There’s something important I have to tell you before you read this post: I’m a bit scared of writing it, and the possible reception of it. But I think it’s a post that needs to be written.
Thanks for being open minded enough to even read this far! And don't worry, I'm not here to force my views on you.
If you're religious or spiritual, I don't believe what you believe - but if you've found something that brings you meaning and happiness, and helps your practice, it’d be wrong and arrogant of me to tell you you're mistaken.
As I write it's the day after New Years. I adore spending time with family and friends and they’re people with big hearts. But also I realise when I get into deep conversations that I’m quite unlike many people who believe in a God, ghosts, or have other religious/supernatural beliefs.
My own atheism can feel awkward in midwifery. It took me a long time to put my finger on why, but I think it’s because many midwives and midwifery writers believe and say things like ‘spirituality and midwifery are inseparable’.
Is this true? If so, where does this leave me, and other midwives like me, unspiritual people that we are?
I suppose to start we need to look at what ‘spirituality’ really means. These days it doesn't necessarily mean religious, it can just mean anything that gives your life meaning and I certainly have a lot of those activities (cycling, cooking, midwifery itself…)
But by that definition, we’re all spiritual, which would kind of make the definition too loose to be useful, wouldn’t it…?
‘Spirituality’ in our culture is these days associated with ‘otherworldly’ beliefs, everything from tarot cards, to psychics and miracles.
Again, it’s absolutely fine by me if your cup of tea includes having the leaves read – but I can't myself claim any of this kind of culture as my own.
I suppose this post is really for all the other applicants, students and midwives who feel the same way but haven't come across anyone like-minded.
The thing is, midwifery writers often suggest that spirituality is what makes midwives give loving and individualised care.
I struggle with this idea. I love supporting women personally, making sure our relationship is from a place of mutual respect and affection for their journey. I don’t think spiritual beliefs would help me do this better.
To be brutally honest, I've seen midwives who are religious have bigger problems relating to women who don’t share their beliefs, for instance gay couples. Though also I have one midwife in particular in mind who is a fantastic teacher; she is a Christian lady whose intuition, knowledge and empathy really inspires me.
I also don't feel ‘empty’, or anything like that. On the contrary I'm often overwhelmed by the utter vastness and strangeness of the universe, and the fact I and everyone and everything I come across is made of stardust moves me to tears sometimes – which happened at New Years last night.
I also believe no-one is really in control of their own actions, and as we are all stardust cousins, we should be compassionate towards everyone, no matter whether they are a midwife, paediatrician, or violent committer of atrocities.
So to summarise, I have no issue supporting women or colleagues with any of their beliefs (and believe me I've cared for every kind of belief, from Wicca to an Orthodox Christian Sect, to Islam, and once a lady who believed she was spiritually descended from mermaids; being able to listen and support all these different needs is part of the challenge and fun of midwifery…!).
I know how important it is to make sure women have their spiritual and religious needs met.
But… what’s an atheist midwife to do when everyone else in the labour room is praying, or connecting with their spiritual side (especially ‘feminine’ spiritual side? I admit to being flummoxed by this??!!)?
And, what should we say if we are asked outright by a client about our beliefs?
I know that many people must think atheist midwives are empty, cold people, argumentative and intolerant, quick to shriek: ‘you’re wrong!’
You're fine to have your own thoughts and understandings and don't let anyone tell you any different, as an atheist your tendency to look closely at evidence and not jump to conclusions can greatly benefit the women in your care. If a client asks you about your beliefs, you can say, you believe in treating every one of your ladies and families equally. And in making sure each lady is supported in whatever spiritual or religious needs she has.
You can say that you empathise and enjoy connecting with everyone in your care.
And you can say you look forward with a full heart towards learning more about science in midwifery, and bringing the excitement of your findings to serve the women in your care.
Phew! My confessions are out for everyone to see at last, I wonder what everyone will think...
Now I’d love to hear from you.
Please tell me: A) Do you have a spiritual belief that you think is essential to your midwifery practice?
Or B) Or if you’re not spiritual or religious, have you ever found it hard to fit in, or support women?
If you found this article interesting or it resonated with you, please consider sharing it with a midwifery mate!