Birth of a Midwife
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 61, Spring 2002.
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For ages the expertise and experience of the elders was handed down to younger generations. It was not a matter of choice, merely a matter of survival. If they didn’t share their knowledge of the way life revealed itself, then that knowledge was lost. Midwifery is not different by any means.
A woman who has been at birth and experienced the needs and desires of laboring mothers has gained an inconceivable amount of knowledge regarding compassion. A woman who has seen the outcomes of birth to be both wonderful and surprising has witnessed nothing less than a miracle. It is with each labor and birth that a midwife learns more about the processes of childbearing and the similarities of women who labor. Each birth is unique and so every midwife’s tale is its own. Knowledge is not gained by reading a book, but rather by the experiences life has offered.
Midwifery is, in essence, life’s lesson and apprenticeship. Share with other midwives and those who desire to learn the gifts you have witnessed. There are many of us who are passionate about being at birth and dream of being able to serve women during labor. Few are given the opportunity.
It seems that students of birth need to “prove” their dedication and love of childbirth to validate their claim to midwifery. I myself must regularly define my calling to this path. But how can it be defined? Some of us have wanted this since we were children: playing with our dolls, breastfeeding and diapering, playing doctor and giving birth to our dolls half the size of our own pint-sized bodies. Others may know that they are to become midwives from the moment they take their first breath. For still others, it can come later in life while attending a friend or relative during their birth. For me, it was the homebirth of my third child that took me to the depths of the universe and my soul. It wasn’t until then that I heard the call or remembered what my purpose was on Earth. Midwifery. Midwifery. Midwifery.
The hardest part of learning midwifery is being included in the birth setting itself. There are many ways to study the scientific and obstetrical arts of midwifery. There are schools, study groups, conferences, Internet classes, and intensive hands-on programs.
These types of learning offer an essential insight into the world of midwifery, but they are not the real midwifery we lovers of birth struggle for. We desire the intimate relationships prenatal, birth and postpartum care offer. We want to serve our mentors and our women and really learn the secrets only a practiced midwife can share. The desire is to learn the way our grandmothers and their grandmothers did, by being taken under the wing of a respected, beloved midwife of our village. These ladies are the true bearers of birth, their wisdom entangled in countless babies’ and families’ lives.
Practicing midwives, seasoned midwives, please open yourselves up to those who desire knowledge. Tell your birth stories, reveal your intuitions, have an apprentice. The saying goes, “It is only with giving do you receive.” Take two apprentices-one who has been with you and understands your practice, and one who is willing to 1earn. Two apprentices. What a concept! One to attend the midwife, one to attend the laboring family. Three midwives to better serve the family.
It is in sharing these life’s lessons that a midwife is born, not by reading a book, or by knowing how babies grow and come out. Midwifery is born by attending laboring women. It is hard to open yourself up and give your life’s path to others. Some midwives say that they haven’t found someone enough like them or someone with the same beliefs as their own, or whatever the story may be. Remember: life is a journey for each of us. Our paths unfold at their own times, making each of us charmingly different, but not unworthy of the knowledge. Find the beauty in our differences. Some midwives have opened up, only to be abandoned or left in the middle of an apprenticeship, left to feel hurt and resentful. Please, try again. Find a lover of birth and try again.
Midwifery has come back strong in the past three decades. It was never gone or lost, only kept within the heartsong of those who remembered. Midwifery is like a tree with many roots and branches. Please, elder midwives, whisper your tale to others. It is a matter of survival and keeping midwifery alive. Each tale is its own. I hope your tale will include the birth of another midwife or two.