As I set out driving Friday night to hear Ina May Gaskin – called “the mother of authentic midwifery” by Midwifery Today – speak, I was filled with nervous excitement. When I was about 10 minutes out from the church in Lafayette where the event was taking place, a friend of mine called me to say she was saving some seats for me and other friends of ours and she was able to get pretty close to the front. I felt like a teenager going to a rock concert. Third row seats! We got third row seats to see Ina May! 🙂
As I pulled into the parking lot, I saw moms with their children in baby slings or carriers, groups of women without children, as well as some couples all making their way towards the entrance. I pulled in a spot, got Julian from the backseat and into the Ergo carrier when I overheard a woman a few cars down from me say, “I’m so glad I remembered to bring my book for her to sign.” D’oh! I never even thought to bring my copy of “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.” Some groupie I am, eh?
With only five minutes to spare before the talk was supposed to begin, Julian and I hightailed it into the building, quickly saying hello as we passed a couple of women I know from our AP group on the way. I couldn’t wait to get inside.
We made our way to the front of the registration line and we were greeted by my midwife K with a big hug. I wanted to stay and chat with her, but there wasn’t time and she had a lot more participants to check in, so we agreed to try to meet up after Ina May’s talk to chat. My excitement and anticipation grew.
Once inside the church, I spotted my friends waving me down in, yes, the third(!) row, right in front of the podium. I may have skipped a little as I made my way towards them and settled down in my seat with Julian.
We chatted for a good 10 to 15 minutes before Karen Robinson, the president of the Colorado Midwives Association (CMA), came out to welcome everyone to the event, speak a bit about the CMA, and then, the moment we were all waiting for, introduce Ina May Gaskin.
The applause began immediately and Ina May walked in to a standing ovation.
She began her talk with a bit of history both about herself and about the history of birth and obstetrics in the United States. While I have read and heard before about how women used to be treated in hospitals (drugged to the point of being unconscious while their babies were extracted from their bodies using forceps, etc.), it gives me the heebie-jeebies every time. She told us how her first birth was in a hospital, where, despite her belief that she could’ve given birth naturally and without pain medication, she was drugged and her baby was taken out using forceps.
She spoke about the path that lead her to become a midwife, as she began attending births while traveling across the country (on hippie buses) with hundreds of others who were following Stephen Gaskin on a five-month-long speaking tour across the United States. 11 babies were born on the buses during the Caravan. She has attended more than 1200 births to date.
She talked about Sphincter Law which is described in detail in her book “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.”
“The Sphincter Law recognizes the cervix as a sphincter along with the other excretory sphincters. These sphincters function best, Gaskin points out, in an atmosphere of privacy and familiarity.” —Midwifery: the Revival an Old Profession
So it is difficult for a woman to give birth in a hospital with nurses and doctors shouting “PUSH!” or making threats of “you’d better get that baby out soon or you’ll have a c-section” etc. Just as it would not be easy for any of us to shit (yes, she said shit! and ass too for that matter) on command. If you are sitting on the toilet, trying to take a crap and someone walks in on you – what happens? You stop crapping until you feel safe and no longer vulnerable. Same thing can also happen with birthing a baby.
She also talked about the mind/body connection, though I don’t know if she used that term. She described how she has witnessed a woman get stuck at 7 cm (or whatever) for hours on end with no apparent physical reason, only to later discover that this women’s mother died in childbirth, so this woman was afraid she would die too. Once the “secret” was out, however, the woman was able to dilate to completion and have her baby. She ran into something similar in another situation as well. But (and this is my own rambling here) had something like that happened in a hospital, how many doctors would stop to wonder what could be causing this woman’s labor to stall or would they threaten the woman that if she didn’t dilate by such and such time, she would need a c-section? Yes, I believe things need to change in the obstetrical world.
She talked a little bit about Ricki Lake’s new movie, “The Business of Being Born,” as she is interviewed in it. She mentioned that it received a standing ovation at the Tribeca Film Festival and that Ricki had recently been interviewed about it on “The View.” Someone asked how can we see the film and she recommended we start calling our local movie theaters to ask them when they will be getting it. Let them know there’s a demand for it.
