Midwifery Knowledge Spread Around the World

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 89, Spring 2009.
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Cornelia Enning teaching placenta medicine in Germany

What is midwifery knowledge and what is midwifery or obstetrical myth? What do you need to know to be a great midwife?

To me, being a really good midwife requires a curious mind and a serving heart. I have met midwives from many different countries who exemplify these values. Some do not know how to read but are amazing midwives.

Naolí Vinaver teaching rebozo techniques in China

I ask again: What do we need to know to be a good midwife? I believe that we need to think about this because we are poised to be a real part of the health care system of this country. One answer to our health care crisis is midwives and out-of-hospital birth, where motherbaby has the best chance for a great start. That answer will also lead us to the kind of information we want to learn and spread around the birth world.

Angelina Martinez Miranda teaching cupping in Philadelphia

One of my main goals in doing conferences in different parts of the world is to gain unique knowledge, techniques and insights, and take that information to other parts of the world that can benefit from it. The other way to spread this midwifery knowledge from around the world is to bring it to the US at the conferences Midwifery Today presents here.

Penny Simkin teaching in China

I’ve seen that each culture that has not been taken over by interventive, mainstream medical birth culture has a lot to offer the rest of the world in terms of midwifery knowledge. When the Western medical model subsumes the practice of midwifery, we have to look to the old midwives in the culture to find the pearls of practice. This is not to say that we accept all of their ideas without discernment. There are, of course, many myths woven through the pearls of wisdom.

Sharing more rebozo techniques in Costa Rica

There are also the rich places where knowledge springs from the practitioners—either recent or newly incorporated into birth work. Some examples of this are cranial sacral therapy, massage therapy and homeopathy, which is older but still within that parameter. So much has recently been learned about the abilities of unborn and newborn babies that we can also study in depth.

Mayan midwives sharing techniques in Costa Rica

One of the richest places I have found in midwifery, herbal and healing knowledge is Mexico. It is unique in the world with the use of the rebozo in prenatal, birth and postpartum care. The “shawl” (see photo) is used to help women get pregnant, get babies ideally positioned, relax mom, move stalled labor along, “close the bones” postpartum and dozens of other specific uses. These midwives use many other massages in birth care. They also use the steam bath after birth and what looks like Chinese Medicine. Midwives from Mexico have taught this at many of our 50 conferences, thus midwives from other countries learn to use it. My friend Marta in Denmark used and taught it there and it has come into fairly regular practice among many midwives there. You see Naolí teaching it in China in the photo. She also taught it in Japan, Jamaica, Europe and the Bahamas and will teach it again in Denmark May 13–17, 2009. This cross-fertilization and respect that we learn to give each other gives so much hope to midwifery. Many different knowledge systems exist and we can learn so much from each other; if we just open our minds and suspend our judgment we can learn and then share.

Each one teach one.

About Author: Jan Tritten

Jan Tritten is the founder, editor, and mother of Midwifery Today magazine and conferences. Her love for and study of midwifery sprang from the beautiful homebirth of her second daughter—after a disappointing, medicalized first birth in the hospital. After giving birth at home, she kept studying birth books because, “she thought there was something more here.” She became a homebirth midwife in 1977 and continued helping moms who wanted a better birth experience. Jan started Midwifery Today in 1986 to spread the good word about midwifery care, using her experience to guide editorial and conferences. Her mission is to make loving midwifery care the norm for birthing women and their babies in the United States and around the world. Meet Jan at our conferences around the world!

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