This is a documentary about a man who was performing back-alley style abortions in PA. He is currently in jail awaiting trial for 8 counts of murder. This is what women will face if abortion is outlawed across the board. These kinds of barbaric, back-alley brutalities is what they will be offered. And they will go. And they will die, and they will not be able to have more children if they don’t die. But to see this, where it’s LEGAL and supposedly regulated by our all-powerful, all-knowing national medical board? It is a disgrace. The fact that these women were treated this way, right under the nose of the government, who turned a blind eye? It sickens me. I believe that women need to take back their bodies, their right to their bodies, but they should not be handed this kind of treatment in return. This is not what they deserve. Abortions are like prostitution, it has been around for millenia, and will continue to be. Abortion clinics apparently aren’t being regulated and investigated. If they were being kept in check so that monsters such as Kermit Gosnell are not left to their own devices, tearing apart communities and women’s lives, things like this wouldn’t happen. If sex education was taught in schools instead of removed from them, if midwives and doctors were to teach girls and women about contraception and family planing and girls were taught about their bodies and not taught to be ashamed of them from a young age, this wouldn’t be our world. Midwives were who you went to for abortions, in the early days. They knew the ways, and the herbs, and they were there for you, as a woman. They didn’t leave you broken and bloody drugged to the state of amnesia in a dirty office surrounded by the corpses of late-term fetuses. They took care of you, they were a counselor, a healer, a shoulder to lean on. Midwives today should be able to step up to the plate to resume this role, and doctors who perform these services need to return to a women-centered mode of practice if we are to change anything. All abortion clinics should be checked, all claims of malpractice immediately investigated without second thought, this… this is an outrage.
11/25/2014 EDIT: this was written a few years ago and since has been slightly modified from its original content. Another version of this article was published in SQUAT Spring 2014 magazine. There was also another article submitted by someone else that is a counter-argument supporting licensure requirement.
This is a question that has plagued the midwifery community for years. Those behind the “Big Push” want to legalize midwives, but with licensures behind them. Advocators such as Carla Hartley, among others, believe that while legalization of midwifery across the board is a must, requiring licensure will spell the end for mother’s rights in regards to their births. Those who advocate for licensure of midwives, which would make “lay” midwives and other direct entry midwives (DEM) who do not have a nationally (or state-wide) recognized license such as Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) illegal practitioners, argue that licensure sets “a standard” and “proves that the midwife underwent apprenticeship and training”. They also point out that with a license, midwives could be covered by insurance which would open up so many more families to homebirths. While this all may be true, I believe, along with those who advocate for legalization without forced licensure, that the downfalls outweigh the benefits. Here are some reasons why:
• Licensure puts restrictions on practice. It gives those who require the license the ability to put in place legal restrictions and subsequent ramifications if those restrictions are not complied. For example, a licensed CPM (in some states, not sure if it’s in all states), is not allowed to attend “high risk” births, such as those of breech or multiples, in a home setting. She is required to refer her client to a doctor for her prenatal care and delivery in a hospital setting. Which leads to our next big issue:
• Licensure limits women’s birth options. As seen in the previous example, when limitations are put on licenses, and thus midwives, it puts limitations on mothers. It limits who she can birth with, and where. It gives her an ultimatum. I could even go as far as to agree with Ina May Gaskin in her thought that such restrictions on midwives led to the rise in women seeking unassisted births—they’re having a breech and can’t have a midwife attend them for risk of legal ramifications for the midwife and they don’t want to birth in a hospital via required Cesarean? Maybe she’ll just birth at home on her own.
• Licensure, though it may set a “standard” and “proves that a midwife underwent training and an apprenticeship”, only sets a bar—the lowest setting on the wrung that must be met, skill and knowledge-wise, in order to pass an exam and receive a license. This exam does not, nor the license, tell what kind of midwife the license-holder is, nor the true extent of their knowledge, expertise, skill, and experience. It does not say how many years she apprenticed or studied, only that she did enough to meet the minimum requirements. In my search for the right midwifery training program for me, I have come across the following many a time: “This program only provides the basics and meets the minimum requirements set by MANA/NARM in order to pass the exam to receive CPM status.” I also have come across the following on sites such as that for the Michigan School of Traditional Midwifery: “Many students find that they are knowledgeable enough to take and pass the NARM CPM exam before they’ve even finished the 2-3 year course offered (but in order to receive a Diploma of Traditional Midwifery, they must finish the course in its entirety).” What does that tell you? That many programs out there will give you enough knowledge before even finishing to pass the licensure exam!
