At the MANA Board meeting (held at Abby Kinne’s home near Columbus, Ohio) we had a book signing night with the four contributing authors who were present. One of our board members, Adrian Feldhusen, prepared some chocolate covered strawberries that were both gorgeous and luscious, and we drank Champagne and other adult beverages. It was so exciting for each of us to finally have the book in our hands, and to let the knowledge sink in that we are published authors!
Linda McHale, Jennie Joseph, Abby Kinne and I were seated near the windows, at dusk, overlooking the lovely lake. Other members of the MANA Board, and our administrative staff person, Tina Williams, sat at our feet and beseeched us to sign their books. It was a fun event for us—I was thrilled—and we were so entertained to see the women eagerly waiting for each of us to sign their books. It appears as though people really like the book—but then, in this crowd, we are preaching to the choir!
Right after we received my book from the printer’s I left for Ohio and the MANA Board of Directors meeting. What I really wanted to do—after four years of writing, editing, revising and production—was to sit on the couch and read the whole thing through, cover to cover. But that was not possible.
Three of my contributing authors were present at the Board
meeting—Abby Kinne (Ohio), Jennie Joseph (Florida) and Linda McHale (New Jersey). They were the first authors who got to see the book in print, and believe me, they were excited as could be. They had not seen their memoirs since they signed off on their final revisions, about one and a half years ago. It was an exciting moment for all of us. And of course, they never saw them in context of the entire anthology.
There were tears, laughter and gratitude all mixed together. This is more fun than I could have imagined- to finally be sharing my book with the contributing authors. It was totally worth the wait.
Also on hand was Tina Williams, who is the administrate assistant for MANA, and who also happens to be a brilliant photographer. Five of the author’s photos in my book were taken by Tina.
The day finally came, as I knew it would, when this baby I have been nurturing for four years would get born into the world. And it is fitting that it happened in the season of the Spring Equinox – a time of new beginnings and new doors opening, when life begins to stir in the Earth and small but hearty bloosoms push their way into the light of day.
The book is beautiful. And I am grateful to every single person who had anything to do with making it happen. We celebrated last night at my friend Nancy’s house – scrumptous food and lovely flowers, Champagne toasts and tears of joy, laughter and dancing – all of it! Thanks to my friends Nancy, Pat and Fred, it was a perfect evening!
Whew. These days, life is about as good as it gets. I am grateful.
We kicked off the book tour last weekend in Chapel Hill, North Carolina at the CIMS (Coalition for Improving Maternity Services) annual meeting. I presented a session called “What Matters to Women, Matters to Midwives – 13 Essentials,” which was very well received. I was moved to tears when I received a standing ovation, initiated by one of the Mothers of the Movement – Ruth Wilf, CNM – who was also one of my instructors when I was a student nurse-midwife at CNEP, at the Frontier Nursing Service. I was so touched. Ruth repeated, several times, “Geradine, this book is a game changer.” I sure hope so. Less than two weeks until I will have the published book in my hands! I can’t wait.
I also had a chance to talk with the courageous midwives and supporters of midwifery in North Carolina who had just recently staged an amazing Birth Freedom rally at their state capital with more than 600 people in attendance. They are working diligently to expand the menu of high-quality maternity care services for women and families by getting Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) licensed in their state. Check out North Carolina Friends of Midwives: www.ncfom.org. Good work Lisa, Russ, Kirsti – and all of you!
I wanted you to know that my book has been uploaded to the printers with a publishing date of April 2011. Today we received a sample of the cover that was so beautiful I almost cried. This book is not only going to be a powerful treatise on the power, profit and politics that drive childbirth in America, but also a wonderful resource for the midwifery and reproductive rights movements.
In the past few decades there has been a remarkable quiet revolution as women have birthed new ideas and healing practices in caring for themselves and one another in the childbearing year. “Midwife” is such a great archetype of the person who helps us through the secret gateway to our interior selves, who keeps us breathing and focusing on what is possible, who assists us in finding our rhythm, and who creates sacred space for the dance of the soul.
I am so eager for this book to get into the hands of as many people as possible because I know that the stories of real live midwives will entertain as well as inspire readers. Less than one month until this baby is born into the world! I can hardly wait.
The act of putting paper, pen and the past together opens a melodic doorway to the soul from which tumbles all the disparate pieces of a person’s life. The puzzle of writing a memoir is to slowly and carefully untangle the strands of warp and weft until the patterns of the tapestry—your life—emerge. It is very tricky business.
Most, but not all, of the contributing authors for Into These Hands, Wisdom From Midwives had a hard time getting started. As my grandmother used to say, “Beginning is half done,” and so it was with this project. To assist with the inertia that threatened to stalemate the whole project, I created a schema called, “Ten Weeks, Ten Questions.”
