Make Room at the Table
by Lois Wilson, CPM
© 2000 Midwifery Today, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
[Editor's note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today Issue 56, Winter 2000.]
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Pregnant with my first child, I stepped into the birth community in 1986. Since
that time I've been involved in many birth communities and have served in many different
roles. Some communities, like some families, are nurturing, healthy, vibrant, and
whole. Others are deeply dysfunctional—full of competition, discord, and fear. Why
are some birth communities constructive and others destructive? The reasons are complex,
and I will not pretend to have the whole answer here. I am an intuitive and observant
people-watcher, however, and thus have learned a great deal from traveling and participating
in the birth communities I've had the opportunity to encounter these past 14 years.
I hope that what I share will be of value to those who are seeking to build a stronger
community for the sake of families and the future of midwifery.
Make room at the table. In order for any type of community to grow, there must
be a welcoming presence in that community. This is so obvious that it seems absurd
to have to say it, but the truth is that many birth communities are stunted in their
growth because of a lack of welcome—especially toward those who are trying to find
their way in as educators, doulas, and midwives. I have been a part of communities
where competition, gossip, and "turf wars" have reduced people to rubble.
Once this behavior starts it spreads like cancer, and is so hard to stop! Before
long the bitterness spills over and the birthing families in the community are affected
as well. There is nothing uglier than interviewing a midwife and hearing her say
derogatory things about another midwife—but in some communities this happens all
the time. Besides the damage done to the individuals involved, this type of behavior
is extremely shortsighted. How can midwifery survive (and thrive) in the future if
midwives "eat their young"? The antidote to all this is when someone in
the community says "enough!" and decides to make room at the table for
others. Even if one midwife is willing to stand alone and welcome others, the tide
of selfishness and negativity can turn.
Each one teach one. When my daughter Essie was three years old, we were sitting
at the dinner table with my parents. My dad adores his grandkids and is a real joker.
His nickname for Essie was "Dr. Ruth," because of her tiny stature and
enormous self-assurance. When he called her "Dr. Ruth" that evening, Essie
asked him why he called her that. He answered, "Because you know everything."
She paused for a moment and retorted, "Well, I don't know everything, but I
do know a lot!" At the age of three my daughter knew that even though she didn't
know "everything," she still had a contribution to make! We midwives would
do well to learn this lesson, too. In order for our birth communities to grow strong,
we must value everyone's contribution. Hierarchy has no place in the women's way
of wisdom. The newest doula has unique gifts to share along with the most experienced
"granny" midwife. We all lose when certain voices in the community are
silenced. Furthermore, no matter where you are on that journey, there is always someone
whom you can help and encourage with what you know. We need to do away with the mentality
that only the most seasoned and experienced midwives are able to teach. We don't
have to know "everything" in order to pass on what we can to someone else.
Remember, the wisdom we have belongs to the women, babies and birth—who teach us
Nurture the Nurturers. As midwives, we give so much to so many. My mentor
Valerie El Halta says, "Midwifery will take all the love you have
to give," and she's right! Midwifery is a life poured out in love
and service—but who is nurturing the midwives? In order for our birth
communities to be strong and whole we must extend the same kind of nurturing
to one another that we give to the mothers and babies we serve. Midwives
who are nurtured don't "burn out" as readily as those who serve
without support. How do we nurture one another? With words of thanks and
encouragement; with backrubs, flowers, and homemade bread; with babysitting
each other's children and laughing at each other's jokes—and the list
goes on and on. We must celebrate one another's beauty and uniqueness
for our own sake and for the sake of the community. And the good news
is-it's contagious! Dare to nurture the midwives in your community and
watch the ripples widen. Before long other women will be drawn to the
warmth, and the circle will grow. Building and sustaining a strong, supportive
birth community is part of every midwife's work. We need one another,
and the families we serve deserve the best we have to offer. Let's agree
to work together to make room at the table for everyone.
Lois Wilson, CPM, lives with her husband Tony and five children in
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she has a small and wonderfully diverse homebirth
practice. She is a contributing editor for Midwifery Today.
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