Sometimes a poem says everything that needs to be said. Thank you Dawna Markova, author, teacher, psychotherapist, researcher, who makes this claim: “I followed in my precious grandmother’s footsteps to become a midwife, but rather than babies, I help birth possibilities within and between people.”
On this fine, gray, quiet morning in the northwoods, Dawna’s poem speaks my heart. It might just speak to yours, too.
” I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire.
Since the pandemic was first acknowledged in the early months of 2020, a handful of midwives have been regularly gathering for a virtual cocktail party. I call them the Matriarch Midwives. Why that title? Because they are each in their sixties or seventies, they have fulfilled a lifelong commitment to a matriarchal system of healing known in its modern iteration as midwifery, and they descend from a lineage as old as the human race. I call them Matriarchs as a designation for the leader of a family, tribe, clan or network, and because of the influential roles they have played in our profession, our communities, our world. They are practitioners, educators, entrepreneurs, activists, leaders, visionaries, ambassadors, authors, shakers-and-movers, and now, elders in the movement.
There are thousands of Matriarch Midwives on Planet Earth. I feel blessed to call a few hundred of them my friends.
Now, every two weeks on Friday at 4 PM Pacific and 7 PM Eastern Time, a small group of Matriarch Midwives connects to Zoom for a cocktail party. Who even heard of Zoom before the pandemic? Now it is a lifeline for many of us. We gather from California, Texas, Michigan, and more recently, Ontario.
The Matriarch Midwives have each intentionally walked a path that is devoted to the cycles of women’s bodies, the seasons, phases of the moon, and the fertility and bounty of the earth. They not only share the profession of midwifery, but also a dedication to keeping the traditions of the Great Mother Goddess—the benevolent feminine life force revered by people around the world—alive and accessible.
Each of us has been born, and each of us will die. We cannot escape this fate. Humans across the planet have always sought to make meaning of these two universal yet polar opposite experiences.
The Matriarch Midwives have guided people through birth and death, and many of the seasons of growth and harvest between those two bookends. They have devoted their lives and their lifeblood to making the essential passages safe, and meaningful, and satisfying to the people they serve.
But on Friday nights in 2020 we have been serving ourselves—mostly wine, occasionally gin, sparkling water for the on-call midwives—and engaging in conversations about life, celebrating the joy of being alive, sharing a virtual ‘cheers.’
In the fall of 2018, in the autumn of our years, five of the Midwife Matriarchs made a journey to a trilogy of places in the Mediterranean. Our destinations were the ancient Goddess temples in Malta; the rich cultural vibe in Barcelona; and the nature lover’s paradise on the island of Menorca. The journey was astounding; it became a pilgrimage. The dazzling and puzzling ancient sites provided more questions than they provided answers.
Last night on our Zoom call, among other things, we talked about what it has been like to walk in the shoes of a midwife our entire lives. We talked about the deep connections we share not only with the clients and patients for whom we provide care during peak experiences in their lives, but also the bonds we share with other midwives. It is an honor and a rare privilege to be connected to a network of healers that crisscrosses the planet and reaches forward and backward in time.
While kneeling amongst ancient temples and genuflecting to the ancestors, we made little altars everywhere we went. Cradled in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, the prayer we repeated over and over was this simple invocation.
“Bless the people, all people everywhere. Bless those who give birth, those who care for our birthgivers, and those who nurture and raise our children. Bless the earth, our mother, for she sustains and protects all life. Bless the seas, they teach us to flow with the changing tides. Bless all living beings, for each one is sacred, and each deserves to be safe and free from harm. In gratitude, please bless all of this.”
Two days ago my daughter Leah gave birth in the Centennial Farm that is her home in Northern Michigan. Her labor was quick and powerful. Her baby boy is strong and beautiful. She was surrounded by her beloveds and her midwives.
Forty years earlier I gave birth to her, at home, in a handmade house her father and I built, just one mile over the hill—as the crow flies—from where Leah lives now. It was another quick and powerful birth, beautiful baby, surrounded by beloveds and midwives. Life keeps cycling through the seasons of our lives, returning us to our roots.
