I’ve been back from the Philippines for about 7 days, or maybe 8 now. It sort of depends on how you define a day—flying across the international dateline redefines time in ways that I didn’t think possible. I flew for roughly 16 hours, but I traveled a world away.
My friend has this theory that our souls have trouble traveling that far, that fast. That the jet lag I’m suffering now is about having left a little of myself behind. That my physical body can move that fast, but it takes some time to come back emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I have to say, with each passing day I am subscribing to that theory more and more.
Before I left, my preceptor and one of the other students in the practice I’m a part of told me that I would come back a midwife. That there would be a moment when I would just know, “yup, I am a midwife”. I had no idea what they were talking about. I felt like that day would never come for me. That it had to be a more gradual process. And in a way it was. I can’t really point to a single day exactly when the change happened, but I can say that it has. That after being at Shiphrah for 2 months, I feel like a midwife. After walking with so many women and families through pregnancy, birth, and death that I have come to a place of knowing—this is what I do, I am a midwife.
One of the more recent experiences I had gave me an opportunity to tune into this feeling, this knowing of my midwife-self. I had to chance to help bring a very tiny baby into the world. This little guy was full term, but only weighed 3lbs 8oz (1.7kg). He was so small, at first I thought he had some physical deformities. Gradually it dawned on me that it was just that I could see all the little bones in his body through his papery thin skin. He was so lacking in body fat and muscle tone that he literally did not have the energy to take his first breaths, and I had to breath for him (via a bag and mask) for a good 7 minutes. Through Grace and sheer desire to live, his heartbeat was strong and steady and he was able to nurse well soon after his resuscitation. But what an experience the two of us had—working together to bring him here. I could feel his little lungs and spirit as I chanted “Breath, two, three” to keep the rhythm. And I as heard my fellow student tell me that his heart rate was strong and steady, I knew that he wanted to be here. And it was my job as a midwife to show him the way. I was the guide on his path to meeting his family, and experiencing this life on earth. That’s what a midwife does.
As I worked with this mother postpartum, I felt again the weight of midwifery on my shoulders. For two nights, I woke up every two hours to help mom and baby breastfeed (for the first night, also supplementing with donated breast milk so that the little guy would have the energy to nurse). This was my chance to be a light on the path to keeping this tiny baby healthy, and helping this first time mom become empowered to care for such a tiny infant.
I knew then in my bones that I am a midwife. That my preceptor was right, this journey has changed me and I am more than I was before. I think that is what I am searching for when I wake up at 1 am jet lagged, feeling restless and unsure. I am slowly bringing along those new pieces of my soul that I made in the Philippines, at Shiphrah, with all those strong laboring families. As each new piece integrates with everything that was here before I ask myself—who am I now? What kind of midwife have I become, and will I be?
I miss Shiphrah deeply. I miss the midwives and staff, amazing women that put their whole hearts into caring for families and teaching students like me. I miss the families, who often start coming to Shiphrah because they don’t have any other options but stay because they feel more empowered to care for themselves and their children than they ever have before. I miss the Gunderson’s and the Gustafson’s, families that have devoted themselves to bringing dignity and love to so many in the Philippines. I miss so much more that I will never be able to put into words.
And I am so grateful. Grateful for the opportunity to witness so many families be born. Grateful to stretch and expand my soul as I walked with people through the death and near-death of loved ones. Grateful to learn new skills from such skillful women. Grateful for the care and love I received as I stumbled my way through the process.
As I reset my internal clock to this time zone, I am beginning to understand just how far I have traveled. I may have flown 16 hours, physically moving thousands of miles, but I have jumped light years in my heart. And, thankfully, I will never be the same.