From Conception to the Grave: WHO Year of the Nurse and the Midwife
Guest Post By Karen Ady
Karen lives in the Central Valley of California with her husband. When she is not writing or catching babies you can find her singing at the piano, schlepping through thrift stores, or planning Grandma Camp for her 15 grandchildren.
At first I didn’t know I wasn’t alive. I still went to work, I smiled at my clients 24/7. But when work was over I couldn’t smile. My joy was dead. My heart was broken. I could count my blessings and the feeling that I should be happy overpowered any actual joy I felt.
I killed myself with work. I martyred myself for the cause of the mothers and babies in my practice. My love of giving outweighed my love of self and I no longer listened to my body and my spirit went to sleep.
It was my heart that took me to midwifery. My youngest baby was born with an undiagnosed birth defect and the grief of her passing turned my whole world upside down. The angels were close during those early days of loss and the Spirit whispered that I would help other women. But how could I help? I didn’t have any training to prepare me for a helping career. When the heavens opened and the beam of light fell on me God had called me to be a midwife.
The road to becoming a nurse-midwife was filled with miracles and academic honors. Nonetheless, post-graduation I found that securing a good job as a midwife was hard. As I looked for work in my rural Utah town I was told by a male physician, “It’s not that I don’t like midwives, I’ve worked too hard to have to compete with a woman.” I was frustrated by this antiquated and selfish comment. But I knew God had called me to be with women, and did not let this stop me.
Unable to find a position near home, I took a mentorship and moved out of state. Next I took a job teaching nursing students. Twice more I moved out of state for a midwife job. The work was rewarding and interesting. However the working conditions in a female dominated industry were rife with problems. One employer hired me at a fair salary but demanded 80-90 hour work weeks. Sexism, undervalued work, fragile job security and a wage gap caused a hardship for me and for other midwives.
Finally I was gifted a beautiful, busy midwife practice and settled into my calling. My life was a blur of measuring bellies and attending beautiful births. As my practice grew I was unable to bring a midwife partner on to share the workload. After four years of being available around the clock, in clinic all week and on call every day including on the weekends I wasn’t myself anymore. The eighty pounds I gained weighed on my heart and my limbs. I couldn’t sleep, had anxiety and missed my family and friends.
To lend birthing women my stamina during a long labor is a grueling job. It is physically, emotionally and psychologically demanding to be with women at all hours of the day and night, to hold them through a loss, and rejoice with them when the baby takes its first breath.
Nearly every day someone would tell me they could see that I love my job. It’s true – I did, but those comments injured me. I was completely exhausted, broken and unseen. The day came when I cried out to God that I couldn’t live this life anymore and I needed Him to save me. He heard my prayer and blessed me with a new job and midwife partners to share the work and give me some days off.
Over the years I have discovered that midwifery isn’t only about pregnancy and childbirth. It is about life– from conception to the grave. About making everyone’s lives as best as possible, including mine. And it’s about love, self respect, hope and God. I am honored that God has trusted me to do this hallowed work. I will be forever grateful to God for entrusting me in such a sacred way.
I still love the work, but now I put myself first. In order to hold up the hands that hang down and strengthen the feeble knees I need strong arms and legs myself. I hired a trainer, and lift weights and pound the medicine ball. I went to Mexico so a surgeon could remove half of my stomach. He took out the part that makes you love food and feel hungry. I drank insipid protein shakes and chicken broth until one day I couldn’t do it anymore. I bought a watermelon. Pressing the sweet goodness to my lips made me feel human again.
Before starting my new job I went to my mother’s farm in Oregon where I could connect with my ancestors. They and the land brought me back to life. And I sipped on tiny pieces of watermelon to extend compassion to myself. I go for walks . And I pray that I can hang onto self love long enough to show the world my ruthless gratitude to still be alive.