‘The first duty of love is to listen’ – Paul Tillich
Love is a powerful and wonderful force. It has generated songs, plays, films, books, heroic deeds and stories beyond number. It can cover everyone from one’ s partner to one’s family to the whole human race. And beyond this to animals, stars and the universe itself. There are different definitions of love. One which the authors like is that love is being there with another in giving and presence. This means that we are present to the other in kindness, openness and hope. It says ‘You matter and I care.’ In this blog a midwifery student has shared with us the thoughts and the insights she has in her work. They are her listening’s – what she has seen and heard and what has meant so much to her. These experiences we believe have significance for us all in what we do and for the world we try to make a better place. The experiences are of work in a maternity ward. This writing doesn’t cover everything that happens there but relates to the theme of love.
The first thing our friend described was the face of the mothers she worked with. Supporting the delivery of the baby and looking at the mother’s face she saw someone lost in joy and wonder. When our friend said how beautiful their baby was, the light on the mothers face seemed to grow and glow more bright. Our friend writes ‘When you see the mother ill, tired but full of love what do you see? A mother’s love. She may be in pain but she will smile , her eyes will shine with pride and she stares at her baby as she speaks to you.’ There is something in this deep gazing between mother and child that is pure love. A writer once said that the most common image for Western art was the theme of Madonna and Child. All those pictures of a woman looking lovingly at her child. There is an obvious reason for this in Europe’s Christian past. There may be another reason too. This image may offer us one of the most powerful and meaningful expressions of what love is all about – presence, giving and gazing. A giving and gazing that means everything.
This loving gaze offers a lens for many areas of life. Our friend writes,’ The loving gaze is what we do in all aspects of care ; the first time you listen in to a baby’s heart with a sonic aid – there is a moment of hope and then love as the woman smiles – the smile that shines.’ This loving gaze gives us a sign of how we may gaze upon another with kindness and commitment and care. We may not have the amazing intensity of a mothers love but we can have the intent of wishing another well. We can listen and be there. A friend of one of the authors was for many years a psychiatric social worker. He used to spend a lot of time with the service users on his caseload. He called it ‘the practice of presence.’ He would sit with them and really be there in kind connection. He would talk about whatever mattered to them. He would listen, be there and laugh with them. There was something in his meetings which was real connection and understanding. This too was love – a giving, listening and sharing.
Our friend spoke also of the midwifery team and of the bond existing between them. She saw how they tried to support one another. Here too she saw a look. ‘Sometimes it’s not by words but by a look – I need help is not always said aloud but they help each other. If a call bell rings they answer it and do what they can. The busy ward can be stressful but little things really make a difference and is actually caring for each other.’ We see here the elements of what good work culture and teams can look like. Looking after each other, getting the little things right, knowing when someone needs something because we are aware of them and working together to provide the best we can. In these we find a mini manifesto for getting the culture right in all our systems. Our friend finished by saying ‘ As you can probably tell I adore midwifery for what it can mean to the women I care for. Every woman deserves to have a midwife that is compassionate, kind, loving, open and full of hope…I am so privileged to be in rooms which have been filled with love and care. It makes it all worthwhile. It also shows me again and again the strength of mothers…I see strength. Women are so strong.’ This is a good place to end this writing. A woman in a weakened and tired state holding her child and afire with a love and a new strength gazing into the face of her child and receiving back the baby’s gaze. It’s a picture we need to remember. It tells us so much about what life is all about – its about the love we give to others and can receive from them. That loving gaze and smile say it all.