“Ten Weeks, Ten Questions” was a template designed to take each contributing author through her life in stages so that she only had to write a short, one-page piece at a time. The first few questions encouraged the author to reflect on the past—where she was born and the early influences that shaped her life. Next, she was asked to write about what brought her to the path of midwifery and how that lifestyle impacted her—the joys, challenges, risks, sacrifices and accomplishments. And finally, each author was asked to look to the future and provide some sage femme wisdom and inspiration for women of reproductive age and the next generation of midwives to whom she will be passing the torch. It was a very good template. It did, however have one flaw. “Ten Weeks, Ten Questions”did not take ten weeks! And that is a big part of why the creation of this anthology was, for me, a lesson in determination, patience, fortitude, resilience and trust.
So, after I finalized my participant roster, talked with each woman, and set up some processes for the project, I began the meticulous work of collecting, organizing and editing the narratives. 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.
I gently but firmly shepherded each author into telling her life story, crafting and re-crafting each one to be accessible and interesting to a mainstream readership. I hired Max Regan, my literary midwife, who mentored and assisted me in the process of refining and editing the anthology, and after four years of concentrated effort it all came together in a cohesive package. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The hardest thing for the contributing authors—and I also wrote my own memoir for the anthology, so I knew—was beginning to write. So it took a great deal of effort to coax them into telling their tales, thus the gestational period for this book was longer than an elephant’s. Much longer. I had to comfort and cajole—just like we do at births—to help them let go and bring forth what needed to be born. I remember their comments, their insecurities, their complaints that, “I don’t have time for this.” But eventually each midwife went to that interior and solitary space where our memories live, and wrote her life story. In the end each woman expressed gratitude that she was pushed past her comfort level and that—after helping so many other women in the birthing process—she was able to give birth to herself. And that, they said, was a gift beyond compare.
MIDWIVES are notorious do-it-yourselfers. The midwives in this book emerged from the cultural revolution of the Sixties and Seventies, the Civil Rights Movement, the back to the land impetus, and a variety of other intersecting movements of the time. We have been labeled rebels and revolutionaries, and for good reasons. We have had to negotiate a healthcare system that is, essentially, designed to put us out of business and a legal system that has put many of us in jail. So we have become resilient and well-weathered when it comes to taking care of business and taking care of ourselves.
When I decided to create my first book—an anthology of memoirs of 25 seasoned midwives—I figured I had enough professional skills and survival tools to do it on my own. “Just do it,” right? After all, I had been writing in several professional capacities for decades. But I was wrong. It was a blessing to have been introduced to Max Regan, poet, publisher, teacher from Boulder, and developmental editor for people who are writing, assembling and publishing books.
From the very first conversation with Max in which I told him about my vision for this book he said, “I’m in.” He asked me one important question, “Are you sure you want to work with two dozen contributing authors?” That should have been my tip-off, but I said, “Yes, absolutely.” He said, “Okay, let’s get started.”
So once the brilliant, urging, insistent spark of an idea was kindled, I scrambled to figure out how to begin this big project of creating a comprehensive anthology of midwife memoirs. It is lucky that I was naïve enough not to know just how huge of a project I was taking on. But alas, Fortune Favors the Foolish. I made lists of eligible midwives whose life stories I would like to collect. My criteria for eligibility was that each contributing author had to be over 50 years of age, been in practice 25 years or more, and be a sage femme (wise woman) and leader in the midwifery movement.
There were over a hundred people on that list and each day, as I pondered the topic, I would add a few more names. There are so many extraordinary midwives whose life stories should be told. But in the end – with the intention of selecting a diverse group of midwives – I sent out invitations to about three dozen. Of that group I got responses from over two-dozen women. I began to finalize the participant process, which included sending each candidate a project overview and getting a signed consent form. Just as we got started, three people had to drop out because of life circumstances—caring for a dying sister, trauma related to a midwifery courtroom battle, and a very ill mother who needed hospice care.
But looking back – the minute I dropped those three-dozen invitations into the mail I began to panic, wondering what I had gotten myself in to. My good friend and writer, Barbara Gentry said, “You need a mentor; you need Max Regan.” Thus began my relationship with the “literary midwife” of this project. Max is the one who kept me breathing and focused on allowing the project to be born. He helped me stay open to the arduous process—messy and mysterious as it was.
On New Year’s Day of 2007 I woke up from the dream world and asked myself the same question I ask at each New Year: What is it that I am to do with my life this year? Without even a moment’s hesitation the voice from the Spirit realm said quite loudly: You are going to write a book! It was a clear, definitive and convincing directive. In fact, it left no room for debate.
Like many good storytellers in my tradition, I have been meaning to write a book for several decades. In fact, I have numerous outlines for books I would like to write that I keep in my file cabinet. But I have a very busy fast-paced life and I just never got around to writing them. I use my writing skills in so many other areas of my professional life that I always seem to be out of words, or out of time, when it comes to writing my own stuff.
So, with the decree from the Universe that I was to write a book, I had only to pick one of my many concepts. The word conception is actually defined as “a concept” and it refers to that which precedes creating something. Conception is what takes place at the very beginning, the imagining of an idea, the act of calling it forth, and the initial spark that ignites it into being. So that is how my book was conceived—by a directive from the Spirit World, as I lay under a down comforter, surrounded by a blanket of snow in the wintery season of solitude, in the great north woods. A brilliant, urging, insistent spark of an idea was kindled.