If there's one thing midwifery has taught me, it's that life is unpredictable, but that you have to keep turning up wholeheartedly.
Midwife Peggy Vincent's book 'Baby Catcher' is all about this idea. In this review, I'll try not to fangirl too much but I can't promise!
There are no sugary clichés in this writing. Instead, Peggy shares her belief that birth is astonishing but unpredictable. ‘Birth is like life on steroids’ is something a student said to me once and there’s a certain truth to that, which is found in Peggy’s book.
I know as a midwife you have so much going on. Shift work, long hours, family commitments, keeping a grip on an all important social life, etc., so you don't have much time.
But ‘Baby Catcher’ is something you can read when you’re feeling stuck in a midwifery rut or low on passion and want to find the sparkle again.
I think the book works so well because the writing is vivid and Peggy's experience of midwifery is different from anything I've experienced.
Practising independently in America, Peggy knew her women like family, and in one scene a teenage Mum crawls onto her lap and hugs her 'like a koala on a eucalyptus tree' during contractions.
In another, a newborn baby is borrowed to provide nipple stimulation during a labour that’s stalled, something which would be unusual on delivery suite in the UK to say the least!
It also gives me some perspective on the threat of litigation for midwives in the UK. Yes, what's going on currently is scary and not good for Mums or midwives, but the US system is terrifying. Even within this setting which is so challenging and fear inducing, Peggy stays committed to being a 'humble learner', as far as possible not acting out of fear but out of wanting to do the right thing for women no matter what.
She seems happiest when she's observing something new. There's never any shame in learning, and if she discovers a better way to give care, she acts on it without wasting time feeling guilty about not having known about it before.
For instance, I love the part of the book where she flips from teaching 'painless childbirth' techniques to believing 'every woman needs to find her own path through the labyrinth of labour'.
There's also a scene which I think every midwife can relate to, even if we don't talk about these events much. One woman Peggy cares for is so negative in labour that it begins to drag everyone down.
She smacks her husband and tells him off for 'breathing too loudly'. She also throws an offered glass of water on the floor. Yes, this kind of situation can be a little funny and I'm sure we've all repressed smiles when women threaten a certain part of their partner's anatomy in labour, but this particular client is in such a bad headspace that Peggy finds it infectious.
Peggy describes the distress she feels at not being able to help and her anger, not just at the situation, but with the client. She doesn't act on this, of course.
I've never seen this kind of honesty about what midwifery can be like in print before and I respect Peggy for it.
I think there should be more room for describing the best and worst of moments within midwifery. Debriefing to trusted midwives with honesty can help them just as much as you.
Essentially, the whole book is about living the ‘6 Cs’. The 6Cs are care, compassion, competence, communication, commitment and courage (Peggy has a lot of this! The chapter about handling a cord prolapse on her own had my heart in my mouth).
The 6Cs can be difficult to imagine in context.
‘Baby Catcher’ however shows specific examples of what they mean in practice.
And this teaching is from a midwife who never had to transfer any woman from a homebirth to hospital for pain relief reasons. This says a lot about Peggy’s ability and about the power and nature of one-to-one support.
I also love the term ‘verbal anaesthesia’ that she uses to describe the supportive language and tone of a good birth companion – how incredibly powerful is that thought? Midwives as verbal anaesthetists!
I’ll end with my favourite quote from the book:
‘As midwives, we meet wildly interesting people and stay up all night with them. We ask them questions about their sex lives, eat their food, feel inside their bodies, snoop around their houses, and best of all we get to catch delicious little naked wet babies. What I can’t figure out is, why doesn’t everyone want to be a midwife?’
Now I’d love to hear from you…
Did you enjoy this book? Was there a particular scene or thought that taught you something about midwifery or got you fired up?
Do you have any other midwifery books you think aspiring, student and qualified midwives should read?
Much love, Ellie x