The Work of Midwives
My filmmaking partner Mary Wigmore and I have spent the last two-and-a-half years making a documentary about world-famous midwife Ina May Gaskin and her colleagues at the Farm Clinic in Summertown, Tennessee. We started the project inspired by Ina May’s writing. Each of us had turned to her first book, “Spiritual Midwifery,” when we were pregnant. The joyful stories and earthy photographs had made childbirth seem not just doable, but maybe even (in some sort of way that we couldn’t quite fathom) pleasurable. We were grateful to that book—nearly forty years after it was first written it made us feel excited about being pregnant, and, even more importantly, it gave us courage.
Experienced midwives have that effect in person too, as we have found in the course of making our film. They draw upon their rigorous study, careful observation of labor, medical skills, emotional intelligence and sharp intuition to create environments where women feel safe—and when a laboring mother feels safe, she is very often able to birth her baby without a lot of intervention. The more we have gotten to know The Farm Midwives, and the midwives in our community and beyond, the more we have come to understand them as artisans of a sort. It may seem strange to compare their work to that of woodworkers, weavers, bakers, or farmers at small organic farms--the stakes are clearly higher--but still, as sociologist Barbara Katz Rothman points out, they all share things in common. Midwives, like the others, carry forward the insistence that time is more valuable than money, that patience and serious craft produce the richest results, and that knowledge is inseparable from the body. They work with their hands, hearts, and minds to resist a mechanized, one-size-fits-all approach to their practice. And midwives, like other artisans, are grounded in what’s local: this woman, in this moment, with this baby; it’s a mindful approach that we all deserve, no matter where, or with whom, we decide to give birth.
Not all midwives are the same of course, but we have met enough of them to say that many take up their work in this spirit. We are grateful to Ina May and the other Farm Midwives for introducing us to their world, and to midwives everywhere for the work that they do. May we honor them during Women’s Health Week!