In the United States we have moved away from the practice of midwifery for the most part, although it is making a return. Midwives have been seen as many things through the centuries. Some people have seen them as dangerous, maybe even witches. On the other hand, in the story of the exodus it is the midwives that help to save the baby boys of the Hebrew women by safely delivering them and then falsely reporting their deaths to the pharaoh. (See Mercy Amba Oduyoye’s book Beads and Strands for a fascinating look at the midwives in the Exodus story.) Whether witches or wonder women, midwives are powerful. They help women through the most difficult and painful moments of their lives. They bring new life into the world. Midwives are a wonderful image of care.
In the American context, we have made birth as clinical, fast, and painless as possible. We pump women full of drugs to speed delivery and dull pain, but also push the natural birth process faster and faster, often damaging women’s bodies. This may be due to that fact that we try to clean up the birth process so that both doctors and patients spend as little time in the hospital as possible. We shy away from the pain, the blood, the mess, the noise, the tears, and the trauma of birth. We often treat birth in the same way that we treat death. We want to push away as much of the discomfort as possible.
What if we started treating people dealing with grief as if we are midwives and not doctors?
Doctors will speed up the process of birth. They will anesthetize you from the pain, and push your body past its natural limits so that you are out of the process of birth as quickly as possible. Sometimes that leaves your body much more broken than if you had been allowed to give birth naturally. This is not to say that doctors don’t do amazing and important life saving work, but pregnancy and birth are not an illness, and we often treat them as one.Midwives will stay with you through your pain, through your blood, sweat and tears. They will let your body do what it naturally knows how to do. They will let your body and the body of your child move at the pace that works best for them. They will also make sure that you progress, and they will watch out for signs of real danger. A good midwife will have an emergency doctor on call at all times.
In terms of care, this could mean that instead of pushing grieving people to move through their grief process quickly, for our own comfort more so than theirs, that we are willing to stay with them in their pain. This does not mean allowing people to get stuck in grief that only worsens and never finds any kind of resolution or relief. It allows people to move forward at their own pace even if it is uncomfortable and messy for them and for us. It also means looking out for signs of real trouble and knowing when it is time to call upon people with different skills than the ones that we have.
As midwives in the struggle for healing after grief, we would need to be fully present no matter how deep the pain. We must help and support the natural process without wanting to push it ahead to quickly. We must keep the process moving, but at a pace set by the one grieving. We must know when to call in more help. We must have empathy and grace through the process. If you would like to dive further into how midwives can be used as a model of care, please go check out the book Injustice and Care of Souls: Taking Oppression Seriously in Pastoral Care, edited by Seryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook and Karen B. Montagno.