Am I a Traditional Midwife?
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 91, Autumn 2009.
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Recently a knowledgeable friend and I were discussing traditional midwifery. She challenged my foundational views about this subject, made valid points and even raised the question for me: Am I a traditional midwife? I have often considered myself a modern direct entry midwife. I decided I needed to do more research on what a traditional midwife was and is.
A traditional midwife is “a direct entry midwife practicing within the confines of traditional folk medicine,” according to the MedicineNet MedTerms Medical Dictionary (www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=40492) . It further states that traditional midwives are now very rare in the US, but preside over the majority of births in many other countries. Most have no formal medical training but instead learned as an apprentice or through direct experience. “Traditional” is defined as handed down by tradition or derived from tradition.
Technically, I fit the definition of a traditional midwife. I am an apprentice-trained midwife. I believe an apprenticeship is a style of formal training; ask any electrician, brick mason, or plumber. I believe the apprentice model of learning is valuable. My midwife handled both the clinical portion of my training and the didactic portion of my midwifery education. I am thankful and honored to be an apprentice-trained midwife, so much so that for years I resisted the certified professional midwife (CPM) process.
My preceptor midwife grew up into midwifery in a very different time. She had no apprenticeship opportunities available to her 30+ years ago, much less traditional midwifery schools. Though our avenues into midwifery were vastly different, we were both born into midwifery out of a need. Even though I practice differently in some ways than my wonderful teacher, just as children do things differently than their parents, we both have placed fine thread into the woven tapestry that is midwifery—past, present, and future.
When you observe a room of 100 midwives, you will be observing a room where each midwife practices at least a little differently than those sitting around her. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because all women are different and have different desires for their experience and the service of their clients. I have been fortunate to get to know many midwives. Through these wonderful women, I have come to the following conclusion: Although we come into midwifery for different reasons and our levels of education, training, and experience vary, most of us consider our clients’ safety, both mom and baby, of paramount importance. The same was so for the midwives of the past, and I pray that the midwives of the future will also consider this their number one priority.
I am not the midwife of a rural village, walking or riding on horseback or bicycle to care for a momma and her baby, trading only a sheep or some baked goods for birth. I am the midwife who looks to evidence-based care in every situation, who obtains informed consent from clients after providing statistics and information, who uses a GPS to guide her to births and an iPhone to check her e-mail while away for an extended time. I look forward to my coffee in the mornings and am thankful when I have dinner on the table for my family in the evenings, because without the amazing calling of motherhood, I would not have become a midwife. I have a wonderful midwifery partner, and we use a Web site, multiple prenatal locations, and an insurance biller. I carry everything from herbs to oxygen and anti-hemorrhagic medications.
I do not always identify with midwives from ages past or the techniques or all traditions they observed; however, I can respect and appreciate those traditions. I employ my own traditions, which midwives a generation or two from now may consider a thing of the past. So where do I fit in? I think that the face of traditional midwifery changes over the decades as it evolves, from mother to mother and granny to granny. Those midwives, too, got to share in the highest of highs and lowest of lows that only other midwives can understand and appreciate. Each of us provides fabric to put into this final tapestry that is midwifery. Over the years that fabric is woven together and blends, as the art that is traditional midwifery evolves.
Am I a traditional midwife? Yes I am. I am one of the faces of 21st century traditional midwifery, and I am proud to be part of this tapestry.