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.
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.
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.