As seasoned midwives, each of us has stories to tell. Our years are filled with tales worth telling, and they will perish with us if they go untold. That is why I offered an invitation to these remarkable women to tell their stories in Into These Hands, Wisdom from Midwives about walking through the world in the shoes of a midwife.
The memoirs are not only about pregnancy and birth, newborns and new parents, but also about the politics and power struggles that have shaped how we do what we do. Many of us risked arrest or being jailed as we watched our beloved and honored profession become outlawed.
Almost every society in the world has midwives. Only two counties in the Western world have ever outlawed midwives. The United States is one. This book will tell you why.
An Elegant and Comprehensive Anthology
In order to give the reader a broad vista for viewing its multi-layered content Into These Hands, Wisdom from Midwives is divided into several sections: Opening, Introduction, Memoirs, Afterword, and Resources.
To set the mood and bring the reader right into the heart of the subject matter, the anthology begins with a short descriptive scene of a woman-centered natural birth attended by midwives in a family’s home involving three generations of family members.
You might wonder how midwives, who in many cultures are revered for their knowledge and wisdom, have become the oppressed class of maternity caregivers in modern America. The answer to that question is a long and fascinating story. The Introduction to the anthology provides the historical context readers need to comfortably navigate the entire text. The Introduction begins in the mid-twentieth century and continues through the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century.
By the mid-twentieth century the U.S. diverged from the deeply rooted traditions of woman attending woman in childbirth. By the mid to late twentieth century traditional midwives, such as Black Southern midwives and indigenous midwives, were successfully eliminated. In about 100 years, American women had lost control over childbirth. Into These Hands, Wisdom From Midwives© tell you how that happened.
The authors of this anthology came of age in the mid-to-late twentieth century during the Cultural Revolution that rocked the world. It was a time when many traditions were dismantled and anything was possible. At that time it was customary for women to be drugged and strapped down during their labors and births. But as a result of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s birthing women reclaimed responsibility for their reproductive choices. A woman-centered, family-focused, social model of childbirth was fashioned and popularized in which women sought family physicians and midwives to be primary birth attendants for their low-tech natural births.
Women (and men) across the country fought hard for social and cultural reform, including childbirth reform. They re-learned how their bodies were designed to function in accommodating the natural processes of pregnancy, birth and lactation. And they discovered alternatives to drugs for dealing with pain and fear. In essence, they got off their backs and took charge.
It is during this era in which the authors in this book burst onto the American childbirth scene. Each authors had a unique path that influenced her calling to midwifery. Professional and general readers alike will find inspiration when reading these stories.
25 Memoirs of Courageous Women
Each author was asked to write a memoir by answering a series of 10 questions. Each memoir begins in the author’s early life and carries the reader along the path of what lead her to becoming a midwife, healer, revolutionary and reformer. Each author shares stories of the risks and rewards of her chosen profession. Each author shares pearls of wisdom about women’s procreative lives—conception, pregnancy, birth, lactation and parenting.
Because most of these authors are approaching the end of their active careers as midwives, they were also asked to share wisdom about what really matters in life. They expound upon the ethics of self-determination, serving one’s community, and living a life of compassion, activism and meaning.
Every story is filled with unforgettable gems. They contain luscious nuggets about crafting the kind of life one desires and deserves.
The Afterword draws together all of the individual strands of these extraordinary life stories and examines the fundamental question of why midwives matter in today’s society. In the Afterword the editor, Geradine Simkins, describes the midwives’ belief that every woman is a living environment and the chalice in which all human life gestates. She asserts that birth is not just a physiological event; it is a soul journey.
In the Afterword the editor summarizes the importance women attach to creating authentic relationships with midwives as healthcare providers, particularly in light of the fact that the average allotted office encounter with an obstetrician is only seven minutes long.
The editor also summarizes the fundamental question of self-determination. As women, are we in charge of our bodies, our births, our babies, our decisions and our lives, or not?
For Midwives, courage underpins almost everything that we do. It is beyond boldness, it is beyond valor, and it is beyond daring. It is a way of life in the wake of risks we face to do the work we do. Every midwife in this anthology has breathed through the frightening process of freeing a baby stuck in its mother’s birth canal, or worse, staring death in the face.
Some of the authors in this text have opened their office doors to police, been charged with criminal activity for practicing midwifery, and sat in courtrooms while judges determined their fate. Courage is willingness, no matter how afraid we might be, to walk through life with an attitude of fearlessness.
Insight Into A Different Kind of Healthcare Model
It is clear that our U.S. maternity care system is in crisis. In the Afterword of this book, the editor describes how the lives of these extraordinary women have been dedicated to a maternal and child healthcare model that is built on love, respect, justice, autonomy and the biological imperative of compassion. This model is different from the corporate bio-medical model and deserves serious consideration. Why? Because it works well, reduces unnecessary medical interventions, satisfies clients, saves money, and is fulfilling to those providing healthcare. If you are not already convinced, Into These Hands, Wisdom from Midwives© might just convince you.
Who Should Read This Book?
If you are a woman of reproductive age, her partner, or someone who loves her, you should read this book. If you are a healthcare professional or a birth worker, you should read this book. If you are a student or teacher in the fields of midwifery, medicine, history, sociology, anthropology, or women’s studies, you should read this book. If you are a general reader interested in memoir, social movements or healthcare reform, you should read this book. Why?
Into These Hands, Wisdom from Midwives © is an important piece of contemporary literature. It is attracting a variety of readers because the authors are passionate (which draws the reader in), controversial (which stimulates discomfort, response or self-examination), intriguing (with remarkable characters facing high stakes and extraordinary situations), complex (which speaks to a diverse readership), educational (with valuable historical insight, data and resources), and enduring (because of the universality of the central themes.)
Into These Hands, Wisdom from Midwives is a must read!