The World Needs Midwives NOW More Than Ever

It was exhilarating to see the numerous international partners who attended the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) meetings in Durban, such as the World Health Organization, United Nations agencies, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, the White Ribbon Alliance, ministers of health, significant funders, and more.

Midwives share stories and strategies at the ICM Congress

And the buzz was loud and clear: Midwives provide the best community-based reproductive care to women and newborns. And midwives save women’s lives around the world, every day.  Currently, it is an exciting window of opportunity for midwives and the clients we serve. Numerous international healthcare organizations, governments, ministries of health, and funding agencies across the globe are in agreement that the world needs midwives now more than ever—in fact 350,000 of them—and they are willing to direct their money, organizational energy, and polices towards this goal. It is a time of unprecedented support for midwifery globally.

Color and Movement

The summer flew by in a flash of pulsating movement and spectacular color. I spent the month of June in South Africa at the Council meeting of the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), and then at the ICM Congress. The meetings were held in Durban.

Africa was amazing, in all ways. The thing about Africa is the immensity of it—its size, its history, its place in human evolution, its rich cultures, its cultural wars, its social and political problems, its beauty, and its diversity. It is huge; Africa, in all her aspects is huge. And South Africa is an amazing country, more beautiful, diverse, and complex than I had ever imagined. There was so much to learn, so much to understand, so much to assimilate amidst the ever-present tenor of the challenging transition from the system of apartheid to majority rule. The1994 democratic election in South Africa resulted in a change of government, a change of guard, and an era of inspiration and hope. Yet almost twenty years later many challenges remain.

2011 ICM Council Members, Durban, South Africa

It was the perfect place for the ICM Council and Congress meetings to be held because just as South Africa finds herself at a crossroads, so too is the global midwifery movement at a potent intersection. We were fortunate to attend the historic ICM meetings because the ICM had never before been held on the African continent, and the ICM has never been as powerful as it is now and so well connected to international partners.  And the pleasure of spending a week in the “midwife village,” hosted by the gracious and generous South African midwives, amidst the thousands of others who made the pilgrimage to the Motherland was a thrill. The colors, songs, stories, perspectives, languages, lessons, and landscapes still swirl in my mind and heart.



Inspiration and Dedication

What inspired me to write Into These Hands, Wisdom from Midwives?

On New Year’s Day of 2007 I woke up with the inspiration for the Into These Hands, Wisdom from Midwives anthology. Someone whispered in my ear that it was time to write this book (No, it was not my husband Fred!) … I made lists of eligible midwives from across the country whose life stories I would like to collect. There were more than 100! I sent out invitations to a few dozen people and began the meticulous work of collecting, organizing and editing the narratives written by each midwife/author. The skills I had honed in my consulting business—qualitative research, interviewing, report and grant writing, authorship and oral presentations, curriculum development—all served me well!

How did I maintain my dedication to creating (birthing?) this anthology? 

After inspiration struck, I then gently but firmly shepherded each author into telling her life story and crafting and re-crafting each memoir to be accessible and interesting to a mainstream readership. One of the best decisions of my life was when I hired a professional editor (Max Regan, to assist me in the process of refining and editing the anthology. After four years of concentrated effort, it all came together in an elegant and cohesive package that was published by Spirituality & Health. In addition to managing the entire project from conception to fruition, I wrote several sections for the anthology included the Opening, Introduction, my own memoir, the Afterword, and Resources.

On the Road

ACNM C Annual Meeting 2011

Since its publication, we have been taking the book on the road with speaking tours, books signings and educational workshops. Everywhere we go, people seem to use some of the same language to describe Into These Hands. Words like “eye-opening, entertaining, inspiring, and provocative” keep coming up. We had a full-house at a workshop entitled, “What Really Matters: Wisdom From Midwives – 13 Essentials,” which was an educational session at the American College of Nurse-Midwives annual meeting held in San Antonio, Texas last week. I especially liked the younger midwives and students who came to the session and told me, “I was going to go to a technical workshop, but decided I wanted some inspiration. This is just what I needed.”

It is also a pleasure when some of the contributing authors for the book attend a workshop. They are able to share the process they went through to get their own memoir essay written, which for most of the  contributors was a challenging ordeal.

Contributing author Marsha Jackson, editor Geradine Simkins & contributing author Alice Bailes.

For me as the editor, it was like herding cats. I became a midwife for the midwives, encouraging, cajoling and supporting them. The contributing authors, all of whom are very busy professionals, had to set aside large chunks of time for writing their memoirs.  And the reflection and introspection it took to put the disparate pieces of a long life into a cohesive whole required some serious dedication. But eventually the pieces of the puzzle came together for each of them.