At the end of the auspicious day my grandson was born, I came home, toasted the new mama, papa, big sister, and baby boy with my husband and a bottle of good wine, and walked outside to catch a magnificent sunset.
I reflected on so many blessings in my life. I also thought about how quickly time moves. I thought … wasn’t it just yesterday I gave birth to my baby? And today, she is giving birth to her own child.
Last week I also gave birth to a collection of stories about my life’s work. My new book is The Midwife Matrix, Reclaiming Our Bodies, Our Births, Our Lives. My book tells the tale of a professional life that spans four decades. It is part memoir that chronicles events throughout my forty-four years as a midwife practitioner and leader; part scholarly treatise on the alarming state of maternity care in America; part cultural narrative on what has to change in order for our healthcare system to skillfully and compassionately serve the needs of all our people.
In these strange times of deadly pandemics, social upheaval, and radical uncertainty, my book is a call to action to bring our best selves to the task of revolutionizing a healthcare system that is profoundly failing women and newborns. But my book also addresses much larger and provocative questions about how to live a more healthy, wholesome, connected, and compassionate life, in which all people are able to equitably access the resources and abundance of our society.
On the day my grandson was born, as I stood on the hillside watching the sun go down in a blazing flame of gold, watching the clouds turn magenta, lavender and indigo, I recalled moments from my daughter’s birth earlier that day. And I was at peace. I was filled with gratitude.
And I know this in my bones. It’s not tricky to create new paradigms for caring for one another that serve the needs and fill the souls of each person, both givers and receivers of care. But it does take time. It does take intention. It does take investment. It does take willingness to do things differently than we are doing them now.
Each time I witness a person giving birth on their own terms, in their own time, in their own way … and each time I see caregivers willing to support the right of birthgivers to seize their self-determination … the more hope I feel that ‘change is gonna come.’
My ancestors are from the Celtic nations. Among their cultural traditions is a dedication to celebrating eight important days of the years, which they call high holy days. Most people are familiar with the four solar holidays—the summer and winter solstices and the spring and autumn equinoxes. The other four seasonal holidays fall on the cross-quarters between the solstices and equinoxes. Many cultures across the planet perform rituals and share seasonal feasts in their own unique and traditional ways for these holidays. My ancestors knew that these eight festivals were designed to draw one’s attention to what had been gained and lost in the never-ending turn of the year. Honoring these high holy days keeps me centered, helps me measure time as cyclical, and inspires gratitude for being part of the ever-changing cycles of life.
The cross-quarter that we celebrate at this time of year (around August 1) is called Lammas, or Lughnasadh in the old Celtic language. It is the high-summer Feast of the Harvest, a time for gathering and giving thanks for the fruits of our labor, and for the abundance in our lives.
It seemed fitting to launch my new book—The Midwife Matrix, Reclaiming Our Bodies, Our Births, Our Lives—on the Feast of Lammas. My book is, quite frankly, a personal harvest of a lifetime of fullness and fulfillment. For over forty years I have walked in the shoes of a midwife, as a practitioner, leader, author, and scholar. The Midwife Matrix is an offering, a basketful of observations and insights, a story told from the perspective of someone who has been inside the maternal and child healthcare world for over four decades. The Midwife Matrix is a series of cultural narratives about what I think we have gotten right, and also, the ways in which I believe we are failing miserably in caring for pregnant and birthing people, their babies, their families, and also shortchanging the professionals who serve people in the child-making year.
The Midwife Matrix is both the name of my book and a schematic I have created of 12 interconnected and interdependent qualities that create a paradigm. Midwives—past and present—customarily use these 12 essential qualities in their work. The Midwife Matrix illustrates how midwives and patients participate in a mutually satisfying energy exchange, within a healthcare relationship that is based on giving and receiving, for the benefit of all involved. How this relationship is structured, and enacted, makes all the difference, and the results are stunning for both givers and receivers of care.
