For all of our greatest advances in medicine, the work of bringing a child into the world will always rest on the limbs, strength, and soul of the woman in its throes. It is epic, it is transformative, and it is as old as life itself. This precious event is often taken over by the medical world, and I believe we need to take it back.
I have no dark past with the medical profession that has embittered me. In fact, I am a physician. Delivering babies has been one of my greatest privileges, and I have never walked away from a single one, even after call nights that brought ten babies into my hands, without some humility and awe for what women can do. Of course, medical heroics are occasionally necessary, and many times I have felt the tension of getting a distressed baby out as fast as possible. Yet the truth is, I know that a woman possesses an instinctual knowledge of how to birth her baby, and that for all of my training and expertise, I do best by her when I let her connect with her own body and do the work she was meant to do.
I remember well when I began to realize that no one, not even the most wizened of obstetricians, knew more about birthing than the mother herself. It was the end of my residency—I had already accepted an obstetric fellowship and felt comfortable with my skills—when a physician I had barely worked with supervised me during a birth. I was sitting beside my patient, advising her on pushing positions, breathing techniques, and generally talking her through labor. This was my usual spiel, and I thought it was important. Everything I had been taught and had observed before that day had reinforced that for me. This physician quietly told me to stop talking, sit on my hands, and wait. With some difficulty, I complied for what seemed an eternity of silence, maybe about forty-five minutes, as the woman before me went deep within herself, into her own rhythm, and pushed her baby out with great effort and sound, but without instruction or intervention. I lifted her baby onto her chest and moved aside for the excited family to behold. I was humbled, and moved. No one had taught me that birthing is not an acquired skill, that it comes from within. I learned this again powerfully when I birthed my own three children.
After catching hundreds of babies and learning ways to do so from many physicians and midwives, when my time came I knew that I wanted that chance to find my own power. I chose midwives whom I knew I could trust if things went awry, and who would also honor my choice to follow my body and my baby’s lead. To finally experience the intensity and pain and joy I had seen pass through other women was exhilarating. And I was able to birth in the way that I needed to when the waves of labor began. All three births were very different, though my daughters were both born in birthing tubs into the water, and my son at a hospital “on land.”
There are few things that have been around since the beginning of time. Birth is the beginning of time. For me, it is a great metaphor for all that is still mysterious and magnificent in the world—all that exists before and above medicine’s reach. I believe that through understanding the power and instinct that is so manifest in the event of birth, I can see the realization of my most far-flung ideas, for myself and for the world. Birth is an everyday miracle. And I believe that we are capable of such majesty, every day and in every way.