• Licensure also makes it harder for midwives who do not train through “MANA/NARM/MEAC accredited midwifery schools” to get licensed. I do not think that you should be required to attend only certain “approved” schools in order to become a midwife, or to become licensed.
• Licensure could allow midwives to carry drugs such as Oxygen and Pitocin, and numbing medication for sutures. But do we really want our midwives to be using these? I thought that seeking a midwife was to escape the medicalization of doctor-overseen births in hospitals? Not to mention, just having a license as a midwife (such as CPM) should not make it ok for a midwife to carry drugs such as those and others routinely used in hospital settings, especially when the proper use and administration of those drugs and management of labor after their administration may or may not have been covered in any amount of depth or detail in their “midwifery training program” (this is not the case, however, in some states such as Washington where midwives must take pharmaceutical training). If midwives want to carry drugs and be able to administer them, which I do not think that they should, but everyone is different and there may be mothers who want a home birth midwife capable of doing so, they should seek specialized training classes that certify in the use of those drugs, independently, not be allowed to carry them because an umbrella license allows them to without prior and specialized training.
• In regards to insurance coverage, this can be a tricky area. Once I saw that a family couldn’t justify taking the money out of their vacation fund to pay for a midwife! Others say, why pay a midwife when I have insurance who will pay for a doctor? They don’t really think, don’t feel so adamantly in their hearts, that a homebirth is what’s best for them and their baby. Or maybe they’re secretly harboring a fear of an out-of-hospital birth brought on by the Birth Fear that permeates our Westernized culture. Or, they’re being bullied by their partner. A bit drastic, but I know women who have sold their furniture and then some in order to pay a midwife so they could have a homebirth. I have yet to meet a midwife that does not do a “sliding scale” or a payment plan, etc. in order to help make it easier and more affordable for parents. I’ve even known a midwife to consider a partial barter of services. Midwives are midwives because they want to help women, not for the money. But the majority of midwives have made it their career, how they put money on their table and food in their children’s bellies. But many midwives out there do try to make it as easy for parents as possible, while still making at least a meager living, because they want to help. Also, not to mention that insurance companies dictate practice. Just look at doctors. Insurance companies set limitations on practice, liabilities, etc. In the words of Ina May, “Why should insurance companies continue to get away with limiting the skills that a health profession has always previously required of its members if they were to be considered fully trained?”
Personally, I do not think that mandatory licensing should be sought for midwives. I think it should be an option, but should not be required. For instance, in Utah midwives have the option of getting licensed or not, and either way they can practice legally. However, depending on if you’re licensed or not, you have certain quidelines you are supposed to legally follow. For instance, an unlicensed midwife could attend a breech birth at home, whereas a licensed midwife could not. A licensed midwife could carry and administer drugs such as Pitocin, whereas an unlicensed midwife could not. This type of practice is seen similarly in Oregon and Maine (in Maine CPMs can carry 5 different drugs for homebirth use, whereas non-CPMs cannot) and gives mothers and families a full spectrum of care-provider choices from unlicensed midwives all the way up through OBs in hospitals.
I think certification can be a good thing, but that still leaves out those who self-study with an apprenticeship, those who don’t attend an “accredited midwifery school”. (Certifications are received from completing school programs and may have different titles depending on the school. They show that the student finished and graduated from said program). People like to see papers. It’s true for anything. But papers do not prove the worth of the person who has them. It does not show their skill, their experience, or anything of the like. It is a piece of paper that makes people feel like that person is more “professional” or more “qualified” only because they have it, not because they know they are. And the more well-known the source of the certification, the more comfortable the clients may be, again regardless of seeing relevant proof of skill or knowledge. This should not be the case but is for many professions. (This carries over to doulas as well).
