I had the privilege of being present at the birth of my first grandchild. Even now, ten years later, the memory still moves me profoundly when I remember that special night.
But in the early stages of her pregnancy – when my daughter told me she had decided on a home birth – my anxiety reflexes immediately kicked into gear. My three children were delivered in hospital and a home birth seemed like a risky alternative, especially for a first baby, who would be born in a birthing pool with only a midwife in attendance. I kept these thoughts to myself but Ciara is an astute young woman. She sensed my misgivings and arranged for me to meet the midwife, who would deliver her baby. From the moment I was introduced to Philomena Canning I relaxed. Her friendly, insightful and professional manner reassured me that my daughter would be in capable hands.
The months passed. Ciara asked me to be with her during the birth and on an evening in May I received the phone call. It was time.
When I arrived at Ciara’s house she was already in labour and relaxing in the birthing pool. Well…relaxing as much as one can relax between contractions. Philomena took one look at my face and gently but firmly guided me towards the sofa in the next room. She told me to put my feet up and breathe deeply. She asked about my own birthing experiences and explained that daughters often replicate the trajectory of their own mother’s labour. Behind her kindness I knew Philomena was advising me to let go of my anxiety. It had no place in the birthing room. And so I did.
The hours moved on. My grandchild was not going to come quickly into the world. My daughter stuck to her decision to deliver her baby without pain management and, apart from some homeopathic remedies, she soldiered on.
In the early hours of the morning she asked myself and Philomena to give her and her husband some time alone. We sat together in the kitchen where Philomena talked about her time in Australia where she had worked in the Central Australian Desert with Aboriginal women. Their ancient cultures are steeped in the rituals of natural childbirth where a tradition called Grandmother’s Law recognises the wisdom and love of the grandmother and the importance of her place in the birthing experience.
Despite her relaxed manner I knew Philomena’s ears were attuned to every sound my daughter made.
“Is the baby coming?” I asked at one stage when a particularly strident cry came from next door.
Philomena shook her head “Not yet,” she said. “Don’t worry. I’ll know by her voice. It’s a special cry a woman makes when her baby is ready to come.”
I’ve never forgotten her calm, confidence as we waited to rejoin Ciara and her husband in the birthing room. She knew everything was okay but she was allowing my daughter the freedom to control the direction her birthing journey would take.
I remembered the last time I gave birth. My previous two babies had been born after short, uneventful labours but my third child was induced. Her birth turned into an emergency and she was whisked away immediately after she was born. I glimpsed a little blue body disappearing in a nurses’s arms but no one told me whether she was alive or dead. That time, as I lay waiting for confirmation, was one of the most frightening, forlorn experiences in my life. Thankfully, a young nurse came into my cubicle and assured me my daughter was okay. She also began to tell me what had gone wrong but, immediately, the sister on duty entered the cubicle and ordered her out. The sister also brushed off all my attempts to find out what caused the emergency. I was never given that information.
This was all so different. When we re-entered the birthing room there was a subtle shift in the atmosphere. Candles glowed in the darkened room as we held Ciara’s hands and encouraged her through the final stage of her labour. My granddaughter flowed smoothly into the birthing pool, a mermaid flash of black hair and adorable, pummelling fists. In one fluid movement Philomena lifted her from the water and placed her in her mother’s arms.
While we rejoiced over this beautiful baby Philomena busied herself with the practical necessities and administrative duties. Dawn was lifting when she left us. I, too, stepped into a new dawn as a grandmother. My daughter and her husband, clasping their new baby, climbed the stairs to their bedroom to begin their lives as parents.
As you can imagine, I was surprised and appalled when I heard that Philomena has had her HSE indemnity revoked two weeks ago, without any investigation or explanation from the HSE. A strong campaign has been mounted in her support. People from many walks of life are involved but at the core of this support are the woman who have had first-hand experience of Philomena Canning’s skills as their midwife. I want to add my voice to that support – but, also, to share my personal experience of what it was like to spend a night in the company of this pioneering, professional and admirable midwife who helped to bring my first grandchild into the world.
Further information on the campaign check http://philomenacanningcampaign.com/