I am feeling a bit nostalgic today because tonight is the beginning of the Fourth Annual WILD Festival. Four years ago, I was a brand new birth advocate. I had just given birth to my second daughter at home with a CPM who was unlicensed in my state, and was more determined than ever to change maternity care for the better! When my second child was born, I was amazed at how my work load had suddenly doubled, but my husband’s stayed the same. WHA??? Mothers needed to be recognized for all they do for their families and communities! I envisioned a weeklong celebration for moms to come out and cut loose at night – a night of comedy, an outdoor concert and “Birth” by Karen Brody. And during the day, come together at the local YWCA to discuss issues that we all faced – getting dad more involved, balancing family and work, remembering to take care of yourself. Somehow, we pulled it off! But right in the middle of planning this fun-fest, two Certified Nurse Midwives were fired, sending our community into crisis mode. Oye.
It amazes me that while we were working to bring women together to celebrate being mothers, we ended up coming together for more upsetting reasons. This idea of bringing women together has long been a weird obsession for me. I am the oldest of four girls, and I am super close with all of three of them. But in my twenties, I was one of those women who had more guy friends as a result of being the victim of bullying by other girls in middle school. You know the story – there have been countless books written on the subject (Queen Bees and Wannabes, Odd Girl Out, Reviving Ophelia, etc.). Why was it that so many women were so nasty to each other? I longed for a sense of community with women like the one I had grown up with, the closeness I had with my sisters. So, when I met my midwife and saw that she was going out into the world on a regular basis to serve women, I was blown away. And all along, she was putting her entire family and livelihood in jeopardy as a result of having no license. Here was a shining example of women supporting women! We need more of this! So began my personal quest for more Wise Women – women who understand that we need to be coming together, not constantly tearing each other down.
Unfortunately, I also grew up a consumate good-girl-people-pleaser who was told that any emotion other than happy was unacceptable. So when I became a birth advocate, I liked the fact that I had found an acceptable way to be angry about something. Here was a system that was mistreating, some would even say abusing women. Damn right I was angry! And when the hospital/physician’s decided to ignore our request for a meeting after the CNMs were fired, we went out in the streets to let the world know that we were not going to be abused and ignored anymore. Quite suddenly, we were getting requests from all over the country to come tell our story. My outrage was being encouraged. Kind of.
On the one hand, I was being invited to speak out about the fact that midwives were being mistreated, oppressed, and so were the women. But I was also being sent a very different message from the same community – your ‘truth-telling’ is making it uncomfortable for those of us trying to keep our heads down and make a difference. I was hearing the same thing I had been told as a little girl – no one will listen to you if you’re angry. What a load of poo! How is anything going to change if we don’t point out when people are behaving badly? But no one wants to admit their behavior may be hurtful to others. It’s the same reason my kids tell me I’m mean when I point out that they cannot hit each other.
Four years later, after my first foray into public displays of outrage, I am ready to move in a different direction. At times, it feels as if all of my efforts have amounted to very little locally – the midwives in our community are behaving more outrageously toward each other than before; our local organization grew and then shrunk in numbers; we are still getting reports of women being mistreated by providers (including the midwives, yall!). But, I have made some incredible connections in other parts of the country. Places where the midwives WORK TOGETHER! Places where physicians speak highly of other providers! Places where women are able to give birth in the setting of their choice, with the provider of their choice, at their own pace. Places where the providers celebrate their differences and remember that it’s NOT ABOUT THEM. IT’S ABOUT THE WOMEN!
Holy crap! Birth is working in other parts of this country. What happens if we begin shining a huge, happy spotlight on those places?! Won’t women and providers say, “Hey. If they can do it, why can’t we?” So, I am working on a video project with the American Association of Birth Centers Foundation to grow more birth centers:
I am serving on the board of BirthNetwork National, an organization working in communities all over the country to bring professionals and consumers together to promote the Mother Friendly Childbirth Initiative. And I am working on a program aimed at teaching young girls about birth and the amazing power of their bodies.
“Where’s My Midwife?” will continue to be a resource for folks who want to learn about how to protect their access to midwives in their community. We are in the process of taking all the knowledge that we have accumulated in our efforts to increase access to midwifery care and organizing it into a tool-kit that others can use. Having this tool-kit will enable us to help more people in a more efficient way. But I am ready to focus my time and energy on growing more healthy communities. As a dear friend keeps telling me, “You can only lead the willing.”