Midwives’ Roles

Midwifery Today, Issue 141, Spring 2022.
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I remember when I first started midwifery in 1976—after my second child and first homebirth—I realized that being a midwife included so much more than prenatal care, birth, and postpartum care. We were counselors, nutritionists, life coaches (for a year, sometimes more). We were also childbirth educators and doulas (although that was not a word we knew back then). Our roles are many, diverse, and unique, depending on the mom we are working with. I had the idea that a woman should feel educated, uplifted, and cared for at the end of each prenatal visit. This involved a lot of roles for us as midwives. I always worked with a partner so the tasks were shared.

I remember one birth and prenatal course that challenged all. I will call this mom Cindy, not her real name, for privacy. During her prenatal course, she informed us that her dad had witnessed the murder of his mother by his father. I knew her mom and dad very well and, although it had happened to him as a fairly young boy, because of their togetherness as a family, they had not reveal this horror. I wondered what effect this might have on Cindy. She was having her sixth child with us, but it was her first homebirth. I felt like a counselor more than a midwife on that day. All of her other births had been in a hospital and had not been good experiences.

When Cindy went into labor, it was our fifth birth in a 24-hour period, with a full moon that night. She labored through night and niggled along. We were in her bedroom and she was having a really good time. There seemed to be no reason for the holdup, but this baby was coming way more slowly than her others. Of course, we wondered what was holding up the progress: whether it was the family trauma, fear of homebirth (it did not seem like this), or something physical. Then she said to us, “I can have this baby anytime I want to!” She was having too much fun. So, we told her, “Go ahead and have it then,” and she progressed quite rapidly from that point!

There are many other birth stories that I and each of us can tell that were totally unique. Every birth is one of a kind and homebirth accentuates that. We are in people’s homes and see so much of the context of a woman’s life. She invites us deep into her life, and it is a privilege to serve in birth care.

When I was practicing homebirth, I also had a lemonade stand at our local Saturday Market and did some fairs around our area selling lemonade. I have since given that business to my children. Anyway, the nice thing about having a business where I was available at my lemonade stand led many of our clients to come down and show me their baby/child over the years or ask questions. It made me totally available over time and I got the joy of watching these babies grow into childhood and, now, even adulthood. I still see them at the fair where my daughter sells lemonade. It expands the midwife role to being neighbor and surrogate grandmother or good friend.

Another role I should mention is that of rebel, or culture challenger. Right now, homebirth is still far from the norm and becoming more and more rare. In every country I have traveled to it is unusual, if not illegal. In the Netherlands it was once standard but has become more and more uncommon. In Fiji and Costa Rica, it has been outlawed. Of course that doesn’t mean it never happens. As I said, we are rebels!

I can’t think of any job that gives more joy and, of course, many difficulties along with that joy. Still, we are so blessed to be called to midwifery. It is the profession that takes all the love you have to give and then some more.

In my case, midwifery also led me to starting and maintaining Midwifery Today. It was in 1986 that I thought we should start a magazine for midwives. That led me to become editor, writer, conference planner, and coordinator—and many more roles. I am quite happy that this is the road I traveled. It especially gives me joy when someone lets me know they had a great birth because of Midwifery Today or that they became a midwife because of Midwifery Today.

It is so important that we have more and more midwives. We still need “a midwife for every mother!” So, we take on the role of activist and tell people about how good it is to birth with a midwife.

Toward Better Birth,

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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