One Birth, One Woman at a Time

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 65, Spring 2003.
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Do you ever have this haunting thought: “Why am I working so hard for change and to improve conditions for motherbaby when things keep getting worse?” When I look at birth around the world I realize that the changing of medicalized, technological and interfered-with birth is the most important plan we can make. We think of the motherbaby—their experience, their lives and their physical, emotional and spiritual health—and we go on. We reflect on the lovely families we have served and we go on. A spiritual stirring deep in our soul moves us on. We have been given a special love for what we do. We are like the little girl who saw thousands of starfish washed up on the sand and started throwing them into the sea, one by one. Someone said, “You can’t make a difference for all these dying starfish. There are so many and you are so small.” She picked up another, threw it in the ocean and said, “But I can make a difference for this one.” We are that little girl. We are making a difference for this family, one birth and one woman at a time. In the face of these frustrations, we fight for mothers and their babies.

I know things can be rough for us as midwives, childbirth educators, doulas and activists, but we must change things. We are the only ones who know about instinctive birth and authentic, women-centered midwifery. Our charge now is to make the changes we know are necessary. Let’s get our allies together, make plans and carry those out. Someone in the profession with the title “midwife” may or may not be an ally. The title “doctor” does not automatically eliminate those from the ally category either.

Most importantly, look at yourself. Take account of what you do well. Which of your attributes and strengths can you enlist for this most important struggle? How much time can you carve out of your already busy life? If you only have one hour per month besides your practice, it is still needed.

There are little things we can do each day, just by being who we are. Wear a shirt or earrings—or carry a bag—with a birth saying or image on it that leads to dialog about midwifery or birth. Start conversations in which you can teach informally. Let women know they are beautifully designed for birth and what a miracle it is. Help quell their fears and get them thinking. We are like birth ambassadors wherever we are: in line at the supermarket, waiting at the airport or in schools. It is our calling to help our society, especially women, understand birth and its far-reaching consequences. When I was gathering my thoughts for this editorial, I saw a bumper sticker with the message, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” How appropriate for us.

Whenever you are asked what you do, claim “midwife” as part of your identity in all situations. Those who have gone before you have helped this country know that midwives exist. When I used to say, “I am a midwife,” people would say, “A mid- what? I thought they disappeared.” We must normalize the concept of who we are and what we do as a forerunner to normalizing birth.

For these impromptu situations, keep in mind important sound bites of information for quick, but life-changing conversations. Know well the most important concepts to help women when you have only two, five or 10 minutes with someone. I know each of you have had conversations when you go away knowing you have made a difference. You help people, especially women, break the life-damaging myths that are particularly rampant now.

There are many things you can do besides use your identity as a seed to be planted. Have an empowering bumper sticker on your car. Teach in the schools, present at meetings, adopt a doctor, congressmember or nurse, write articles. We love to publish your knowledge and insights for everyone’s improved learning. Encourage the next generation by leading a study group. Your knowledge is important to share with both pregnant women and the upcoming generation of midwives. I think of how Marion Toepke McLean mentored so many of us. I am sure you have your mentors, too. They are an important part of our tradition. Be a mentor. Always fight the competitive spirit within you, and fight instead to make midwifery the norm throughout the world.

Look at the structure of your birth community and make plans for spreading the word within it. Put flyers in the library and birth bookmarks in library books. Canvas your community with ideas and work with others. Pick up the awe and miracle of instinctive birth. Let others feel this through your heart and see it through your eyes. Revel in the glory of a baby flowing in health and happiness out of the mother’s body and into her waiting arms. Bask in a new life coming to the planet in love and in a woman’s own time, held joyfully, without disturbance, chatter or other more severe intervention. Let others see and feel the miracle—the deep spirituality—through your soul.

One birth at a time, you rescue the starfish. Making change in our society is going to take the loving, concerted, planned effort of all of us. The boat is sinking; nothing else will save it. We need you as one of the few on the planet who have received birth wisdom to use it as the important gift God has given you. The gift is given to be passed on.

Start changing the world … one birth, one woman at a time.

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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