In the Afterward of the anthology, editor Geradine Simkins identifies common themes found in the memoirs using the question “what matters?” to each of these midwives. Thirteen identifiable themes emerged.
What Matters to Women, Matters to Midwives – 13 Essentials ©
1. Context Matters
Context is the circumstance in which events occur that will, to a large degree, determine meaning, define who is in power, and have a profound effect on those giving birth, those being born, and birth workers.
“Birth, this elegant, simple, yet intricate process has had unnecessary, complex, expensive technology superimposed onto it, creating a dangerous environment for birthing women.” -Alice Bailes
2. Content Matters
Content of maternity care is defined by the model of care. The midwifery model and the medical model each utilize different content, such as values, beliefs, ethics; skills, tools, interventions: practices, protocols, providers; politics, economics, and so on. While birth remains the same the world over, the model of care is a cultural construct.
“Midwives carry sacred knowledge of reproductive processes. The mother-infant bond, for example, is so central to the aims of healing and social transformation that it’s not just about delivering babies. It’s about the power of women to transform life.” -Katsi Cook
3. Holism Matters
Holism in midwifery practice recognizes that what affects one part affects all parts because everything is intimately connected.
“At the moment of birth, there is a rare and brief glimpse of the connection between this world and another, of before and after, of mortal and immortal, of spiritual and physical, of known and unknown.” –Ida Darragh
4. Nature Matters
Nature has designed the elegantly complex processes of pregnancy, birth, lactation, and mother-infant attachment to work innately, and in most cases, no amount of tampering can improve them.
“I think midwifery was developed by people with common sense, people who were close to nature, and people who observed other species of mammals and saw that there were lessons there to be learned.” -Ina May Gaskin
5. Sacred Matters
Midwives say there is a sacred and invisible domain through which women and infants must pass to birth and be born. Birth is not just physiological; it is a soul journey.
“I pushed three times, and for a moment I felt I had the Universe between my legs…an image of the Hindu Goddess Kali giving birth to the Universe. It left me joyfully ecstatic. It changed my life forever.” –Arisika Razak
6. Relationship Matters
It is essential in human nature to be in relationship with one another. Midwives and the clients they serve are dynamically intertwined like a braided grapevine of interlaced roots, branches and fruits that feed and support one another.
“I have learned that when you are with a client, she must feel as if she is the only person in your life. She is the center.” -Abby J. Kinne
7. Compassion Matters
Compassion is not a luxury, it is a biological imperative, because as humans our brains are hardwired to care about one another.
“Women need to be cared for and given a safe haven as they walk through the sacrament of birth. Babies need to be properly welcomed as they begin their Earth Walk.” –Geradine Simkins
8. Self-Determination Matters
At the core of the ethic of self-determination is the critical question: Are women in charge of their bodies, their births, their babies, their decisions and their lives, or not? Midwives resoundingly say “yes” and relentlessly advocate for women.
“Years of standing by, of listening to thousands of birth songs, birth cries, complaints, years of seeing joy, blood, sweat and tears have taught me…a woman and her baby are wise together.” -Kip Kozlowski
9. Service Matters
The ethic of service affords deep connection to a community, creates an experience of belonging and purpose, and allows us to live our passions.
“My walls were lined with honors, yet I reflect that somehow it seemed wrong to reward me for doing what I loved to do. I consider myself blessed beyond measure to live and work in such an authentic manner as I was granted.” –Sister Angela Murdaugh
10. Activism Matters
Activism is about ordinary citizens taking charge of creating what we want and fighting for what we feel is right. It is not idealistic. It is a pratical way to live, a way that many culture have, and still do, function.
“I love catching the baby, it is the ultimate experience, but I am also birthing a movement that will eradicate infant mortality, increase breastfeeding rates, and increase the number of Black midwives to improve community health.” -Shafia Monroe
11. Courage Matters
Courage underpins almost everything that midwives do. It is beyond boldness, it is beyond valor, and it is beyond daring. Courage is not a skill, it is a way of life, a willingess to walk with an attitude of fearlessness.
“I never intended to be an outlaw, but I was born at a time when the midwifery profession was illegal in many states. Future generations will wonder why we risked jail and our freedom to do midwifery. It is our hope that our grandchildren and our great grandchildren can be born without fear, safely and surrounded by love, into the hands of midwives. -Kate Bowland
12. Lineage Matters
Midwives know and value that we stand on the shoulders of a lineage of ancestor midwives. They may be blood relatives or the family tree of indigenous, traditional, immigrant or grand midwives of the past. They are connected throughout time to this lineage.
“The Smithsonian exhibit celebrated the impact and work done by ‘granny’ midwives from the 17th century to the present and included my authentic birth bag and supplies I take to home births. I learned so much about my sister midwife ancestors. It was in my blood!” – Marsha Jackson
13. Midwives Matter
Midwives matter because what they offer women, infants, and families is unique, ephemeral, artisanal, precious and rare. Midwives will relentlessly advocate for women and will continually take risks in their own lives to support women’s choices.
“I know how we are born makes a difference. The midwives who fought to keep birth sacred and free can be seen as folk heros. We are legendary! I am proud to be part of this noble cause.” -Linda McHale
Birth Matters. How one gives birth, and how one is born, matters deeply.
Whether we enter it intentionally or unintentionally, happily or unhappily, prepared or unprepared, giving birth is a rite of passage like no other. And afterwards, birth is forever embedded in our memories and embodied in our flesh. It is something we remember deep in our bones and our souls our whole lives.
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What Matters to Women, Matters to Midwives – 13 Essentials © Geradine Simkins 2010. Excerpted from Into These Hands, Wisdom from Midwives ©, published by Spirituality and Health Books, 2011.
Photographs on this page copyrighted by Tina Williams