It is with both pleasure and humility that I invite you to explore The Midwife Matrix, and see firsthand what I have discovered on my Earth Walk—about people, and systems, and the cosmos. I will share more about The Midwife Matrix in future blogs. But for today, the Lammas Feast, it is enough simply to celebrate. To contemplate the immense mysteries and miracles that continually unfold all around us. To be grateful for the riches of the harvest of our lives. To reimagine our world. And to find our own ways to manifest a ‘new normal’ in which all of us share equitably in the riches and resources that we each desire and deserve.
Welcome (back) to my blog! One of the many hats I proudly wear is that of writer, and I love to explore new topics and share new information regularly. In each and every blog post, I strive to make evident my curiosity, authenticity, and deep passion for the subject matter at hand. While mostly my blog is about all things birth and midwifery-related, I cannot promise not to share about my travels, beloved family, and treasured friends. I care so much about so much! I love this life, and I am grateful for the journey.
I took a bit of time off from writing blog posts to write A NEW BOOK! It’s called The Midwife Matrix, and I am extraordinarily excited that it has finally come to life. I promise to share all of the news of its inception and creation in the days and weeks to come. Meantime, you can read a bit about my new book here!
If you would like to contact me, please do so! I always love to hear from you and encourage you to share your ideas.
In the spring of 2016 I had the great good fortune to travel with my good friend and midwife colleague, Marina Alzugaray, as she made a journey to Cuba after 50 years of living in the United States, away from her beloved homeland of Cuba.
Marina has been a practicing midwife in the US for nearly 4 decades. She understands the process of giving birth—even when it is giving birth to one’s self. She asked me and two other longtime midwives to accompany her to Cuba, and to be her support people, her midwives, throughout this momentous journey of rebirth and rediscovery.
Thus, Diane Holzer, Yeshi Neumann, Marina and I spent several weeks in Cuba in April & May 2016. (All three of these women are authors in Into These Hands, Wisdom from Midwives. You can read their stories there.) And we returned again in 2017 for professional and cultural exchange, and to visit friends we had made.
Cuba is a beautiful and diverse country, the people are resilient and friendly, and we had marvelous adventures together. (The story is too big and too amazing to tell in a few paragraphs.) The best part of our trip was getting to know the local people. One of our most fortunate experiences was being invited to the home of Katia and Bernardo and their extended family, whom we visited on several occasions.
I gave Katia a copy of Into These Hands, Wisdom from Midwives, which she really liked. She said, “I will use this book to learn to speak better English. And I am excited to read the life stories of my new friends from the United States.”
So we now have a copy of Into These Hands, Wisdom From Midwives in Cuba and new friends that are absolutely dear. Needless to say … we are all going back for another visit as soon as we can. Viva Cuba!
I am please to tell you educators across the country are taking me up on my offer!
To celebrate the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year I will send any midwifery program one free case of the text Into These Hands, Wisdom From Midwives. That’s 18 books, retail value of $450, for the price of shipping/handling ($24.00.)
Many program directors and instructors are using Into These Hands as required reading for midwifery courses and as gifts for new incoming students.
One instructor for the CNM program at the University of Cincinnati said:
“The students love this text and often read far more than they are assigned. It really gets at the heart of midwifery.”
The Introduction… describes the context of maternity care in the US over the past century, particularly the last four decades in which women and midwives together have advocated for the midwifery model of care and normal physiologic birth.
The 25 Memoirs… deliver a compelling historical perspective on the culture of childbirth America, insight into what really matters to women, wisdom about how to properly welcome newborns into their families, inspiration about how to courageously takes charge of one’s life, and clear guidance on how to reform our profoundly broken maternity care system.
The Afterword… analyzes the themes of the 25 midwife memoirs, providing an excellent opportunity for exploration and discussion among students regarding the practice, ethics and unique benefits of midwifery care.
“The midwives in this anthology are all over 50 years of age and each has been a midwife for more than 25 years, some for as many as 40 years or more. Collectively, they have more than 800 years of experience and have assisted at approximately 35,000 births. They are not only pioneers but accomplish professionals.” —Into These Hands, Wisdom from Midwives
I intentionally chose a diverse chorus of midwife voices so as to shine a light on the complexity of midwifery practice and the myriad ways in which American midwives contribute to maternity care and public health in the U.S.