In the end, the authors felt like the time they invested was worth it. Several of them admitted, “It was a gift.” Sister Angela Murdaugh, for example, said, “I can tell a good story, but no one has ever asked me to write my story, and although I did not think I could write, I found once I got started I could not stop.”

It is my hope that more midwives will write the story of walking in the shoes of a midwife so that more people will understand the unique contributions they have made to the culture of childbirth in America and the impact they have had on the U.S. maternity care system.


You Never Know What Could Happen

Leah & Sean unexpectedly discover their mother's book in Chicago bookstore!

So two of my kids, Sean and Leah, went to a literary event for their friend Jacob Wheeler in a local bookstore in Chicago where he was sharing his newly published book, Between Light and Shadow, on adoption in Guatemala.  Don’t you think Sean and Leah were surprised when they discovered a display that included their mother’s book staring them in the face? I think the looks on their faces say it all.

It is a thrill to have my own newly published book out in the world. People from various parts of the country are emailing me to say, “I was surprised and pleased to see Into These Hands in my local bookstore.” For those of you who want to spread the word about midwifery and the excellent care provided by midwives, perhaps you’d consider donating a copy to your favorite bookstore or library in your hometown. If you are a midwife include your own business card or some of your literature in the book. It is a form of advertising. You never know what could happen! Try it and see.

Speaking Out for Mothers and Children

On International Midwives Day, May 5, the Michigan Midwives Association (MMA) hosted a variety of activities. Two of my favorites—out of several wonderful events—are these.

Road to Durban

Midwife, Kate Mazarra, organizer for "Walk the Road to Durban," Lansing, Michigan

Last year, the President of the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), Bridget Lynch, invited midwives of the world to “Walk the Road to Durban” in preparation for the triennial meeting in June 2011. This is the first time in history that the ICM Congress is being held in sub-Saharan Africa.  The Congress will be taking place in an area of the world with the highest rates of maternal and newborn morbidity and mortality. With only five years left to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and improve maternal and newborn health globally, now is the time to highlight the central role of midwives in achieving these goals!

Contributing author, Jennie Joseph, speaks at a rally in Florida at a "Road to Durban" rally.

The Road to Durban starts at each midwife’s front door.  The ICM called on midwives and ICM’s 99 Member Associations, in 90 countries, representing more than 250,000 midwives, to organize 5 kilometer walks in cities and towns across all of our countries on the International Day of the Midwife, 5 May 2011.  All across the globe people walked the “Road to Durban.” Midwives, students, and supporters in Michigan participated in a rally and 5 kilometer walk/run in Lansing, our state capital. Later, we had a benefit concert with Rachel and Dominic Davis. I was the midwife for Rachel’s little brother, Ezra.

MMA T-shirt I will be wearing in Durban, S. Africa, at the walk on June 18

Six weeks later, on June 18, 2011, when the midwives of the world gather in Durban, South Africa for the ICM Congress, we will complete our walk with a 5 kilometer march into the city in celebration of our commitment to improving maternal and newborn health globally.  The walk will take place the day before the opening of the ICM Congress.  Most importantly, as we walk with our families and supporters into Durban, the midwives of the world will be walking in solidarity with the midwives of Africa and highlighting the need to strengthen midwifery across the African continent. I will be there—and I will be wearing my MMA T-shirt!

 Two More Authors

On Friday night, May 6, 2011 the Michigan Midwives Association (MMA) hosted a presentation on my book and a gala book-signing event. Two more contributing authors—Kip Kozlowski and Patrice Bobier—got to share their perspectives on the process of reflecting on their lives as midwives and writing their life stories for Into These Hands.

Geradine Simkins, editor, and contributing authors Patrice Bobier and Kip Kozlowski

We also got to celebrate with our colleagues and friends from the MMA. It was loads of fun with laughter, tears, Champagne and lots of book sales.

I want to thank my friends of MMA for their love and support. I also want to let you know that two more Michigan midwives are also contributing authors for Into These Hands—Rondi Anderson and Casey Makela. Unfortunately, they were not able to attend the book-signing event, but we did read excerpts from their inspiring memoir essays.

Come to the Party!

Friday the 13th is a lucky day for me this year.

Contributing Author, Shafia Monroe & Editor, Geradine Simkins

Due to the generosity of Peter Makin at Brilliant Books, we will be having a book launching party in my home territory—Leelanau County—that will feature a meet and greet session, some conversation about the book, wine, light hors d’oeuvres and books for sale! My publisher at Spirituality & Health Books, Victoria Sutherland, and I will be hosting the book launch party at Peter’s store in Suttons Bay, Michigan, from 7-9 p.m.  We look forward to celebrating with the local gang of friends and supporters.

