Speaking of Teen Mamas

Speaking of amazing teen mamas,  Stand and Deliver (one of my absolute favorite birth/health blogs) just posted an increbly moving and inspirational birth story about a teenager giving birth with family practice physician in a rural hospital.

This is why I want to work with teenagers. What an incredible honor to be part of providing this space that creates empowered, engaged young mothers?

“See, the thing about this kind of birth is that this mama had it in her to do it. All she needed was the space to do it in. She just needed folks around her to believe she could. It was not an easy birth, or a short birth, or an uncomplicated birth. It was ordinary and yet sacred, moving and extraordinary. Mostly, we just encouraged this young mama to do what felt right to her, and she took the powerful, primal energy of birth and used every bit of it to make it hers. Watching her, who’d seemed so young and vulnerable and needy, turn instead into someone powerful, and strong, and even commanding was an amazing thing. When she was hurting, she didn’t need me to rescue her or feel sympathetic, she just needed me to trust her and give her the space to keep going.”

Read the whole blog post here.

Why I Want to be a Midwife

I want to be a midwife because I want to make a positive difference in the lives of women through direct service by providing holistic midwifery care in empowering settings. I first felt the unmistakable calling to be a midwife while attending my first birth as a doula. Until that time, I was unsure whether I was meant to work as a doula, childbirth educator, midwife, or in another capacity. My cousin’s wife T. was pregnant with their first child and expressed interest in having me attend her birth when she learned about my doula training. My cousin’s birth was a case study in typical hospital birth: she was given an IV drip, had her waters broken, had an epidural, and had constant fetal monitoring. Although these interventions were introduced as freely chosen preferences, I knew that T. was being presented with limited options. I felt torn by my frustration at hospital procedure and my dedication to support and empower her through her labor regardless of the circumstances.

The moment the baby crowned, I knew I was meant to be a midwife. In an instant, my dual passions for social justice and women’s health coalesced into a single, irrefutable knowing that my life’s work was midwifery. As T. pushed new life into the world, I was transfixed. The mood in the room changed and none of my previous frustrations mattered. There was nowhere else I would rather have been. It was in this moment that the trajectory of my life was set as I realized that my calling was not to be a doula on a casual basis but a midwife ushering in new life on a full-time basis.

A Midwife Is

A midwife is someone who is skilled in her craft, confident in herself and her abilities. She is strong both physically and emotionally. She understands that birth is a transformative and deeply spiritual experience. She has a strong commitment to social justice and also to furthering direct-entry midwifery. A midwife is supportive of birthing women, allowing choice and autonomy for the birthing mother while at the same time knowing when she needs to intervene. To that end, she is an excellent listener and advocate for parents, families, and future midwives. She is an active member of her local community as well as a player in larger, state and nation-wide policy decisions about homebirth.

My philosophy of midwifery

I believe that birth is a deeply moving rite of passage in which care providers work with and create space for a woman to claim her own power. Midwifery is both feminist praxis and a distinctly pro-choice activity. When I worked at Planned Parenthood, I labored daily to give women choices. My days were filled by providing information to teens about birth control choices, opportunities to engage in safer sex, ways to avoid and end abusive relationships, options for terminating a pregnancy, and encouraging a healthy interest in the workings of their own bodies. Midwifery, and by extension homebirth, is an uncompromising expression of a woman’s right to reproductive choice. Women need a wide range of choices when it comes to all aspects of their reproductive health. The choice my mother made to have a CNM in a hospital was an important one. It is equally important, if not more so, to protect and ensure the choice for women to give birth outside of a hospital.

Of the many problems with the traditional American medical system, one of the most insidious is that its hierarchical, top-down power structure perpetuates the sexism, racism, classism, and heterocentrism that underlie many aspects of American society. Homebirth and direct-entry midwifery subverts this hierarchical power structure, resulting in an experience of the midwife as holding power-with, instead of power-over, the laboring woman. Direct entry midwifery has incredible potential to transform the way that marginalized women experience healthcare. The act of serving another woman during birth as an equal turns on its head the pervasive idea that teenagers, women of color, poor women, lesbians, and women with disabilities are somehow less whole, less worthy, or are separate from and therefore different than their care providers.

Birth is an incredible and powerful rite of passage. When birthing women are skillfully and sensitively supported physically and emotionally, they often discover a wellspring of inner strength and self-confidence as they learn to trust themselves and their bodies. Direct-entry midwives must work to keep and expand homebirth and freestanding birth centers as valid and accessible choices for all women. These are especially important options for marginalized women because they combat the dehumanization perpetuated by the traditional medical system.

My Journey to Midwifery

Over the next few days, I will be publishing several essays and shorter bits about my journey to midwifery. The application process for Birthwise gave me lots of time and space to think deeply and write about my philosophy of birth, the reason I am drawn to a career in midwifery, and what I think a midwife should look like. Enjoy!

I come from a family transformed by the act of birth. My mother gave birth to my sister and me in a hospital with a CNM. I grew up listening to her recount her birthing experiences: how she and my father wrote their birth plans carefully, how she refused medication and interventions, and how this was the greatest gift she felt she could give us. Listening to my mother, it is impossible not to be struck by the deep pride and self-reliance in her voice. These stories contrast sharply with those of my grandmother who gave birth to six babies in the 1950s and 1960s and does not remember a single birth because she was forced to undergo twilight sleep. The first time that my grandmother experienced birth consciously was when she was present at my birth. Observing my birth transformed my grandmother. The opportunity to observe my birth first-hand seemed to make up for her own stolen memories. She was awestruck by a sense of the miraculous and cherishes the memories of my birth to this day. I grew up knowing about the strong birthing women in my family and being told explicitly that my body was built to be able to give birth despite what doctors might tell me.

Women’s health has always been a deep interest of mine and I took every opportunity to study it while attending Mount Holyoke College. I majored in cultural anthropology and chose to earn the Five-College Certificate in Culture, Health, and Science instead of a traditional minor. During one summer, I interned with the education department of Planned Parenthood of Western Washington (now Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest) and returned to continue my work at Planned Parenthood as their Teen Clinic Coordinator upon graduation.

My introduction to the world of homebirth and direct-entry midwifery was a rather fortuitous one. Each time I visited my academic advisor, I passed a bulletin board filled postings of health-related job opportunities and post-graduate programs. I frequently found myself lingering to pore over the midwifery school listings. One day, I came across an advertisement for a CAPPA labor doula course and signed up with building excitement. The first day of class my eyes were opened to a whole world of birth taking place outside of hospital settings that I had not known existed. As I learned and practiced my doula skills I began to understand birth as a normal, non-medical part of life. Safeguarding the option to labor and give birth in one’s own home or at a freestanding birth center became as critically important to me as protecting my mother’s choice to give birth in a hospital birthing suite under the care of a CNM.