The first birth was awful.
I wanted it to be amazing. I wanted it to make me feel like a real midwife, like I could be good at this thing that I am both in love with and utterly terrified of. Instead, this woman I was with, she was only a couple of years younger than me and she did not trust me. In hindsight, this does not faze me. I get it. I'm 26, I was doing a less than spectacular job at faking any semblance of aptitude or confidence, and she was just done. Done with her contractions, done with the baby's father talking on his phone while she was racked with pain, done with her mother-in-law asking loudly when the hospital was going to do paternity testing because she was sure, she was positive that this baby was not her son's, and of course, done with the student midwife even being in the same room as her. So I did my best and offered to my preceptor to sit this one out and merely observe, in a genuine attempt to respect this woman's wishes, and was met with deaf ears.
"This is a teaching hospital. She needs to get over it."
Um, okay. Wow.
So in the end, no one was happy. My preceptor was annoyed that I dropped my hands away from the baby's head when the mother screamed, "No!! Don't touch me!" I was done trying to walk a fine line between respecting a person's body integrity and right to refuse whatever the hell they want to refuse - including having a student catch your baby - and trying to please whichever random "teacher" I'm spending a given 12 hours with. I was shaken by being so despised, in that moment, by someone who didn't know me at all, and - I'll admit - I was hurt and upset and took the whole thing far too personally. I grazed the baby's ears as they emerged and then, a few minutes later, managed to very messily deliver the placenta with shaking hands, waiting to be screamed at again by someone (anyone, really).
Ten minutes later, we were sitting in the chart room and my preceptor says matter-of-factly, "Okay, great. So that was your first catch. Here's the birth certificate, can you fill this out? Front and back."
I nodded, smiled, and excused myself to the bathroom where I sat on the floor, shivering uncontrollably, and took deep cleansing breaths until I'd breathed out all the adrenaline and guilt and fear and disappointment and anger and confusion until I was an empty shell of somebody calm and detached and wholly unlike me. That night, in the dark of my bedroom, I finally gave in to the sharp stab of hurt at being unwanted, of being terrible at something I so badly want to be excellent at, but mostly, at feeling such overwhelming sadness and guilt that I had been a part of something awful. Of a woman having a birth that was not her own, and not what she wanted. I hated everything about my implicitness in that.
If I've learned anything so far in school, it's that resiliency is far more important than aptitude. I still hate that school is a place where I am not the midwife I will be one day. Where I jump at the chance to perform amniotomies and place intrauterine pressure catheters because if I don't do those things now, I'll never learn how. Where I'm at the mercy and whims of every single preceptor, all of whom want different things, and none of whom are wrong. Where I spend 12 exhausting hours doing labor support for a primip only to be told to walk away at 7 PM so that the ER resident can catch her baby at 7:15. But - and this is a big but - the moments of wet squalling babies whooshing out on a wave of fluid, the pulsing cords, the reaching hands, and the tears that cross every language barrier in the room, those moments remind me why I'm here.
And they're what have finally brought me back to writing, after far too long.