I believe that mandatory licensure of midwives in order to obtain legal status is not a good idea and should not be pursued. I think that it should be offered as an option, but not a requirement. I believe that families, especially mothers, should have all available options to choose from in regards to where and with whom she births, if anyone. They should be able to interview midwives of multiple backgrounds and training styles, regardless of certification or licensure or lack thereof, or what “style” of midwifery they were trained in. They should be allowed to make the best decision for themselves and their families, based off of presented evidence of the midwife’s background, personal skill, and training, regardless of what letters she has behind her name; what they are looking for regarding care (such as suturing or non-suturing, able to carry drugs or not, good relationship with local hospital, allowed to do breech at home, etc); past client testimonies and recommendations; and their own feelings regarding the care provider– even if those feelings change at the last minute– in their decision making as autonomous parents involved at the forefront of their care. I believe that the heart of midwifery training– academic training regardless of ‘schooling’ type coupled with hands-on apprenticeship with a senior midwife– must be preserved as the most ancient and authentic form of midwife training.
Some say that not making midwives get a nationally-recognized (or even state-recognized) license will allow un-trained “Wikipedia” midwives to run rampant calling themselves “midwife” and taking on clients. And this could very well be the case, but I doubt it. Because those “midwives” will be weeded out. By other midwives sure but mostly by mothers and families. I saw a case just of this instance based out of Michigan, I believe, where there are no requirements for licensure. A “midwife” who had no real, extensive training, nor apprenticeship, was going around calling herself a midwife, which she could legally, and was taking on clients. Many other “professional” midwives were outraged and scared. Which is rightfully so, but it was ultimately up to the parents to really look at who, and what, their midwife is. We can spread the word through our communities about such practitioners, if you would call them that, and we can try to warn families. But ultimately it is up to them to weed out the bad ones from the good. Which did happen in this instance.
Another large part of choosing a midwife (or doula, or any professional you will be working with intimately over an extended period of time) is how they “click” with you– their style, their beliefs, their personality, their “energy” even. This is oftentimes the critical turning point in a mother’s choice between care providers. If her choices are significantly whittled down due to legalities, her chances of “clicking” with the right care provider go down drastically. What if there is only one homebirth CNM in her area and all the other DEMs in the area are almost impossible, if not completely impossible, to track down (or, there just aren’t any in the first place) and she’s left deciding between a hospital birth, a homebirth with a CNM she perhaps doesn’t care for, or possibly she finds only one CPM who will attend her “under the radar”? This is usually the point when many women give up and give birth at a hospital, or they show interest in, or even undergo, an unassisted birth whether or not they came to that thinking it was best, or their only option. (Not only does this dampen a woman’ ability to choose between many care providers to find the right one for her, but it also drastically reduces the amount of women who can even be cared for by a midwife in the first place).
Mothers shouldn’t be forced to make such a huge and potentially impacting decision as to where and with whom they birth as dictated by legislation. And every woman should be allowed to make whatever decision she deems appropriate and best for her, her child, and her family, without fear of legal repercussions for herself, or for her midwife if she chooses to have one.
The Big Three (Actually, Four): Part I
The Midwife: Ina May Gaskin
- Birth Matters: A Midwife’s Manifesta
- Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
- Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding
- Spiritual Midwifery (4 editions)
Biography/History: Ina May is a name that many in the “natural birth” and Midwifery world know quite well. “Ina May Gaskin is sometimes referred to as the “midwife of modern midwifery” because of the role she’s played in the rebirth of that profession in the United States” (1). She has been on the circuit so to speak since the 1970s when she helped found The Farm with her husband, which still to this day is a functioning commune and birth center. She was among a group of 200 who set out to venture forth across the United States with her spiritual leader-husband and along the way, she began to teach herself and train with doctors in regards to midwifery. Throughout the years and over the course of over 3,000 births having occurred at the Farm, 1200 of which were attended by Ina May, the Farm has put out some of the best statistical information regarding safety and homebirth, even and especially so in regards to “high risk” births such as vaginal breeches and multiples. Over the years she has worked with the doctors of the area and women have come from all over, even from other countries, to birth at the Farm under the care of Ina May Gaskin. She has been featured in multiple sources and tours the country performing seminars.