Into These Hands, Wisdom From Midwives has been in print for only a month, but so far we have received rave reviews from across the country, such as these.

Book signing party in Ohio, April 2011

“I began reading your book Saturday night.   I am still in the introduction and am blown away by your beautiful writing style: from the heart and from the soul.  No wonder Victoria Sutherland wanted this published.  I started reading and just started crying….” -Local physician

 “I LOVE THE COVER!!!!!  Precious!  LOVE the website.  Love, love, love it all.  Congrats!  It looks like a hit!” –Mother of Four

 “I loved the chapters—they are such amazing and beautiful narratives, such important histories to record for posterity—you’ve done a magnificent job as have your contributing authors.” -Anthropologist

And there are more. So, needless to say I am thrilled. Please come join us for a celebratory party, and please buy some books for yourself or as gifts to friends, families, libraries, schools, health care agencies and professionals, or others. I look forward to seeing you.

Salsa for the Soul

Zumba instructor, Martha Hubbell, & editor, Geradine Simkins

For those of you who have written a book, you know that it takes a lot of mental and emotional exertion. Sometimes, it can be even more tiring than physical labor—at least that is how I have found it to be. You can get “stuck” in your head, with all kinds of thoughts swirling around, reviewing concepts over and over, trying to find just the right string of words to make the sentence cogent or spin an idea to make it alluring or persuasive. It is a lot of work. Continual effort and attention to a particular task can easily fatigue you, and it can certainly cause you to lose your concentration. It also causes your work to become clumsy, or even worse, boring.

For my book, not only did I write the Introduction, Afterword and my own memoir, but I organized the whole project including gently but firmly shepherding each author into telling her life story and crafting and re-crafting each memoir to be accessible and interesting to a mainstream readership. It took years of concentrated effort before it finally it all came together into the cohesive package that it is today, and I had to learn to pace myself to survive the arduous mental process.

I needed a way to get out of my head and into my body. I needed some “movement

Some members of my Zumba Tribe-Catherine, Lisa, Carol & Martha

therapy” to counteract the hours and hours I spent at the computer thinking, writing and editing. One of my most fun therapies was (and still is) Zumba—a Latin dance aerobic fitness program that originated in Colombia and is sweeping cities across the U.S. My Zumba class is more like a dance party than a fitness workout. And our instructor, Martha Hubbell—a native of Colombia, South America—is a high energy, inspiring, fabulous dancer and instructor that helped me dance my worries away. And for this I have acknowledged her in my book. For me, Zumba has become therapy for the soul where I let go of mental fatigue and Salsa myself into shape. My classmates and I have formed a Zumba tribe in which we laugh, dance and party together to get happy and stay healthy several times a week. It’s a blast!

Into These Hands is an Inspiration for Future Midwives

While I was at the ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) Conference in St. Louis last weekend I had the opportunity to talk to several women who are hoping to become midwives. One is Sherry Payne, whom I have known for a long time, and another is Valerie Schuster, whom I just met. Sherry is an obstetrical nurse, breastfeeding educator, trained doula, certified childbirth educator, and mother of nine! She has been on a path to becoming a midwife for as long as I have known her, and in the fall of 2011, she intends to begin her schooling.

Valerie Schuster, of West Palm Beach, Florida, is a birth and postpartum doula.  She has a desire to become a midwife some day, and that feeling is growing stronger and stronger the more she works with mothers, babies and families.  I encouraged her to hold that intention in her heart and see herself in that position.  We agreed that next year at the ICAN conference, we’ll check in with each other and see what has transpired for each of us—her dream to become a midwife, and my path as the editor of a newly published book about the life-stories of midwives.

Not the Choir, But Still Fans

After unveiling my book at the board meeting of the Midwives Alliance I had the privilege of presenting it formally, for the first time “in public,” to the attendees of the ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) conference, held in St. Louis, Missouri, April 8-10.  I was invited to present the book material in a workshop entitled, “What Really Matters: Using Midwives Stories for Social Change,” that was very well attended and at which we had some lively conversations. My take-home message to them was to gather and share their life-stories because they are important and compelling and will provide inspiration to other women.

Fans of "Into These Hands" at the ICAN conference

ICAN hosted a book signing event one evening in a very festive setting complete with hors d’oeuvres and an open bar. Two other authors had their books for sale, Gail Tulley, Breech Queen of Spinning Babies, and Pam England, of Birthing From Within fame. And while I consider ICAN members to be the Warrior Women of the Normal Birth Movement, they are moms not midwives, so I was not sure how much my book would interest them. As it turns out, it was very well received and I had more sales than I expected. That, of course, was very exciting and very gratifying. And it was so much fun!