Prenatally and during postpartum even professionally trained midwives can play a role in free birth, if they choose to. Some will find it aligns with their values to offer varying degrees of support to women who choose NOT to have them physically present at their births. There is risk in this, given the licensure and certification they may have to carry and the potential fall-out and personal liability. A midwife who is willing to do a la carte prenatal check-ins, consults, education, or postpartum visits to check over the baby or complete paperwork for a birth certificate is one who probably truly believes that women are the central authority in their births.
If a pregnant woman needs her to talk through a couple of things or do a mundane task like a blood draw, ultrasound or paperwork, she can bravely put aside her ego and her fear and show up in the way that she is actually needed, without attempting to take over or route the woman into a ready-made “workflow” of midwifery care.
I had a few midwives in my life who were humble and trusting enough to do such things for me during my pregnancy and birth, and it mattered. A couple of them were just simply there to say, “I believe in you and I support you. If you ever change your mind, I’m in your corner.” A couple of them said, “Sure, I can help you find heart tones to put your mind at ease.” One worked through some psychological/emotional hangups with me from afar. Another allowed us to hire her for 2 prenatal consults so my husband could talk through some things he most felt he needed to learn/understand in order to be confident in his role. That same midwife responded when I begged her to come check me when I was 42 weeks pregnant and then came after our baby was born to look her over and do our paperwork. None of them took over my role, they supported it.
I don’t believe Free Birth needs to equal Alone Birth, even though for many families that is their preference. But in my own experience, having a few very carefully chosen birth companions was in line with my vision for my unassisted childbirth. Choosing who would be present was a combination of thinking critically through what they each brought to the table (the positive and negative) as well as my own intuition (like, who did I see around me when I pictured my birth?). Here’s what my team ended up looking like:
First, I had a person I didn’t have a title for, really. Like me, she isn’t a certified doula, nor a certified professional midwife (though she has attended several births), she has no formal education (though lots of informal study). Maybe we could call her a birth keeper or a traditional birth attendant. In any case, we have some shared, divinely-orchestrate history together surrounding birth work and I just knew I wanted her presence at my birth. I trusted her entirely to hold space without fear, to know how to use her hands to serve in practical ways, to pray in the spirit, to trust me, and to see me. She didn’t end up being at the actual birth, but energetically she was with me as I labored and texted her updates and developments. She was the one who sent me worship songs during early labor and suggested I get into the birth pool even when I thought my labor had stalled out. She arrived within 15 minutes of Agatha’s birth and assisted us getting into bed, finding my tinctures, brainstorming placenta delivery options, and just… BEING. It’s so simple, yet so rare and potent to find a woman who knows how to occupy a birth space with this quality of being. And it matters more than I can say.
Second, I had a family friend with whom my kids feel safe and whose presence in my birth space I knew could be trusted. We talked ahead of time about managing any fear she might have and about the unassisted birth plan and the environment I wanted to maintain around it. After a few honest conversations, I knew she “got it.” As a single woman who hasn’t yet had her own children, she was still able to use her empathy and sensitivity to be present in just the right way. She kept her eyes on the kids, willing to support them however they needed, and she also ended up filming the birth on an iPhone! She was, in fact, the only person outside our immediate family who was present at the actual birth.
Thirdly, I swapped services with my good friend and fellow birth photographer/doula, Annica. She masterfully tells birth stories in imagery that is artful and full of emotional weight. As a birth photographer myself, it’s important to me to see myself mirrored back through documentary photography of my birth journey. It’s not a small thing to be a humble witness to a woman giving birth or to show her through your artform how capable and fierce she is. Furthermore, she is a doula practiced in attending births in sensitive, supportive ways. She asked me what I wanted from her and when I told her I don’t really like to be touched during birth but really just wanted other women who were trusting, fearless space holders, she readily said she could do that. Not every doula or birth photographer will attend a free birth, nervous as they are of the liability or the disapproval of their certifying organizations, so it meant a lot to me that she was willing to show up in this way. Even if she missed the actual birth (my fault, not hers), the photos we have of the golden hours after are priceless.
(It is the sad fate of the birth photographer that she almost never ends up in photos from the birth, even if she was a huge part of the support team, as was Annica).
Our 4 children were also present for Agatha’s birth. But kids at birth is a whole other blog post. 😉
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