When I was not quite two years old, my mom gave birth to my younger sister at home in her own bed, supported by her midwife, my dad, and my grandmas. My older brother and sister and I were all there. Because I was so young, I don’t actually remember this experience. But as I was growing up, I loved hearing the story of her birth, and how I watched the whole process silently, with my eyes as big as could be, and that afterward one of my grandmas went into the kitchen and baked a birthday cake. I understood that birth could be a sweet and intimate experience for a family to share.
When I was sixteen years old, I had the idea that I wanted to be a nurse, and to become a midwife. I attended my first birth (that I remember) when I was eighteen, just after starting nursing school. My older sister gave birth to her baby at home, supported by her midwife and her family, just as our mother had done. My sister wanted me to be the one to catch that baby, and her midwife welcomed me in, knowing that I was interested in becoming a midwife. When only her head was born, that baby girl opened her eyes and looked at me. From that moment forward, I knew this was my calling.
Over the years, as I finished nursing school, and then attended midwifery school, the journey that started with that moment of watching new life emerge became about something else. I am still humbled and awed by getting to be present for the moment life begins outside the womb. Each time I am moved by how miraculous it all is! But my call to midwifery became about the empowerment of women. I went to school with this background of the first births I witnessed being at home, unmedicated. And it was a beautiful and empowering experience for everyone involved. But partway through my clinicals in midwifery school, I had a profound realization that an empowering birth does not always look the way I expected it to.
I came on call in our busy hospital-based practice to find that a patient who I had connected with a few weeks before in clinic was here in early labor with her third baby. She went on to tell me through her admission assessment that her other babies were born in a developing country where resources were scarce and pain medication was not an option. The hospital for her was a terrifying place where she was dropped off and hoped that she survived. By contrast, she felt so safe and well-cared for here. I will never forget how her eyes lit up as she reached out and grasped my hand and said, “I’ve decided I want the epidural!” This was a choice she had never had before, and she felt so empowered in being able to choose
what was best for her. When we were getting ready to graduate, we were asked to write down on a piece of paper what we pledged to take responsibility for as health care providers. I still have that paper, and pull it out from time to time to read it again. It says, “I take responsibility for empowering women and families to make their own decisions.”
I often say that it is not my job to tell you what to do. Rather it is my role to give you all the information that I have so that you can make a truly informed decision about what is best for you and your baby. I trust women. I trust that they will make the decisions that are best for themselves and for their baby. And that through this experience, they will realize their power and their potential, and will rise up to become amazing role models for their children, and for other women around them. And this is why I am called to be a midwife.