- Ability to birth: “Those who are used to the birth ways of other mammals know that it is easy to cause complications during labor by disturbing the mother. If we put horses, goats, and cows through the restrictions and indignities that most laboring women in U.S. hospitals are routinely subjected to, the animals would surely have as many complications as we do. The astonishing thing to me is that we have come to believe that our human bodies are not as well designed for birth as other mammals’ are. Really it’s our brains that can pose problems: we alone among mammals have the ability to scare and confuse ourselves about birth.” (1)
- Health during Pregnancy: “To accomplish this [a Cesarean rate of 1.7% over the last 40 years], we had to make sure that pregnant women had good nutrition and a healthy amount of exercise, and we needed to do everything we could to reduce the amount of fear surrounding birth by demystifying the process. All of these measures together have made the good outcomes at the Farm Midwifery Center possible.” (1)
- Hip to Baby Ratio: “But my partners and I have found that c-sections are very rarely necessary because of a mismatch in size between the woman and her baby. Having helped a number of women with what appear outwardly to be small hips give birth vaginally to ten-pound babies, I know that appearances can be deceiving. I have encountered fewer than ten cases out of three thousand in which the baby was actually too large to fit through the maternal pelvis. It happens most often with diabetic women, whose babies can sometimes weigh more than twelve pounds.” (1)
- Active management of labor and arguments against it (book review): http://www.inamay.com/book-review/active-management-labor
- “Why should insurance companies continue to get away with limiting the skills that a health profession has always previously required of its members if they were to be considered fully trained?”
― Ina May Gaskin, Birth Matters: A Midwife’s Manifesta
- “Gardeners know that you must nourish the soil if you want healthy plants. You must water the plants adequately, especially when seeds are germinating and sprouting, and they should be planted in a nutrient-rich soil. Why should nutrition matter less in the creation of young humans than it does in young plants? I’m sure that it doesn’t.”
― Ina May Gaskin, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth: Updated With New Material
- “The way a culture treats women in birth is a good indicator of how well women and their contributions to society are valued and honored.”
― Ina May Gaskin, Birth Matters: A Midwife’s Manifesta
- Unassisted Childbirth: “Ina May Gaskin speculates (“Some Thoughts on Unassisted Childbirth”, Midwifery Today, Issue 66) that the “extremism” of the choice to give birth without a medically-trained attendant has perhaps arisen in response to the extreme medicalizing of childbirth in the past decade.” (2)
My Take: Ina May’s Spiritual Midwifery was the first book I ever read about “natural pregnancy and childbirth”. I found it on a library shelf while I was 16 and pregnant. I devoured the stories, but never got to really finish the book until my second pregnancy, at the age of 19, when I bought it not just because I was pregnant, but because I have wanted to be a midwife since I was pregnant the first time, and Ina May was all I knew. I wanted to be how they had been, wanted to live that way and birth that way. I wanted those psychedelic, spiritually-laden births, and to help other women to have them. I was actually reading her Guide to Childbirth book when I went into labor with my second son. I find a lot of her articles (which can be found on her website) eye-opening and she stands for many things that I agree with. I recommend reading her books, and someday would like to travel to the Farm to see it for myself and to meet her in person. I hear things here and there about people disagreeing with her approach (she is a lot more hands-on in birth than I would care for, but there are women out there who want that, or at least think they need it), or claiming that she attacks UC-ers (which I have yet to find a copy of the article she wrote in regards to UC, or any updated opinions voiced by her since 2003, I did however find the aforementioned quote). I think that if it were not for women, and midwives, such as Ina May, Midwifery may not have survived in the United States.
NOTE: As I come across further information, this may be updated.
My next series of articles will take a look at the “Big Three” midwives, how they think, what they stand for, and my take on it all. [And now that I’m thinking about it, may turn into “four”.]
As I continue along my journey in the birth field, I have evolved time and again. New information is found, new opinions formed, new facets of spirituality discovered. I’ve noticed a shift in my “birth consciousness” that was once all for an off-the-wall seemingly radical idea such as that spouted from the mouths of natural birth advocates, such as “Avoid doctors and Cesareans at all cost!”, “You have to have a midwife at a homebirth”, “Trust Birth”, “Birth is Safer than Not”, or Unassisted Birthers and their stand (I had even considered a UC). Now, I have again shifted my personal paradigm on birth to something seemingly even more radical.
