Czech Midwife Stamp, ca. 1936

I ran across a wonderful quote today, tucked in the very beginning of Carolyn Steiger’s book, “Becoming A Midwife“:

“We must remember that, in terms of history and in terms of the entire world, we are the norm, not an aberration. Childbirth attended by men, doctors, and nurses or occurring at hospitals or birth centers, rather than at home, is a recent and fairly local phenomena.”

So I decided to blog it, and thought it would be nice to have a graphic or two to accompany such a wonderful quote. I went to my favorite graphics site, and entered “midwife” into the search bar. Almost all of the graphics that came up were very, very medical. So then I added “homebirth” to my search query, and it pulled up a few more pictures, but these all had women in them who were obviously Mennonite or Amish! Clearly, our country has drunk the Kool-Aid and thinks that birth is some sort of emergency, requiring a hospital, unless you happen to be from a very fundamentalist sect of Christianity!

As you can see, however, I did manage to find a cool graphic that I think goes well with the quote, at least in terms of the idea that midwifery is a global thing, as well as the historical norm. The stamp (ca. 1936) depicts a midwife presenting a newborn child to its father, painting by Josef Manes, circa 1936. And I think it’s nice to remember that, since, as Americans, we tend to forget that the rest of the planet is out there doing their own thing, quite apart from us.

When I first realized that I wanted to start attending births again, I wasn’t really sure what the reaction would be. I knew Gaylon would support me. In fact, I knew my entire family would be on board. Alex put it very well. When I asked him what he thought he said “It’s who you are. You should be a midwife and make quilts.” He has always had a knack for summing things up! ūüėČ

I’ve been blown¬†away by¬†the support of my friends, both near and far. I got the sweetest letter of recommendation from one of the midwives I apprenticed with in South Carolina. My brother-in-law sent out a congratulatory Tweet. Friends on Facebook have all been incredibly supportive and encouraging. I am humbled by it all.

So, in looking into what all is involved in getting licensed as a midwife here in Texas, I started also looking around online for some of the birth books I used to have in my library. ¬†Books that I lost in the fire. ¬†I was hoping¬†to replace some of those books I’d collected all those years ago. Some of the very first books I ever got about birth came to mind:¬†Helping Hands: The Apprentice Workbook by Carla Hartley, founder of Ancient Art Midwifery Institute (formerly Apprentice Academics). ¬†Becoming A Midwife by Carolyn Steiger. Those books are no longer in print, but they’re out there, on used book sites. And, while I can get copies, some of them just can’t be replaced. Ever.

Like the Birth Book by Raven Lang. It was given to me by the first midwife I ever met. (So were the other two books I mentioned, come to think of it. . .) Beth was my midwife with Alex, and she was the first person to ever ask me if I would like to be an apprentice. I don’t think either of us had any idea what we had set into motion.

Twenty-two years ago, when I was pregnant with Alex and hoping desperately to not have another c-section, I found an ad in the local paper for a yard sale. The proceeds were going to be split between the Carlsbad La Leche League and the Carlsbad Midwifery Association. I was immediately intrigued, because I had no idea that there were any midwives in Carlsbad, New Mexico! So, almost 8 months pregnant, I headed over to meet my destiny.

Sitting on a lawn chair under a tree with lots of small children playing all over the yard was a quiet woman with a book in her lap. She looked up at me and smiled warmly, and somewhat expectantly. ¬†I mentioned that I didn’t know anything about the Carlsbad Midwifery Association, and she explained that it was a fairly new group, consisting of herself and another midwife. I told her I was fascinated by midwifery, and of course we started talking about birth.

She asked if she could feel my belly, and I saw no harm in that. So, she very gently felt around, and told me EXACTLY where the baby’s head, bottom and back were. She even gave me a general estimate of how much she thought he might weigh. And she was dead-on accurate. I know this because I had had an ultrasound just a few days early, and it had verified everything she told me. Only I had paid $250 for the ultrasound, and this midwife was able to tell me the same information for free, standing under a tree in her front yard. I was totally hooked!

She told me she would “catch” my baby for free, if I would agree to be her apprentice. Looking back, I realize that she must’ve been pretty desperate for an apprentice! But I agreed, right there on the spot, and one of the most wondrous friendships I’ve ever had was born.

I went home and talked to Gaylon, who thought it was a great plan, and we scheduled my first prenatal with Beth. ¬†Upon walking into her living room, one of the first things to catch my eye was a poster she had framed on the wall. It was a painting of two midwives, holding babies. It was brightly colored, and not exactly the sort of art I would generally be attracted to, but there was something about it, nonetheless. ¬†It had a caption that I loved: “But the midwives feared God, and did not as the King of Egypt commanded them, but saved the babies alive.” It was from Exodus, and I’ve always loved that verse. Loved that the midwives did what was right in the sight of God, no matter the dire consequences of not obeying Pharaoh.

On another wall, Beth had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, filled with books. She said she had almost 1,000 books, all about pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. I was in awe. I love books. Clearly, this woman was a kindred spirit!

