Some days being a midwife is hard. It’s tiring and emotionally draining, frustrating and noisy, complicated and messy and sad. Days like this pass slowly. A visitor tells you that you’ve got the best job in the world and you feel like snarling ‘Sure, underpaid servant to an overwhelmed public health system. Super’. There are hours of never really finishing an endless string of overlapping tasks, being snappy and snapped at, stomping down the hallways, trying to ignore the constantly ringing phones, running out of everything useful and going home exhausted to slump on the couch and whine. And other days it’s totally fantastic – still noisy and messy, but joyful and energising. A visitor tells you that you’ve got the best job in the world and you smile smugly and give them chapter and verse on which university course to apply for. The work flows, nothing seems like a chore, there is enough of everything – time, rooms, heatpacks, thermometers – midwives joke with the doctors, births are uncomplicated, breasts work, and you go home buzzing on a high that can last for days. These are the days that bind us to the job, that mean we keep turning up despite the crappy pay, the dreadful cafeteria coffee and the rotating roster. Yesterday was one of these days for me.
Yesterday I was truly able to be with a woman as she laboured, breathing with her as she stood and rocked through contractions, kneeling by her side as she knelt, eyes closed, under the heat of the shower, squatting by the bath as she swayed and roared and pushed. I didn’t have to be in three other places. No one interrupted, bursting into the room to yell Have you got The Keys? Her family didn’t ask her irritating, irrelevant questions mid-contraction. There were no complications, no continuous monitoring, no drugs, no doctors, no phone calls, no-one hassling for the room, no machines that go ping. There was simply a woman, encircled by her mother, her aunt, her boyfriend and her midwife.
She arrived just two hours after her labour began, teary, scared and wanting a way out. Already working hard, her labour racing ahead like an express train, destination babyville. She laboured, breathing hard, yelling, swearing she couldn’t do it, really really couldn’t do it, wanting something, she didn’t know what, just something. She knelt in the shower, looking so peaceful in the soft spaces between the rocking contractions. After a while it wasn’t enough. She needed something more, something to hold her tired body up, something to lie her head on, dark, heat. Sinking into the bath, she had a few moments of relief before labour surged on. She pushed mightily, roaring with effort and yelling with frustration, just pull it out, pull it out, pull it out. So soon, her baby’s head is out, waters unbroken, membranes shimmering over the baby’s face under the water. A pause. Then all of her baby, slipping out, gathered up, held to her chest. She holds her daughter, whispering to her, shielding her eyes from the flash of cameras, already a mother, protective and fierce.
She is a mother and yet still she is an eighteen year old girl. Labour over, the roaring labouring woman retreats and the teenager I have never met returns. She is sweet and naive and funny. And she has a posse of bubbly, glossy eighteen year-old friends. About three and a half minutes after she has climbed out of bath and into bed, her naked baby warm against her chest, they spill into the room. They’re all hair and eyeliner and heels and iPhones. Uncertain for all of a minute as to where to look, sit, stand, the excitement takes over fast and they’re fine again. Then it’s all ohmygod!!, look at it I mean her it is a her right? was it like hard? what are you gunna call it I mean her? ohmygodwhat’sthat? is that meant to come out? did you have like heaps of drugs? it’s so cool you’re breastfeeding your boobs are so totally awesome right now! yeah, I put it on facebook already, it I mean she is so cute! you need some pink things, I’m totally buying her a pink dress tomorrow! I can’t believe you have a baby! I am a hundred years old. And I am so proud of her, this teenager I have never met before, as unfazed she lies naked in front of her friends, breastfeeding her new baby girl, telling them how hard it was but how she did it all herself.