by Tosi Marceline, LM, CPM
Arriving in our very best party clothes is always surprising to the families when we come to a birth. But if they notice, it may give the birth a special feel, as they realize we came from a wedding, or a party to assist them. We sometimes have the foresight to put an extra set of clothes in our car, but not always. Even when we do, we don’t always have time to change!
We have gone to births at all times of day and from all sorts of places. I remember being out shopping in Sacramento with my young daughter and got a call on my pager (yes, it was more than 20 years ago) and had to find a phone booth to call Amy Morgan, my midwife partner, to let her know the birth was happening fast. She left her children with a friend at the public swimming pool, throwing on her dress over the wet bathing suit and arrived just in time to put on an apron and help catch the baby!
So early in my life as a midwife, I found wearing an apron was practical for many reasons. For a start, it protects your clothes somewhat. We have all had skirts get soaking wet with "birth fluid", but more often we find our clothes as clean as when we arrived which is helpful when you have a day of appointments after the birth and no time to change. But more important for you...it is washed, ironed, and cleaner than whatever the midwife is wearing that day!
Our aprons are modest too, and cover us up to our necklines, so that our décolletage is not revealed as we lean over a birth tub to listen to the baby’s heartbeat!
Our deep apron pockets can carry much of what we need to have immediately on hand if the birth is very quick or in a small space. At one birth, the mother escaped her crowd of relatives by hiding in the toilet room (you know what I mean, the room that has only a toilet in it!) Well, with one midwife sitting on the toilet with the laboring woman on her lap, like a birth stool, and me on the floor in front of her with her husband kneeling beside me, there wasn’t a lot of room for much equipment and the pockets in my apron came in handy. This mother was able to push her baby out quickly in a safe and private space...with next birth, she invited fewer people!
Our first aprons were fashioned after Japanese Kappogi Aprons which had elbow length sleeves, as we did not do water births in the 1980’s. Several of our clients traded their sewing skills for part of their birth fee in order to make two aprons for each midwife.
We need more than two aprons available in case of back to back births, so we supplemented with aprons from the cooking department of our local hardware store, but nothing was quite what we wanted or needed, until I came across an old apron a friend’s grandmother had given me in 1970. I traced a pattern from it onto newspaper, made the neckline higher, the hem lower, and the pockets more capacious.
After we added water birth to our practice, we needed aprons without sleeves, and so I turned to my mother, who offered to sew three aprons for each midwife! Now as I was growing up, my mother made much of our clothing (including matching Christmas and Easter outfits for our dolls.) She is a skilled seamstress, as was her mother and grandparents, who were tailors. It has been a great blessing to be able to wear something handmade by my own mother!
We like wearing aprons for more than just their aesthetic or functional properties. Traditionally, they were made in the home and were often made by women to give as holiday gifts to their friends and relatives. Aprons are most frequently worn in the home or by people providing a service to others and we are a home birth midwifery service! Lastly, they are not scrubs! We also wear aprons because it conveys a sense of comfort and nourishment. We know that something good is coming when you see someone wearing an apron...maybe cookies or maybe a baby :)
Aprons have recently made a comeback in the craft and sewing world. I have collected a number of aprons to use in my own home, as time for actual sewing has been limited by births. These aprons, gathered from thrift and second-hand stores, are remarkably diverse, beautiful, and creative. They remind us of each woman’s need to express herself in her work at all levels: in their homes, in their families, in their communities, and in the world. They pay homage to the women’s work we all share.
We always need new aprons, as bleach and wear destroy them eventually. Last year, my mother passed me the pattern we had developed together and said that it was my turn now. It seems that since I will be going to fewer births as time goes on, I will have more time for another type of creativity as the apron crafter. Know that each apron will be a gift to midwifery and the families we serve and each stitch will be made with the same tender care we offer to birthing families and new babies. So next time you see our aprons at a birth, you will know they hold within their fibers the love from generations of women before you and may that give you strength and courage during your transition into motherhood.
See more photos of us in our aprons on Instagram #midwivesinaprons