For anyone reading who doesn’t know this.. this is the Singing Midwife blog. Welcome! Here I post links to songs about making, carrying, having and life with babies. I’m Julie, a midwife with a love of singing and storytelling, and I’ve just been on the road raising money for the Independent Midwifery Trust with my Singing Midwife show. The tour took in a variety of venues, from a gig in the old Scottish trawler The Boy John, now spending its days in a Welsh boatyard
to an NHS birth centre in Birmingham
and raised over £1600 to try to help independent midwives secure insurance so they can continue to practice.
The most thrilling bit for me was bringing information and ideas about positive birth, the fact that women are able to make their own choices about every aspect of their midwifery care, and discussing why having a midwife you know and trust matters so much to people who’d never considered these issues before . Whilst a lot of the people who came to see the show were experienced and knowledgeable in these matters, some folk had just come along for an evening’s entertainment. Shining a light on these questions in a format which was enjoyable, thought provoking and stimulating for them was undoubtedly the highlight for me.
And learning new songs. Did you know that the American singer songwriter Ani di Franco has several songs extolling the virtues of midwives? Or that Woody Guthrie has a tune called ‘I was born’ about the universality of the birth experience? Or that Madness have a cover of a calypso tune about who’s the daddy? Neither did I – thanks so much to everyone who taught me about more amazing songs about the journey through pregnancy and parenthood… There’s definitely more than enough material for another show in the future.
And what is it about Paul Simon and all those songs about difficult relationships with his children? Fact or fiction?
Another thing I love about song is that it allows us to capture and share some of the most primal, and sometimes painful, experiences. Grief, adoption, miscarriage, postnatal depression… song is such an appropriate vehicle for the deepest of human experiences. Poetry and story, too.
And then there’s the wonderful point that songs can be used for great education. Like the song about different ways to turn a breech baby – since singing that song at a gig less than a week ago, someone’s already got in touch asking for details, since a friend of their’s has just found out their baby’s breech and was told they’d have to have a caesarean section (er, remember that song about informed choice? yes yes yes, no no no. And that a woman has the right to choose what happens to her and her baby? If not, check out the concept of informed choice in maternity care, and the great book ‘Am I Allowed’ by the Association for Improvements in Maternity Services)
And then there’s also the curious thing about how open to interpretation songs are, and how many people, myself included, will happily sing along to a song, and not really have any clue what they’re singing about. For example: for some years now I’ve known the folk song ‘The Shearing’s Not For You’. I say ‘know’, when really I’d heard it at a folk club once. I picked up the refrain pretty much immediately:
‘Oh the shearing’s not for you my bonny lassio’
And was more than happy to sing along. What a lovely tune, I thought. I evidently didn’t really pay any attention to many of the other words, or the story the song’s telling. That didn’t stop me from thinking I knew the song…
And then, some months later, I suddenly thought
‘Hang on a minute!! The shearing’s not for you… I can only think of one reason why a woman would be advised not to take part in the shearing….. Don’t all midwives know to advise farming women not to hang out with sheep, cos they can pick up toxoplasmosis, which can harm the baby. Why on earth didn’t I think of that before?’
And indeed, listening to the song now, it is absolutely clear that that is exactly what the song’s about. Not a happy story, it’s true. But how on earth did I miss that?
One thing’s for sure…. songs can be very very moving