Midwifery Model of Care—Phase II: Midwife Lessons
by Janice Marsh-Prelesnik

[Editor's note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today Issue 77, Spring 2006.]

Oh blessed be, now and forever, the heart and soul of a seasoned midwife. When I look back on the past twenty-plus years, I marvel at the courage, defiance, strength, wisdom and love of life that midwives embody. A higher power calls us to this work. This higher power cares for us when we stay attuned to the sacred calling. I am reminded of this when I read the story of Shiphrah and Puah, midwives from the Old Testament of the bible.

And the King of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah and the name of the other Puah:

And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live.

But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive.

And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive?

And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered before the midwives come in unto them.

Therefore God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty.

And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses. (Exodus 1:15–21, King James Version)

In these times the medical industry, insurance and drug companies and the government bully and cajole mothers and midwives into believing that their human-made laws, attitudes and belief systems must be followed. They would like to hoodwink us into believing that their attitudes and beliefs will bring mothers and babies safer lives with better health. Thank goodness for the determined hearts of the midwives and mothers we serve who refuse to absentmindedly adhere to this mindset!

Like Shiphrah and Puah we must stay on track with the higher calling. When we fear, or respect, the natural processes of birthing, and we truly believe in the power of the women we serve and the resilience of their babies, we midwives are blessed a million times over.

One of the immense blessings that I receive as a midwife is the overflowing of my senses. The smell of a newly born baby, the connection I feel with all women (past, present and future) while I sit with a woman in labor, the joy of observing a new family bonding; no words can describe the swelling of my senses and the love I feel for all life. This reality is mine and it carries over into the rest of my moments. All of life is a magnificent miracle when lived through the heart and soul of a midwife. Even the painful moments filled with grief resonate with faith and trust in life processes.

Over these past twenty-five years I have constantly been in awe when observing my midwife friends. What qualities are distinctive to midwives? First and foremost a midwife is grounded with an immense capacity to love. Out of this foundation of love comes determination, gentleness, strength and a profound trust in natural process. A midwife is not foolish and knows that natural process can sometimes go awry and is therefore gifted with acute observation skills. At the root of a midwife's being, the driving force is the power of love. The heart and soul of a midwife is healing and life-affirming and gives strength to others.

Recently I was deeply reminded of the unique gifts of midwives. Let me tell you my story: In the fall of 2005 I was hospitalized for 11 days with a serious infection in my left leg, invasive group A strep cellulitis. A small area of the skin progressed into necrotizing fasciitis, commonly called the "flesh eating disease." Admittedly my body needed help in stopping these aggressive bacteria from continuing to spread. I am extremely grateful that strong IV antibiotics were available to me. This strong medicine very well may have saved my life. I also am grateful to the doctors who quickly diagnosed this illness and started me promptly on antibiotic treatment. However, when the bacterium was stopped and healing began, the medical system seemed to have no clue as to how to behave or how to assist in the healing process.

Instead, the loving hands and hearts of my midwife friends aided my body. The very presence of these women brought me to a state of deep relaxation that allowed my body to put all of its energy into healing.

These midwives came and lovingly put compresses on my wounds, gave me aromatherapy treatments, brought nutritious foods and calmed me with energy work. Each midwife who walked into the room assessed the situation and promptly began natural treatments that supported my healing process. These amazing women, who were with me while I was birthing my babies, were now here with me through another intense life experience. When we were told by nurses to stop aromatherapy treatments or to stop epsom salt and herb soaks because the doctors did not order them, the midwives continued on in a friendly, yet defiant way saying every time, "Well, we are almost finished. We might as well finish now." The heart of a midwife allows for defiance when the soul knows it is doing the right thing.

My heart went out to the nurses and doctors. They were so socialized into contracted thinking that they were like slaves to the medical industry. I sensed the kind hearts of these people. I also sensed a lot of frustration and anger from the nursing staff. The doctors refused to enter into any heart connection with me whatsoever. They kept their distance from me and stayed at the foot of the bed. I could see that they were in their heads and I wondered if one requirement of attending medical school was to have a photogenic mind. I could almost see the pages of those medical textbooks turning in their brains. After all, for the linear brain to think clearly when the deeper ways of knowing are asking to be heard can be tricky. These deeper ways of knowing are precisely what midwives understand so well. I wanted to share the midwife way of knowing with them: the essence of midwifery healing.

One of the residents said that my midwife friends and I intimidated her. After that comment I realized that what these people need, and indeed what the whole world needs, is midwife lessons! Everybody in the world needs to take midwife lessons. Just think—they could have lessons on the essence of love, developing observation skills, valuing intuition, changing fear to trust, understanding natural process and natural healing philosophies, patience, humility, creative process, gentle defiance, individual process, keeping faith, etc.