I have read articles about UC women losing babies, of people who once advocated UC turning against it, fearing it. I have read over and over again the claims that birth is “inherently safe” and we’ve been doing it “by ourselves” forever. I have compared the “babies lost to UC” to “babies lost under midwifery supervision” to those lost under “OBGYN supervision”. There are varying numbers, but in all cases there are deaths. And in a recent essay I wrote, I talked on the connection between birth and death, and especially that of the role death plays in midwifery.
Before I continue, let me make it clear that I am not bashing, advocating, or any of the like any one “side” of the fence (because in my mind, there is no fence, it’s more like the lunch tables in the school cafeteria that are designated to each ‘clique’. Some people are at the hospitals and doctors are the only way table, some are at the pro-midwifery licensure table, some are at the anti-midwifery licensure table, some are at the “trust birth”, pro-UC table). I’ve found that I am at none of those tables, and seek to get people thinking. Let me explain.
I feel like saying slogans such as the aforementioned give women a false sense of security that sets them up for failure, or disappointment. But at the same time, I believe that it is possible, and biologically normal, for a woman to give birth on her own. However, I have a growing uneasiness in my gut about how this topic is being handled and gone about. The common scenario that I’ve come across is as follows: a woman is pregnant and decides that she wants to have a “natural” birth. She reviews her options. Attempting as “natural” a birth as possible in a hospital or birth center setting, having a midwife attended homebirth, or an “unassisted birth”. She is more inclined to a homebirth, and considers the options regarding that route. Midwife, or no midwife. Perhaps she can’t afford the midwife, lives in a state/area where there are no midwives/homebirth midwifery is illegal, etc. So she begins to look more at the UC route. Another scenario is that she, from the gate, heads straight for the UC route. Either way, she begins looking into it, trying to find out what she “needs to know”, and essentially begins to self-train herself as a midwife. And of course, there are those out there who do not believe in doing this, after all they “trust birth” as a “biological function” (which it is, I’m not arguing that point) and so they believe that they do not need to be educated in the ways of a midwife and that their bodies will handle everything accordingly. In the first instance, there is the woman who studies and crams as much knowledge as she can, hoping she hasn’t overlooked any vital piece or will forget something in the moment. This, to me, seems counterproductive to the seemingly common thought behind “natural” births as being able to let mom be free of worries and responsibilities and allowing her to be in her own headspace (and in my personal belief, her own spiritual place) while someone else is the one with the knowledge to utilize in the case of a possible emergency. And yes, a birth that is not intervened with, a mother who is allowed to move about as she pleases, eat and drink as she pleases, etc. is the best scenario for the best outcome—that of a smooth, complication-free birth. But it seems to me that a mother who plans a UC, and tries to become “knowledgeable enough” to undergo one, is in a sense a hypocrisy against the theory of “our bodies are capable on their own” and, also, takes the mother out of that worry-free, personal head/spiritual place in my personal opinion. And, it sets her up for potential trauma, disappointment, and failure if she were to happen to have a complication and she does not know how to respond, forgets how to respond, is incapable/incapacitated from being able to respond appropriately and her partner is not “trained” to handle the situation, and the result is a hospital transfer or even death of herself and/or the child. I have read story after story of UC-ers ending up with a hospital transfer, either due to just a “gut feeling” that something was wrong, or there was an actual complication during labor or delivery they couldn’t handle or weren’t prepared for, or even if they were, couldn’t make a difference. Then there are the deaths. And like I said earlier, death is inevitable, in any birthing situation, with any attendant (or none).
I think that instead of spouting slogans or teaching women that birth is safe and our bodies are capable at all times of giving birth without the need of assistance from an outside person (which not only gives women the assumption that they shouldn’t have a midwife, but also that they shouldn’t even have a doula, or in some circles even their partner, present at the birth)— that we should be talking about death. We should be teaching midwives and mothers about the death aspects of birth, the potential for death in birth, how to cope with and accept death, the rituals, chants, etc. (the spiritual side) around both birth and death. Not hiding from it, not trying to avoid it at all costs, even at the cost of quality of life, not setting up women for possible trauma, because that’s what’s being done.
