I was a New York transplant and 23 years old when I started my real foray into birthwork beyond anthropological research. These were my thoughts at the time...
Today was the first of eight midwifery workshops I will attend this summer. My insides are still buzzing with the intensity of connection and potential I have been feeling since I finished the 1.5-hour bus ride to San Rafael, where I met twelve other students and one radical-wise-humble-beautiful-graceful pioneer of modern American midwifery, Elizabeth Davis. Thirteen, a perfect coven. Witchcraft isn’t too far from my thoughts, especially when discussion turns to the Inquisition and the “burning times”, and we all shake our heads in grief and disbelief at the outright genocide of millions of women healers. The knowledge lost, twisted and made evil so as to blind us, men and women alike, from our true power as humans. The shame and humiliation that spoiled our sex and has made us neurotic and ill through the ages…I am feeling the comraderie of our shared mourning. A real icebreaker.
“I was second generation,” she insists, while summarizing the return to natural childbirth that she and her contemporaries experienced, experimented with, and evolved through the late 1960s and 1970s up through today. We are all staring at her quite unabashedly, in awe of her personal history and her direct connection to the days of revolutionary reclaiming of birth. My jaw keeps falling open; it’s a miracle I don’t drool.
I was intimidated about this course. I assumed everyone would be middle-aged, having birthed a few children of their own and maybe attended some births otherwise. Luckily, I am wrong. I meet two women a year younger than me and another four or five in my generation. The others range from grandmother to nurse practitioner to mother of five, all with their own stories and reasons for being there.
How did I end up here? I try to sum up all that this journey has been, – so far – in a few sentences. My entire body is trembling with the effort not to cry. Not for sadness or even nervousness, but for sheer passion. “There is a fire within me,” says the woman to my left. Yes, I am on fire. If I don’t contain myself I will explode into a million pieces of inspired excitation. This experience is what brought me across the intercontinental railroad lines to San Francisco. I attempt a semblance of explanation: “Well, I had always been around a home-birthing and midwife community, but I have never contemplated being a healer, or a practictioner of any kind, until I met Patch Adams. And when he spoke about compassion and humor and JOY in medicine I thought, “YES, there IS something wrong with our system!” Then, I forgot all about it and majored in anthropology. Later, while I was writing my thesis, I thought I wanted to write about midwifery. But when I realized that 99% of births take place in a hospital, I thought that was where I should start. And the more I read about it, about the practices and about the history of obstetrics…I became more and more enraged,” – I am looking up at the ceiling now because if I make too much eye contact I will surely crumble – “And…well I think I want to be a midwife, someday. All of this just…encompasses my entire being at all times, it’s all I think about and, well…I’m just an administrative assistant in the Financial District.” I wince. “So…this feels like the first day of the rest of my life.” I look back down. Davis is smiling at me. The room feels too silent. “And I’m REALLY excited about it!,” I exclaim, laughing, releasing the last sentence with relief. My coven laughs with me.