A Midwife in Labor
Sarit Shatken-Stern is a midwife at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, Massachusetts. It’s one of just a handful of hospitals in the country where midwives, rather than doctors, lead the care. During labor, midwives offer support and guidance, as well as medical intervention when necessary. Sarit encourages every woman she sees to believe in what the body can do. It’s a philosophy she herself lived this summer, when she gave birth to her second child, Ramona.
“We really respect women's ability to know their own body, and to make their own choices,” says Sarit. “We try and have a lot of autonomy for everyone, and a lot of individuality for everyone, and also encourage people to be amazed in their own bodies.” But that does not always mean a natural birth, or a birth in a tub. “Sometimes people's personal and individual choices can be very medical, too.”
For all of her experience, Sarit was surprised when she felt the first pangs of labor at 39 weeks—she anticipated the baby would be born at 41. When the contractions grew strong, Sarit changed out of her scrubs and went to sit in the hospital’s healing garden. Breathing slowly, she slipped headphones into her ears and turned on her Hypno Birthing track. She wanted to get herself out of the headspace of a midwife and into that of a mother.
“If you want to have a good birth, the work of it is often in the very beginning when you’re finding who is going to care for you,” says Sarit. “Surround yourself with people you trust and put yourself in their hands. And then when you’re in the birth, let it all go.”
Deep into labor, Sarit climbed into the tub to try to focus. Her husband followed, rubbing her back to help her through the pain. One of the primary philosophies at The Birthplace is that labor should not be rushed. They give women time— sometimes a lot of time—to go through the natural process. Sarit’s colleagues midwife Liza Ramlow and nurse Lena Morimoto waited by her side. For them, as for Sarit, the little-seen aspects of birth, from a mother’s breasts to the placenta, are part of a routine workday.
“Birth isn't really sexual or private for me,” says Sarit. “If there'd been a class full of students on the floor when I was in labor, I would have said, ‘Come on in!’”
Adam held Sarit as she gave birth. “It hurt a lot more than my first birth, and it was longer than I expected,” says Sarit. The moment of birth is a tangle of elation and relief. “You're kind of still recovering,” she says. “There's this joy at having your baby, but also the relief of not being in pain anymore.”
Though she has witnessed scores of births, and had two children of her own, Sarit says the wonder of the birthing process never truly goes away.
“I still cry at births, and I still am amazed, and I still get surprised all the time,” says Sarit. “I've got lots of machines, but ultimately it's just this natural process that we are working with to try and facilitate. Even the most normal, mundane birth has its moments of awe. They're all full of awe.”
Text by Lisa Riordan Seville. Commissioned by Lifetime/A&E for Her America, republished by Virginia Quarterly Review.