The word midwife was formed from Middle English and means “(mid) together with, and (wife) woman.” It also means “to assist in bringing forth (something new).” Most midwives will tell you that midwifery is more a calling than a rational decision one comes to when pursuing a livelihood. It’s a response to something you feel in your bones—a stirring, a deep remembering, a sense of “coming home.”
I first felt called to be a midwife when I was a nursing student in the beginning days of my obstetrical rotation. I was assigned to support a woman while she gave birth to a baby whose heartbeat had unexpectedly ceased three days earlier. I was nineteen and naïve; she was forty-two and devastated. I stayed by her bedside for twenty-four hours, locked into her dance of courage and grief. As the hours passed, I had a sense of déjà vu—that I had been here before. It was familiar: the sheer power of birth, the wild undulations of her body, the primal sounds that keened from her throat. I was young and inexperienced, yet, I felt calm and unafraid as I witnessed her suffering and raw vulnerability. I seemed to know intuitively what to do. In the early hours of the morning, she pushed out her dead baby, cradled him in her arms, and wept. Then she dressed him in the clothes she had made and kissed him goodbye. As she fell into my arms, sobbing, I held her and knew that I had found my life’s work: accompanying women as they gave birth to their babies, which I did for many years.
As I grew older, I felt drawn to accompany those who were now leaving this life. Working with death and dying is a common path for midwives because this, too, is a calling, and we are at ease in these realms of transition. In my sixties, I became a hospice nurse—a midwife for the dying—and found many similarities to attending births: the language, the encouragement, the calm support, the loving touch—We’re here; you are loved. You’re doing so well. It won’t be long now. You’re almost there. You’re not alone. . .
In my experience, midwives and hospice workers are endowed with similar qualities, particularly in their abilities to honor the uniqueness of each person they care for with respect and acceptance—whether they be wealthy or homeless, amiable or difficult. They are informed by an indwelling confidence and trust that every individual, when well-supported, will traverse their transition with dignity in their own way.
Now that I am even older. . . I have morphed, yet again, into another kind of midwife: the one who assists people in bringing forth something new. I have a freelance business helping them give birth to their stories, memoirs, books, blogs, etc. As I work closely with each client, I feel that I am back in my midwife saddle again, just with a different bag of skills, and the end result is not a baby but a book or some other literary endeavor. What has remained constant throughout my many careers, however, is an unshakable trust I have in people to find their own authentic voice; my job is to use my skills to support them in doing that.
For instance. . . I encouraged and helped a therapist go from a rambling, generic website to one that truly reflects who she is: a woman with qualities of wisdom born from her relationship with nature, and a kind and gentle spirit.
I held the hand of a woman who translated a Buddhist book of teachings from Chinese to English. We hewed it out together on the phone—sentence by sentence, comma by comma— until she felt the rendering was true and good. It was a long but satisfying birth.
I have embarked on a journey with a lovely woman who is writing a memoir about love and loss and the evolution of her spirit. We skype each week, and I am amazed by her deepening insight and her courage to go deep as her story unfolds. We are kindred spirits, and I am happy that my help and counsel is a support for her.
I work each week with a young man who has written a fantasy novel. We sit across the table from one another—computer to computer—and go over every word until he feels satisfied. He’s buried in school debt, so we worked out a trade: he has become my yard maintenance person, and I am his personal editor—just like the old days, where I always did a few births for my winter firewood.
Another woman writing a book, a personal trainer, struggles to find time to write amidst a busy schedule. I find myself looking for all the tricks one might employ in a labor that is stuck and not progressing—encouraging her to have heart and keep going. . .
I consider myself fortunate that my profession as a midwife continues to find so many remarkable and satisfying expressions. Everyone has a story to tell or needs a second pair of eyes. I invite you to peruse my website. www.wordcraftmidwife.com.