For a few years now, I have been blogging regularly about birth, midwifery and my work in these areas and, as a result of this, I have learned quite a bit about how the Internet works. Blogs, for instance, come with a raft of clever little widgets and bits of programming which tell the owner all manner of things that might be really useful if one knew what to do with them. I don’t, so I don’t pay too much attention to the page that shows me how many people read each post, where they came from and how they got there. However, I do really like the widget which tells me what people typed into their search box and which in turn caused Google to send them to my website.
As you might expect, the top answers in this category are variations upon my name and the topics that I’ve been known to research or teach, like ‘post-term’, ‘induction’ and ‘vitamin K’. But, once in a while, a really random question pops up, and I find myself wondering about the author of the question. The question that someone asked of Google that has made me ponder more than any other, though, is the title of this article: ‘Do midwives kiss babies?’
DEAR GOOGLING FRIEND…
I wonder, dear Googler, whether you have any idea of how often I have wondered who you were, and why you wanted to know the answer to this. My first thought, when I saw what you had typed, was that perhaps you were a future midwife in the hoping, though I can’t know whether you were 11 or 37. Your question caused me to reminisce about the time I spent as a university-based midwifery lecturer, when my colleagues and I would try to determine prospective students’ motivation and suitability for a career in midwifery during interview days. On such occasions, within a field whose teachers are generally looking for candidates who will support and advocate for women, declaring one’s desire to hug babies as the root of your application for a midwifery degree didn’t tend to get you a lot of points. But I admire the sentiment and wish you well in your future career even while I feel it vital to let you know that there is a lot more to midwifery than the occasional snuggle with a borrowed sleeping newborn.
LOVE, KISSES AND CONSENT
Or maybe you’re a parent-to-be and trying to root out the differences between care providers. In this case, a part of me wants to assure you that, while you will find a range of attitudes and approaches between the members of any particular group, you will generally find midwives to be caring, loving people who will handle and treat you and your baby gently. But I’d like to hope that, as with every other kind of touch, midwives and other birth attendants would ask for permission before bestowing any form of attention (or affection) on you or members of your family.
KISSES AND INFECTION CONTROL
It was at this point in my thought process that I realised that I was imagining this question only through a happy and positive lens, and that the questioner might actually be coming from a place where they didn’t think the kissing of babies to be a happy, positive thing. What if the question was posed by someone concerned about the transmission of viruses like herpes simplex to babies, which is no joking matter, or asked from the perspective of infection control? There’s such a delicate dance between sensible precautions and unnecessarily silly rule-making, and I wondered whether I should worry that the questioner might have been looking for evidence of the need to ask midwives to fill out further risk management paperwork should they bestow an embrace on any of the babies in their care.
THE DEEPER MEANING OF QUESTIONS
I imagine that, even though there are lots more possibilities (and please do feel free to discuss them among yourselves), I have made my point. Even the shortest, simplest question can mean, imply and be asking a number of very different things, and it’s often not easy to tell what those things are from the question itself. When the questioner is in front of us, we might be able to pick up clues from who they are, what the context is and how they are asking the question, but there’s also a danger that our own preconceived ideas can lead us to make incorrect assumptions from such information. So no matter whether the question is typed, spoken or hidden in a joke, it’s worth considering what’s behind or beneath it.
WHAT LIES BENEATH?
After I had let my mind imagine who the ‘Do midwives kiss babies?’ questioner was and why they might have wanted to know about this, it reminded me of a number of times when women and families that I have cared for have asked me questions that seemed simple on the surface but that turned out to have a much deeper basis and meaning for them. I am reminded of a very young woman whose existing knowledge was derived from playground gossip and whose questions often needed considerable unpacking, and of a dad-to-be whose joking quips masked a deep need and desire to understand elements of the birth journey in order to be able to effectively support his partner on theirs.
I recall a woman who asked her midwife what she usually wore to births. This question wasn’t borne out of a passing interest in fashion or functionality, however; it turned out that this woman had experienced abuse and was worried that she might be triggered during labour by a certain colour and type of clothing. It was an easy thing to accommodate, but had her midwife not picked up that something else might be going on under the surface of that question, the ending may have been different.
REFLECTING ON THE DEPTHS
The simplest-looking questions can sometimes be the deepest, the most important, or the most interesting to ponder.
Over my years as a midwife, I have – as I am sure many of you will be able to relate to – developed a kind of sense of when the seemingly simple question that has been asked is not the actual question that the person wants to explore. I am also certain that I have sometimes missed cues or clues, just as I know I have sometimes read too much into what actually was a simple, easy question. None of us is perfect, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t work on honing our skills in these areas. Because the simplest-looking questions can sometimes be the deepest, the most important, or the most interesting to ponder.