Those early memories of my first venture into midwifery in the early 1990’s are some of my most precious. I loved everything I was learning, and could not learn enough! I shared my new-found knowledge with anyone who would slow down long enough for me to get a few words in. And, although Alex was ultimately born by c-section, I had the support and love of a midwife throughout my very long, four day labor. I found a strength deep within myself that I had not known existed prior to that. I have never been the same.

We moved to North Carolina less than two years after meeting Beth and getting involved in midwifery, but we kept in touch.¬†We’ve visited one another from time to time, and our friendship has remained strong. Now, after two decades of both of our families moving all over the place, we are all in Texas, only three ¬†hours apart!

So last week, when she messaged me on Facebook to tell me they wanted to swing by on their way home from a little trip they were taking, I was delighted. Gaylon and I are always delighted to get any time to visit with Beth and her husband. She said she had some books for me. I knew she’d gotten rid of a lot of her birth books over the years, and that she had long since stopped attending births. But I did not realize that she was down to her last three books!

So, when she walked in with three books, two of which I’d been looking for, I was thrilled. But then, when I saw them bring in the Midwives Poster, I was stunned! All¬†those memories from twenty years ago¬†came flooding over me, and I felt like I was back in Beth’s living room in Carlsbad. I have hung the picture in my office, and every time I walk in, it’s the first thing I see. I love it, and I cannot express how much it means to me that she has passed it on to me. It takes me back to my roots in the homebirth community, and gives me encouragement for my future endeavors in serving women as they bring new life into this world.

 

For quite a few years, I had the exquisite privilege of attending homebirths in New Mexico, North Carolina and South Carolina. Those were very sweet, chaotic, sleep-deprived and beautiful times. The last birth I attended was in 2001, I believe. It was in South Carolina, and we had to transport, but it was still a beautiful birth. I was licensed in South Carolina as a Midwife Apprentice at the time, working towards full licensure under an amazing midwife, the wonderful, skilled, and gracious Susan Smart. (She is still practicing midwifery in the Upstate of South Carolina, and I cannot recommend her highly enough!)

But I digress. At that time, I had been feeling deeply divided between my very young family and attending births. When I was at home, trying to homeschool my three children, oversee orders and deliveries with our local whole food co-op, tend my huge vegetable garden, and take care of our Nubian Dairy Goats and Chickens on our small farm, I was distracted by thoughts of pregnant bellies, and my mind would inevitably wander to births and due dates. Conversely, when I was at prenatal appointments or births, I found myself worrying about my children, fearful that I was not spending enough time with them, that they might not be getting enough attention.

So, I prayed. Then I talked with my husband, who prayed with me. And I came to the very sad decision that, for that season, I should stay home and be 100% with my family. It was a very difficult decision for me, but I felt a great peace about it, and knew it was the right one. We moved up the mountain to Saluda, sold our farm, and life went on. I didn’t really give birth much more thought for quite a few years until our home burned, and I lost my extensive pregnancy/(home)birth/breastfeeding library. ¬†And all the work I’d done with Apprentice Academics (now knows as Ancient Art Midwifery Institute, or AAMI). And the records I’d kept of every birth I had attended. I just decided to turn my back and not think about it for a while.

When my friend Bonnie passed away in 2008, I was astonished to learn from her family that she had bequeathed her homebirth books to me! I am still humbled beyond belief to realize that, out of all the things and people she was thinking of right before she died, she remembered me and wanted me to have those books. I feel her with me every time I open one of them. I placed them carefully on my shelf, and again, didn’t turn my heart back to midwifery. It still wasn’t time.

After we moved back to Texas, invariably, in conversation with my new homeschooling friends, the topic of pregnancy or birth would come up, and I would put my .02 in. It got out that I had, once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away, practiced midwifery. Attended homebirths. And my friends, a great many of whom are still having babies, started telling me how wonderful it would be if I were to go back into midwifery. I blew it off. I mean, it was sort of flattering, but really? The schedule is insane, the pressure can be intense, and let’s be real, it can become a matter of life and death. Why on earth would I want to go back to that? And they were probably just being polite, anyway. . .right?

But somehow, every time I walk into Half-Price Books, I walk out with a book about birth. I’ve tried to rebuild my lost birth library, but I’m nowhere near done yet. ¬†And so many wonderful books have come out in the past 15 years or so since I last purchased a book on the subject. Also, I’m discovering, so many wonderful books from the salad days of the homebirth/midwifery movement have gone out of print and are no longer easy to find. Some are outrageously expensive!

So why am I dragging my gentle readers down my Midwifery Memory Lane? Because, after not attending any births for roughly thirteen years now, I have decided that I am going to pursue licensure here in Texas. I’ve had far too many ‘hints’ and ‘nudges’ to think that God isn’t trying to speak to me about this. And, for the first time since I attended that last birth, I feel totally at peace with the idea again. Excited, even!

I am hoping to start by offering some Doula Services, and helping a friend of mine out, who is a Doula and has just submitted her work to begin her training for licensure. It’s a small beginning, but it feels very right.

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