“They come from all across the United States, from California to New Jersey, Arkansas to Florida. They are racially and ethnically diverse—American Indians, Latina, African American, South Asian America, and European America. They come from diverse ideological and training backgrounds. They are self-taught, apprentice-trained, attended midwifery schools, and/or received a university education. They practice in a variety of settings—homes, clinics, birth centers, hospitals, tribes and global villages and some work in other arenas such as education, research, public health and policy. ” —Into These Hands, Wisdom from Midwives
When they began catching babies in the ‘60s and ‘70s most of them had no idea they would become part of an astonishing social movement that would influence and shape the discourse about reproductive rights and content of maternity care in America.
These stories—full of grace and guts, challenges and successes, passion and humor—give the reader an unprecedented opportunity to visit the interior lives of well seasoned midwives and glean their special brand of hard-won wisdom.
I am so happy to say Into These Hands, Wisdom From Midwives is now a required textbook in several midwifery programs in the U.S., both for CPMs and CNMs.
FREE gift for educators
In gratitude, and to celebrate the new 2015-2016 school year, I will send any midwifery educator one case of Into These Hands, Wisdom From Midwives free of charge for the price of shipping & handling only. There are 18 books in a case, retail value of $450. You can sell books at retail cost ($25), or at a reduced cost, or give them away. Such a deal! [UPDATE, this offer has been renewed for the 2020-2021 school year!]
Here is what midwifery program directors are saying.
“My students love Into These Hands. I use this book and also invite Geradine to present a webinar each year. My students consider the midwives in Into these Hands as wise and trustworthy elders, and find inspiration and courage from their stories, experiences and advice.” –Sherry DeVries CPM, LM, CNM, MSN, Midwife Program Coordinator and Lead Instructor
“Into These Hands is used as the text for our first module, ‘Foundations of Contemporary Midwifery’ for our new class of students entering Nizhoni Institute. As you know, we feel this book is both inspired and inspiring.” -Marla Hicks, RN-BC, CPM, LM, Executive Director/Program Manager, Nizhoni Institute of Midwifery, San Diego, California
“I am using Into These Hands as one of the required readings for Orientation this year for new Birthwise students. This book is so perfect for contextualizing the path our students are embarking upon.” – Heidi Fillmore, CPM, NHCM, Director, Birthwise Midwifery School, Bridgton, Maine
For midwifery educators:To receive your free case of Into These Hands here is all you have to do. Send a check or certified money order for $24.00 (for shipping/handling) to: Geradine Simkins, 275 Cemetery Rd, Maple City, MI. Include your name and shipping address, your position at your midwifery school, and your email address so that I can let you know when the case has shipped. I will send the books within 5 business days.
That’s it—very simple! I hope you take me up on my free offer. And keep up the good work of educating the future midwives of the USA!
It’s almost ‘school time’ again for educators and new students. In my part of the world we are savoring the last gorgeous summer days and dazzling nights. For students and instructors its time for gathering materials and ordering books.
Two years ago I sent every midwifery SCHOOL in the U.S. a copy of my new book, Into These Hands, Wisdom From Midwives. Since that time it has become required reading in several midwifery schools. As the new school year approaches, I am once again inviting US midwifery educators to consider using the text in their classes, particularly in the areas of professional development or the contemporary midwife’s role in the U.S. maternity care system.
[UPDATE, this offer has been renewed for the 2020-2021 school year!]
We know quantitative data is vitally important; but stories are what impact people’s hearts and minds. My goal is to get the extraordinary memoirs of 25 remarkable and diverse midwives into the hands of students who need to hear real life stories of the lived experience of being a midwife. Collectively these midwives have over 800 years of experience and have assisted in 35,000 births. Their stories are fascinating, compelling, and inspiring.
Here is all you have to do a free case of 18 books. Send a check or certified money order for $24.00 for shipping/handling to: Geradine Simkins, 275 Cemetery Rd, Maple City, MI. Include your name and shipping address, your position at your midwifery school, and your email address so that I can let you know when the case has shipped I will send the books within 5 business days.
That’s it—very simple! I hope you take me up on my free offer. And keep up the good work of educating the future midwives of the USA!