Midwifery as a Gift

Midwifery Today, Issue 143, Autumn 2022.
Join Midwifery Today Online Membership

Fifty-one years ago this past August my hands received a birthing baby for the first time. To find myself in that position was, to me, a sacred trust.

That was in 1971. My friend had asked me to travel to her home. “I want you to deliver the baby,” she said.

She had several instructions for me as to her needs and asked if I could agree to them. I said that I could.

I went to their farm commune in the eastern side of our state and stayed for several weeks. I mostly worked in the garden, did child care, and cooked when it was my turn. I bonded with a one-year-old whose mom was away at the time. Dad was her actual caregiver, feeding her and dressing her … but as our group sat around the campfire those nights, she would come creeping quietly to me and sit in my lap in the mild evening. She was a quiet baby. After many pleasant nights, she talked for the first time. Pointing to a bright star overhead, she said, “Tee de tar.” … I caught her meaning right away. “See the star.” I was touched with joy to share those words with her.

My friend had never been pregnant before. She was barely 20. And she was as clear and confident in her own spirit and body as she could have been. She spent a day in early labor, walking, socializing, and resting. No exams. No interventions whatever. At night she had to focus more. Our small group was there with her in a large tent, each person holding a candle, creating a circle of light.

Behind me was my “Ob backup.” He was a medic recently returned from Viet Nam. He had assisted with many births. But he said that, mainly, the Vietnamese mamas who were birthing would just walk around. “I tried to get each one to lie down, like our instructions said, but they wouldn’t do what I said, and finally just squatted down and had their baby.” For the present birth, he put together some “just in case” supplies … an IV, an oxygen tank, and so on—none of which we needed.

As dawn arrived, my friend pushed the baby out. Spontaneous uncoached pushing … once again no exams. A strong boy. He took to nursing well.

As the time after birthing passed and one person after the other took their leave, my eyes were drawn to the intact perineum and there, a clear reminder. The cord!

“The placenta hasn’t come out,” I said.

I realized that there was little if any bleeding so far. Her pulse and blood pressure were normal. Baby was pink, had good muscle tone, and nursed happily. He was dozing off at the breast while mom sipped on liquids and ate her favorite oatmeal and fruit.

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about the placenta,” she said. “I was talking to a girl when I went to town about her homebirth and she said the placenta didn’t come for several hours and everything was fine.”

I decided that was good enough for me … I put my mat along the edge of the tent and went to sleep. Awoke after a couple of hours when the new mom stirred around. She got up to go outside to squat down and pee; out came the placenta, plopping on the ground. We buried it in the garden.

That was my first catch, as we said in those days. Using the term “catch a baby” was a change in how childbirth was being perceived.

Yes, my friend had asked me if I could come and “deliver” her baby that August. That was the language used in those days, and for the most part it is used in our present day.

The women’s liberation movement got all us young women talking back in the 60s and 70s. “Who delivered my baby? I did!” said the hippie mamas proudly. And all the midwives who had any sense deferred to them and honored them.

When I made my first catch, I did not consider myself a midwife.

The number of births I had attended as an assistant at our local rural doctor’s office where I worked and as a student nurse were small, less than 10 total.

Looking back, it seems that “what I knew” was basically to defer to the woman who gave birth. She had us there for support. And she was autonomous. We created around her a circle of respect. We did not doubt that she knew how to give birth! And we did not vary from that.

So that was my first birth. I helped her as a friend. It was not a business and I paid for my own expenses, which were minimal.

But I was a nurse. I went back to Seattle, where I had been living for several years. I spent the winter working special duty nursing, saving my money. In the spring, I traveled to Frontier Nursing School of Family Nurse Practice and Midwifery where I began my study of family practice and midwifery.

About Author: Marion Toepke McLean

Marion Toepke McLean, CNM, attended her first birth as primary midwife in August 1971. She received her nursing degree from Pacific Lutheran University in 1966 and her midwifery and family nurse practitioner degree from Frontier Nursing Service in 1974. From 1976 through 2001 she did home, clinic and hospital births, while also working as a family nurse practitioner. In 1980 she taught a year-long program for local midwives, returning to Frontier Nursing Service to teach during the summer. She had a homebirth practice until 1985, when she went to work at the Nurse-Midwifery Birthing Service, a freestanding birth center. In June 2000 she completed a BA in International Studies at the University of Oregon, with concentrated studies on Mexico. Since 2002 she has worked in a reproductive health clinic and attended an occasional homebirth. She lives in Eugene, Oregon, and is a contributing editor to Midwifery Today.

View all posts by

Skip to content