Midwives of the Revolution

Explorations, analysis, and reflections on reproductive health, birth, and midwifery from a feminist, marxist lens

Tears

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Some days, I come home on the verge of tears. This is my body’s way of telling me that I am soaking up a bit of secondary trauma. I am good at being an emotional sponge, but that is not going to work for me long term. Here is a short list of some things my patients shared with me, that made me tear up at work and once away from work in the last two weeks:*

  • Partner being incarcerated during her entire pregnancy
  • Being set up and attacked by a group of people that she thought were her friends
  • Being intentionally burned as a small child
  • Child sexual abuse
  • Partner sabotaging her birth control
  • Being told that since she had two abortions, she wouldn’t be able to have healthy pregnancies

There is a choice that caregivers must make when witnessing others’ trauma — we can absorb others’ trauma/let it overwhelm our own emotions, we can distance ourselves from it/numb ourselves, or we can find a middle way, to walk with the trauma.

I aim to walk that middle way.

And it’s really not taught in nursing or midwifery school. If we are lucky, a friend, classmate, or colleague tells us about theoretical and practical work around secondary trauma, compassion fatigue, vicarious traumatization, and trauma stewardship. These are all different ways to say that people who take care of people that experience trauma also need to be taken care of. I am lucky that I learned about this field of research/practice among caregivers some years ago.

…Because if you don’t realize how bearing witness to others’ trauma impacts you, and work on it, it can take over. One who was once empathic, laughing easily, and finding meaning in life and work can fade into someone cynical and burnt out…someone who is ultimately not only unhappy in life but also an ineffective caregiver. In other words, it should be taught in nursing/midwifery/medical/PA/education/PT/OT etc. school — and supported by healthcare (and other) institutions.

I’m glad I’m tuning into this two weeks into seeing patients, and not, say, two months or two years. Because I have my emotional work cut out for me, not to mention clinically, as I develop competencies as a new provider — and I’m ready for it.

And that’s why I love and am honored to be a midwife. 

*I also laughed and smiled with loads of patients, and many told me they hoped I’d be there to catch their baby or to see them in clinic next time. So it’s gratifying in fun ways too!

Author: queermarxistmidwife

I am a nurse-midwife practicing in full-scope (reproductive health and birth care) in a community birth setting in the Midwest. My clinical practice is an extension of my longtime commitment to social reproduction (a close cousin and friend to intersectional -- perhaps synonymous to, depending on who you talk to!) marxist feminism and reproductive justice activism. I write anonymously to protect my job security and make clear that these are my personal opinions, and to make clear that I am also a professional whose personal opinions can also be separate from the care I provide. (While I personally believe in abolition of the prison industrial complex, I still have clients that are cops/married to cops [etc.] and maintain respectful, compassionate clinical relationships with them.) I was called to midwifery circuitously, through my love for reproductive rights and an interest in providing abortion care. Then I met midwives and learned about the intertwined legacy of midwifery and abortion, and I fell in love with birth. In my practice, I have worked as a primary care midwife in a Federally Qualified Health Center and campaigned fiercely for true midwifery in a hospital setting rife with obstetrical violence (and lost that fight!). I have learned how to bring midwifery care from the belly of the beast in a large teaching hospital that functions in many ways as an assembly line of medicalized birth. I have also had my heart broken by my own midwife when I realized that my dream job in home birth was actually a nightmare in many ways. I have found healing through communities of midwives that work to support each other through the traumas of toxic healthcare workplaces. I am constantly learning, working on my personal and professional growth, and striving for accountability, particularly as an anti-racist that benefits from white privilege. Midwives of the Revolution is meant as a nod to Marx and Engles's writing on the process of social revolution, as well as an aspiration to be among the midwives fighting to transform the perinatal health system in the context of the struggles for reproductive justice. The social revolution it will take to win reproductive justice will have to involve birth workers, other health workers (unionized, and not; professionals and not), educators, abolitionists, environmentalists, and of course childbearing people and families. I love the way that Marx's collaborator Engles (a brilliant philosopher and activist in his own right) describes the dialectical process of childbirth, which, for me, also undergirds my commitment to bodily autonomy and reproductive justice. To paraphrase, some of the events that midwives are called to may be "violent" or forceful, like childbirth -- not unlike revolution and social struggle: The fetus is negated by the neonate, who can only be brought about by the force of childbirth. The midwife facilitates that transition, as force (or social struggle) facilitates the transition from one form of social relations to another. Scolding the philosopher Duhring, Frederick Engles defends the social force required to fundamentally transform society: "Force, plays yet another role in history, a revolutionary role; that, in the words of Marx, it is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one, that it is the instrument with the aid of which social movement forces its way through and shatters the dead, fossilised political forms." (Anti-Duhring, found here: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1877/anti-duhring/ch16.htm#087)

One thought on “Tears

  1. I am going to have to check out those resources. We did not address secondary trauma for one second in midwifery school, and I seem to be absorbing a lot of it lately…

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