Athletes and adventurers talk about “peak experiences.” I understand some people scale mountains, others jump out of airplanes, and still others get beaten to a pulp in extreme wrestling competitions–all in a pursuit of peak experiences: that sense of being more than yourself, better than your best.
Well, you’re never going to catch me doing those things. As a well brought-up Asian woman, I will not jump out of an airplane, even if it is on the ground. I’m just a cautious person, so I thought I’d have to sacrifice peak experiences for a sense of safety.
Then–I delivered my first baby. I was a fourth-year medical student and I’d been waiting in the wings for weeks to catch a baby, and after it happened–after that new person slipped into my hands–I felt high for hours. Being at a birth is still a peak experience for me. Sometimes, I’ll find myself watching a baby crowning and realize I’ve got a giant grin on my face.
I can totally relate to that. Birth is absolutely a peak experience, and even though the attendants don’t get the full hormonal high that is the mother’s natural reward for getting through labour, it is well worth sacrificing sleep to be one of the priveleged witnesses of that joyous moment. And it is a great blessing – for Dr. Chan, for the women whose births she attends, and for the midwives she works with – for a hospital-based provider to have retained such a clear sense of that joy and wonder even after hundreds of births, and to have it inform her philosophy and practice.