Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 15, Autumn 1990.
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Do midwives have a responsibility to functional family life? After the work of birth is done, after the postpartum questions have been answered, we leave our moms to cope with nothing less than a complete change of life. Can we help teach mothers both the significance of their new role and the skills that will be required of them? Or is any of this our concern?
The day after my eldest daughter turned 18, I was reflecting on the most important relationships God gives us in life. The insight hit me: Of all the thousands of relationships I have in a lifetime, the one with the very most impact on another life is my relationship with my child. My importance as wife, as daughter, as friend, or as midwife will never touch a life to the degree of my significance as mother. I nourished my body for nine months for my baby; at her birth I held in my arms a life totally dependent on me and my abilities, emotions, circumstances and reactions.
And yet, as steeped in significance as motherhood is, there exists no protocol, no standard of practice, no training for this demanding role. We are left to parent similarly to our own parents—or in reaction to them.
From this perspective, the task of helping new moms approach their mothering might seem to fall outside the scope of midwifery. But if we examine one of the most powerful teaching tools we possess—our own lives—it becomes clear that we already teach moms; we teach by example. The question is, what are we an example of?
As midwives, we are anything but passive; we are drawn toward doing, acting, helping. Midwifery has its own compelling standard of excellence. Further, we live in a time in history and in a culture which are rich in the wondrous multiplicity of things to do and to know about. Opportunities for achievement and personal growth, we are told, are limited only by our own resistance.
In the face of all that competes for our time and attention, it is easy to lose sight of the simple fact that life is long enough, God willing, for many achievements. We have a lifetime of chances to become a midwife, nurse, educator, or painter. We get no second chances for motherhood, for family relationships. If we overload with things to do that do not include our family members, we send them a strong message about their relative importance.
In order not to overachieve in the occupation/avocation parts of our lives, and underachieve in our family role, we must constantly take stock of what we are doing.
I have to admit it: I am not always good at this. I am prone to overload, and I am uncomfortably aware of how difficult it is to teach others—new moms, new midwives, my own children—to settle down to their priorities, when I have trouble managing my own overcommitments.
But it is amazing how quickly your six-month-old becomes an 18-year-old. And I’ve learned that it is never too late to carefully evaluate our activities.
This doesn’t mean that you give up your work. Nor does it imply that striking the best balance between work and home is easy. Golda Meier said something like this: “When I am at home there is so much work to do out in the world. When I am at work, there is so much calling me home. My heart is rent.”
We have a challenging calling, and blending our demanding roles is no small feat. Midwifery quickly takes over your life; now is the time to create graceful control and daily evaluate the things we say yes to, and the things we turn away from.
When I get to the end of my life and I look back at the mist that was my life, I want to get the sense that for the most part, my life was in balance. I want to be able to say I was a good mom under my circumstances. I was fortunate in being less busy when my first was born, and I stumbled onto good mothering techniques. But even though she is 18 now, and I am having to learn to let her head into the bumps and bruises and decisions that will shape her adult life, I still get to order my priorities. Oddly enough, they haven’t changed; it still takes effort to keep the needs of my family in top position on the list of my must-do’s.
The process of weighing our lives usually means we have to say no to some very worthy activities, even some other cherished roles. Friends are able to understand our needs; surprisingly, others can be helped to see the strength of our choices, too. Clients generally hold a good deal of respect for the midwife; they will understand if you cannot be at every baby shower. The world will have to understand if you cannot take on every birth. Consider that you are helping moms realize how important they are by acting as though you realize how important you are. For if we are living examples of “putting family first,” we are teaching new moms the significance of mothering.