Here is something to ponder on. I became pregnant with my first child at the age of 16, and subsequently went into preterm labor and delivered a 29 week baby. He was whisked away, unseen, not held to my chest, for almost three days. He was kept in a great NICU facility in a town an hour and a half away, had his ups and downs, and on one of his downs was transferred even farther away to a supposedly “better” hospital, which in my eyes seemed no better than a local hospital, and was a downgrade from the first. Throughout his three weeks of life, he was given intervention after intervention, was denied my breast, was denied my holding of him time and again. I held him, and not even how he should have been held (for hours, skin to skin) maybe a hand full of times in those three short weeks. And regardless of their technology and their efforts, he died. Actually, partially due to their technology, he died. And thinking back on it, with where I’m at right now in my beliefs, I would have done it differently. I would have asked to hold him immediately after birth. I would have made them let me keep him, would have held him naked to my bare chest and stuck my nipple in his mouth, whether he would be able to eat or not. I would have held him for every waking
moment, and probably the sleeping ones as well. And maybe he would have died anyway, maybe he would have lived. Maybe he would have thrived. (Kangaroo Care saves as much if not more infants, with a better quality of life, than our “technology” which studies have shown over and over). But regardless of the outcome, I would have at least have had those moments, I would have been with him for every second. He wouldn’t have died alone, three hours away from his parents. He may have died, but not alone. And I think that maybe I would have been able to cope with that trauma and be able to better overcome it in that alternative scenario. Maybe not, but I like to think that it would be better. And so many women don’t think about that, or maybe they do but they lock those thoughts and gut-feelings down inside because the “doctors know best”, and I think that needs to change.
I also believe wholeheartedly that we should stop shunning c-section mothers, stop snubbing them—those who chose a Cesarean and those who received emergency surgeries. We should instead be meeting women where they are, accepting them, being present for them, helping them to heal from that trauma (if healing is needed/it was traumatic, because it is possible it was not), and helping to guide them out of that place of ostracized outcast that they most often find themselves in the natural birth community. Help with trauma mending, help with information sharing on VBACs and even being present for them for a repeat c-section and helping them to be able to come to terms with it and make it a more “interactive” experience instead of one where they have no say from start to finish. This is something that I see quite frequently and that the attitude and treatment of needs severe 180 degree turn around on.
We should be teaching midwives to be able to be as hands-off as mothers want them to be, but to be able to step in in the case of a complication with quiet gentle guidance and quick skill. I wonder how many hospital transports for unassisted births (which include not just the transport and possible fetal/maternal hospitalization, but maternal/fetal separation, delayed nursing, etc.—all of the things that were set out to be avoided in the first place) could have been dealt with at home with someone who has the training, who could have been the quiet presence in the corner, allowing the mother to have her space and her freedom from the weight-bearing of “Will I remember what I learned?” and the like. They could have been dealt with, at home, and there would have been little to no negative side effects such as the aforementioned (of course, unless a dire emergency was indicated and transfer was needed). This is just one of my many personal and evolving views.
And, again personally, I believe we did not give birth “alone” in the past. Maybe, when we were Homo erectus in the plains of Africa, we did what mammals do—found a quiet, secluded place safe from predators and were left to our own devices to either come back with a baby, or not. But, looking historically, at least since recorded history, there are records across cultures of women being attended by women. And this was not necessarily just “medical” supervision, but just women-to-women, mother to daughter, grandmother to granddaughter, aunts and cousins and other female tribe members supporting, and being present, for the birthing mother. They were her chair, they were her arms, they were her spiritual support also, and probably most importantly. There may, or may not have been a midwife, but there were women who had birthed before there who knew some ways of birth, and if there wasn’t, or something was wrong, the midwife was called. But regardless, the mother was allowed to “be”, and whatever the outcome was, it was also allowed to “be”. This is my evidence for my argument against UC-ers who preach “birthing alone”, etc. in order to be a “true” UC-er. Yes, women are mammals and the actions behind mammalian birth is the same (quiet, safe, dark places, etc.) but this can be accomplished with a woman still being supported, cared for, adored and pampered, and spiritually supported.
