By Abigail Bissac
Translation Louise Thunin
The theologians (that we are called upon to be) may think theologically about all and any subject concerning human beings. Do we think enough about miracles ? Not those the Bible tells us (they’ve been abundantly commented on), but those that take place before our eyes here and now : for example the miracle of delivering a child and the numerous ones performed by midwives. We are right to say that the birth of a newborn is a miracle. A miracle such as Friedrich D. E. Schleiermacher (1768-1834) understands it and explains in his Discourse on Religion : « It’s the religious word for an event. » The midwife, Anna Roy, says on the subject of birth in the podcast she devotes to this subject (called « Sage-Meuf » ie Wise Woman) that it is the « greatest of explosions » that can exist in a human life. Midwives are closest to women when this event comes to overturn lives, and they practice this art often by accomplishing miracles.
They Save Lives
It’s obvious : mid-wives contribute to saving lives in maternity wards when an emergency occurs during a birth. But their devotion to life doesn’t end there. Think of the refusal of the Hebrew midwives to obey the order of Pharoah in the book of Exodus. « When you serve as a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live. » But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. (Exodus I : 16-17). The text adds, So God dealt well with the midwives… » (Ex. I : 20).
Chantal Birman, a midwife for over forty-five years, tells in a book (Au monde, Into the World, 2003) about the times when her intuition allowed her to save the life of a woman or of a baby. A woman having gone beyond term laughed during a check-up. Because this laughter worried her, given that it was incongruous in a situation that Chantal Birman knew well, in spite of all the reassuring indications (ultra-sound, monitoring), she decided to induce the birth. The baby was in an apparent state of fetal death. He was reanimated. The premonition of one who knows life intimately, and whose passion it is, saved that child. Death is present in the minds of midwives but also in those of the women about to give birth. At the time when they are about to give life, the fear of death is at its highest. Women are afraid for themwelves, for their children. Anne-Isabelle Boulogne-Munoz, a midwife, tells us that there is a « dogma » in obstetrics : if a woman tells you she is going to die, you must believe her. Midwives have faith in women’s words, and thanks to that, they save them. In the face of a woman who had expressed her terror of dying of a hemorhage as soon as she learned she was pregnant, was hemorhaging during her delivery for no obstetrical reason. Chantal Birman stood firmly; she tells that she wanted this woman to « perceive our determination to refuse death. » Every possible obstetrical act had been tried. What stopped the bleeding was this sentence she said to the woman : « You’re not going to do it. Not with us here. » This episode would be worthy of a place in the Gospel.
Anna Roy, for her part, tells in one of her books (Histoires de sage-femme, 2020 – Midwife Stories) of the feeling of worry that overcame her when she was examining a woman, apparently in perfect health, a few days after the birth of her first child. She is familiar with women who have just brought a child into the world. She felt sure that this woman needed help. On the pretext of checking a scar that had no need to be checked, she was able to see the woman again, observed the attitude of her husband and understood. She performed an unnnecessary medical examination and discovered the bruises she suspected. And during this second visit, after winning the woman’s trust, she accompanied her to the police station to file a complaint and helped her flee the violence that one day or another would have completely destroyed her. The womans’s faith in her midwife saved her.
They Are God’s Prime Minister
A midwife’s work is life. Therefore, they are confronted with death and they are not afraid of it. Anna Roy tells about a time when she was on duty, and a woman four and a half months pregnant came in for a consultation, because she was in pain. Unfortunately, this woman was having a late miscarriage. The child to be born could not, in the present state of medecine, be reanimated. The parents, devastated, were able to count on the support of their midwife. When the child was born, in accordance with their desire and contrary to common procedures in maternity wards, Anna Roy gave the child to her parents and it is in her mother’s arms that the little girl died, conforming to their wish. The parents were Christians for whom the baptism of the child was very important. Before her last breath left the child, they asked Anna Roy to baptize her. She took some water, putting it on the baby’s forehead, and said, « Anne, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. » Facing the terrible pain that this death was causing the parents, Anna Roy was, in her midwife coat, a witness to the belonging of this little girl to the world of the living, here and now. Several weeks later, the parents wrote a thank-you letter to the midwife, with, at the top, « To Madame, Prime-Minister of God, dear Anna. »
By accepting to baptize a human being whose very minutes of life were counted, Anna Roy was, indeed, a Minister of God. She testified to the importance of the life of this child and a love of life incarnate.
They Are Keepers of the Sheep
A pastor, from an etymological standpoint, is someone who leads sheep to pasture. Therefore he or she is one who takes care of them. Midwives are pastors in the sense that they take care of women and their newborns. Midwives detect post-partum depression, maternal burn-out, physical suffering, psychological suffering, they are there in painful situations, miscarriages ; they hear the joy of course, but also the doubts, the guilt, the anxiety that comes at the same time as a baby. In most cases, women who speak of their midwives do so in praiseful terms ; they know how to listen, they have a holistic approach, one can tell them everything, they are devoted and don’t count the hours they spend. It sounds like parishioners speaking of their pastor. Midwives answer to a calling, a vocation. Their art consists in taking daily care of women and givng babies mothers who feel well. They have a passion for life that radiates around them.
One Woman, One Midwife
Every woman who goes to a maternity ward to give birth should have a midwife at her side who will not leave her. Giving birth gives women emotions and feelings that require support, not because they are fragile but becase then, even though strong, they are vulnerable. Post-partum depression (twenty per cent of young mothers suffer one), even syndromes of post traumatic stress disorder, take root in certain elements of delivery (even a sentence pronounced by a doctor can provoke a fear of near death in the woman). If each woman who brings into the world a new human being could be assisted by a midwife all throughout, the birthing would be easier. What is more important for human beings than birth ? The way in which we uphold women giving birth and in which we greet newborns expresses whether or not we cherish this repetitive miracle. Beyond the fact that the too small number of midwives in maternity wards can put women and their babies in danger (real, not imagined) ought to preoccupy us theologically : is it acceptable fhat women should find themselves regularly alone in giving birth and welcoming a new human being because midwives are unavailable ? Don’t we have in mind a woman, rejected, who had to give birth to her child in a stable ? We often hear of « dignified » conditions for the dying. Let us also remember those through whom life arrives. Birth is a miracle ; let’s treat it that way.
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