Monday, 9 October 2017

How Midwifery Care is Compatible with Montessori

As I have mentioned before, I have had both of my boys with the same midwife I am seeing for this pregnancy, and as I have truly loved my experience of midwifery care and feel it is perfectly aligned with Montessori, I wanted to share some of my thoughts.

First off, I wanted to mention I have not seen a regular ob-gyn so I really cannot speak to how that mode of care compares with my experiences, and I am, in no way, speaking against traditional medicine. I do see my family doctor regularly throughout pregnancy as I have a thyroid problem which needs to be monitored. During my pregnancy with Jerome, I was seeing a family doctor from whom I transferred care, as I did not feel particularly respected by him in particular (he refused to accept I was under the care of a midwife  for my pregnancy and kept referring me to ob-gyns and having his nurses badger me.) and compared to this one instance, I am so impressed by the amount of respect and trust present in midwifery.

I knew much less about Montessori when I gave birth to Benedict, but when I look back, it is striking how well midwifery care and the Montessorian ideals for newborn care complement each other. This article, written by a Montessorian birth keeper (who knew there was such a thing - I surely did not.) compares the natural drives of pregnancy and birth with the natural urges which drive a child. She writes that the role of the [midwife] is: to help create and protect the environment, to respect inner wisdom, and to stay out of the way.

The word I always want to use when I describe how I feel throughout my midwife experience is empowered. At every step of each pregnancy and birth, I have felt completely in control of the decisions and of my body, and because I have sensed an innate trust from my midwife, it has allowed me to more fully put trust in myself. Midwifery care relies on respecting the inner wisdom of the woman, allowing her to move, react, and answer to her natural urges and I have really appreciated this aspect of my care, and am grateful to know this birth will be so aligned with what I would want from a more Montessorian birth experience.

16 Weeks // Fisch 3.0
I know that sometimes complications arise which require intervention, and these circumstances are often out of the mother's control, but I have always appreciated the knowledge that my midwife would only resort to these interventions if it was absolutely necessary, and that I would not be pressured, at any time, to do anything I was uncomfortable with.

In fact, this plethora of choice and information is one of my favourite aspects of midwifery care. This pregnancy I was given a huge binder with many of the different topics we have covered throughout my three pregnancies, and I love knowing all of that information is at my fingertips. At my last appointment, my midwife and I sat for most of it discussing my different birthing options, as it is not possible for me to birth at home (the only downside to midwifery care is that there is just not enough in Alberta, and mine is too far away from my home for a homebirth), and this was just one instance where I really appreciated the open dialogue I am able to have with her. We have talked about circumcision, my induction, nutrition, cord clamping, and I feel Tharin and I have been able to make really informed decisions without any pressure from our care practitioner. This, of course, contributes to my feeling empowered as the parent to my child, which, in turn, is preparation for all the decisions we must feel confident in making later on. 

24 Weeks // Fisch 3.0
Maria Montessori talks about the importance of the first moments of a child's exposure to the outside world for his mental life, as well as respecting the individual personhood and psyche of that child even before then. Though I had not read about this specifically before this pregnancy, my natural inclinations, and subsequently the midwifery care that felt so natural for me, resulted in my making decisions that were Montessorian before I had even discovered this method. (This is one of the reasons I fell so in love with Montessori because it feels and comes so naturally to me).

Maria Montessori writes in The Secret of Childhood:
… a newborn child should not simply be shielded from harm, but measures should also be taken to provide for psychic adjustment to the world about it… The needs of a newborn child are not those of one who is sick but of one who is striving to adjust oneself physically and psychologically to new and strange surroundings.

Our attitude towards the newborn child should not be one of compassion but rather of reverence before the mystery of creation, that a spiritual being has been confined within limits perceptible to us. The manner in which we touch and move a child, and the delicacy of feeling which should inspire us at the time, makes us think of the gestures that a priest uses at the altar. His hands are purified, his motions are studied and thoughtful, and his actions take place in silence and in darkness that is penetrated only by a light that has been softened in its passage through stained glass windows. A feeling of hope and elevation pervades the sacred place. It is in surroundings such as these that the newborn child should live.

