Mark Harris contacted me a long time ago, saying lovely things about the first chapter or so of my book. Ever since then I’ve kept a close eye on what he’s been up to. This man speaks of holy unions. A beautiful truth. I’ll let him speak for himself.
I’ve been a midwife since 1994 and a nurse before. I’ve trained in hypnosis and neuro-linguistic programming to the point of being a trainer. I’ve done youth work and taught in further education. Now I work as a midwife but mainly in birth education. I’ve just authored a book called Men Love and Birth the book your pregnant lover wants you to read and I’m writing a book on fatherhood at the moment. My focus at this moment is doing workshops all over the country and more recently in Europe. The workshop focuses on teaching men about birth. Mainly birth professionals tend to come, anti-natal teachers, hypnotherapists, doulas and midwives and it explores all the things we’ve discussed in this interview. I also run a professional programme for birth professionals called A Conversation. They call me and we have a conversation about what’s happening in their practice and their life. I guess you’d call it coaching or mentoring but I prefer to call it a conversation because inside these conversations it kind of loosens up both of our presuppositions about what’s real in the world and new possibilities become available. I also run Birthing for Blokes workshops for men supporting their partners through the birthing process. I am also a co-presenter on a podcast called Sprogcast and that’s a monthly look at what is current in the birth and early childhood world with an interview with someone high profile in the birthing world. Me and my co presenter Karen Hall speak about current research and that’s Sprogcast.
Why did you become a midwife?
Well I come from a rough working class background and for the first seventeen years of my life I was absorbed in surviving. Whatever that means to a young man growing up seeking to be accepted. Seeking to be liked by others. I got involved with sports in a big way but was rubbish at school and got kicked out late on with no qualifications whatsoever. Having got myself wound up in a group of second generation mods that were quite aggressive, tribal but there was a real sense of belonging there. My daughter reminded me that I used to tell a story of us having nuclear fallout parkas and stealing Sainsburys trolley handles and stitching them in the linings of our parkas so that we always had a means of protection. They were wild years in a big family. Five sisters, three brothers with very little money and about the age of sixteen I started to get worried about dying. Not because of the violence (I came close but I never did) really more to do with wanting to make a difference in life, wanting to have an impact on the world in some way. Sounds cheesy when I say it now but it was a bit of an existential crisis. I didn’t know why I was here and I decided through loads of reading and thinking that being a nurse would suit me. I wanted to care. I wanted to be involved with supporting people. A long story short I sat the general nurse council test which you could do in England but you can’t now and I passed and I got accepted on the RGN SRM programme and qualified as a nurse. Very soon after qualifying as a nurse I realised that the physical aspects of the role were less and less and less and the management paper part of the work was more and more and more and I was being pulled away from the very things I loved the most. Being with people. My mate was the very first ever midwife who was a man in Warwickshire at the time there were 62 men out of 32000 and he rang me up saying “Mark! Mark! ‘Midwife’ it’s a verb! It’s a verb!”
“Calm down Dave what do you mean it’s a verb?” I said.
He said “It comes from the middle English (mid meaning with and wife meaning woman) and he interpreted it to mean as it’s something you do. It’s who you’re being. It’s not a noun but it’s an expression of who you’re being and you can’t be a midwife without being with woman. It’s kind of core, it’s part of the genetic makeup of what it means to be a midwife. So he said give it a go so I did and when I qualified in 1994 there were 62 men out of 32000 and as we currently speak in 2015 there are 122 men out of 48000. That’s why I became a midwife and I was hooked with being with women.
What angers you the most?
People that have polarised positions not being kind and gentle with each other as human beings. People getting lost in their strongly held beliefs and truths. And being so lost and so in their reality tunnel, because we all are. We’re all engaging with reality indirectly. But they’re kind of lost in their view of the world to such an extent that they can’t hear what other people are saying and I think it leads to us losing a bit of our humanity and it angers me when I lose touch with my own compassion and kindness. That angers me the most.
There’s lots on information about parenthood now. I feel the spirituality of birth, and how this is taught and discussed, is missing from the agenda. For various reasons and for both sexes to a degree. Do you agree?
