OK, unpopular opinion time…
I LOVE birth photos and birth videos. I really do. It is a wonderful thing to see and generous of the mum to share this moment.
Hands. Oh my goodness the hands.
Birth photography always seems to capture hands – not mums’s or dad’s – gloved hands, belonging to a midwife or doctor, touching the mum and baby as baby emerges. It happens A LOT. Not every time, but maybe almost.
Is this necessary every time it’s depicted? I am skeptical.
Does the mum even realise that this is only one of the ways that things could be? That (all being well) those hands need not be touching them? Or that the parent/s can often welcome the baby if they choose to? I suspect not.
Here is the unpopular part: if there is nothing wrong, then this is being done for the midwife or doctor and not for the mum or baby. It’s being done selfishly, and not to improve outcomes, or because the parents gave their express consent. It is being done because it is how they are accustomed to practising, or maybe it’s a “perk of the job”. After they have worked alongside the mother for however many hours, maybe they’ve sweated, maybe they covered their own anxiety, maybe they suppressed every horrible memory of the times it went drastically wrong for other people, and fought to keep their heart rate down and keep the parents calm while their own trauma went unrecognised by anyone…. After all that, perhaps they think it is their due.
I say it isn’t.
Go ahead and hit me with a rubber chicken.
Midwives should be paid better. They should have more respect, be better protected from bullying in the workplace, have fair working hours and be granted a degree of autonomy that allows them to work with each mum as an individual. They should have the best support and mentoring possible. We need more of them. They are owed a great deal for the important and valuable work that they do. They are not owed this, the “catch”. The great “hello”.
I know most are wonderful people. I know they work hard. I know their job is stressful. I am able to imagine some of the ways s/he might be feeling at the point of birth. None of that negates the fact that touching (where it is unwanted, or where the mother doesn’t know she is “allowed” to refuse) is happening without true consent, at a pivotal moment in life that can’t be done again. If you did it to me, I would label it a violation. That may be harsh, but as a service user – as a birthing woman – that is how I would feel. I know I am not alone.
During birth, it’s not about the attendants, whoever they are. (Midwives, doctors, doulas, nurses.) Their (our) ego has no place in the room. The unique “hello” is something they don’t have a right to. This terrific moment is not fair compensation for stress, for witnessing trauma, for a job where, even when it’s going well, they hold at least one life in their hands and maybe two. They are owed a great deal for those things (see above), but not this. This should not be on the list of perks. This bit isn’t theirs; it’s mum’s. Or mum and dads. Or grandma’s. You get the idea.
I’m massively unpopular with some for saying so, but I’m ok with that. I feel quite strongly about it.
We don’t have that many babies anymore, so this is a once or twice in a lifetime opportunity for most parents. And really, is that “hello” any less treasured if it’s your tenth baby, not your first?
This is without even starting on colonising the baby with the right bacteria – which means, mum touches first and everyone who is not a parent or sibling touches as little as possible, if at all!
I feel like a lone voice sometimes, on this one.
This should go without saying, but… Sometimes circumstances are difficult, and mum isn’t able to be as active or involved. That is different, obviously. We all know birth goes a little sideways sometimes and not everything is ideal. So, needs must. Sometimes the mum and dad would rather not do any catching and that is their choice. We live in a sanitised world where plenty of people are a little bit squeamish about blood and poop and goop. I might love it; not everyone is obliged to. (OK, maybe not the poop.) Anyway, SOMEONE has to catch. What an incredible honour and privelege to be that person! I daydream about a world where we are much less divorced from our own bodies, much less grossed out by the rawness of our primitive functions, and wholly confident in our abilities from the very start. For the parents who had no opportunty to catch, I feel that they have had something small and yet also sort of enormous taken from them. Perhaps they have missed out on something magical. If a woman was birthing in front of me this moment (assuming all being well) – I straight up wouldn’t feel worthy to touch her baby. To touch her baby. To touch her baby!
Of course this is coloured by my own experiences, my own bias. I freely admit that. I caught my own baby. I birthed her into my hands. No one else touched her. Only me. Then her dad. I have never felt anything more wondrous in all my life. The sheer magic of those few moments when she hovered between-worlds cannot be put into words. They are seared into my memory and I will treasure them forever.
TL;DR – It is a momentous thing, to lay hands on a brand new person, perhaps a brand new soul. I think too many people take it too lightly. They miss their own opportunity when it comes round, or they blithely take the opportunity from others without even a thought. I would like to see that change. I am often quite an irreverant person, but this, I think, is sacred.