Emotions are Contagious

My friend and mentor Colin Smith wrote a blog the other day that inspired me. You can find it here.

The line that caught me was “emotions are contagious”. It immediately brought to mind several things. The first thing that popped into my head was the birth of my first daughter.

My mother-in-law, Tina, was a midwife, and a well respected one in the town where my daughter was born. Tina had since moved west, but her reputation in the town was still strong. Our midwife was good at her job, but she was intimidated by attending at the birth of Tina’s first grandchild. So, of course, she was the one on call when Anna went into labor.

Shoulder dystocia is when the infant’s shoulder gets hung up on the mother’s pubis after the head is out. Generally this requires the midwife or doctor to move the mom, and/or manipulate the baby, so that the shoulder is able to get by.

I know all this now. At the time all this was happening however, I was just a freaked out almost-dad who was very much aware that the energy in the room had shifted dramatically.

Our midwife was in a panic.

She was speaking sternly to the nurses to get the Doc on call in the room STAT, she was talking about other things that I have either forgotten or didn’t understand at the time. Probably both. Her final solution was to have me and another person each grab a knee and wrench it backwards while she pushed hard on Anna’s belly to expel the baby. Not perhaps the best choice, but it got the job done. As soon as Maya arrived, the panic in the room pitched, and everyone was talking at once, the midwife was calling for doctors and equipment and whatever else she felt the situation warranted.

Here’s where my hero arrives…

Suzy was the OB on call, she was a mountain of a woman. She was tall, and she was wide and she had hands like dinner plates. While the midwives and the nurses were running around and yelling orders at each other, Suzy had scooped up my daughter, and sandwiched her between those two massive hands. She locked my eye and said

“Her heartbeat is fine

Her breathing is fine

Your baby is fine”. 

My system settled immediately. Suzy had not gotten caught up in the drama that was swirling the room. She didn’t need a stethoscope. She didn’t need a heart monitor. Her hands were giving her all the information she needed. She was a rock in a turbulent sea.

In retrospect, I don’t think it was the information alone that shifted the panic, it was this woman’s presence that refused to be caught up in the tide. It allowed the other medical professionals in the room to get their wits about them once again. Suzy brought with her into the room an aura of peace that infected the rest of us in an almost magical way.

It’s easy to get caught up in a moment, it’s also possible not to.

Working with clients with anxiety issues, I have come to appreciate the power of staying calm when someone else in the room is not. We have the ability to anchor our fellow humans, sometimes in profound ways. Maybe it’s a pack instinct from long ago.

If other beings that we trust around us are not agitated, then I’m probably safe. 

Sometimes we need to hook our nervous systems onto a buddy to regulate. Sometimes we need to be the anchor in the room. It’s a beautiful and powerful thing, and I find myself grateful for it when I notice it, regardless of which end I’m on.