Saturday, January 23, 2016

Midwife Sisters

      "A midwife must have a deep love for other women.  She knows that all women, including herself, are sometimes as elemental as the weather and the tides, and that they need each other’s help and understanding.  The true sisterhood of all women is not an abstract idea to her.”
                                                                                -Ina May Gaskin,
                                                                                Spiritual Midwifery, 3rd addition

             :The true sisterhood of all women" is a concept that resonated deeply with me when I first read Spiritual Midwifery, twenty four years ago.  I was single and living in NYC, far from my California home.  My sisters/girlfriends were my family.   And they still are.  Over my twenty years involved in midwifery, I have seen that sisterhood is indeed a core value of the profession.  This sisterhood is one essential piece that I love about being a midwife.  Midwives train each other, help each other, advise each other, and just plain love on each other.  Because there are just some things that only a sister midwife can understand.   There is an unspoken code among midwives, that if a sister midwife asks for help, you must do your best to help her. We treat each other the same way we treat our mothers and babies;  with respect and integrity.

    I just want to take a moment to tell about midwives who have been instrumental  along my journey.  The story of my career is interwoven with powerful midwife sisters.  When I was a student midwife at Yale School of Nursing, I trained in a midwife-run labor unit at North Central Bronx Hospital.  My preceptor, Lynn Chapman Stern CNM, was a feisty, snarky, tall blonde who had previously travelled the world by motorcycle.  Lynn made working twelve hour night shifts where I would deliver up to four babies a shift, fun.  Her clear words of advice for gently delivering the head, shoulders, body of each baby, whispered in my head for years after our time together.

        When I wanted to study home birth, Rondi Anderson CNM let me come catch all the Amish babies in her rural Pennsylvania practice for a summer.  She attended nine Amish home births a month, so in a summer I got to catch 25 babies.  She arranged for me to live on a farm with an Amish family. Hippie artsy Yale student living with kind, simple Amish family - I treasure the memories.  I would drive through the cornfields to get to births, passing folks on horse-and-buggy, with Beastie Boys blasting on my car stereo.  And of course, being a part of twenty five peaceful, uncomplicated Amish births planted the seed of Trusting Birth indelibly into my being. 

   When my family moved to Chico twelve years ago, I met the only home birth midwife working here at the time - Diane Lawrence.  Paula Emigh,  the midwife of Birthdance Midwifery, was her apprentice.  Diane welcomed me to the community with open arms.  She showed me her office and even gave me the complete inventory of her supply closet so I would know what to order for mine.  My friend Cynthia Banks CNM sent me all the paperwork from her home birth practice in San Franscisco, to model mine after.  Paula and I both began attending home births on our own here around the same time.There has never been a sense of competition between us, but there has always been backup and support.  The one time in ten years that two of my clients gave birth at once, Paula came and saved the day.

     A couple years into my practice, a young student midwife landed on my doorstep with tears in her eyes.  Jessica Mairs LM had relocated her family to Grass Valley for an apprenticeship that  immediately fell through.  Although I was unsure that I was ready, I became a preceptor for her school and trained her for the next two years.  Now she has a thriving practice in Grass Valley, Sierra Homebirth.  When I hear about Jessica, the awesome midwife, I can't help but feel a little rush of pride.  A couple years ago Katarra Shaw LM joined the Chico scene with a third home birth practice.  She and I have shown up to assist at births for each other when needed.  And here we all are together, celebrating a wedding last year. 

The Midwives of Chico - aren't we something...?

   Paula, Katarra, and I have been working together with the Chico Birth Network. Our mission has been to create better communication and collaboration with Enloe Hospital.  We have made great strides in the last two years of meetings, building bridges to benefit the families of Chico when transfer of care from home to hospital is needed.  We also meet every couple months along with our assistants and students, to peer review complicated and unusual cases.  We tell the stories, listen, learn, and advise each other.  And  feast on the most deluxe potluck brunches ever. 
Finally ,Yelena Kolodgi CNM and Kavita Noble CNM , Bay Area home birth midwives have given me hours of support and invaluable advice as I have nagivated my bureaucratic proceedings with the Board of Nursing. The above link directs you to Stand By Your Midwives for more info on legal issues faced by California home birth CNMs.  My beloved friend from nursing school Sarah Shealy CNM flew up from LA for the day on her birthday to attend a Nursing Board meeting and speak up for home birth CNMs.    

These wonderful women, along with my assistants over the years, Serra Wells and Amber Eandi, show me again and again, that this term "sistering" that is buzzing around the web is no joke.  I will even take it further.  Here's what i think:   Women are the weavers of the cosmic web that actually holds the world together. 

Here's to you, ladies.