Sit by the birthing pool: damp sleeves, time stands still,
Dozy from heat and lack of sleep.
The offering of small bites and little sips.
Hand on shoulder, soft words spoken slow,
Warm water welcomes babies, washes women, makes tea and milk and tears flow.
Each birth unique. This one feels it all in her thighs, this one in her back
This one is silent, this one roars her baby out.
This one brings a heaviness; breathing grief into her birth,
While this one skips lightly, floats easily on each exhale.
This one greets her child with a whoop, this one turns her head away.
This midwife speaks gently, touches gently, moves slowly.
This one rolls her eyes, barks orders, touches roughly.
This one stays hands poised, this one pulls and tugs, ignoring pleas to stop.
This doctor kneels to look her in the eye.
This one looms, arms crossed, her requests quick to deny.
Here are the letters circling like bats:
GBS, PE, VITK, PROM, MEC.
Where hides sleep when the bats are out?
Each one with sharp teeth and a tail the shape of a question mark,
Confusion as choices are chased away in the dark.
Birth teaches that running from pain and strain
Merely swaps one discomfort for another.
No one can be rescued, just accompanied along the way,
We have salves to offer for suffering and strife
But no magic wand: only she can walk the path of life.
Some mothers we meet deeply; connecting profoundly.
Others challenge or trigger as we struggle to find
A place where we can meet – find something to love in her,
As we sweat and sway our way to that sweet wild
Exalting moment she meets her warm, wet child.
Some stay, become friends, even choose to follow our path.
Others leave; some we grieve, scattered through time and space.
Some return on spotting new-blue lines, or reach out in the despair of loss
Some open their pages to us, exposing their souls,
Others remain closed books; secrets kept with private goals.
Smoothing cool, clean linen over the bed.
Lay them down to feed, and sink into the warm arms of prolactin-dozes.
Lego and last night’s dirty dishes.
Intelligent tea-drinking; low tones flow between each sweet sip,
Making sense of the chaos while she learns to fly the mothership.
Doing the school run, sorting a meal,
Down on the floor with a toddler and a train.
Changing endless nappies, talking feeding and sleep,
Miles walked in parks and gardens, pushing prams while I sing,
Or with a warm, milk drunk infant asleep in my sling.
This job is bodily fluids: the metallic heat of fresh red blood,
The ozone-sex seaside smell of amniotic waters,
Pinky show, vomit, possett, tears and dripping milk,
Wee and tarry black meconium and then,
Chicken-korma yellow poos time and time again.
Here is the mother starting out damaged,
Feeling a failure or feeling confused, trying to choose.
Reliving unkind words or uninvited hands,
Maybe the birth plays in palm-sweaty loops in her mind,
The moment she wasn’t certain they’d get out alive.
We watch them lost in the maternity maze,
Telling their story over and over to each new face.
Here is the ‘fat’ woman, the ‘old’ woman, “nulliparous”, “grand-multip”,
Big babies, small babies, pregnancies too long, placentas with sell-by dates,
This body, this baby, always at fault; coercion threatening the pearly gates.
Here is the mother trying to break free,
Seeking salvation, forgiveness, connection,
Here is the father yearning, and learning,
To throw out abuse, neglect, secrets and lies,
Here is the midwife, withwoman and wise.
This mother is in a black pit of despair,
The dark mantle engulfs her; a sadness about her,
She imagines the baby better off without her.
The pit so deep; our arms stretch down to the dark.
Her fall is long, waiting lists longer: her outlook is stark.
Here are women and men; parents of all genders,
Babies conceived in every way – not always tender.
All modes of living, all religions and races, making homes in all kinds of places.
Families in flats and parents in houses, mothers alone and with all kinds of spouses
Dreaming and plotting with all kinds of plans,
Birthing in beds, in pools, in toilets and backs of vans.
And here are the survivors: of mutilated vaginas, sexual abuse and rape.
Girls fleeing, hiding, seeking asylum, trying to escape.
Recovering addicts, desperation and dejection, suffering the pangs of lack of connection
Here is the one with broken heart and broken dreams,
And the ones betrayed, lives ripped at the seams.
With two babies, or even three, a family so needs community.
The whirling blurr of nipples and nappies and eyelids heavy,
Bottles and buggies, parents passing ships in the night,
Needing willing hands to pat and shush, jiggle and sway,
Humming, as they are becoming, more able every day.
Boobs; bountiful and beautiful. Some sore, or struggling,
Most come trailing stories: enhanced, cut, poked and prodded,
So often a battleground of blame and shame,
Flows the milk of human kindness, literally or figuratively, from her breast,
As her mewling infant finds comfort on her chest.
And lastly here is my song for the joy of a child,
Conceived and received in love,
Here is my hymn for mother-mild,
For the bliss that comes from the counting of fingers and toes,
For the love that grows, amidst the weeds, like a slowly blossoming rose.
Here is my gratitude for the singing and dancing,
The laughs, the breaths and yes, even the deaths.
For the sharing of stories,
The infants trailing clouds of glory,
For the loving word from a sister, for the parents finding their feet.
Here is my song for doula life, a melody lilting and bitter-sweet.