By Michelle Collins, Ph.D, CNM, FACNM, FAAN
Vanderbilt University School of Nursing
Call the Midwife is back for its eighth season and so are the faculty of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing with a weekly guest blog. Watch the show Sundays at 7 p.m. through May 19, then read our blog each Monday morning for historical and contemporary context about the previous night’s episode. SPOILER ALERT: Some posts may contain spoilers.
I loved the advice Mother Mildred (played by Miriam Margolyes) gave to Sister Frances (Ella Bruccoleri) as she headed out on her first “solo” birth. “Don’t forget your most essential instruments: courage and humility. If you leaven one with the other, you cannot fail.” Sage advice from such a wise mentor.
As midwives, our hands are our most valuable asset. More than any single tool of modern technology could, our hands facilitate us being able to diagnose, comfort, treat, and accept life into them. Yet an individual midwife could be the best diagnostician, the most capable “baby catcher,” but without courage and humility he/she would be a very incapable midwife. Courage is what we draw upon to stand beside women in whatever phase of life they need us. Courage is required to challenge the status quo in advocacy for our clients.
With every baby we catch, humility reminds us that it is not the midwife who causes the healthy birth. Instead, it is the strength of the women we care for, in combination with the innate knowledge that birth is normal, that brings about the healthy birth. Midwives recognize this, which is why we prefer to say that we catch rather than deliver babies. To use “deliver” shifts the credit of the work in birth from the real hero – the momma.
This episode highlighted several key issues. We saw a young husband who, during the course of his wife’s pregnancy, slid back into risky sexual behavior. Why would a man who seemingly has it all (a beautiful, devoted wife; a child on the way) slide into such a destructive pattern of sex addiction? The answer is multifaceted. The prospect of change, in this case that of becoming a parent, can cause a regression of behavior in a recovered/recovering addict. Whatever the addiction, because it brings comfort, the addict may fall back into destructive patterns in times of stress. It’s a timely topic, as the number of those with a sex addiction is currently nearly equal to that of those with cardiovascular disease.1 Thankfully, sex addiction is much more openly discussed now than it was in 1960s London.
The other topic I wanted to mention regarding this week’s Call the Midwife episode concerns the young woman whose birth Sister Frances attended. On a routine postpartum visit, Sister Frances found a party in full bloom in the woman’s flat, arranged by the husband. The new mother was huddled in her room, frazzled by the prospect of having to return to normalcy and act as though she hadn’t just gone through such a powerfully exhausting experience as childbirth.
Midwives like to tell patients that it takes nine months for a woman’s body to get to the point that it is ready for birth – and another nine months to get back to a semblance of a “new” normal. So many women find themselves in the position of having no time to recover after childbirth; out of necessity they must return to work, or to full-time care of their children, sometimes within just days of giving birth.
We spend a great deal of time and effort showering women with gifts during pregnancy. Wouldn’t it be something if we routinely gave new mommas really valuable gifts after babies were born; gifts like time to take a nap, freshly washed laundry, a cleaned house – or even better, adequate follow-up medical care once baby arrives, and appropriate paid leave from work. Now those would be valuable gifts!
- Protect Patients First. AARP website. http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/politics/advocacy/2017/06/patients-first-national-fact-sheet-june-12-2017-aarp.pdfPublished June 12, 2017. Accessed May 5, 2019 via https://www.recoveryranch.com/resources/sex-addiction-and-intimacy-disorders/sex-addiction-america-common/
Michelle Collins Ph.D., CNM, FACNM, FAAN is a Professor of Nursing and Director of the Nurse-Midwifery Program, at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.