Holding the Space as a Birth Worker

How do we, who are part of the birth worker culture, find our new way to know and be with birth? How do we inspire the instinctual? How do we name the aspects of birth that matter, yet may be denied or unrecognized by the over culture? How are we role models for women diving deep into themselves? Where do we start and what does it matter?

Things that go unnamed can be forgotten for generations. But they are still there. How do we get back to that place of instinctual knowing? I experience those moments of knowing when I’m able to stop and be. Not do. Not chart. Not even feed the mom. I notice by burrowing inside myself by noticing what is happening in my own body. Am I listening so that I recognize by the tone of her voice or movement of her body or even of mine, the shifts in my perception of helping, of reflecting, of being present and trusting myself as guide. That moment may be timeless or never recognized. Honoring her birth space, the baby’s birth space, the family’s birth space.

Alternative culture can describe the birth scene as quiet, dark, mammalian, leaving the mom alone, staying out of the way, the not doing. But what are we doing? Are we holding the space or are we completely unaware of what it means to hold a space at all? How we hold it actually matters. Are we grabbing onto it hard with our fists clenched, our jaw tight, or do we hold it with the tips of our fingers so that it can just slip on through as we move in and out of that birth space? Are we holding it as if it is heavy… or light? Do we feel it in our shoulders, our chest, our head, or our feet? Do we know, in our body, when it is time to do something more than just hold the space? Is it time to fold up that space and stick it away? Or find an opening not seen in the corner? How about expanding the space or making it smaller? We can do this sometimes by just closing or opening the curtains or going outside.

Many times, we don’t realize that we are also role models. That how we act or don’t act influences the family. Us being present is role modeling. Us being in our body and paying attention to our intuition is role modeling. Us holding the space and being grounded in our body and using our body to listen to that around us is role modeling. Us being able to dive deep into ourselves as birth workers is role modeling. Us being able to journey to the depths and through the unknown is role modeling. The language we use of connection to the mother, the partner, and baby, and to ourselves is role modeling. What we do and how we do is modeling that it is ok for someone to face the intense and move through it…that she doesn’t need to be “saved.”

We can feed her, show her love, and facilitate her connection to her partner to do so. We can have compassion. We can have understanding. We can have empathy. We can help. We can ride the journey with her. We can massage her hips, give back pressure, and squeeze her feet. We can assist her in changing positions, but we cannot birth her as a mother. I admit, there are times, I wish I could take that burden for just a short while and do it for her; spread that intensity, that pain or discomfort out to the community. But that is what I am doing by being a witness. I am acknowledging that journey; be it terribly intense or quite easy. Witnessing the story of what she is doing, acknowledging that intensity. Being a witness to that which is rewarding, amazing, miraculous – no matter where her journey to birthing herself as a mother leads her.

And in my face there is a look that is a window into my nervous system. And the laboring mother is in her heightened intuitive awareness. She knows. How I feel. How I sense. Some don’t notice, as they are just getting on with it. Continuing to labor. Others just know before you set foot in the door. They can feel you through the phone or as the car rolls down the road. The mother as a mammal being able to read the rest of the herd. She can look at my face and know if danger is coming. Is it a cougar, a jaguar, a tiger? Is it really danger? or the birth I went to last week? or one she heard about online? or the mother-in-law worried in the corner? Or were we able to check that baggage at the door? Or maybe she sees that I am distracted or impatient. Or sensing, being, waiting, aware, more alert than usual, for a reason that no one knows. And if she doesn’t sense it, do I?

But why are you there if holding that space is all you are planning to do? What do you provide when you hold the space; a security blanket, a lifeguard, a coach, a mentor? We don’t always see it. How can we quantify it then? What are you doing that you are asking for reimbursement of such services? “Quick, do something,” says the busy mind; your busy mind, maybe even hers or her partners. How do we distinguish the busy mind from the one that knows it is time to dance, intervene, or support her until she gets her bearings?

What is it in you as a birth worker that knows when to step forward, to cross that line between holding that space and knowing it is time to be acutely aware that something must be paid special attention to – even if you don’t know what it is? What is it in you as a birth worker that knows to retreat, step back, or even give privacy?

This knowing is a valuable skill, the skill of a guide traversing the journey alongside a mother as she moves through her inner world. This skill is one that we can begin to name the nuances, these aspects of birth perception that aren’t recognized or named by the culture at large. The shifts where the woman is empowered by you just being there and trusting her, of those shifts where you hold her and hold her partner and her family tighter at times as they move through gates of unknowing, fear, and doubt. Where the woman is empowered that they did it. You just happened to be there as a witness.

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