Midwives of the Revolution

Explorations, analysis, and reflections on women's health, midwifery, and politics from a feminist, marxist lens


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Abortion should be available on demand, without restrictions, for everyone who needs it. I believe that while society still places limits on what a woman may or may not do with her own body, while women’s sexuality and reproduction are still in effect controlled by the state, any discussion of equality or empowerment is a joke. – Laurie Penny

Sums it up.

http://towardfreedom.com/51-global-news-and-analysis/global-news-and-analysis/3542-abortion-should-be-free-safe-and-legal-for-everyone 


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Calling on the Saints

I am an atheist. I’m not a person of faith, though I was raised Christian. Despite my parents’ best efforts and wonderful role modeling of spiritual life, god doesn’t make sense to me conceptually or as a foundation for my world view. I have dabbled in Buddhism and attended a Unitarian Universalist congregation, I practice yoga, and there’s some Pagan stuff that speaks to me, but the only philosophy that I have been able to commit to is revolutionary marxism. A smidgen of woo-woo and commitment to personal growth is as spiritual as I think I’m gonna get.

I remain a bit of a black sheep in much of my family for not being part of any church, though I know they love me unconditionally (and pray for me often). My mother, a mystic secular Franciscan who converted to Catholicism when I was in high school, has never given up on me returning to theism. She is quite subtle in her attempts to spark faith back in my scientific mind and heart. She is not an evangelist in any sense, but she knows and works with my soft spots, like the work of Anne Lamott — she gave me that author’s most recent book for Christmas last year (haven’t read it yet).

My mother’s most successful breakthrough in getting me to open up spiritually came when she and my step-father took a trip to Ireland, where my mother discovered this beautiful cross on people’s thresholds and in some of the local shops and churches. They had been to Ireland a few times before, but she had never noticed it before. She asked around about the meaning of the cross and came to find out that it was St. Bridget’s cross.

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St. Bridget’s Cross, traditionally woven

Bridget, whose feast day is my birthday. Bridget, who is a patron saint of midwives, healers, brewers, and poets. Bridget, who by one account, may have brought the miracle of abortion to a woman in need. Bridget, who is recognized by Celtic paganism as goddess of fertility and earthly fire.

When they came back from the trip, I met my mother for lunch. I was having a hard time — I had failed to pass the certification exam for nurse midwives and was feeling a little lost, doubting myself and fearful of not being able to continue to pursue my dreams. My mother was beaming as she slid this small tissue-wrapped gift across the table to me, and as she told me about Bridget while I opened the package. It was perfect.

I have come to adopt a bit of reverence for and connection to saint/goddess Bridget. I may not believe in god, but I do find it useful and calming to call upon the “spirit” of Bridget and to work to embody her legacy when I am struggling. I keep the cross my mother gave me on my desk at work, and I wear her cross on a necklace some days. I may even get a Bridget tattoo one day. It’s not magic, but I began calling upon Bridget as I prepared again to tackle my midwifery board exams, and I continue to do so to help myself get grounded. I have adopted (and adapted ever so slightly) this traditional prayer and find myself reciting it as my mantra when I find myself stressed, worried, or needing to find strength. I’m glad Bridget’s got my back.

Brigid.
You were a woman of peace.
You brought harmony where there was conflict.
You brought light to the darkness.
You brought hope to the downcast.
May the mantle of your peace cover those who are troubled and anxious,

and may peace be firmly rooted in our hearts and in our world.
Inspire us to act justly and to reverence all God has made.
Brigid you were a voice for the wounded and the weary.
Strengthen what is weak within us.
Calm us into a quietness that heals and listens.
May we grow each day into greater wholeness in mind, body and spirit.


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Happy Mother’s Day!

Happiest of Mother’s Day to all you mamas out there. When judging mothers is something of an American pass-time, I hope you can enjoy this day and be celebrated!

***

Throughout the history of the women’s movement, there are been elements that have used an appeal to womanhood, to motherhood, to build movements for peace and justice. I’m not one to celebrate essentialist notions of gender, or to presume there is anything innate to women that should make us more peace-loving than other genders. But my political stance on that withstanding, I do want to take a minute to share some history from that side of the feminist movement — the radical anti-war mamas who started the tradition that is now known as Mother’s Day. 

Here’s a poem that serves as a rallying cry to mothers to oppose the Franco-Prussian war:

A Mother’s Day Proclamation
Julia Ward Howe, 1870

Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
“We will not have questions answ
ered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God –
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at so
meplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Here’s a great post outlining the story: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/11/the-radical-history-of-mother-s-day.html 

***

And on a lighter note, I’m looking forward to spending today with my Mother, who is ever my hero and my inspiration. I hope you, dear reader, have a restorative and beautiful day. 


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“Cool, you’re a midwife! So does that mean that you, like go to people’s houses?” Or: What Is a Nurse-Midwife Anyway?

The number one most frequently asked question of midwives in casual conversation or upon doing the whole “what do you do for a living” thing has to be about home birth. This piece is to set the record straight for the less informed readers and friends out there who may have some interesting ideas about what modern midwifery is about. 

International Day of the Midwife is around the corner (May 5), so in preparation, I invite you to learn about midwifery so come the 5th, you can show off your knowledge and love for women and midwives!

