As her big day approached, an expectant mother informed me she wanted her husband Ron to catch the baby. For me as a birth doctor, this was a first-time request, but I had learned from experience that the mother’s wishes were paramount.
No matter how outlandish, anything within the bounds of safety had to be considered. I felt reassured as well because I knew the dad-to-be. We both attended the same men’s exercise group called Shaolin – The Way of the Warrior Monk.
My friend Brice, a homeopath, had talked me into joining. It was not the usual thing for a doctor and a homeopath to be friends, but Mullumbimby of the times back then, was a cultural melting pot.
Still, I was a bit wary of a homeopath’s advice, I knew the Shaolin teacher, Ed, quite well. He was the hospital physiotherapist. One morning during rounds, he and I were loitering around the nurses’ desk, so I asked him about the class.
He looked at me with a sudden intensity. When he decided my enquiry was genuine, he offered to demonstrate the ‘Dragon Form’. On the spot, Ed’s trim straight body transformed itself into an intricate sinuous form. I don’t know how long it went on, but the metamorphosis from man to dragon in that hospital corridor, watched by nurses, was mesmerising.
‘I can’t do that’, I told him, but he encouraged me to come to training anyway. ‘Dragon form is pretty advanced,’ he reassured. I asked if I could first go and watch.
‘This is not a spectator sport. If you want to come, you have to join in.’
‘Training,’ as it was known, was mainly involved with posture and movement. At a personal level, it introduced me to a whole new concept of being. Ron, the expectant father, was an adept in the group, endowed with a very flexible body. For example, sitting on the floor in a leg-stretch, he could easily curl his hand around the sole of his foot with poise and ease, in contrast to a few of the fifteen who could not reach our feet and had to reach with a belt.
Happily, the men were mutually supportive rather than competitive, but depending on the master’s mood, the time of training could sometimes drag.
It was worth turning up because I knew it was unfolding something useful in my body and mind. If I couldn’t manage training on Tuesday evenings, at least I had the good excuse of being in attendance at someone’s homebirth.
Anyway, the time of Ron’s family affair was imminent. I should mention that the women of Mullumbimby had been refusing the standard bed and stirrups for a few years already. The customer was always right, especially an expectant mother who could turn into a savage lioness protecting her cub.
So Ron’s wife was squatting on the floor because that’s how she wanted to be. He was down on the floor getting ready to catch the baby. It was a crowded narrow space. Mother was in an upright squat, her body supported by the midwife.
Anyone who has birthed a baby knows how wet and slippery an emerging human being can be. It’s important not to let the baby slip between your fingers. There could be consequences, such as a torn bleeding umbilical cord or a hard headfirst landing.
Ron was holding out his hands, ready to catch the baby, whose head was rapidly crowning. I knew it could emerge with the next contraction but felt concerned about Ron’s hands. His body was tense in anticipation, hands pressed together as though expecting a shower of gold coins, such that none might slip between his fingers. This was not the right way to catch a slithery baby. I was down there right next to him and did not wish to intervene unless essential.
On an impulse, I whispered to Ron, ‘Shaolin Hand’. His understanding was instant and I saw his whole body change, shoulders relaxing as did his hands, fingers spread apart, palms curved and facing each other, just like we did at training every Tuesday.
The catch was perfect as the emerging baby’s head slipped into that energy ball of the trained expectant hands. Ron continued to gather the fast-emerging body of the little girl, like a seasoned expert. The cord remained intact, pulsing with new life of the little girl, who was delivered up into the waiting arms of her new mother.
However a child sails into the world, I always found it to be a touch miraculous!
Dr Miller is a retired GP who writes or health and Travel