Trigger Warning: Trauma, abuse, violence against women
I started writing this post several weeks ago. It was during one of the first few weeks of my placement. I sat on it for a bit but have decided that it might be nice to share what I was thinking that day… along with some other thoughts since.
I’m sitting here after a very long day of clinic and I’m wondering where to hold the stories I’ve heard today and the stories I’ve heard over the years.
These aren’t happy stories… these are stories of abuse, sadness, and trauma. I wonder if I should hold them in the same place where I keep my stories… I wonder if there is room for them there.
My pre-midwifery life was filled with these stories. Stories from friends, family, and strangers. Stories of abuse, trauma, sadness, and shame. Since I began studying midwifery, I’ve heard more. So many more. I think of these women often. I wonder what they’re doing today and I hope they’re safe. I feel the weight of these stories behind my eyes – sometimes they get so heavy that they swell with tears.
In clinic I listen. I watch my preceptor handle conversations with grace. I’m not okay after clinic days like that. I’m confused, somewhere between devastation and outrage. What can I do to help these people? The people that don’t want help… the people that cry for help but are met with limited resources and understanding… I don’t know how to keep them and myself safe.
I’m not really sure where to go from here… I know I have a lot of work to do, personal and professional. I hope that I’ll be good at this stuff someday. My goal for now is to listen and protect the space where we talk. I’m going to thank those people for trusting me with their stories and for sharing all the experiences that birth brings with me. For tonight, I’ll probably just tuck the stories away with the names of their owners in a secret place in attempts to keep them safe.
One of the main reasons I decided to pursue midwifery was purely selfish – I thought that if I could care for women and children the way I wish I had been cared for then maybe some healing would occur. Not only for me but for other people too – maybe somehow do my part in healing a giant wound on all of us that still seems invisible. I realize that this was a major driver now, but I don’t think I recognized it three years ago. I certainly didn’t mention it in my interview.
I’ll admit that despite my experiences, I didn’t think that midwifery would get so real so quickly. That’s the thing – with trauma, you don’t ever get fair warning. In first year, we spend a half day with a midwife in the community and observe her in clinic. I was expecting a pretty fluffy day – maybe get to palpate a belly, listen to some fetal heart rates, and see something interesting clinically. While those things did happen, I wasn’t prepared for the young mom who came in and flinched at the touch of a blood pressure cuff and appeared to be in absolute agony during her abdominal palpation.
I remember recounting my day to my classmates, like we all were, and being really excited at first and then breaking down into tears. I told my class that I would never see her again and that I had been thinking of her constantly since. I had so many unanswered questions and my stomach was in knots thinking about her safety. I still think about her all the time, her image is burned in my brain.
Fast forward to this year where I’ve witnessed more flinching and tears because of BP cuffs and listened to stories of violence. After my initial reaction of sadness and helplessness, I felt determined to do something about it. My preceptor and I found resources for our clients, got pro-bono doulas, and free counselling services. Then we just sat back and listened. After all the clinical stuff was done, I sat on the floor and listened. My preceptors voice went soft, knowing exactly what to say. I gave my own anecdotes and advice and held her baby while she cried. When we were leaving, she said: “You have no idea how much you mean to me.” I kissed her on the forehead. Those are my favourite clients and this is the kind of midwifery I want to practice every day.
Then of course, there’s the other side of the coin: when care is over. Six weeks postpartum fly by and we say a final goodbye. Suddenly the months and months that you’ve spent with this person seem too short. It’s just as traumatic to say goodbye…
I have often thought that maybe speaking about reproductive justice may be my thing in midwifery, but I think it’s going to be about this instead: violence against women. Birth has the ability to heal but it also has the ability to further traumatize. We often look to birth to be this transformative life changing experience and the truth is, it isn’t always like that for everyone and that’s okay. For me, this is where clinic comes in and creating relationships with women in that space. It’s a place to establish trust, build a strong foundation of support and love. So that wherever we go together, whether that be clinic, the hospital, the home, or the grocery store there will be a fierce protective force surrounding you.