For a few moments, I was convinced that I had just seen my wife for the last time. I was certain that our new-born baby was not breathing. I was broken, bereaved – and mistaken. Midwives saved my wife’s life, gave my daughter the best possible start in life, and rebuilt each of us after a traumatic birth. I owe them an enormous debt.
In the first 31 years of my life, I gave almost zero consideration to the role played by midwives. TV taught me that they were present when things got wild: Barking out the names of breathing exercises, making witty asides to comfort male partners following expletive-ridden volleys of abuse, and passing a screaming bundle of towels to the mother – before disappearing from the screen forever. When the time for a live show arrived, the reality was much different.
During the pregnancy, midwives made a strong impression on me at the information evenings that we attended at local hospitals. Various medical professionals would gather in front of a projector screen and take turns to provide information on their team’s role. The midwives radiated an astonishing blend of confidence and toughness: These were people who had never been afforded the option of running away. Every second of every shift, they have to react to whatever life throws at them – immediately, and successfully. It gives them a brutish self-assurance that shines from every pore.
A few months later, we experienced midwives in action. My partner’s contractions began at midnight one Sunday, and became intense around five hours later. We drove to the hospital, aware that we probably had a long wait ahead of us. In fact, we had to wait around 26 hours to meet our daughter (plenty of time to think about my aspirations for her life, as I wrote in a previous piece here). The midwives changed shifts several times during this period, but each new contact was fully informed of our situation. This is particularly remarkable because the hospital hosted nine births that day: The daily average is three. The team was under pressure, and probably exhausted. However, whenever we wanted to check the baby’s heart rate, they brought the equipment and guided us through it. When we wanted to discuss our options for accelerating proceedings, they patiently explained each possible course of action. We were always treated with sympathy and expertise.
When the pushing hour arrived (post-epidural), the midwife guided us through the birth and calmly unwrapped the umbilical cord from around our baby’s neck – explaining that a couple of loops had formed, but that this was no cause for worry. We held our daughter and marvelled at her with all the spiritual wonderment we could muster, exhausted but euphoric. Around 30 seconds later, the world collapsed. My wife was losing blood. It flooded the floor. The midwife pushed my daughter into my arms. More doctors, more midwives, specialists and nurses came crashing through the door. Some slipped in the blood. There was shouting. Intravenous drips appeared, my wife was lifted onto another bed and rushed out of the door. I was alone. I didn’t know what had happened. I couldn’t feel or hear my daughter breathing. I convulsed with despair. The bundle in my arms did not respond.
I don’t know how long I sat there: It may have been less than 10 seconds, but it felt a lot longer. A midwife entered and explained what had happened, assuring me that everything would be fine. My wife would receive a transfusion and be monitored in intensive care for half a day. I was led to the midwives’ office, my daughter still in my arms, so that they could perform some basic health checks and clean the room for the next patient. I was unable to speak.
As I sat in the office, two midwives in their mid-fifties were conducting routine examinations of each of the babies on the ward. These women had probably handled tens of thousands of babies in their careers. They spoke to them softly, they were jolly and soothing. Most strikingly, they were loving: They held and dressed the babies with incredible affection, their tone was conspiratorial and mischievous. When they approached my daughter, I felt a surge of relief.
In the days following, I was astonished at the additional support that the midwives provided. They showed me how to pick my daughter up from her cot, and coached me through the first nappy change and bath. When my wife’s mood dipped, they provided counselling. Breastfeeding was difficult due to hormones lost with the blood: For two months, a midwife celebrated the euphoria of each exclusively breastmilk-induced weight-gain alongside us.
I am profoundly grateful that the medical staff did not tell me what was going on when disaster threatened. They identified the priority and devoted their attention to ensuring a positive outcome. They saved my wife’s life – my daughter’s mother’s life. Our experience on the maternity ward exposed us to what life is truly about. We saw the human body in all its frailty, the human species with its animal soul: Midwives see this every day – multiple times. They truly are partners for life.