The wound is the place where the Light enters you. ― Rumi
Recently, I received news that an Ashville, NC ‘midwife’ was arrested for attending the birth of a still born. She is being charged for murder and tried for life in prison. This news hit home, and my heart exploded in grief. Once again I am reminded that the path of midwifery is an intensely courageous path; one that is laden with many obstacles to overcome. I am reminded that ‘safety’ is always an illusion and those that choose Midwifery, have to put faith into something beyond ‘safety’.
What I really want address is how close to my heart this story lands. As someone who has walked the unconventional path of birth and midwifery since the birth of my first child thirteen years ago, I have had to face many challenging obstacles, both internally and externally. The most heartbreaking of them all was having attended a birth that ended traumatically. I have held onto this story for almost three years now, yet now is the time to start sharing all that was learned and endured during these past years.
Where do I even begin. As I write my hands tremble and my heart flutters, and my stomach wrenches in pain. I have grieved too much. In the grief I learned much. Some of the most powerful understandings that came through all of this and questions I posed of myself and the world were:
- What is responsibility and how does a ‘free birthing mama’ take responsibility without abdicating their power and pain onto the ‘caregiver’
- the need to let go of positions and ideologies.
- how ideologies are religious, and these religious viewpoints separate you from reality and the need to respond
- how ‘word’ is powerful. how charisma can influence many and how this can be powerful and dangerous at the same time
- how humiliation and public silent shunning is as painful as public prosecution and jail
- how care givers are expected to be perfect and there is little room for mistakes
- how fear of death motivates every choice in our society – even if this means performing ‘crimes against wisdom’
- how loss of identity is painful and liberating at the same time
- how ideology becomes an identity that binds
- how the path of the ‘healer’ ‘midwife’ or ‘doctor’ is a difficult, challenging, courageous, bold path in which many expect perfection
- how the unconventional pioneering path is often done in isolation, and isolation is terrifying when you need a true community to hold you during a deeply traumatizing event
- why protocols exist and how they are used to protect
- why there are governing bodies to stand in between those suffering from loss and those who are seen as the perpetrators of the loss
- how healing is an internal experience and is not dependent on anyone outside of the self to make ‘healing’ happen
- the importance of trusting intuition and red flags and regardless of fears, to speak to them immediatly
- the need for real apprenticeships
- the need to challenge everything you have ever been taught, until you come to your own Truths
- That there never is one way, there are many ways, and there is room for all ways
- how quick we are as a culture of people to want to place blame on the: medical community, the doctors, the midwives, the doulas, the ‘care givers’
- how we are need of true restorative justice, conflict resolution and a system that works outside of the punitive so called justice system
- how dedicating twelve years of my life, heart and soul, to something that I believed was so important and necessary to change the way women experience birth was not actually worth: losing my marriage, losing myself, losing my connection with my children, and risking prosecution and jail for maybe 5000$ total during all those years!
- How when you work outside of a ‘system’ that has checks and balances and a governing body, you are left without any guarding parameters or protecting services.
- how the new age spiritual, love and light, mindset is filled with contradiction, wounds, dissociative tendencies and narcissistic expectations which at times, makes for a very distrusting environment to work within; need alone heal within
- how it is impossible to come to terms with the magnitude of such an experience, without the outside support of: counseling, psychologists, mediators, and legal support
- how to this day, I am still at a loss, in regards to how to best navigate this treacherous terrain. Is it valid for the ‘caregiver’ to share their story without being defensive or slandering of the choices that were made?
I was naive in my younger years, attending births because women wanted someone to support their radical choices. I trusted in these women, I trusted that they were truly taking responsibility and accountability for their choices. They were educated. They had access to healthy food. They were connecting to their babies within their womb. They believed in the power of the birth and the rite of passage, and they wanted someone to love them and witness them during this process. This is exactly what I offered and did.
I was passionate about birth as a powerful peak experience during a woman’s life. I was angry that much information about birth was withheld from me during my upbringing. That all I knew was the medical paradigm, and that few women had access to something ‘different’. The more I read (almost every book on pregnancy and birth and politics) the more passionate I became. The more I understood physiology and the female birthing body, the more determined I was to inform the public of our lack of true information. And the more I informed, the inspired women became.
These women (and men supporting them) made choices that often challenged their caregiver; whether doctor or midwife. Soon, I was seen as someone who was ‘feeding women dangerous information’. Yet, this dangerous information was backed by current science and was logical. There was nothing dangerous about the information. What was and is ‘dangerous’ is that few women can access care that supports the paradigm of ‘physiological instinctive birth’.
Voila, the ‘FreeBirth’ paradigm was born out of a backlash movement against modern midwifery and obstetrics. Women wanted something different. They wanted to feel powerful, empowered, and in charge of their decisions. They wanted to know that they were going to be respected. They wanted to know that no one would touch them without their consent. They wanted to know that whom ever attended their birth, was attending in trust and love. These women wanted to give birth uninterrupted, with their hormones intact, and receive their newborn without the interruption of outsiders intervening due to protocol.
