My phone beeps, piercing the quiet night. I climb from my bed, trying not to wake my children, a few of whom climbed into our bed in the wee hours of the night. In hushed tones I discuss the status of a woman in labor and decide to head out. I usually have a feeling, a kind of premonition on the night of a birth, so I have a quick, comfortable outfit laid out in my bathroom. I pull it on and grab my always-at-the-ready bag of supplies. I tap my husband gently and tell him I am off. I head off into the night.
I am jarred awake as I traverse the normally busy streets. My heart beats fast and I tell it to slow down. All will be right . . . but what if I don’t get there in time? What if something happens that I don’t know how to handle? All the what ifs come flooding in. But, eventually, my heart settles down, and it all settles into awe. It always settles into awe, even after witnessing hundreds of births, even after dealing with a patient who is frustrating and difficult, even when things haven’t gone “the way we planned.” I am in awe of the miracle of every birth I bear witness to as a midwife.
Midwifery is more art than science. In the end, it is the art of presence. A good midwife sees the journey and knows there is a “whole story” that encompasses a birth. There is that which precedes the birth: the story of conception, of two people coming together; the pregnancy. And there are the relationships, family, and culture into which this baby is being born. A midwife bears witness to many becomings—of mothers, fathers, families, grandparents, siblings, and of a brand new uniquely special person.
Over and over again, we midwives help to make what often feels like an uncontrolled, scary series of hours into something normal and natural. Every day, we attempt to bridge the gap between the natural and the sacred. To our patients we say what is true: “This is completely normal. You were made to do this. This is how it works.” And we also say, “This is the most unique, scary, and magical thing we human beings get to experience, and it’s a miracle that it even works.”
With every birth I attend, there is a moment that even I lose hope that it’s going to work, but I am repeatedly proved wrong. The wonder of a baby born is re-birthed in me.
During the longer, colder days of Advent, my vocation of birthing babies becomes more significant as I reflect on what The Holy Being born in earthly form really means. Birth is a great equalizer. No matter who the parents are — and I have attended the births of celebrities and homeless women alike — every baby comes into the world slippery, covered in another person’s blood and fluid, naked and fresh. It has struck me through the years that there are two experiences in life like that, where all of us are equal: birth and dying. It is no wonder that God chose to enter into both of these human experiences. Christ’s birth, the moment of him “being found in human form” (Phil. 2:8), was God choosing to come into the world just like everyone else. He had no special entrance. He came into the world like you, like me.
I often wonder what it would be like to be have been in that stable. How would a midwife enter into that story? Were Mary and Joseph the kind of people that one sensed greatness from or not? Did the midwife grasp then the profound sacredness of this moment, or did her awe grow as she retold the story in her retirement years? Mary was likely someone she didn’t know; they had no longstanding prenatal relationship, but she would act as if she were family, knowing her craft and knowing how to guide this new mother through this journey. The midwife’s heart would break for her in her pain, and yet would also know the growth and power a woman gains from going through it. She would gently encourage her, hope with her, believe for her in the process of labor when she no longer could. She would tell her of the many women who have gone before her, and she would tell her of the beautiful babe that was on the other side of this pain: “You can do it, Mary. One more contraction. You can make it. You are being so strong, Mary. Breath slowly; your baby is almost here. HE is almost HERE.”
I can only wonder what it would be like to have been witness to the birth of the Holy One come in human form. For me, every labor is a reminder of the hope and faith it takes to trust the process, the waiting and the laboring into the unknown with expectancy, with hope that this Advent is just the beginning.
Now, in the Christmas season, our hearts settle into awe that He is here.
Kristie Turner Monteiro currently spends most of the her time caring for her own 6 kids with her husband in Northern California. She continues to assist a homebirth practice in the East Bay on a very part-time basis during this season; she clearly has a thing for jobs that require interrupted sleep.