At the root of what I write about and what I teach is, if you like, a spiritual understanding about life that doesn’t really include a necessarily personified deity. I think all the religious books advisedly call them myths, but not myths in terms of their content not being true, but myths in terms of them being stories that teach us truth that we can experience. At the root of my teaching is an understanding that men and women both have masculine and feminine energy. Every person on the planet was a female before 12 weeks and then the differentiation occurs biologically and every man and woman has the same makeup of hormones in their bodies. But what happens is those hormones dance in different ways so you have a masculine endocrine dance or a feminine endocrine dance. There’s a sliding scale to it, it’s not just black and white. And we’ve all met men who have a feminine essence and women with a masculine essence. In truth the masculine and the feminine expresses itself and that’s life occurring. For me relationship is a spiritual experience. Life itself is a spiritual experience. I intuit that I have a predominately masculine essence. I seek and crave freedom. Nothingness. Oblivion. Being just the spacious awareness of life occurring. That’s home for me and my masculine essence. But the feminine is dancing energy, creative energy. It’s happening. It’s occurring. And the masculine and the feminine meet and that’s life occurring! It’s a uniquely spiritual happening in my opinion. The only thing I can be sure about in life is that I am. And that’s the quintessential expression of masculine energy that meets life occurring on a day to day basis.
I start my teaching with our experiences of differences when we relate to men and women and then I move on to the neuro-physical, biological differences that occur in the human species. Then I track that to ancient traditions, Indian and Chinese traditions of Ying and Yang and then I trace it back further to the story of evolutionary biological adaptations. All of that gives a framework for my teaching but at its core it’s a spiritual message. But quite well hidden.
What scares you the most?
Being as candid as I can I have beliefs and fears around not having the money to pay the bills. And at the moment although I’m working with that fear that’s what scares me the most on a personal level. On a global level who knows? I cease being afraid about it in many ways because fear doesn’t serve the purpose of taking action and that’s what I notice when I have these personal fears about paying the bills is when I write about those and isolate what the core beliefs are that I’m actually believing that are creating that fear then the beliefs get to be shaken a bit, loosened a bit so that I can see a different way. I guess what scares me most is being locked into a way of seeing that doesn’t allow me to spy and detect the other possibilities.
What are your hopes for the future?
I have a declaration if you like that generates possibility for me and that I am the reinvention of birth education for men and same sex couples worldwide. I’d like my book to be read by 500,000 men throughout the world in different languages. My main hope for the future is that I want each of my six children and six grandchildren to experience life from the foundation of happiness not to achieve happiness.
What advice would you give the earlier version of you?
Chill out. Don’t worry too much about the hallucinations you have for the future. Remember that life doesn’t occur in a future place because the future doesn’t exist apart from the hallucination I have about what it might turn out like. And the past is of course just a collection of stories I’ve invented. Live more for the things that you’re actually doing rather than what you’re expecting to do.
I very much agree with the worshipping mentalist when you are talking about birth. Do men struggle with the idea of this?
A woman birthing has been a mystery to men for generations. And it still is a mystery that the masculine generated birth structures are trying to solve. When men hear about some of the differences that occur in how a woman’s neuro-physiology is experiencing the world compared to theirs they resign themselves that they’ll never know completely in their experience what it means to be a woman. So the mystery element stays in place. But that worship for reverence to this mystery generates certainly in me, and in some of the men I talk to, a sense of respect of awe and amazement in the presence of birth which is certainly productive to the kind of connection of that a woman craves when she’s giving birth.
Finally what are your top three albums?
I listen to Muse. I enjoy Ed Sheeran, anything he does. I like singer songwriters. Hmm. I want to say something cool. I was listening to some retro Johnny Cash signing Danny Boy and Bridge over troubled Waters. They’re the ones I’m listening to at the moment.
While deeply honoured to have Mark donate some precious time I found myself quite humbled by his words. His talents shine and, while I transcribed his words for this interview, his advice thumps a faster beat when he speaks. Have a listen to this interview here and indeed Sprogcast for some parenting backup. Any expectant fathers would be wise to pick up a copy of his brilliant book here. Today especially these precious words of truth and kindness hold a hot light. Do follow Mark at @Birthing4Blokes.