yesterday whilst a wee bit poorly and cold tucked up in my bed for one reason or another i started to think about empathy….and empathy in the birth room in particular…it’s what we all want isn’t it? to have others understand how we feel, what we are going through and what we need to heal.
when the birthkeeper puts themselves in the shoes of others her universe expands, her stress levels go down, her immune system is boosted and her brain lights up in the same way as the person she’s empathising with…there is some really amazing science that goes with this involving mirror neurons and your brains inability to reason that its not actually happening – we are born and wired to have compassion – isn’t that great? it seems like it will go a long way to making our life better.
so who’s shoes? what about mum? how is she feeling? what’s going on for her? what about her fears that you know of? perhaps that fear of doctors because of the rough vaginal exam she had as a young woman during her loss…what about that hope she has for her baby being born peacefully to heal that wound….what about the feelings of deep sadness she shared with you that her partner doesn’t find her sexually attractive whilst she’s pregnant and her great joy that she is birthing and becoming a mother which she’s dreamt of solidly for around the last ten years…and all the many thoughts and feelings you know nothing of…..what happens to you as a birthkeeper when you wear her life for a minute? you understand and you allow
what about the baby? we could write a large book on what we imagine this baby is thinking and feeling whilst birthing is taking place….how is she feeling? what’s going on for her? i’m sure there’s a whole lot of wooooaaahhh…….transitioning from one realm to the next …… flooded with chemicals at one moment high and dreamy on endorphins…loved and happy and safe full of oxytocin….rushing from adrenalin…..stressed when mum stresses…..i wonder about synthetic oxytocin and how that feels…focus goes from baby to mum continually…”we don’t want the baby to get tired”…”we’ve got to think about your pelvic floor”…what does this little soul feel when its very life is put on the line….what happens to you as a birthkeeper when you wear her life for a minute? you understand and you allow for stresses and strains and sleepy babies and babies that need a little energy or rest or time and you remember just how wise babies are….you understand
what about dad? how is he feeling? what’s going on for him? what about his fears and hopes that you know of? lets face it we know he hasn’t had sex for a long time – there must be something going on for him even if he hasn’t shared it with us…..perhaps he worries he’ll be a violent father like his own….maybe he’s looking forward to fishing trips and seeing the reflections of his grandparents in this hoped for baby…..perhaps he really didn’t want another baby….he’s concerned….at a homebirth he has jobs to do…in the hospital he may feel trapped, safe, disappointed, in the right place, in the wrong place, emasculated….maybe he’s wishing the cultural pressure was off so he didn’t have to be right there for the birth – he always thought it seemed better to be with the men folk while the women did the birthing with the support of the women in their family and circle…he’s feeling pride, the need to protect and respect at the strength of this woman thats birthing their baby…what happens to you as a birthkeeper when you wear his life for a minute? ….you understand and you allow
what about the doctor? how is she feeling? whats going on for her? what about her hopes and fears? what about the fact that she’s so far travelled her whole career not understanding the risks of synthetic oxytocin and has only had it ever presented to her as safe and useful….perhaps they’ve never been in a quiet darkened room and witnessed birth as sacred and holy and blessed…maybe last week a mother or baby died….remember her years of study, her trying so hard to be like all her mentors…her status quo ….her feelings of being a lifesaver and sometimes that actually being so….she’s tired….she’s fragile…she believes babies are dangerous and women aren’t often very good at birthing….she’s a few weeks pregnant….she’s thinking of her career…she’s getting bullied by her superior….she spent last year donating her time in a war zone…..what happens to you as a birthkeeper when you wear her life for a minute? you understand and you allow and feel a lot less judgmental ….
what about the midwife? how is she feeling? whats going on for her? she has a constant stream of registration worries…she was just reading about a colleague and her case….she has a divine calling but spends her days in front of a computer screen reading machinery not women….she’s under pressure….she’s hungry and only has coca-cola crap to eat available at night on her shift – she’s putting on weight…she’s tired – she’s on nights but it was her sons school play yesterday and she didn’t want to miss it…she knows the consultant oncall is a sexist creep and is praying he’s not coming into her work space tonight….she still vehemently believes in birth – she’s desperately trying to still believe its safe and trust it….she was just called a bitch by the last woman she was caring for…she’s training for a marathon to raise money for breast cancer…she’s quite keen on doulas….what happens to you as a birthkeeper when you wear her life for a minute? you understand and you allow ….you have compassion
what about the doula? how is she feeling? whats going on for her? what about her hopes and fears? what about the teenage daughter at home that just told her last week she was pregnant…her divorce…her trust in birth and that all will be well…what about her good intention for this family to begin their life as a family together on a healthy, happy and whole note….the fact that last week someone told her a gossipy tale of midwives at the central desk bitching about doulas even though she sacrifices so much and earns so little to do this work….she’s praying….she’s suffering watching many of the obstetric practices she believes should now be defunct….she believes she has a divine purpose…she believes that gentle birth will heal mother earth one new soul at a time…..she’s broke…..she’s delighted to be there….what happens to you as a doctor or a midwife when you wear her life for a minute? you understand and you allow for her ideals, her advocacy, her lavender oil, her prayers and you no longer see her in your way….you understand
all of the above (apart from the baby of course) is based in truth, real life that has been taking place for families over the years i’ve been a birthkeeper…one thing i’ve learnt is that empathy and compassion go a long way to making my job an awful lot easier – give it a try and let me know what happens for you.
here’s two wee films that might take you a little further
RSA animate (remember them – the really clever little animated loveliness) – the empathic civilisation
TED (come on i know you all know them) a radical experiment in empathy (this one really got me thinking)
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
nicola mahdiyyah goodall is a revert muslim who grew up with hip hop based in edinburgh, scotland and london, england. she works with women trying and mainly succeeding to build circles of knowledge and community primarily with birth. she is also the director of wysewomen publishing and facilitates wysewomen workshops and red tent doula courses.