At the end of her talk, she took questions from the audience. Questions were asked about VBACs (vaginal birth after cesarean), breastfeeding, circumcision, vaccinations and breech births. I don’t recall all that was said since we were going on two hours of Julian being a happy camper in my lap and he was starting to get squirmy.
I know she said that she believes breastfeeding should continue as long as it’s mutually satisfying to both the child AND the mother. If mom isn’t enjoying the breastfeeding relationship anymore, she doesn’t believe in continuing to nurse out of guilt. She is currently in the process of writing a book about breastfeeding.
She doesn’t believe in routine circumcision, but has seen many circumcised boys in her years as a midwife, and even acted as a mohel for a while.
I didn’t get to hear a lot of what she said about vaccinations, since it was about that time that I decided Julian and I needed to move from our third(!) row seat and stand in the back, where I could sway with him and keep him contented. I recall her saying that she felt some vaccinations were OK, but she believes in starting them later than the recommended age. And that there were others (like chicken pox) that she wouldn’t recommend.
After I had Julian tucked back into the Ergo and we were swaying at the back of the room, someone asked a question about her thoughts on breech births (i.e. should they be automatic c-sections?). This, as some of you who have read Julian’s birth story* know, is a topic very dear and close to my heart. If you have a breech baby in a hospital with an OB, you are pretty much guaranteed a c-section. Of course midwives still perform vaginal breech births and believe that a woman should be able to choose to have a vaginal birth. Ina May helps educate midwives in her conferences (and through her videos) on the knowledge and skills required to successfully assist women having breech babies. In fact, one of the sessions from the following day’s midwifery conference was focusing on breech and twin births. “Vaginal birth of breech and twins has become a rarity for more and more OBs. Therefore the skills needed to assist in these types of vaginal births have begun to disappear and women are losing their right to choose a vaginal birth with twins or a breech.”
After that question was answered, Ina May wrapped up her talk and gracefully exited the room as everyone applauded with much gratitude.
Many people milled about for a while chatting with each other, meeting with Ina May or Debby Takikawa (the director of the movie “What Babies Want” narrated by Noah Wyle who was presenting at the midwifery conference held that day – by the way, it’s a great movie and you should definitely see it if you ever get the chance), etc. after the talk concluded. Yours truly was among them. I chatted with some friends for a while before realizing that Ina May was still around and signing autographs. I wished that I had my book with me, but since I didn’t, I asked her to sign a brochure from my midwife’s practice. She did.
Ina May Gaskin”
I talked to her briefly and told her a little bit about Julian’s birth, as he slept away in the Ergo. It was pretty darn cool to talk to her face to face. I knew she had had a busy day and another one ahead of her the next day (and still more autographs to sign), so I didn’t want to keep her for long. I thanked her and headed back over to my friends. We reminisced about how we used to get all excited about going to concerts or getting autographs from celebrities, etc., and there we were elated to hear a midwife talk and get her autograph. 😉 Times have certainly changed.
I must add that I also wished I had taken my camera with me, when I later saw Ina May pose for pictures with a few women. I guess I now know what to bring along with me to my next midwifery
rock concert event. 😉
It was a wonderful evening and a great privilege to meet Ina May, a woman who has done so much to further the midwifery cause and offer women a choice, a very safe choice, when it comes to birth.
I’m sure I forgot something from the evening and if anyone who was there wants to chime in in the comments with anything I overlooked, please do so. It really would’ve been nice to take notes, but there’s no way I could’ve kept the pen and paper out of Julian’s mouth. 😉
Salon.com has a great article about Ina May called, The Midwife of Modern Midwifery from a series called “Brilliant Careers” in the June 1, 1999 edition for those of you who’d like to learn more about this amazing woman.
*If you haven’t read Julian’s birth story and would like to, please e-mail me. It’s not currently on my blog.