Opening poetry

On the very first page of our Varney’s Midwifery (4th edition), before you even get to the table of contents, is the following poem, by Dana Quealy, CNM, MSN:

    Holy Births and Howling Babies

    In my backyard there are nuns who live in a shaded brick building
    next to the St. Stanislaus church and elementary school.
    Together we rise before the sun is in the sky.
    Behind the kitchen curtain, in the damp haze of morning,
    I watch them walk in shades of blue robe.
    They glide in white sneakers across the parking lot.
    They are cool, calm, brisk.

    Some day, I’ll go see them
    I’ll ask for some lesson on prayer.
    Because the thing is…I pray now.
    Not Dear God Almighty!
    Just low, easy, quiet thoughts.

    I pray when my patience is worn.
    Why my shoulders ache.
    When my own voice becomes tiring to my ears.

    I pray when my heart sits heavy with stories and faces of women.
    A prayer for the 32 week babe.
    A prayer for the lady with the skinny, squawking twins.
    A prayer for the woman without a mother, or a lover, or a friend.
    I pray when my cold hands run across a pregnant belly
    and I feel a kick from inside.

    I pray for all my babies, Be good to your mama.
    I pray for all my mothers, Be strong, be good to this baby.
    I pray secretly and I pray slowly.

    I pray for us, the midwives and almost-midwives.
    I pray that we make the right decisions.
    And I pray for those of us who make bad decisions.
    Decicions we regret with outcomes we can’t change.

    I pray that we learn from our mistakes.
    That with ages comes wisdom.
    I pray deeply and I pray completely.
    For all of the hands and all of the bellies.
    I pray for holy births and howling babies.

Now, my question is this: what do all of you think of this poem? Do you like it? Do you think it’s the right poem for the very beginning of a midwifery text book? Does it fill you with hope? Does it start things off on the right foot? Does it give you a visceral sense of what it may be like to be a midwife? I am just curious about other’s responses to it. I’ll share my own thoughts in a bit, but I’d like to hear other’s reactions first. I am just curious. (And don’t by shy! Analyzing poetry is fun! …says my inner English Major.)

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  1. Posted September 27, 2005 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    I like this a lot. Thank you for putting it up.
    Years ago, I can’t even remember where, I heard someone talk about the ideal of living in such a way that one’s every action is a prayer. The idea has stuck with me, and I’ve found myself using it as a yardstick to measure myself against. I feel lucky that on a lot of days I do feel like much of what I do is prayer.

    It makes all the sense in the world to me that a midwife would feel this way about her work. I don’t know whether it’s a way of thinking that would speak to midwifery students generally — I guess it’s a bit of a leap to put it in a textbook. But it’s a leap that makes me, anyway, very happy.

    You ask whether the poem fills me with hope… my first thought is that it’s not so much about hope as about strength. Strength that allows me to keep hoping even in the face of more hard stuff than I can ever hope to respond to. You know your limits. You do everything you can. When you’ve done everything you can, you pray. Then you go home and rest, and get up and do it again.

    I’m curious to hear your thoughts, too!

  2. The Student
    Posted September 28, 2005 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    It’s a beautifully constructed poem. I really like the language, the diction, the way long rolling sentences are followed by short, sweet cadences. I like the repetition of the imagery of praying, and of the phrase “A prayer for…”. I like the assonance and alliteration, and the way the words sound when you say them out loud. I like “shades of blue robe”, and the way she uses words like glide, and haze, and squawking; holy births and howling babies—fantastic phrase.

    And, I can absolutely empathize with the sentiment of the poem: the nervousness, the tremulousness, the appreciation of the miracle of it, and the idea of praying, simply, constantly, through every thing you do. Hoping that you’re doing the right thing, not really being sure if you are, and the fear and uncertainty that comes with that. I feel that all this way quite often as a student, although so far, no lives have yet been placed directly in my hands. Even just thinking about it, though, makes my throat dry. It’s scary. Certainly worthy of prayer.

    But, part of me is disheartened by such a poem in the front of a midwifery text book, becuase it’s really quite negative in some ways. The imagery of running a cold hand across a pregnant belly is not the warmest, most inviting way of describing that act. The end of the poem suddenly throws the concept of right and wrong into the mix, with a prayer towards making the right decisions, which sort of implies that there are wrong decisions to be made, and that the midwives, and soon-to be-midwives, will inevitably be making these wrong decisions.

    And I pray for those of us who make bad decisions./ Decicions we regret with outcomes we can’t change./ I pray that we learn from our mistakes./ That with ages comes wisdom.

    Not exactly what I’d call positive imagery right there. (Although I’m sure the lawyers are praying for those bad decisions, for sure).

    I guess I’m just protesting this as a student, that’s all. I bet a midwife would read this and absolutely understand what all of this is about, and maybe feel like this poem very accurately and beautifully captures her daily existence: the struggle and turmoil and passion and nervousness and wonder. But as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed student, I do think this poem rains on my parade a bit. Where is the joy of birth? Why start off with the nerves and the fear and the regret and the wrong decisions right off the bat, without giving the joy at least a little bit of air time? Just…not the most welcoming, encouraging poem I’d like to see at the start of a midwifery text book.

    But it IS a great poem. I’m glad you liked it, Becca!

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