I have been in the midwifery world almost my entire life. I can remember those special women — midwives of all sorts — gathering to talk and cry in our living room when I was a child. Watching their emotions overwhelm them as they relived a story of a beautiful, empowered birth or of the births that turn tragic whether from loss or birth trauma. Years of stories, years of watching women taking on the world to find grace and love through the journey of welcoming these babies as gently as possible.
I witnessed these women birth themselves as they brought babies out.
Women who lost husbands and relationships with family, friends, and children to be with other women in those primal moments. I watched as they were made fun of and teased for their NEED to empower women and give women choices. Some moments were so painful you could see them breaking inside, some so devastating you could see the spark fade out of their hearts.
All these moments changed me.
Some heroic moments went unnoticed as they would never dream of taking a moment away from the parents. They truly and deeply gave of themselves.
These women changed the world in small ways by never giving in to giving up. These idols of mine, these precious souls that gave and gave till they knew they had finished - these are the women I look to to challenge and change myself.
Revolution. Women, it’s here in yourself.
And then things began to change.
A dark side of the midwifery community arose in the late 90’s when I watched these amazing women start to choose sides against one another based on licensing choice. NARM was formed to create a certifying body to give Direct Entry Midwives (DEM) a way to show knowledge. It became a route for the states to legalize and validate home birth. It also became a way to brutalize those who chose not to do the CPM (some believed it was not a good standard, others didn't believe midwifery should be run by the state, and some thought it homogenized midwifery).
This fight has continued ever since, adding very deep layers to this argument every year. The devastation the CPM standard let loose on the midwifery community was subtle at first and slow in its growth.
Once the “Big Push” started, it was like a runaway train hitting everyone who stood in it’s way. Those that spoke out against it were damned in public and labeled as anti-government, crazy, or dangerous. Those who stood aside lost just as much as well as the respect of their fellow sisters who fought for inclusion for all.
You can not un-hear those mean words or un-feel the contempt that was spit out at meetings and within our communities.
This is where my point starts.
Somehow, we have become accepting of this behavior.
As it started to bleed over from our issues with the CPM, we started degrading our fellow midwives’ education and “choices.” We started saying “SO and SO is such a DANGEROUS Midwife.” “SO & SO never makes it to births.” “SO & SO is reckless.” “SHE has lost babies.”
I could go on but you see the line of thought. Never mind that these claims are not true or only hold a glimmer of the truth, nor is there anyway to truly prove them with HIPPA in place, making all the details impossible to uncover or take into account.
Those strong word images damage the whole community.
I love strong words, but it is the way they are being used to scare and put fear into someone ABOUT CHOICES— their choices, not yours! — with which I take issue.
Follow me for a minute. If a mom-to-be has interviewed 3 midwives and really likes one, then shares at a group/Facebook and is then told that the one midwife she really liked is “so dangerous,” she now questions her vibe on this nice person who gave great answers and TIME to settle her big questions. She now also second guesses other things she really felt great about like home birth or other birth options!
This quickly becomes a much larger issue - if we would let a “dangerous” midwife continue to practice, it causes moms to call into question the entire midwifery community.
When we talk like this, we create an environment in which now all midwives are suspect to these behaviors.
Lets talk about “dangerous,” this term that some midwives throw around about other midwives. Dangerous means able or likely to do harm or injury. (Webster's dictionary) I don’t think I have ever met a dangerous midwife. I firmly believe every midwife I have met has truly wanted to serve women and babies in a deep and honest way. Does that mean that they haven’t caused harm or injury? NO. We are humans making choices with the knowledge that we have available to us from our training and experience. Yet we are always learning. Did they hurt those women with intent? Nope. Did they grieve the pain? Yes. Did they learn from it? That is where the biggest question should lie.
