- Midwives Blog
“A birth begins a baby’s life, but it transforms the mother’s. Forever after, she will say, ‘it happened at that time, it took that long, it hurt that much.’ The event is unique, but the experience: universal. She’s one more woman among uncounted others. Every one profoundly different. Every one, the same.”
Mature Jenny’s voice at the beginning of each episode always causes me to pause and reflect, but with the opening of episode 4, I felt this a little more deeply. My youngest baby’s first birthday is rapidly approaching, and while he will still be my baby for a long, long time, the chapter in my life of being pregnant, birthing babies, and having newborns is now closed. My family feels complete, but there is a sadness to knowing that I’ll never experience those things myself, ever again. The lovely midwife, Lorie, who attended two of my three births, also just left our practice for another job, and so I’m just sitting in my feelings for a few minutes as I reflect on this week’s episode, reminiscing about my own birth stories.
Birth is always a transformative event. It can evoke the happiest emotions, or it can cause someone to relive a previous trauma. I’ve seen both in practice. For Samuel Rosen and his wife, Orli, welcoming their first baby did bring joy, but also unearthed the trauma that Samuel had endured through his time spent at a concentration camp. It was hard to see Samuel’s trauma response to witnessing his wife in pain during labor. Many partners have a hard time watching a loved one experience pain, but for Samuel, this brought forth memories from his time in Auschwitz. He had experienced unfathomable atrocities, and likely had seen many horrific deaths, including those of his parents and siblings.
When Samuel and Orli welcomed their son into the world, and they struggled with naming him, I started to think about how Samuel’s trauma would impact his son, and future generations within their family. This is referred to today as generational trauma. When people go through a traumatic experience, be it the Holocaust, war, racism, poverty, or experiences like sexual assault or abuse, this alters their behaviors, which will impact future generations. An example of this was Samuel wanting his son to have a name that wouldn’t immediately identify him as being Jewish. Not only will future generations be changed because of decisions made by the survivors of trauma, but experiencing that kind of trauma can actually change future generations on a genetic level.
I am most definitely not an expert on generational trauma, so if you’d like, you can read more about it from Duke University (Inter-generational Trauma: 6 Ways It Affects Families), and I’ll also share some resources at the end of this post. I’m grateful that we are so open today about talking about the importance of therapy and working through our traumas. Our lives are shaped by not only our own lived experiences, but also by the experiences of those who raised us, and those who we are close to. In a career like midwifery, it is almost guaranteed that if you work long enough, you will experience a traumatic event. You will also take care of people who have traumatic experiences, both in the past and sometimes while under your care. Being able to provide trauma-informed care to all of our patients is so vitally important. We cannot take away their lived experiences of trauma, but we can provide care in a way that does not contribute to future trauma.
The staff of Nonnatus House were likely not aware of the impacts of generational trauma, however I did notice several examples of a trauma-informed approach that the midwives took with their patients this week. Sister Hilda took the time to listen to the Rosens about their desire for a home delivery instead of immediately writing off the idea because of the fur business that was downstairs. She gave them space to share with her why it was important to them to have a home delivery, and also to explain how they knew it would be a safe space to welcome their baby into. Sister Hilda trusted that the Rosens knew what was best for their own family. The midwives also established a postpartum support group in Poplar. Meeting in a group with other new mothers not only provided a place for them to make friends, but to share their experiences. This would hopefully help each new mother feel less alone as they navigate the ups and downs of parenthood.
Providing midwifery care means that we are intertwined with our clients at very vulnerable points in their lives. This week’s episode helped me to reflect on the importance of how we approach our work, and how we can have a lasting impact on generations to come.