1. The vast majority of midwives who attend birth do so in hospital or out of hospital birth centers.

According to the American College of Nurse Midwives, a 2012 survey showed that only 2.5% of all certified midwife or certified nurse-midwives (CNMs) attended births in the home. Home births comprise a tiny minority of all deliveries — according to the CDC, only 1.36% of all births were not in a hospital setting, and that includes birth centers. 

Now…if you ask me, there are probably loads of people who would do well in out of hospital or even home birth. And I would *love* to attend home births one day when I’m more experienced. But nurse midwives would be in real trouble if we only attended home births, since these are such a small number of the births overall. Now, we capture 10% of the deliveries, which is great and probably will only increase. 

Anyway! Most of us are employed by hospitals or physician practices, and you are likely to find us as an option for prenatal care or delivery if you look. We are often listed as “under” a physician — for instance, if you were to look under your medical insurance for a provider, you might not find us independently listed, but we might be in the office as well. 

Imagemidwifery today is not like this.

 

 

2. Home birth…

Studies have shown that for low-risk healthy women, home birth is as safe as hospital birth. We are not nearly as healthy as a society as we should be, so many women risk out of home birth. But as a feminist, I believe that women’s bodies are capable of normal birth (that’s how we survived as a species) and support the appropriate use of technologies that can help lower risk (like fetal monitoring or c-section when medically indicated). 

But for now, most women have their babies in the hospital, and that has its own risks in this country. But that is where you will find most of us midwives.

3. Labor

Unlike nurses working as RNs, most nurse midwives are not in a good position for collective bargaining. Once you get to the “professional” or health care provider level, you are likely to be in a position to negotiate personally for your working conditions, wages, and benefits. Many midwives do work for themselves in private practice in a physician office or doing home birth, but the question most people ask when they find out I’m a midwife is if I have to drum up my own clientele and run my own business. And the answer is no, that’s why I work for a clinic and not as a homebirth midwife. And even though I’m not in a position for collective bargaining, at least I have coworkers, someone to do billing for me, malpractice insurance, and an office I don’t pay rent on. 

4. One Day

I want to have hundreds of births under my belt before I venture out to be a homebirth midwife. There is so much to see, so many different experiences, good and bad, that I feel I need to be prepared to attend births in patients’ homes. Unfortunately, in this country, we’re not set up to get experience this way unless we want to have our own practice/small business. 

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I love this piece. Can someone please buy this for my office?

5. In the Meantime

What do midwives do? Of course, we attend births. We take care of (usually healthy, low risk) pregnant, postpartum, and lactating mamas. But what most people don’t realize is that we take care of women across the lifespan. Yes, most of us focus on gyne issues — family planning, sexually transmitted infections, menstrual or other reproductive system issues, menopause management, cervical and breast cancer screening and prevention. Others may train to do more advanced stuff like primary care management of chronic health conditions or do more complicated procedures like colposcopy or dilation and curettage or even surgical assistance for c-section surgeries. Much like other advanced practice nurses like our nurse practitioner or physician assistant colleagues, nurse midwives manage many of the same patients our physician colleagues may also attend to. We may consult or co-manage care with physicians for more high risk stuff (diabetes or high blood pressure in pregnancy, or preterm labor), or refer to physicians for surgical care like tubal ligation, fibroid removal, or cesarean section. 

6. Science and Stuff: Or, How We Practice

For historical reasons, “midwife” does conjure up the lay healer, and that experience or association is often degraded, even among midwives. Traditionally, the lay midwife’s science was her knowledge of her own experience and that of her mentors. She learned about the wisdom of the body from attending to women’s reproductive needs from contraception to abortion to birth and postpartum care. The advent of modern medicine and the revolution in obstetric care has in many ways contributed to loss of critical knowledge about normal lifecycle events. Though midwifery wanted during that revolution, it is back and stronger than it has been in decades.

Midwife means: “with woman.” We are present with the woman (or female bodied or female identified person) for everything. Midwifery means respecting the body and helping the body and mind be healthy. Midwifery draws on traditional knowledge of women’s bodies, and modern nurse midwifery is demands evidence based practice to wed experience with science.

Midwives, like providers in any care field, practice with a wide variety of styles. Wherever we practice, whatever our style, being a midwife is not about where we deliver care to women or their babies — the hospital, public health clinic, private practice, home — but about bringing our knowledge about and respect for women’s experiences and choices. Wherever we are, whatever our job title, we should be found working with women to achieve general, reproductive, and sexual wellness goals.

No, I don’t do homebirth (yet). Most of my day is not that glamorous…I’m usually in the office assessing women’s health needs and trying to help them manage issues like unplanned pregnancy, menstrual disorders, STIs, sad vaginas (see earlier post), alcoholism and smoking too much weed, parenting while father of the baby or boyfriend is incarcerated, depression, overweight and obesity, family planning goals, and pregnancy. Promoting breastfeeding, teaching about the menstrual cycle, and most of all, trying to get women to understand and love their own vaginas–and yes, the smell that comes with it!

And sex. Mostly, my day is spent talking about sex. That’s why midwifery is awesome.