I discovered a new word the other day as my midwifery preceptor and her other assistant/student and I were talking about an idea being developed to introduce birth workers to new information. The word is Palaver, and it means “a conference, or discussion”. This word is now the basis of what I’m going to share.
Because I’ve been in a lot of Palaver’s lately. First there was the palaver I described above, the one my preceptor and her other assistant and I were having, and then there was one I had about systematic racism I had with another midwifery student, and finally there are the palaver’s I’ve had with my grandmother every Wednesday as I drive her to the local food bank, where we collect food for our families and then divide up what we’ve gotten (mostly she and my grandpa take out what they wont use and hand it to me for my 5 children).
I’ve noticed that our palaver has covered many topics, but the ones that strikes me the most are related to childbirth. My grandmother doesn’t know the term ‘twilight sleep’, or what medication they used to help her with the pain when she was birthing her children. She did tell me she was afraid of birth, that the only thing she knew about birthing babies before birthing her own was what she overheard her mother and aunt talking about over coffee sometimes. My grandmother came from a family of three children, and two parents. I remember my great grand parents and I can vaguely imagine them raising my grandma. She tells me one day her father brought her a crow, she nursed it as a baby bird and cared for it under a crate in their kitchen for awhile, but then it made such a mess they had to let it outside, but it stayed around, and her brother even taught it to talk.
She also told me about the fights her parents would have, how she and her siblings would wait upstairs while mom and dad (my great grandparents) would have their loud discussion, and when they finished my grandmother would come downstairs and get a bowl of cereal and nothing further was mentioned of their discussion.
As my grandmother related her childhood stories and her rememberance of birth to me I sat amazed that I really never knew my grandparents well as a child. Grandma was a dairy farmer, I occasionally helped to bottle feed the calves, but grandma was always busy with farm chores. My grandfather drove school bus and so was often working when I was around, though I did ride his bus while I attended school so I did get to know him a little more I believe.
Grandma opened up and asked me a simple question about my birth experience as an assistant midwife. The question caught me off guard, and I had trouble answering it, not because I couldn’t guess at the nature of the experience she had in birth, but rather because she has so much experience with farming and animal births, and her own experience left her with questions that went 50-60 years without any answers.
She also told me about the medicine that was given to her during the birth of my dad, it sounds like it may have been scopolamine, which was a hallucinogen. She told of how she saw Satan himself, and had terrible nightmares, and spoke to people in ways she wouldn’t have ordinarily spoken to people. Her stories are short and vague, she doesn’t remember the births, and the more she explores the ideas of what she experienced the more I realize that I am in exactly the right field.
How is it that there was no palaver in the past about birth experiences? There was no palaver about what the doctor was doing, shoving into my grandmother, pulling out of another woman, or cutting during labor? How is it that the palaver has been organized for so long on the experience of the doctor, and what he/she needs, but only just recently on the mother baby unit? I am ready to see more of this incredible change. I am ready to see women taking control of their bodies in birth, and being trusted as a part of the team that delivers her baby, instead of being the victim of abuse from a system that cares more about numbers and results than people.
My grandmother might have been a different person, a different kind of mom, a different kind of grandmother if her first experiences were different, who really knows. She is beautiful, intelligent, and caring as she is, but what more might she have been if she had been respected, given kind attention and birthed her baby in a way that was gentle and natural, and had her baby given directly to her after its birth, or even if she had birthed her baby and then picked it up on her own, when she was ready.
Have a Cherished Birth