Front row seat

Posted 20 Oct

Matilda Copeland

Words by Walter Marsh.

Matilda has a front row seat to one of life’s most intimate and personal experiences

For all the diversity of experience that exists in the world, there’s one thing every single human being shares: being born. As a midwife, Matilda gets to know her clients inside and out, and gain a front row seat to the uniquely process of one body becoming two.

To build such an intimate working relationship, it helps to be open from day one.

“Not all midwives do the same things as me,” Matilda explains, “but I tend to be quite casual and open at the start. I swear quite a bit when I’m talking to women or their families — you have to read the room.”

Colourful language will, perhaps inevitably, make an appearance at some point in a birth journey, and it’s just one taboo that it’s helpful to get out of the way early.

“I think it’s quite helpful to use a lot of the language that people potentially get embarrassed about; saying the word ‘vagina’ quite a lot, and just enabling women to go ‘oh that’s cool, she said that so I’m free to use that word or something else’. Then I can clarify, ‘do you mean your vagina?’ And that kind of thing — that’s so helpful.”

For Matilda, it’s all part of empowering clients to feel a sense of comfort and autonomy throughout their pregnancy, something that hasn’t always been a priority in a medical world that, historically, often minimised or ignored women’s voices and experiences.

“I think it’s changed a little bit,” she says. “[But] the whole hospital system is a very patriarchal thing, and there are still a lot of times where you see women just aren’t given their autonomy, which is really difficult.

“Often the first thing I do is ask them what their preferences are, what they’ve been thinking about, and what they might want to do for their birth. Do they have any questions, and start from asking them what they want to talk about.

“You get to know the women and their families,” she says of working as part of a midwifery group practice, a model in which she works in partnership with one other midwife to provide continual care in and out of hospital.

“You have time to [provide] all this education and figure out what they want, and you’re the one that’s providing their labour care. It’s very nice, and women often say that when their midwife comes in it’s like, ‘oh my god, cool, I’m safe now’. It’s someone they trust, which is really cool.”

Birth can be a transformative experience for clients’ bodies and lives with few parallels — for better and worse. In many instances, providing that sense of control and autonomy can make a big difference.

“Unfortunately a lot of women end up with birth trauma; clients often have an idea of what they’d like their birth to look like, and plenty of times it doesn’t always go to that plan. The people who tend to have the most trauma have had their choices taken away, and everything happened so quickly.

“But, if you’ve talked through all that stuff, women can say ‘stop, can you explain why?’ I guess prompting women to get [medical practitioners] to explain things, so they understand why they want to do something, and then they can give actually informed consent.”

Being on hand before, during and after a birth means Matilda is also privy to seeing a new person’s first relationships, and family dynamics, begin to form.

“It’s pretty incredible — you’re poking this belly and then you’re holding this baby. It still blows my mind when you’re holding the baby, and you’re like ‘that’s the same thing that was in there’.

“It’s incredible and especially because in the program I work with you get the four weeks post-natally, if they need it, to just see this baby be incorporated into the family. To see the parents really figure out parenthood and their breast-feeding journeys, it’s pretty amazing. And seeing them settle — the first week is always chaos, it’s hard and scary but then after a couple of weeks they’ve really settled into their groove and it’s pretty amazing.”

Working in this field has also seen Matilda inducted into a vast, not-so-secret society of strangers sharing stories and notes, and appreciating how this seemingly universal process can also encompass another world of experience.

“It’s really nice when women find out you’re a midwife and tell you their birth stories – and I love hearing women’s birth stories. I think that’s been really lovely for me to connect to a whole other people in ways I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t a midwife.”


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