attention to fathers, partners, siblings, children. And when Vicki told me the most important thing I could do as a labor nurse was to be present, I left my Minnesotan discomfort at the labor room doors and planted myself silently in the corners.
I learned so much from my colleagues, but I learned the most from the families I served. The more I sat with people in labor, next to beds, next to tubs, on the floor, squatting in a corner, walking in a hallway or up and down stairs, stealing out into a humid or frigid starless St. Paul night, the more I came to understand my role as a guide, maybe a facilitator, but essentially unnecessary to any particular person’s birth process. I’m sure I provided comfort to some women in labor or a few good suggestions or ideas of what to do next, but mostly what I learned is women are incredibly strong and intelligent and when you provide space for it, will do what they personally need to do to birth the baby inside them.
So, really. I haven’t travelled far. The vast majority of my birth experience has taken place in one building in downtown St. Paul. I have had the opportunity within that building to serve families from around the globe – reminding women to snap, to say their Hail Mary, to rock, to take a deep breath – sometimes without having a language in common. I guess I could say I’m fluent in the language of labor and birth. That sounds a little woo-woo and I’m generally a pragmatic person. But it feels true. I’m going to let it stand and be what it is.
I’m thrilled to continue studying the linguistics of labor and birth here at the Minnesota Birth Center, I’m so excited to be a part of what will be recognized in years to come as the United States’ birth center revolution. And I am honored to be allowed into our clients’ birth stories.