We should also be looking more at the biology around labor, on a cultural level as well as a personal, woman by woman basis. If you want to claim birth is “biological” then act like it matters. Look at how we have changed biologically, physiologically, over the last few hundred years. How does that affect how we birth? Yes, women have “known” how to give birth since we evolved. But, how have we changed, physically (and mentally) that could hinder this natural, biological process? A major one: pelvic shapes. The major contributor? Diet. Diet has been probably the most drastic change humans have undergone in the shortest time, and even though birth is natural and we were capable of birthing, supposedly without midwives or other more-knowledgeable attendees, we are different now than when we were then. Even just compared to a few hundred years ago, or even less than a century ago. We should be looking at, and again training midwives and teaching mothers, and potential mothers, about how things in our lives could affect our capacity to birth, naturally. Diet I, and many others, believe is the main contributor, but also environmental factors such as chemical exposure, mental health, past traumas (whether birth related or not), etc. We should be trying to change these kinds of things, to help bring women back to the way it was before, when we could “birth naturally” instead of just saying “Oh, you can do it by yourself, no problem!” not even considering that even if that mother did everything “right” and still had a complication or her baby still died, no one thought to help her with a past trauma that re-surfaced during birth, or to talk to her about nutrition, before pregnancy or during. (Of course, even in antiquity, before the drastic lifestyle and diet changes of the mostly-Western world and those places that they have influenced, babies and mothers died. It was a part of life. And even if we can get back to a similar way of life or way of eating, death is inevitable at any time, for anyone, and takes me back to what I said earlier about the other key point that we are missing in regards to birth—death.)
And again, yes I believe that birth is a natural, biological function. I’ve even seen it mentioned a few times that if it didn’t “work” there wouldn’t be so many people. My radical thought on that? Doctors and technology is the reason for the outrageously high human population of this earth. Yes, birth “works” and more babies survive birth than they die during it, but with the increase in “life-saving” and “life-extending” technology, which is the field of doctors, more and more live (regardless of their potential quality of life). It has always been that babies die. Mothers die. And though populations steadily increased over time regardless, it was nothing compared to the last few hundred years with the advent of such “advanced” technology. And now, we have the ever-present looming fact, the elephant in the corner that everyone seems oblivious to, that our ecosystem (the Earth) has long-since reached its peak in population sustaining capabilities. In simple terms, the Earth cannot sustain us anymore at our current nor projected population growth rate.
And I understand, and am prepared for, how the aforementioned comments, personal beliefs, and theories will cause people to react. But, like those before me who went out on a limb and became “radicals” in their thinking, and their doing, so shall I take my turn, and perhaps, someone will read this and be able to think for themselves and possibly they will take their turn, and on it will go.
[And again, please take heed that I am NOT bashing or belittling anyone’s personal beliefs, or any one particular institute or organization’s beliefs or teachings. I am only stating my personal take, and hoping to get people thinking in a new light.]
Reincarnation and the Otherworld (either many other realms besides our own, or some kind of afterlife, or a combination thereof) is not a new concept. The younger concept seems to be that of not reincarnating. Reincarnation is the belief that the soul returns over and over again to this world, being born and dying repeatedly for eons. Some believe that this is continued until the soul or spirit achieves some sort of divine revelations, obtains purity, has learned all it has to learn, has received all the lessons it was meant to receive, etc. and then joins the Divine and is no longer reincarnated. Many believe that a person’s soul is only ever reborn as a human, others believe in metempsychosis, when the same soul could reincarnate as human, animal, or even as a plant or stone. Philostratus of Tyana in the Second Century reported that the Celts of Europe believed that in order to be born into this world, we must die in the Otherworld, and vice versa. So when we celebrate a birth, that soul just underwent a death in order to be born, and when we are mourning a death, that soul is being born. This belief, not to mention death in general, seems critical in the role of Midwife. Also, looking at different cultures and world religions past and present, most if not all “midwife” related goddesses, were also associated with death, and death and rebirth are intrinsically tied across belief systems.
