“Sorry but are you a midwife? You delivered my baby didn’t you!” She looks so pleased. So pleased to see me. Have you any idea how lovely it is for complete strangers to be pleased to see you? It gives you a warm nice feeling inside – unfortunately accompanied by an icy dread because she really is a stranger to me. I don’t recognise her at all.
Partly this is because I think I’m on one end of the spectrum of being able to recognise faces. I once listened to a podcast about a woman who had problems recognising her own daughter so I know I’m not the worst but still pretty bad. Also though I can guarantee that the last time I saw this woman she probably looked pretty different – probably a bit sweaty, without any makeup, and maybe with the classic blank look in her eyes of a woman whose entire world has become focused on withstanding regular waves of pain so strong it’s best to leave this plane of consciousness. And no one has that look when they are pottering around Waitrose, maybe Lidl but not Waitrose.
I’ve been in this situation before and know it’s best to fake a little. No one wants to feel they have been forgotten after an intense and intimate physical encounter. I don’t suppose prostitutes have the same problems but maybe they do.
“Oh my goodness, yes,” I look at the baby in the pushchair to check it’s not a complete newborn. “Wow, how old are they now?” “Six months – oh my god, doesn’t time fly!” which gives the impression I remember her without any actual lies.
Then she says some really nice things that I totally don’t feel like I deserve, and then gets a bit stuck whilst talking about the best way of getting rid of cradle cap. I throw in some vaguely-remembered remedies I used on my now teenage son and suddenly internally panic that she’s going to take it as valid medical advice.
We eventually part as she says she’s running late to meet up with her brother. “Really nice to see you again,” I say, and it’s not a lie. It’s lovely to be appreciated.
I’m round the corner staring at all the different washing powders trying to find some way to differentiate between them when I remember. She was the one with the brother! Her male partner was with her but also her brother. It was amazing – I think their mum had died a few years before, she was really close to her brother and so he was with her for the birth. Politely stayed out of looking at any really personal bits, but he was incredibly supportive and kept making her laugh. He got on well with her partner too. It was so inspiring to meet siblings get on so well that a few days after that shift I called my own brother and arranged to meet up with him.
Bollocks I totally remember her now! I even have a sense memory in my fingers of how her cervix felt when I first examined her (slightly behind anterior but fully effaced, well applied and about 6cm dilated if you are interested). And meeting her and her family have arguably had a life-changing effect on me.
I can’t chase her down to tell her that now. She’ll know I was being a fake before. And if I mention her cervix then she might want to get a restraining order. I’m sorry. And I’m sorry to any other woman I’ve seen after her birth and looked a bit blank. I guess just by the law of diminishing returns, any one particular birth, whilst amazing for the mother, cannot have quite such an emotional resonance for the midwife. Which is probably for the best or we would all emotionally implode. Well emotionally implode even more than we do at the moment.
Photo by Jomjakkapat Parrueng on Unsplash