Early last June (2004) I was invited to attend the Grand Opening Ceremony of the new birthing center in our town of Bellingham , Washington . The birthing center was designed to be a kind of intermediary between a home birth and a hospital birth, combining a comfortable homey atmosphere with various kinds of birthing options and equipment.
The ceremony was divided into two parts: a keynote address delivered in a nearby church, and the ribbon (made to look like an umbilical cord!) cutting ceremony, followed by tours of the facility and refreshments at the birthing center itself. The talk was given by a visiting luminary in the field of midwifery and home births – Ina May Gaskin.
I had never met Ina May Gaskin before, but I was very aware of her influence in the field of modern midwifery. Back in the mid-70’s and early 80’s when I was giving birth (at home) to my two sons, Ina May’s book Spiritual Midwifery was a delicious must-read chronicle of home birth after home birth at The Farm in Tennessee.
The Farm is an intentional community – commune – that was started in the early 70’s under the spiritual guidance of Ina May’s husband, Stephen Gaskin. I remember these big converted school buses going around the country, picking up followers and hippies. Stephen was a mesmerizing speaker and he offered up his own brand of spirituality and communal living. When I was searching for a way out of the city (I lived in San Francisco ) in the early 70’s I considered moving to The Farm.
I ended up buying into a community called Navarro Ranch in northern California , where we each owned our own 40-acre parcel and also co-owned 100+ acres of common land and roads. We had a government and assessed ourselves dues to maintain the common areas, but we did not have a unified spiritual vision as did The Farm.
Ina May and the other midwives at The Farm started doing home births as a matter of necessity. She is credited with having revived the ‘lost art’ of home birth. Ina May recognized birth as a woman-centered, natural process. She learned how to be a midwife by:
- following the spiritual precepts of her husband, Stephen
- learning from some compassionate local doctors
- learning from the women whose births she attended
- reading medical text books
- listening to her own mother, who taught her that birth was not something to be afraid of.
She says she is still learning.
In the latest edition of Spiritual Midwifery, Ina May writes: “Women today continue to require the knowledge that birth still works and that every woman has her unique way of bringing her baby into the world. One good way to acquire this precious knowledge is to hear or read the birth stories of quite a few women who have given birth. A generation ago when I wrote the first edition of Spiritual Midwifery, I tried to make it the book I wanted when I was pregnant for the first time. My needs were pretty simple. I wanted to know what birth looked like. I wanted to know what it felt like and what would help it proceed the best way it could.” How marvelous! How simple! How revolutionary! And how very necessary!
When my sister gave birth in the 60’s, her OB/GYN put her to sleep with some sort of gas and extracted her baby with forceps. She awoke hours later to be presented with her baby! She did NOT give birth. Her doctor DELIVERED her baby. When I worked for a time in the early 70’s as a medical secretary for 3 OB/GYN doctors, the eldest doctor in the practice used to say to me: “The truly liberated woman is a woman without her uterus!” What incredible hubris and effrontery! No wonder we had to rediscover how to have babies naturally.
To my mind, women do not need to give birth in hospitals for the simple reason that they are NOT sick. Birthing is a natural process. With support and the knowledge of what is going on during labor and delivery, most women can give birth without the need of medical intervention.
Ina May created a school at The Farm for other women to learn to become midwives. Since that first school, midwifery schools have sprung up all over the country. Now midwives can be certified by a national registry and be licensed in their local communities.
The actual night I met Ina May stands out as a highlight in my life and is also a blur of images and feelings. I sat in the church and listened to her talk entitled “The Sphincter Law’. She talked without notes from her vast knowledge and experience. She was small in physical body and huge in luminosity and stature. I cannot actually remember her words! I sat there basking in her presence and in the presence of the 300+ people in attendance – mothers, fathers, babies, children, crones (wise women) like me. There were pregnant women and nursing women and midwives. The energy in the room was brimming over and full of life.
After the talk, I began to walk out of the church with the rest of the audience, slowly making our way to the birthing center for the reception. As I walked out into the vestibule, I found myself next to Ina May! “Hi!” I said and then I told her how much I enjoyed her talk. We began to walk together up the block. We shared some of our earlier experiences. I told her about my new business Womb To Grow aka Babynut.com. I told her that I sold her books on Babynut and I even gave her one of my cards! Who knows what she actually did with it! I treasure the essence of the moments we spent in each other’s presence – a comfortable stroll and a meeting of two women with a passion for natural birth and loving support for women, babies and children.