Few people in the world are gifted with genius, and midwives are geniuses. Now I don't write this with arrogance. I am simply stating the truth. Midwifery intelligence surpasses the knowledge and understanding of the majority of people's thinking. Midwifery intelligence is truly holistic intelligence and is the intelligence of the future.

Now more than ever the world needs examples of thinking holistically. Our ways of thinking and being are a well-kept secret. The ways of a midwife could be imitated by people from every walk of life—teachers, politicians, parents, health care providers, farmers, musicians, artists, service people, academics, bankers and the list goes on and on. We can guide by our example.

Recently I was with a laboring woman for 36 hours. A few hours after her baby was born this woman said to the other midwife and me, "I did not know that I could ever be taken care of as much as you two cared for me. You are such good mothers and you have taught me how to be a mother." As I sat with this woman in the timeless space through the journey of her labor I was reminded of the wisdom of midwifery knowledge. The whole process was anything but textbook—or I should say an OB textbook. The labor was on again, off again. One deceleration quickly corrected itself with a change in the mother's position. Fresh meconium was in the water. The mother sustained herself with protein shakes, Emergen-C, yogurt and Gatorade. After nearly four hours of pushing, an 8 lb 13 oz baby girl was born in military position. At times throughout this day and a half, my faith admittedly wavered for a short time—I thought that we would need to transfer. The thought of transferring a mother with this story, I knew, would seem off the edge to others. And yet, I knew, in my heart of heart and my guts that everything would be okay.

The midwife who was with me at the birth mentioned an article that she had read in Midwifery Today several years ago on long labors and trusting that on-again, off-again labors can be normal. As I went deeper into myself and deeper into the journey with this mother, I heard God tell me that everything would be all right. Faith in divine guidance kept me true to midwifery knowledge and the belief in what is normal process for that mother and her baby in that time.

So how can we share with the rest of the world the wisdom of the midwives? Where do we begin in giving midwifery lessons? One of the best ways is through writing. Our stories need to be preserved through the written word and those words need to be out in our greater communities and world. Our stories need to include not only birth stories but also stories of the midwifery way of caring and nurturing. At the heart of midwifery is mothering—mothering as a spiritual practice. Our writings can be from the heart, in the form of poetry, essay, non-fiction, fiction, interviews, etc.

What a treasure if every midwife would write her own personal midwifery memoir. While I was in England I came across several small shops that were totally devoted to autobiographies of everyday people. Midwives in the UK seem almost expected to write. A number of publications purely devoted to midwifery are filled with articles written by midwives. Where are the voices of the North American midwives? Thankfully Midwifery Today is an avenue for the musings of midwives.

Writing can really help a person to clarify his or her thoughts. When I talk with midwives and aspiring midwives about writing I usually hear:

  • I don't have time to write.
  • I'm no good at it.
  • I don't know where to start.
  • Writing is too hard.

I totally understand these sentiments. I felt the same way until a couple of years ago. For several years I had wanted to write a book for pregnant women. I had no idea where to begin or how to organize my thoughts until the Health Arts and Sciences at Goddard College entered my world. This interdisciplinary, self-directed program encouraged me to focus on research and writing from a holistic perspective. While earning either a Bachelors or Masters degree, a student can focus on the heart of the matter. The following is a list of the titles of theses that midwives and aspiring midwives have written while students at Goddard:

  • Life is a Sexually Transmitted Condition: The Sexuality of Labor and Birth
  • Maternity Care in the 21st Century
  • Peer Counseling Programs in Community Breastfeeding Programs: Mother to Mother Support and Cultural Competency
  • From Arnica to Zantac: An Evidence-Based Guide to Alleviating the Normal Discomforts of Pregnancy and Postpartum Period
  • Botanical Medicine in Medical Practice: A Handbook for Women's Health Professionals
  • Voices of Maya Midwives: Oral Histories of Practicing Traditional Midwives from the Mam Region of Guatemala
  • The Roots of Natural Mothering: Through the Seasons of Pregnancy, Journey of Birth, and Motherbaby Moon Time

Dear Midwives, please consider sharing your stories. Share your ways of knowing, not only with each other and the women you serve, but also with the rest of the world. The world truly needs what a midwife has to offer now and forever.

Since 1981 Janice Marsh-Prelesnik has worked as a traditional midwife, massage therapist and herbalist. She also teaches these modalities and loves to watch her students grow, develop their intuition and integrate midwifery and the natural healing arts into their lifestyles. Janice is a recent graduate of Goddard College and has self-published her Goddard project into a book titled The Roots of Natural Mothering. Janice is the mother of four home-born, home-schooled children. Janice can be reached at www.creativebirthingarts.com.


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