This work, the work of being a midwife, is elemental. Birth is elemental; primordial and ancient, rooted in the origins of our species. In our modern world with all of our conveniences, it can be easy to forget that we are creatures of this natural world. Birth brings us back to that reality in a visceral way that is undeniable. Indeed, it should be exalted and celebrated as one of the few ways we have left to connect us as a part of humanity, as a part of each other.
Conception is a spark, bright and warm, in the watery depths of our bodies. A spark fed by the eternal breath of the Creator and sustained by the rich soil of the womb. A womb that is fed by the running waters of blood. Full of chemistry; nutrients, elements, iron, oxygen, carbon, this is the stuff of life. Through these worlds, the pregnancy grows and develops. The pregnant person becomes the vessel for the elements of life, a channel for the immense energy required to create that life. An energy that builds and culminates in the process of birth. Birth is elemental in all these ways.
Early in my path towards midwifery I was blessed to hear Marsden Wagner speak about this energy. He shared a story about the first time he saw a woman in true supported, physiologic birth. This was years after he had been a practicing physician and was invited to a home birth. He talked about seeing a woman in her power for the first time, seeing her embody all the forces of nature and it initially terrified him. It terrified him so much that he literally fell back against a wall and collapsed to the floor. To his credit, the experience moved him to learn more and to open his eyes to the power that is birth. It was an influential story and one that has always stayed with me. I often go back to the image he painted, one of a person stunned into awe and love by witnessing the power and beauty that is the birth process. This is how I feel at every birth. No matter how many times I am witness to this strength, the power remains undiminished and in fact my awe and respect actually grow.
Labor is a force of nature! Much like a hurricane, a tornado or an earthquake but instead of destroying it creates. It creates a family and life itself. It requires the passion of fire, the gentleness of water, the calm of air and the strength of earth. And let’s not forget the Spirit, ever present and supporting. For me, this is no clearer than the mystical time of transition. The space when the last edges of the cervix release and the body prepares to push the baby down the birth canal and out the world. The energies are distilled down to an extreme focal point, much like a point of light through a lens igniting a flame. The laboring person must open themselves; become a pure vessel and allow the elements to engulf and embolden them. Only then can they begin the work of weaving together the elements to bring forth life.
As a midwife, the element that I most often channel is that of water. I am never exactly the same midwife for every family. I am always myself (guided by Spirit) and bring with me my fundamental knowledge (supported by the Earth), have passion and compassion for my families and the work (fueled by Fire) and my critical thinking skills (through the lens of Air). However, it is as water that I enter each birth space. Each birthing person has their own song, their own path and will need me to adjust to them. Water takes the shape of the space it fills and that is how I enter; filling the space as needed. Water is soft, gently supporting and caressing, warm or cool depending on the need. Water is strong, clearing away obstacles and creating new paths. Water is quiet, whispering in your ear. Water is booming, commanding attention when necessary. Water is my midwife elemental energy.
Image credit Aubre Tompkins, CNM