In recent months, more than one of my midwife friends has experienced a client or patient getting upset when they were not personally available on a certain day or days due to another birth, weather, personal reasons, or other circumstances. The midwives experienced feelings of guilt, anger, and/or hurt because they did what midwives are prone to do: they tried to be everything to everyone or felt bad when they set a healthy boundary.
Last week I went on my first real vacation in five years… as I was packing my bags, I battled guilt for going out of town when I had mothers due in a couple of weeks. At the same time, I was so excited for this special time with my family in a place that I love. Please do not think I abandoned my clients: I lined up two trusted midwives to cover for me if needed which is safe and appropriate care. I am now home from my restorative vacation and excited to attend their births!
I have been that emotional mother who was needy, loved her midwife so much, and could not wait to see her again. Had my midwife been unavailable for my birth, I would have been disappointed. Yet, I feel the need to remind folks that midwives are human too. We have families who love us as well as emotional and spiritual needs. We may experience physical limitations at times. And somewhere in the midst of everything else going on, we must complete tasks that are largely unseen but very necessary to our practice.
Witnessing a family be born... there just are not words for how amazing it is. It is holy. It is a privilege and an honor! But I will be honest. It can be really hard work. I have known so many midwives to burn-out and eventually quit because it is hard to set healthy boundaries in a profession that is expected to be warm, fuzzy, and always available no matter what. In fact, I have been complicit in creating such expectations.
I learned the hard way that I must put on my own oxygen mask before I can help anyone with theirs. I need to fill my cup before I can pour myself into yours. I am a better midwife when I am rested, fed, and cared for. I am a better- and safer- midwife when a mother is pushing out her baby if I let my assistant and the doula support a laboring mother while I take a nap during a long labor. My assistant is a better- and safer- assistant if she does too in that scenario. Midwives, assistants, students, doulas, and partners all bring something to the table. If midwifery was a sport, it would be a team sport with the mother as the MVP!
I will not lie: it feels good when people call me a superhero and stroke my ego. But it does not feel good to experience guilt for wanting to take off my cape and be human for a day or a week. I will proudly leave my cape behind. I claim my humanity and my love for my own family; and my love for birth and other families. I am so glad I do not have to choose between them.
The work I do is dedicated to my ever-supportive husband Bill, my three children Elana, Jeremy, and Audrey who with their births sparked the fire for birth work that had smoldered since childhood, my Mom who experienced birth trauma and supported my midwifery journey in so many untold ways, to my Dad who paid off the balance due to my midwife when my husband was laid off shortly before the birth of our second daughter, to my past and present birth assistants Hanna, Ashley, and Nina, to the midwives who taught me along the way Wantina, Jennifer, Gay, Suzanne, Trinette, Bridgette, Heather, and Cathy, to the Indiana Midwives Association midwife members who hold me accountable and support me, to my SM friends who are always thinking about how to improve the quality of care we provide and have created a safe space to feel human, and last but not least, to the 300+ families who have invited me to be a part of their childbearing year and be witness to their sacred moment.
Michelle Ingram, CPM, CDEM