If you have ever experienced vulnerability with another, where if there are two people (sometimes more), you’re both exposed and vulnerable, then maybe you already know the look or gaze that occurs between the one that is witnessing and the one that is enduring,
The experience of,
‘Am I being seen? Am I being heard? Are you with me?’ takes place.
This is a common experience in the life of a private midwife at birth, it’s generally moments before the labouring mother meets their new baby.
Yet, what is it that can carry us to the other side in any moment of vulnerability?
I share the incredible, firework answer to this exact question, here.
It brings me chills to be writing and sharing this wisdom with you all, because it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for to explain the relationship between The Midwife and The Birthing Mother.
The brilliance, experience, and connection that has happened to coin the term that answers our question is simply profound, and has redefined connection for me.
My journey to all things birth and empowering women began after having had two home births, through a private midwifery practise, in Ipswich.
They provided me with continuity of care during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.
Yet, there is something that the relationship of the Midwife and the birthing mother holds, whether it’s private care or in a hospital or simply between two people at birth- the potential to embody what I’m about to share is absolutely available to us, and I’m going to spill the beans on what it is, right now.
Ready for it?
It’s the empathic mutually connected witness or for short The Witness.
This term presented itself to me on the pages of an article in the INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF NEUROPSYCHOTHERAPY Volume 7 issue 3.
Being published just shy of the new year, December 2019, the term created by 3 established psychologists, is new to me— the experience and the knowing of it, not so much!
The witness excludes some qualities, such as, judgment and presumption—- and instead brings forth a two way connectedness, and utilises a key ingredient—empathy!
So, how does this apply to the relationship of the Midwife and the Birthing Mother?
The Midwife and The Birth Mother Relationship Matters
If a midwife was to fully embody the witness then perhaps the woman will feel supported, nurtured, and safe during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, and then incredible healing and empowerment may actually take place. It is electric! It matters! Here’s why—-
So much happens for us as human beings when we’re seen, and held, and kept safe during vulnerability. Pregnancy, birth, and postpartum is vulnerable.
When we’re bringing life into the world, those three things couldn’t be more important for the birthing mother.
So let’s get into it!
Firstly- while I’ve made the time, let’s touch base on what an experienced private midwife provides a birthing mother and how that might look.
What care do they provide?
An experienced private midwife provides antenatal, birth, and postnatal services to women. They offer evidence – based, personalised maternity care that allows women to be in a space of learning and nurture, ensuring the birthing mother enters labour, birth, and postpartum confidently- prepared and well informed.
What stance and approach do they take on birth?
The experienced private midwife treats the sacred process with love and respect, and brings an understanding and trust that women know how to birth their babies safely.
Does the process seem a little difficult already?
Let me paint a small picture for you.
There is no referral required to have an appointment with an experienced private midwife at a clinic. In Queensland, the first visit with a private midwife is bulk billed through Medicare. Search for your closest midwifery clinic on google.
If you choose to follow through with midwifery care then a consultation appointment is undergone, and a deep discussion unfolds to ensure that you are receiving the right level of support, advice, and care for your individual needs.
Have an idea where you’d like to give birth?
Most private midwives collaborate outside of their clinic with other health professionals, where the continuity of care during birth remains possible.
This can take place in a hospital setting, a birth centre, or in your own home— wherever the birthing mother’s choice and preference is.
Some Handy Things a Private Midwife Can Do:
A private midwife can do referrals for scans, and blood test requests, prescriptions, work letters— some even offer birth and parenting preparation groups within their clinic.
Why might this be important?
Providing care for the birthing mother within a family-centred private clinic can be nurturing and helpful to a growing family and deliver the best possible outcome that benefits both the mother and her baby.
Having a regular go-to space where mother’s will discuss their baby’s growth, birth and postpartum plan can make a woman feel supported throughout their journey.
Home visits/appointments are an option, too, in most private clinics.
This kind of continuity of care is invaluable, as the pregnancy, birth, and postpartum journey presents many vulnerabilities, which deserve a safe and familiar space.
Let’s get back to the empathic mutually connected witness- or the witness. The one that gives love.
In the last 3 years I’ve had only the honour of listening to other women’s birth stories in a group setting held by midwives at a private clinic—-One woman claimed not any detail of her birth plan took place, and yet her birth experience was still a positive one.
