the midwife`s journal < contents

20. the lord bless you and keep you
back: at a distance | next: changing midwifery

We baptised little Hailey this morning. A beautiful little girl, about eight months old, with round face, round brown eyes, chubby cheeks and plump legs and arms. In a small way Hailey is one of 'my' babies, and I feel a special sense of caring towards her.

In the ritual of baptism, as it has been passed down to us through the Scottish church, the deeply symbolic act of sprinkling with clean water is a sacrament acknowledging the place of children it the family of faith. I treasure the pledge of the community of believers to care for this little one, and to never do anything that would cause her to stumble. I treasure the familiar readings, prayers and hymns, and especially the singing of the Aaronic Blessing:

"The Lord bless you and keep you.

The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you.

The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace. Amen."

The simple harmonies are swelled by the high ceilings of the church building as the 200 or so voices unite in a prayer of blessing on the child and her family.

The couple have another little girl who is about two years old. I don't know them well. The woman talked to me in the kitchen about the pregnancy, and about the difficult time she had had with her first baby's birth; the long, painful labour, the forceps, and the pelvic floor problems since. She mentioned that she hoped her babies did not develop their father's problem, but at the time I did not feel free to ask what that was.

A few weeks after Hailey's birth they came to Church and the woman told me she was having trouble with feeding. Hailey's weight gain was slow, and the Maternal and Child Health Nurse told her she needed to give Hailey more milk. There was no discussion about making breastfeeding more effective - "Baby is not getting enough. You must not have enough. Get some formula and give it to the baby after she has had a go at the breast." Simple!

The woman asked me to visit her that afternoon.

Babies don't take up much room. It amazes me how many young couples are in the process of extending or renovating the house when a new baby is born. Surely it's challenging enough to have a new baby, without adding the hassles and expense and disruption of building. But I arrived at a construction site.

The woman told me her situation, and the difficulties she was experiencing. She was stressed by all the demands placed on her. She didn't just have a new baby, but her man's illness had become worse, and she had sent him to stay with his parents for a couple of weeks. He was now at home, but the heavy doses of medication made him drowsy. He was not even able to drive the car. The older child was fairly demanding, as one might expect. Baby Hailey just had to fit into a complicated and imperfect world.

The woman is well informed, and she was certain that she wanted to breastfeed. That was our starting point. I felt conscious of her need for support, not sympathy.

The advice that I gave was fairly simple. Hailey's attempts at breastfeeding were not very effective. She needed more milk, and she had to get it fairly quickly if her mother was to survive. We looked for ways of improving milk transfer: better positioning, better attachment, massage of the breast. We talked about the process of change. Hailey needed to learn, and it may take a little time. The woman was happy to use her expressed milk in a small cup as a 'top-up', until Hailey became more effective at nursing. We got rid of the pillows, which seem to plague women who have been taught breastfeeding in some hospitals. The woman learned to hold her baby close to her body, feeding her standing, sitting, or lying - anywhere.

The next Sunday they arrived at Church, and as soon as they had sat down Hailey started making her little noises. She went straight to her mother's breast and stayed there for most of the hour. Part of her mother's recovery was a realisation that she could nurse her baby anywhere. It was her choice to stay or to go to the nursery room. The baby did not need any coaxing. She had no doubt about what to do when Mum and Dad sat down in the place of worship, with the morning sun streaming through the stained glass windows, and the pipe organ music filling the space. It was probably one of the few occasions in the week when the woman really sat still. From that day Hailey made it her business to find nourishment during the service.

When they brought her for Baptism I noticed that mother and her two little daughters were wearing matching dresses. And the woman's dress did not have any opening for ready access to the breast. Is this a detail that only I noticed? Hailey was not aware of changed conditions, because soon after the minister launched into the message she began fussing. The mother tried to rock her, stood up and went out for a little while to settle her, then came back. Hailey was not to be put off, and soon mother leaned forward and cradled the little one to her breast. The neckline of the dress was probably stretched more than its maker intended, but Hailey found comfort at the place her Maker intended.

back: at a distance | next: changing midwifery