by ACNM Guest Blogger, Kimla McDonald, CNM
“Please turn off that spotlight,” I asked the
labor tech in the birth room as the baby’s head was crowning. I tend to do
without the bright light, because my hands are really my eyes as the baby’s
head emerges from the mother’s body. That gentle pressure we apply to ease the
head out, gradually, is a kinetic act, not a visual one. It’s very much the
same as popping the cork from a champagne bottle, as I learned recently helping
out with my sister-in-law’s wedding. (I love when work skills come in handy at
parties—so rare when you’re a midwife.)
baby’s head slid out slowly, gently stretching everything, following quickly by
her shoulders, chest, and then the rest of her tiny body. She had good color,
great tone, and was starting to cry, so I gently placed her on her mom’s chest
so she could be held by the woman who had just brought her into the world. It
is at this “fragile moment,” described by Dr. Frederick Leboyer’s 1974 classic Birth
Without Violence, that
“The baby is between two worlds. On a
Do not hurry. Do not press. Allow this child to
An elusive, ephemeral moment.
Leave this child. Alone.
child is free—and frightened.
Don’t intrude: stay back. Let time pass.
moment its slowness, and its gravity.”
routines push back against this moment. Nurses are busy. They need to weigh and measure, give shots
and drops, move things along. As midwives, we can weigh the options, encourage
a gentle transition, help baby find the breast. Just because the baby is out
doesn’t mean our job is done.
here is another fragile moment. As we help the new mother to breastfeed, how
many of us are thinking that this might be an act that sets the course for the
child’s future development as an individual, ultimately influencing not only
his own mental health, but that of his community?
said Donald Winnicott, a British pediatrician
and psychoanalyst who famously broke with Sigmund Freud over his theory of
human nature in the 1950s. Winnicott observed that for a baby, finding his
mother’s nipple is his first relationship with another being, and the way this
relationship is entered into creates the expectations a child develops
regarding others, and therefore his ability to form relationships for the rest
of his life.
Winnicott recognized “the
need for the infant to be the creator of the nipple of the breast of the mother.”
In allowing the baby to find the nipple, rather than being the passive
recipient of his mother’s breast, the baby learns that he has the ability to
contribute to the most important relationship there is. He seeks and finds his
object of desire, and with the help of his mother, enters into a relationship
that creates a new individual.
midwives, we can guard this precious time for mothers and babies, giving them
time and opportunity to let this first relationship unfold, to help these
newborns “create the world.”
Winnicott died in 1971, leaving behind important works on the “good-enough
mother,” object relations theory, and play. Frederick Leboyer is 93 now, and
a new edition of Birth Without Violence was
published last summer. If you haven’t read it, you should. In this world of
technical jargon and ever-increasing electronic tasks, he reminds us to
that only the baby remains. We must look at this baby. Or better yet, be
absorbed into its very being. Without complication. Without prejudice. In all
innocence. All newness. Become…this new
Check out www.biologicalnurturing.com for a great
tutorial on letting babies find the nipple and “create the world,” thanks to
Dr. Suzanne Colson.