The predominant emotions and responses surrounding the vastly separate and yet not all that different acts of being born and dying are rather strict, especially in Western culture. We rejoice our newborns and mourn our dead. Our midwives often help bring our children into the world and we focus on the “birth” aspect of that soul’s reincarnation, but think not once on the “death” of that same soul. Should midwives not be, as gatekeepers in their own right, knowledgeable of this phenomena and of what is at work? Should they not realize that not only are they attendants to help keep Death at bay, that the newborn is assured a safe entrance into our world, but they should be acknowledging and mourning the death of that same soul just as she rejoices in its birth? And, should she know the ways of Death, the words and prayers, the proper etiquette, should it come regardless of her efforts in the birthroom? And she should teach families of these ways, and help them to understand their workings.
In our Western society we hold, as a culture, a taboo around death that many other cultures do not. We emphasize so much on Birth, and not enough on Death. And the correlation between the two is almost unheard of. There is not just the death and rebirth of the soul being recognized at the time of birth. There is also death of a phase of the maternal-fetal relationship, the death of the placenta—that life-sustaining maternal-fetal organ, the separation of the umbilical cord and the death of it. There is so much death involved in birth and yet no one sees it. No one acknowledges it. And this seems wrong.
In our highly advanced, technology-filled Western world, doctors and midwives no longer know Death’s face. But perhaps a few have seen Death shrouded in the corner of the birthroom, waiting eagerly, and yet patiently. But, instead of nodding in recognition and allowing to come what may, they go into a mad scramble for something, some sort of technology to reverse what is inevitable, to prolong what is coming regardless, because we have forgotten as a culture to respect, honor, and expect Death, even in Birth. We have forgotten what to do when it comes. We fear it, we fear what comes after it, we fear the ache of loss. It is not wrong, but it isn’t right either. If our birth attendants were knowledgeable in the rituals, the prayers and chants, the soothing words to comfort a grieving family; if they were aware of the correlation between birth and death; if they were honoring, and helping families to honor, both the death and the birth surrounding a soul entering this world, perhaps things would be different. Loss would be easier to cope with, death wouldn’t be feared, birth would be honored, life would be valued, and death would be celebrated. For when a soul dies in this world, they are reborn in the Otherworld.
I have traveled far and seen much since I’ve begun this journey into natural childbirth and midwifery. I have begun to see the differing paths, and mindsets and thoughts pulling away from the main branches trying to break free like leaves falling in autumn. I set my feet on this path which began for me as a one-way street, but I soon began to pass by other avenues. I trekked down a few, here and there, but then turned and left them when I saw what was really there at the end of the dark alley. What is advertised in bright, flashing lights to draw the attention of novice and truth-seeker is not what is really shown behind the curtains. Such is the truth in the natural living and birth communities. I’ve seen the ones who only praise Medicine. I’ve seen the ones who praise only Natural. I’ve seen those who shun others for their birth experiences, when they have no right to. I’ve met those who were the Shunned. I had thought that I was on the right path, until i came across new information or a stranger who suggested something different, something better perhaps and went to see what wares they sold and stories they told. It has shaped me, as a student midwife and aspiring birth priestess. It has directed me mundanely and magically down this path. I have finally discovered a new path. One that sings deep in the depths of my soul. But it is the path less trod, hidden below the fallen, decaying autumn leaves. One must follow the Whisps into the darkness in order to find the light. I willingly allow the darting spirits to lure me deeper into the swamp-land, trusting, knowing. They have brought me before the Grandmother, the Knower of the Ways, the Speaker of Truths, the Blind One Who Sees All. She knows the herbs, the spells, the rites. And she will share them if you are willing and of able body and mind, but information worth knowing does not come without its price. What will you give?
I have found the Path of the traditional midwife, the Shamaness, the village Wise One. To know the skills required to aid when needed, for Death can come in the throws of labor, but if you know the ways He may be appeased without leaving a birth with the soul of mother or babe… Or, to know when Death comes and nothing you can do will stop him, you know the ways of dealing with death, of honoring it as you do birth. To know the rites, the spells and charms, for they were once lost and must be returned… To be able to stand with open arms of acceptance to offer healing and wisdom for all who seek it, for none should be turned away or cast aside… To cross the veil to retrieve that which was lost, and help return a mother to her Self and to help her realize her ownership of her own experience no matter if she gave birth freely in a nature setting or was put under the knife… Those are the roles, the skills, of the traditional midwife- shaman, witch, healer, herbalist, friend, counselor and so much more. That is what I wish to be, the path I know to follow.