December 7, 2009

The Midwifery Model

I have always favored the term “memoirist” or “personal historian” when I talk about what I do. But Memoirs Ink does so much more than just this. Another service we provide is help to people who want to write their own memoirs, which I actually prefer to writing memoirs for them. There are several terms for a person who does this (book-doctor, memoir coach, ghostwriter, creative editor, etc.) however, I have never loved any of them, because they don’t capture the diverse nature of the work. However, just last week, in a Wall Street Journal Article, I heard the term midwife used to describe someone who aids in the delivery of a manuscript.

I particularly love this term because my other passion is childbirth education. Knowing what I know about birthing, I know that each birth is different: some take a long time, some are quick, some are painful, and others are relatively painless. But regardless of how fast or the pain scale, giving birth requires a monumental amount of energy (hence the term labor) and pushing at the end. So does a memoir.

A midwife’s involvement in each birth is also as varied as the births, but the philosophy behind midwifery care (which differs from the doctor/technological model) is to trust your body and trust the process. I find that this applies to memoir much better than to fiction. Some people just can’t be taught or helped to write good fiction (their manuscripts might need surgery) but in my gut, I know that everyone can write their own memoirs better than we can, if they try at it.

Don’t get me wrong, we are fabulous at memoir writing, but after years of experience I see that our information is limited, even after hours of interviewing. We can make up some sensory details like the weather or the smell from the factory across the road, to make a memoir come alive, but there is something special when a person writes their own story. Maybe it won’t be written as well if Grandpa writes it, but it has more soul. (Of course, if he’s not going to write it, you should call us, so the stories aren’t lost.)

For one thing, remembering begets remembering, and self-authored or midwife-attended memoirs are usually longer and much more detailed. Though remembering can sometimes be excruciating, reflecting on what happened creates new understanding and even healing. Writing stories down is also therapeutic. It is a form of control and also release. I could go on and on, but my point is that a good midwife trusts the process and when needed, will remind you to trust your instincts. A good midwife knows when to wait patiently, when to worry about the heartbeat, and how to help you through transition and pushing.

Comparing writing to birth is not new. Rilke, in one of his famous Letters to a Young Poet, said “Everything is gestation and then birthing.” It is one my favorite passages in the book:

"Everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one's own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to lives as an artist: in understanding as in creating.

In this there is no measuring with time, a year doesn't matter, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn't force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient. Who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything!"

Whenever anyone uses a word like everything, I always perform mental tests on it, and in this case, I feel he’s right. Everything is.

That is as far as I will carry the birth metaphor though. I'll leave, doulas, surrogates, adoption, miscarriage and all the rest for someone else to ponder. I have some pushing to do now.

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