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So much goes on behind closed doors. Secret decisions, fears and grief are exposed or hidden in private spaces. Midwives, nurses and physicians are often in a position to learn the secrets of those they care for or work with. This episode is about the discovery of secret fears and grief and finding a way to give the help needed. Trixie’s secret drinking, Sister Monica Joan’s fear of surgery, a pregnant mother’s pica craving and Muntaz Gani’s grief and anger about her infertility all fit into this theme. During a week or even a day in the clinic, it would not be unusual for a midwife to deal with any and all of these issues. It may surprise you to learn that the issue I most identified with in this episode was Mrs. Gani’s.
Although I did not experience a teenage arranged marriage or deal with the cultural practice of polygamy I did experience the heartbreak of infertility before I became a midwife. It was a different type of infertility but the result was the same. The journey through and beyond pregnancy loss was pivotal in my decision to become a midwife. Circumstances may be uniquely my own but the heartbreak of infertility and pregnancy loss is universal. Following is my decades old story.
My first pregnancy was attained easily and progressed normally. I had a normal labor and birth without medication or interventions. Friends surrounded me as I labored in the same birthing center where I worked as a nurse. My husband cradled me in his arms as we watched our perfect daughter come into this world. It was an empowering gift of an ideal birth.
A couple years later, when we were ready to grow our family with another child, I had no reason to think it would be any different than the first uncomplicated experience. Alas, over the course of the next 5 years I experienced numerous early pregnancy losses. I sought expert medical consultation, but the understanding of recurrent 1st trimester loses was primitive at that time. As I felt increasingly obsessed with having another baby, my husband became increasingly concerned for my health. Between the emotional toll and the risks of the medical procedures with each loss, he felt it was not worth the risks to continue to try. I accused him of not respecting my need to continue to try for another baby. I was not going to be forced to accept, accept, accept! It was a difficult time during our marriage.
All during those 5 years, I continued my nursing work at the birthing center and remember standing by and supporting laboring women as they birthed their precious babies. During this episode, as I watched Muntaz Gani sort through her multitude of feelings, I remembered feeling much the same confusion of love, anger and grief. Then, something happened. In this episode it was Dr. Turner’s heart sharing of how his untraditional family came to “embrace the miracle of what they were given”, which rung true for Muntaz Gani. Near the end of this episode, Venessa Redgrave’s narration talks of how “one small gesture can give us strength to do enormous things.” For me it was the following gesture.
On Mother’s Day somewhere around 1990, my husband presented me with a gift wrapped in a shoebox. I expected a typical gift such as slippers but as I opened the box and unwrapped the contents, I stared at a porcelain figure of a mother holding a baby. I had admired that figure in a second hand store months before. He remembered and went back later to purchase it. As I stared at the thoughtful gift, my husband explained that since it was so important to me, we could try again for another baby. This gift was a token of his respect for that desire. I looked up at him and at our beautiful perfect daughter sitting by his side and something inside switched over. It was as if curtains in a dark room were thrust open to let sunlight stream in. I could see clearly in that moment that I needed to stop looking at what I did not have and “embrace the miracle of what we were given.” That gift was the gesture of love I needed to give me the strength to move on.
It was in the weeks following that I decided that the energy, time and resources I might have used to raise more children were now going to be channeled into becoming a nurse-midwife. I could take my own pain and transform it into empathy and compassion for others. This new goal consumed me as my desire for another child once had. It also healed me. I found comfort in finding purpose for my grief. Many times during my career as a nurse-midwife, I sat with women dealing with infertility and pregnancy loss. I could honestly say I understood. I believe my counseling held special credibility because of my own experience.
Occasionally, my husband and I may mention our sadness at not having had more children, but then we remember what we have. Our bright, beautiful and now grown daughter has provided us with a charming son-in-law and two equally charming granddaughters. We have pleasure in watching numerous nieces and nephews grow and find their places in the world. We have each other. So we continue to embrace the miracle of what we have been given.
Deborah McBain (CNM, MS, BSN, RN) is a retired certified nurse-midwife and practiced full-scope midwifery in Metro Detroit for 20 years. For 23 years before her midwifery career she practiced as an RN in medical/surgical, obstetrical and neonatology units. During her career, in addition to her midwifery practice, she taught childbirth education, led menopause support groups and mentored nursing, midwifery and medical students as well as physician residents.
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