I think that pregnancy and labor can sometimes be treated, in traditional medicine, as an illness, instead of the natural, even beautiful, matter it is. Much as Maria Montessori warns that newborns should not be treated as a person who sick, I believe we should not treat pregnant and laboring women this way either, and am so grateful to not have this sense from my midwife. In pregnancy, I try to handle the discomforts and pains with grace, knowing that, just as my labor pains have a purpose, so does every change which my body endures through the months of pregnancy. I feel it is a very spiritual connection that our babies start their lives so inextricably bound to their mothers, and try to respond to the kicks, movements, and presence of my unborn child with reverence and love.

Being under the care of a midwife has been so in alignment with this beautiful passage about birth. My midwife-attended births have meant peaceful, non-invasive care for myself and my newborn, in a prepared environment centered on patience and trust (as the article I mentioned above articulates it). During labour, I have been free to move and respond according to my maternal instincts, sometimes in water, sometimes on my hands-and-knees, sometimes on the birthing ball. The presence of my midwife has always been gentle: monitoring, massaging, and coaxing gentle breathing and movements if I lose my composure (which is bound to happen, positive as you intend to be, when you are in the throes of a drug-free birth.)

On the topic of composure, before going into labour with Jerome, I read a phenomenal article from a birthing magazine called Birth Issues particularly the one on page 12 of this issue, and watched the documentary, The Business of Being Born, and learned about the importance of having a positive mindset toward my body and the natural abilities I possess as a woman. My mantra throughout labour has been: this pain has purpose, my body is capable of helping the baby through this, and that has been an instrumental mindset, which my midwife has naturally helped me to act in accordance with. (Honestly, look into the fear-tension-pain cycle if you need any further convincing.)

My birthing environments have been prepared for calm, with dim lights, quiet movements and sounds, and a focus on family bonds from the start, which I believe, now more than ever, are so important for the newborn's first exposure to the outside world. We have delayed clamping - though forgive me for not being exactly sure how long this delay has been as I have always been caught up in loving my sweet new squish at this time, and we have done as much skin-to-skin care as possible from the first moments after birth. With Benedict, in fact, he was nuzzling the breast before we were even out of the birth pool. We opt out of a few of the pokes and interferences many doctors insist on directly after birth, like the heel poke and antibiotic ointment, and I prefer not to bath my baby for as long as possible, as I feel it is more respectful not to overwhelm the baby with too many sensations and prodding so soon after the birth trauma.

29 Weeks // Fisch 3.0

30 Weeks // Fisch 3.0
I remember laying down for the night with my hours-old newborn in the soft light of my sisters guest room, and feeling so peaceful. There is something so true in Maria Montessori's assessment that nature innately provides for the newborn's need for calm after the trauma of birth when she wrote, "the mother herself is kept helpless for a time. Keeping still for her own benefit, she communicates the necessary calm to her child." {Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind}

With this knowledge, I hope to have an even more positive and peaceful attitude towards my birth this time around, heeding my midwife's advice (more than in my previous two experiences) to stay in bed as much as possible in the days and weeks following my birth, knowing how important it is for the physic adjustment of my newborn to a harsh new environment much as for my own healing. Pregnancy and birth are not to be treated as alien or needing of unnecessary intervention, but as something to be guided, protected, and understood for the miracle it is. Maria Montessori talks about the newborn child as a precious gift to be reverently treasured, and as always, I am grateful to the contributions this wise woman has made to our world's understanding of childhood. In some ways, I am excited to experience this next birth and newborn stage from the standpoint of a Montessori-inspired mother and appreciate the support and understanding I know I will recieve from my midwife.

God bless,
Olivia Fischer


  1. I have yet to experience a birth with a midwife, but even just having received care during pregnancy was amazing. I'd say the time I was with my midwife was crucial to how my birth did go.

    Hopefully when we have another baby, I'll make it to birth with a midwife and be able to experience more fully the natural course of childbirth. I love that you were able to just soak in those moments after baby in quiet and peace. If it doesn't happen for me, I am still glad others get to have this experience.

    Thanks for sharing! I enjoy reading.