Women Who Inspire Us

Women Who Inspire Us: Shelley, My Midwife

Antonia and I crossed paths when I guest posted over at Kludgy Mom.  She left a great comment, I checked out her blog, and she just seemed like the kind of woman I wanted to get to know better.  I mean, just take a look at her bio.  How could you *not* want to be friends with her?  I was inspired simply reading about her life, so I was thrilled when she wanted to share a woman who inspired her. 

You can read the previous posts in the series here.  You may also want to subscribe to my RSS feed, or “like” my Facebook page to catch the upcoming posts.  As always, if you would like to share your inspiration by participating in the series, please contact me.  I would LOVE to hear who inspires you!  

I met Shelley Harris-Studdart right after a doctor told me my son would probably be intellectually disabled for life. My husband Peter and I were out of our minds with grief. We were also pregnant with our second child.

Looking back with the distance of three years’ space and time, I see now that I was insane. I’d never experienced a tear in my universe before, the kind of problem you just can’t solve, not even by severing your own arm with your own bare teeth, no matter how much you might want to. No matter how much you might jump at the chance. Our world had changed, and we didn’t know what to do.

So we decided to sail around New Zealand. Pregnant. With a developmentally delayed toddler on board.

ftr, this is what new zealand looks like. unreal.

We were already in New Zealand at the time, which made the decision only slightly more rational. I think I was hoping that by daring those winds and seas, we’d reverse the tides of fate. We’d come back to our home in Whangarei, and everything would be all right again. The adventure would wash us clean.

And meanwhile, I had to find a midwife.

One Saturday morning before our trip, I stood in line at the ATM, waiting to get cash for the farmer’s market. Any midwife I choose is going to think I’m insane, sailing into the Southern Ocean when I’m pregnant. Maybe I AM insane. How am I going to convince a midwife to take me on, when I’m just going to sail away for six months?

Two women were chatting beside me, one compact and dark-haired, one tall and gorgeous, her curly blonde hair tangled in the wind. They were bantering complex acronyms back and forth, technical terms that sounded vaguely medical. A thought struck me.

“Sorry to interrupt,” I asked, “but are you two midwives?”

The tall, blonde one smiled. And that’s how I met Shelley.

Shelley Harris-Studdart has a glimmer of magic about her. She turns up by accident, always in the right place, always at the right time. She’s a midwife in Whangarei, and before that she was a sailor, cruising the Caribbean sea with her husband and two young daughters.

She was happy to be my midwife.

“I’ll write you two referrals,” she suggested. “One for your first scan—that should be when you’re coming into Auckland—and one for your six-month anatomy scan. We’ll do that one in Christchurch.”

She didn’t mention, though it must have crossed her mind, that to get to Christchurch we’d have to cross Cook Strait, one of the most notoriously storm-tossed places on Earth.

“Do you have any advice for me?” I asked. “You know, since you’ve sailed before with small children?”

Shelly smiled gently. “They tend to get sick a lot,” she mentioned. “Bring lots of towels.”

We almost didn’t make it to Christchurch. Late one night, in the middle of Cook Strait, we hit a storm.  Screaming winds and a wall of white-washed spray knocked our boat on its side. My husband swam through ocean in the cockpit, tied to us with the flimsy umbilical cord that was his safety tether. We almost drowned, this time not in grief, but in cold, dark water.

When I emailed Shelley from Christchurch, she sent me the first direct order of my pregnancy: “OH MY GOODNESS ANTONIA STORMS IN COOK STRAIT ARE NO PLACE FOR ANYONE LET ALONE PREGNANT WOMEN. GET OFF THAT BOAT NOW!!!!”

I listened. We completed our trip around New Zealand by van, and when we got back to Whangarei, I was seven months’ pregnant. Shelley saw me through the last few weeks of my pregnancy, which luckily was healthy and routine.

When it came time to give birth, she arrived at our doorstep within the hour. She wore a sparkling white tunic paired with an electric green scarf that could only mean life. She hadn’t had time to change.  She just knew.

The labor was hard and fast. Toward the end, when the waves of contractions threatened to pull me under, filling me with fear about my son and what might possibly be wrong with this new baby, I felt myself close down. At that moment, Shelley leaned in and looked into my eyes, her blonde curls spilling over her leaf-green scarf, and she said: Antonia, you need to open yourself to this baby. It’s time.

So I did. And Miranda Minerva Murphy was born, a perfect, purple baby girl. She wasn’t damaged by our reckless sailboat trip. She looked as though she’d been grooming her eyebrows all the way across Cook Strait.

After the birth, I didn’t see Shelley for awhile. Midwives are so busy, and she has her own family to take care of. But just recently, my daughter stopped using diapers, and I found myself longing for another baby. I was at the farmer’s market, buying our favorite free range eggs, when Shelley tapped me on the shoulder.

I turned, to see her beaming smile, her blonde curls tumbling over a bright green coat. We chatted for awhile, catching up with one another’s lives.

“Call me,” she said. “I’d love to have a visit.” And from the sparkle in her eye, I wondered if she knew—knew that our older son, while still very much behind, is funny and delightful and bright. Knew that we were thinking about another baby. Knew that despite our troubles, we were strong and she made us stronger. Knew that we might need her again.

But that’s Shelley for you. She always turns up at just the right time.

Antonia Murphy is an American author, journalist and adventurer living in Whangarei. She wrote a book about confronting her son’s developmental delay and sailing around New Zealand, entitled ROUGH AS GUTS. She blogs, tweets and pontificates at www.antoniamurphy.com

Image courtesy of vichie81/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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