What these women wanted (and i was one of them) was to ‘seen’, valued, respected, and honored for her courageous and powerful work in giving birth. They wanted the ‘birth room’ to be treated like a sanctuary, something holy. They saw that birth was an extension of love making, and that, they needed the same private intimate space to unleash the powers of giving birth.
I was sought out as someone who supported and trusted in this paradigm of birth. I was regarded as an ‘expert’ in the realms of ‘undisturbed birth’. I knew this paradigm and I was graced with many opportunities to witness the power of ‘leaving birth alone’. I knew and understood natural instinctive labor and birth.
The constant challenge I was faced with was blending the two different paradigms. The mainstream midwifery with this undisturbed ‘radical’ paradigm. I wanted them blended because I saw a need to understand and include everything.
I began my training to embrace modern mainstream midwifery. I wanted to be able to bridge both worlds. Soon I realized that this was going to be a very hard path. My years of study would not be validated nor my apprenticeships; need alone all the births that I had attended as a ‘friend’. I had to make a choice, and that was to either return to university (yet again) to become registered or continue to deepen my path in this other paradigm and believe that I will be ‘protected’ along the way.
No doubt about it, when you choose a more radical path, there is always a looming fear of prosecution. Even if you believe that you are strong enough to handle it or that it would be worth it, because you knew you stood your truth; in the end, it is never worth it because in the end, no one really cares (not in the way you imagined they would). Again I reiterate, this is a hard lonely path.
Without getting into the details of my story-the story about having been asked to attend the labor and birth of a young woman who wanted to have an ‘undisturbed free-birth’ which ended in a traumatic loss for all those involved-I will say this, I have learned a great deal and faced a great deal. We make choices. Every choice is a powerful choice, regardless of even being aware of the fact that you are making choices.
Choosing to birth unassisted or Free-Birth is a privileged choice. Accessing ‘care’ that supports this choice, is again a privilege and an honor. The amount of responsibility, accountability, intelligence, health, and internal power that a woman must have in order to make such a choice is huge. This is not a choice to be taken lightly, nor is a choice to flaunt or brag about-as if you are somehow better than another woman who is not ready to make such a choice.
I am still angry about much, indeed. I also trust in birth more than anything, and I know this to be true because in my grief, as everything around me crumbled, I questioned everything. I came through understanding so much more than I could ever imagine, with room for everything and everyone.
The undisturbed birthing paradigm (aka Free-Birth) is NOT to be taken lightly. It is not something you ‘do’ because you are a rebel or afraid of the hospitals. You face those fears head on, and figure out why you are afraid and what you need to do about it. You seek counseling. The undisturbed paradigm is about:
- Absolute responsibility for all your choices and outcomes
- Dedication to a path of self knowledge, growth, inquiry, and challenge
- Commitment to health and well being
- Commitment to healing by facing your inner turmoil and demons, and seeking outside support when needed
- Dropping all positions and accessing external care when needed
- Understanding your body so intimately that you can ‘feel’ and ‘know’ when something doesn’t feel right
- Authentic communication and collaboration
- Understanding the magnitude of choosing to ‘take charge of your birth’
- Preparing for all possible outcomes
- Recognizing the privilege of hiring someone to support you in your choices
- That you and your partner are the ones who make the decisions, this is huge power and responsibility. Again, a privilege to find someone who will support you in this way
There absolutely needs to be room for all paradigms of birth. Women need to be able to access the kind of caregiver that supports their needs and choices. Each choice is valid. Whether birthing at the hospital with doctors, at home with registered midwives, or witnessed by ‘friends of free-birth’. It is okay if a woman still fears birth and needs a medically supported birth. It is also okay if a women wants the ‘midwife’ to be in charge so that she can relax into her home birth.
Furthermore, it is okay if a woman wants to take charge of her birth and environment, and be the one who makes the choices. It is just incredibly crucial that both the mother (and family) and the caregiver, understand the differences and the responsibility of each. The caregiver is responsible to make this known and the parents are responsible to be aware of what their needs and comforts are. This is collaboration.
Clearly, there is much more that can and will be said about all that was written here. This is just the beginning, of a very deep message from the heart. I hope to continue to grow more, in courage, to keep on sharing. At this time, I am no longer attending births. My fire for birth work will still be alive within my heart and soul. However, my path is calling me another direction.
Upon closing, I want to bring my attention back to this midwife who is being prosecuted at this time. My deep condolences goes out to her and the family. I don’t need to know her story to decide who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong’. It is never this simple. Each will endure much pain and suffering through this process, this is inevitable. For one, the loss of the unborn child. For the other, the public scrutiny (and possible mental turmoil) associated with her choices and path of midwifery. Each will be in grief. In the grief, I pray that each will be given the hearts truth. And the heart, is truly one of compassion and deep understanding.It is here that forgiveness and acceptance happen.