If any woman is afraid they can't fit a baby through their vagina, remember that a penis starts small, gets big, then gets small again. Men aren't the only ones with this kind ability. But that ability is best carried out when relaxed, happy, excited. Which is exactly why birth needs to be that way as well. This is the philosophy of midwife and natural birth extraordinaire Ina May Gaskin.
When I found out the movie screening nearest to me for Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives was happening on my birthday, I thought, what better way to celebrate my birth than going with my mother -- the woman who birthed me. Ina May Gaskin is personal hero of mine, and I wanted to soak up more of her knowledge. Imagine my surprise when I saw myself in the movie!
Yes, me, wearing the same scarf I was wearing at that exact moment -- smiling up at Ina May when I saw her speak last year in Brooklyn for the release of her book, Birth Matters. Sure, it was just a few seconds, but seeing the look of admiration on my face on the big screen was a definite treat. One of the best birthday presents ever. Thank you for the inadvertent gift Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore -- the two filmmaking mothers who put this incredible documentary together.
My mom and I talked for days about birth when leading up to the film premiere. When she had me in the early '70s, men weren't allowed in the room, she was X-rayed with me still in her belly, and they told her that I was too big and they didn't know how I was going to come out. Way to be supportive to a woman in labor, right? Times changed since then, but in many ways, they stayed the same. That fear so many pregnant women have is perpetuated by nurses and doctors. This fear is what Ina May says we shouldn't have.
This film takes us back to when the now 72-year-old Gaskin travelled around the country in the '70s doing speaking tours led by her husband Stephen Gaskin, spiritual guide. The caravan of spiritually-seeking hippies had about 60 vehicles, many school buses that were essentially homes on wheels. The footage is incredible. During that time there was a woman at one of the speaking events who went into labor, and that was the moment Ina May realized her calling, and her studies began. She had a young daughter, and from her own traumatic birth with forceps and less-than-kind nurses and doctors who barely acknowledged her, Ina May knew what she had to do. She had to be nice to the woman in labor. She had to be in the moment with her. Ina May recalls that day in the film saying how she was so in love with this woman in labor, even having just met her. It was the energy, the fact she was giving birth, and they made a joyous event just that -- joyous, exciting, happy, with a relaxed feeling in the room. That helps a woman open up, prepare her body for birth.
Much different than what many women in labor experience in hospitals. Not all, but some. Again, it's that fear we have, that we get from the look on a doctor's face or a nurse who has too many patients to tend to. That coldness that happens between some doctors and patients. All of that fear builds up, making birth a frightening experience for some. It's something so many of us dread before we become a mother. Birth. But the journey can be joyful as well and I don't just mean how you got pregnant to begin with. Too many fear that birth isn't that natural thing that our bodies have been successfully doing for thousands of years.
The Farm community started soon after that when the Gaskins and hundreds of like-minded folks decided on settling their caravan in rural Summertown, Tennessee. They birthed their own babies there, and eventually opened it up to others who wanted to have a natural birth, essentially creating a self-sufficient birthing community.
"Be nice," is what Ina May says. Being nice to a mom-to-be during labor can be just the thing to make her relax. There should be kindness. And, like Ina May quips in the film, anyone delivering a baby should tell the woman she has "the best vagina" they've ever seen. Laughter, calmness, happiness -- that is how a baby should be birthed.
Ina May is a woman who lives modestly, but has the richness of the energy of life around her. She jokes with another gray-haired midwife during the film that theirs is the only profession they can be gray and it helps their credibility. She's charming, energetic, rides a bicycle around the Farm to visit mamas-to-be, tends to her garden, and even reminds Stephen not to kill her plants when she leaves on a speaking tour. Their relationship is calming, loving, filled with adoration.
The film also has footage of the first Gaskin maneuver for a baby with shoulder dystocia. There is a breech birth, where the baby is calmly delivered by mom changing positions to help open her more so the baby's head comes out more easily. There's also a recent water birth filmed at one of the Farm's homes.
This is why I think this film should be required viewing for everyone -- men, women, and especially OB/GYNs. Watch it when pregnant, watch it before you decide to have a baby, and watch it after you are a mom. Maybe some doctors will become more sensitive, more kind. And for those who think Gaskin and the Farm midwives are anti-hospital, know that isn't true. They know sometimes a c-sections is necessary; they also know when a woman should be transported to a hospital.
We can't fear birth, we shouldn't fear birth. What is there to fear? It can be one of the most beautiful times in a woman's life.
Do you fear birth? If so, what is it that made you fear it?