Another birthing mother I listened to smiled the whole way through, sharing that her birth went entirely to plan, and no one she knew could believe it! (She also ended her birth story saying ‘bring on the next baby because I love birth!’ while holding her 6 month old).
This wasn’t me, though it definitely could have been.
And at the same time, some birthing mothers (not all), had searched for private midwifery care after experiencing a very traumatic birth (sometimes multiple traumatic births) and were not at all going to let it happen again.
The majority of these women had empowering and positive birth stories with their private midwives from the clinic. Some women experienced very difficult births with their midwives, and this brought many questions for me. It has been quite the journey unpacking the witness.
When I realised that some women had experienced really tough, trauma-like births, and weren’t traumatised, I saw hope. Beautiful, deep, HOPE.
I remember the exhale of relief—- the thought that enduring a difficult or hard birth, didn’t need to send me in terror- and I thought, ‘Wow! More women need to feel what I just felt.’
A readiness, a warming anticipation to what could be healing and transformational.
Birthing your baby!
And so, as questions began filling my head, this is what I observed.
The common theme wasn’t that birth became easier in subsequent pregnancies, and the other births were simply harder. No. And—- it wasn’t that the woman’s first labour is always traumatising and the rest are straight forward. Definitely no.
What I noticed is, the births, that women were traumatised by, lacked an empathic mutually connected witness. This presented to me many times while listening to other birthing mothers.
I’ll never forget hearing my first in-life birth story. I was 38+1 weeks pregnant with my first baby, my son— and the woman was a year postpartum.
As the mother began talking about the end of her pregnancy, and the wait of spontaneous labour, she began to cry. It was incredibly difficult time for her.
I saw this a lot, women involuntarily cry sharing their birth story. The mother would say, ‘I didn’t think I was going to cry.’
Often they’d take a deep breath, and continue telling their story, through their tears and their midwife would follow out such a selfless and loving act. It was something every woman deserved.
So what did I see time and time again?
The Midwide would get up from their seat and run to their woman, and stand by their side—again.
Call me full-on, I have goosebumps just typing this.
Then the gaze would take place, the look of, ‘I’m still here. I remember how hard it was, too.’
A beautiful exhale would take place, and by the end of the story, the birthing mother would be smiling, tears would be rolling down my face too, and the hit of oxytocin would fill the room.
I literally witnessed the woman healing.
The Midwife and the birthing mother were so mutually connected, it sent goosebumps through my entire body every. single. time.
Oh! And I gave birth the next day.
The most cherished and personal moment, that I’ll wrap this article up with, and share with you is this—- my moment of the witness, where I experienced the full power and love of the gaze, that I mentioned in the beginning of the article.
It imprinted on me in such a way that I can now give it to both of my children… And it all happened during that last half hour of my labour, during both of my births. Though, the story I’ll share now is the one of my daughter’s labour, my second baby. . . . . . . . . .
My midwife arrived, I was fully naked on my bed, totally surrendering to the needs of labour.
With permission, she stroked up and down the side of body with her finger tips, in between the waves of contractions.
She watched as I peeped my eyes open and looked for her. I locked eyes, and she gave me a warm smile.
I don’t know if I smiled back, though my body relaxed- bliss.
“She’s still with me” I thought.
My daughter was born soon after this gaze, this connection.
I am certain it played a major role in my quick (and unexpected) speedy labour, where my planned home water birth turned into a family-bedroom delivery into the hands of my partner.
Oxytocin, ecstasy- absolute love.
My hopes and my intentions;
The witness can be found in the every day living. This article was to shine a light on my belief that the connection (relationship) between the witness (midwife) and the endurer (birthing mother) can carry us to the other side (birth).
And why does this matter?
Healing and empowerment! We all deserve it.
So- the offer, and my gentle suggestion;
The next time you get your hair cut, look up at the person and into their eyes, and smile and hold it for a second longer. You’ll feel it in your chest, I’m certain.
The next time you’re out with a friend at the beach, ask them to put sunscreen on your face for you, and open your eyes. Let them see the unspoken words that present on the surface of our skin, and the energy that is transferred from the eyes from one being to another, and breathe it in.
Mutual Intimacy, vulnerability, and empathy are the ingredients to connection. And connection births babies my dear friends.
Author – Ashlee Wilson
A young mother of two, with a vision, and a belief for positive and empowering births. Delivering the message of secure phylogenetic attachment & why women matter in pregnancy, birth, and postpartum