"Never makes it to births" - Admittedly this is one I have always hated, as missing a birth was unacceptable in my eyes. And then it happened: I had a client have a 30 minute birth who was 45 minutes away, followed later by another that never had fast births in any of her previous 8 babies suddenly go in 1 hour. And she was just over a hour away. And there was a mom who did not think she was in real labor. IT HAPPENS. Moms don't always make it to the hospital in time, evidenced by all the car births on Youtube. SO before we start throwing that out as a condemnation, we must stop and think, lest it be our turn next to miss a birth. Rather than speaking negatively and sparking fear, wouldn't it be healthier to say “Sometimes that happens. Having a good plan in place beforehand helps in that situation.” Our goal should always be to not leave a mom in fear!!
"Reckless/Risky" - heedless of danger or the consequences of one’s actions (Webster's dictionary). In most city’s in the US, a midwife is already more likely to be jailed or charged than a doctor. Why in the world would you make a claim like this about a fellow midwife? To gain a client or two? To freak a mom or dad out about midwives in general? If there is a truly reckless midwife, someone besides the moms she has served will be knocking at her door. And if that’s the case, the clients she has served will have plenty to say. We midwives won’t need to say anything to get the word out in the community. Most of the time we weren't there, so we shouldn’t voice an opinion at all, especially without extreme caution.
Most midwives have been in this position—having others in the birth community who were not present make judgments about the course of a labor or birth. We recognize how the story changes so much in the telling that the midwife present hardly recognizes the birth as one she attended.
Does that mean we, as midwives, don’t take risks? No. Some midwives choose to take "risks" by taking VBAC clients, feeling that the risk is low and the mother well informed. Some midwives may take a "risk" when a woman asks for a chance at a natural birth when the medical community won’t allow it for whatever reason. Some risks a midwife may not be willing to take based on her own knowledge and protocols. The midwife next door may be totally comfortable taking a risk that another is not. Does that make her reckless? NO. It means she feels she can handle that risk, with the full understanding and informed choice of the family.
This is especially true for the midwives that are experienced and truly know what they know and are willing to continue to learn. Sometimes young midwives take risks without seeing the bigger picture, which is why more experienced midwives should continue to nurture younger midwives, not condemn them for choices that seem ill-conceived. And conversely, this is why young midwives should try to learn from more experienced midwives rather than judging the choices or decisions that were made by them and which they do not immediately understand.
The “babies that died” — This one comes from doctors in our community now but there have been students that say this as well. If a baby dies at a home birth it is a big news story. If a baby dies at home after a home birth, even days after its birth, it is a big news story. Consider how many have you have seen on the news in the past few years. In some communities there may have been one or two, but there have only been three in the entire state of Michigan.
Does this mean midwifes don’t lose babies? NO, we do have stillborns and later term miscarriages. We deal with early miscarriages too. Most of us walk through a loss with the family, and our hearts rip open and shred our souls with those losses. We have to tuck those deep sadnesses away and move forward. But know those babies are near and dear to us everyday just as the babies that lived. Those stillborn babies and both early and late miscarried babies are firmly planted in our story as are the ones we had to work really hard on to breathe. Doctors and nurses feel this too. It is something we all agree to when we chose this work. We had no idea how it would really feel to not hear that heartbeat, or to hold that sweet gift that will not breathe, run, or play. How could you know? So when we throw criticism or condemnation out on our fellow midwives or birth workers we better be ready to learn it. How often do the hardest lessons come to us after we have judged the actions of others?
We need to create new language and room for grace.
As we grow the next generation, we need to think though the old thoughts. It is common “to eat our young” or to haze the newer students/new midwifes. “If we bully them and they stick it out then you know you have a good one.” That’s a quote from an older midwife. We do not need to “eat our young.” They will learn all these things with time.
My appeal is this: can we use terms like a "new midwife" instead of reckless? or "needs some growing in choices" instead of dangerous? We could all benefit from gentle acceptance and soft peer discussion, a place where newer midwives could profit from the years of experience that older midwives can draw from. We have all been there, had these conversations, and we are the ones that have to stop and start the change.
Pregnancy in our culture is hard enough without the very care givers who are truly committed to gentle informed care creating more pressure and anxiety. Can we change our words to help growth and change? Can we find GRACE and love for those who are in the trenches next to us in the fight for a woman's right to bodily integrity and true choice instead of creating more stress for the very mothers we are committed to care for? I think we can.