At a birth I attended as a doula in August, the mama offered me the honor of cutting their umbilical cord. I did, and ever since, I’ve been haunted by thoughts of how my hands severed that very visceral tie between mother and baby.
Atropos, Greek goddess of fate, is the sister who cuts the thread of life.
After an hour of spontaneous, non-directed pushing, a baby boy was born into a quiet room and his mama’s arms. His papa had made it clear from mid-pregnancy that he wouldn’t be cutting the umbilical cord, so when the on-call midwife handed him the scissors, he recoiled.
The midwife turned to me, offered the scissors and asked if I wanted to cut it. The question seemed inappropriate, since it wasn’t really her gesture to make. I felt like she should’ve turned to the mama for direction instead of me. It was already an awkward moment, in place of what should have been a rush of joy and accomplishment for the mama, and I was trying in my mind to balance making it more awkward or with going with the flow of things and cutting the cord.
I looked to the mama, who smiled and suggested I go for it, and I did. This all occurred within a matter of seconds, but to me there were huge implications.
Was it really my place to step into this intimate moment of ritual for this new family? As a doula, I’m already enmeshed in my clients’ lives in extremely intimate ways–physical contact, nudity, an understanding of the social & emotional culture of their family, and a sharing of some of the most intense moments of their lives.
But it still felt iffy. In a cultural era of delayed cord clamping as a way to prolong the deep umbilical connection between mother and baby, I felt uncomfortable being the one to cause the separation.
It’s difficult to juxtapose the simultaneous emotions of discomfort and feeling honored by the experience. Cutting this baby’s cord was a privilege, an honor, and a first for me. A very thought-provoking honor.