The Amish Visits On Tuesdays and Thursday Carole Nelson gets into her car. It is loaded with birth supplies that totally populate not only the trunk, but the back seat and are creeping into the front seat. They have already taken over the space between the front seats (Hibiclens). Just like all of us who put our nutrition second, her car is full of half empty water bottles and half eaten PB & Js.
She is one of the Farm midwives in whom the local Amish community has placed its trust. The local Amish community has midwives of its own, but many choose Carole. She is “English” with long hair and wears pants, she is an elder midwife. She understands her client base, their culture, mores, language issues, health concerns, and those social customs that are unique to this Amish community.
This Amish community has new arrivals from Amish communities in Ohio. Farmland, rows of strawberries, squash, cabbage and new broccoli; horses, stair-step children, buggies, and hard working families. Carole reminds me that the women and men do not marry until they are at least 21 years old. They go to their own schools (where they learn to read and write German and English) and the girls go until they are about 14 years old and complete the 8th grade. The school year revolves around crop seasons. We discuss health issues that are common among this community: phlebitis, high blood pressure, and other conditions caused by a diet with processed flour and sugar and animal fat. But this community is accepting of herbal and homeopathy, acupuncture and chiropractic. In particular, we discuss the huge varicosities in the thighs, legs and feet that many Amish girl-children and women have- these are caused by the tight and heavy stockings they wear, held up by rubber bands.
She has told some of the women we will be seeing that a midwife student from another state who will be visiting for a few weeks will be coming on their visits. She reminds me of various dos and don’ts. I am dressed in my long wrap skirt and long sleeve top. But my skin is not white and my hair is very short and the children will stare at me.
I will be shadowing Carole, which means to be quiet unless your input is requested or you are spoken to. Of course that also means to be sociable, introduce yourself and carry on a brief friendly sentence or two. I comply until the second day when I catch myself explaining infant massage for a colicky baby to a mother and using myself as an example. Teas and herbs are discussed.
Every woman was kind and accepting of my presence and Carol’s introduction was all I needed to be welcomed.
After each visit Carole is willing to answer any of my questions and further explain her treatment strategies, especially for yeast, GBS, high blood pressure and pre-term labor. We are teacher and student; question and answer and explanation—just what I need.
On the ride back to The Farm we pass buggies parked on the side of the highways with boys and men selling beautiful strawberries the Amish grow. Unable to say no to a good strawberry, we buy another gallon (we have bought several gallons each day and frozen them) we buy more and take them to Carole’s home to enjoy.
The Farm Clinic
Wednesday’s prenatal office visits at The Farm clinic are similar to those in other home birth midwifery practices. The Farm clinic has a homey waiting room with lots of books and toys for the children and printed material for expectant mothers. There are 2 exam rooms and 2 offices. There is a huge bathroom and kitchen (also used by the students who staying in the dorm).
The clients who have appointments this day are those who are not locals, but families who have come to The Farm to have their babies here. They rent small houses on The Farm and move here a few weeks before their EDD and remain for about a week after the baby is born. They come from all over the US. Today about half are first time expectant mothers; most are not “Hippie” looking folks but regular folks you would meet at a “Holistic Parents” meeting.
The obstetrical portion of the visit is just like with other midwives; but the talking portion of the visit can go on for 45 minutes. These women have left their homes and friends behind to journey to Tennessee to have their babies and the midwives give them the extra attention so that they do not feel lonely or unsupported. Also, because there will be 2 midwives at your birth, each midwife wants as much of an opportunity to get to know you as possible. The midwives have been known to do ‘‘drop in” visits on the moms who are long way from home.
I am hoping the Full Moon next week will bring a baby and I can attend the birth.
But— I will be doing the “Baby Don’t’ Get Born Until I Get Back” dance for my clients in DC.
On Thursday evening the Nashville weather bureau issued a series of severe storm warnings; several bands of rain and wind were predicted to pass through the area during the night and early morning.
At 1:00 AM Friday morning the telephone rang and an Amish expectant mother was ready to have Carole come. Carole reviews the protocol for me—be quiet and invisible. She also informs me that normally when an Amish woman wants the midwife to come she is ready to have her baby. We arrive at 1:30 and in a few minutes the mother is ready to push (I think she waited for us); the Amish midwife is also on her way. The father actively participates in every stage of labor—he rubs her back, squeezes her hips and holds her hand; he holds the flashlight as his child is emerging.
By soft kerosene lamp light at about 2:00 AM a beautiful boy is born. The Amish midwife bathes him by lamp light on the door of the wood stove and puts him in Amish attire. She lets me hold him.
On Monday I helped the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM) office here on The Farm update the collected statistics on the number of non-nurse midwives who practice in states where they are licensed and or regulated. There are approximately 1,000 non-nurse midwives who practice in states where they are licensed or regulated. This number does not include CPMs in jurisdictions that do not license or regulate CPMs, CMs, lay midwives, or traditional midwives. Of course this does not include midwives who courageously practice in states that outlaw or do not recognize non-nurse midwives. How many are these?
For those of us who have been cared for by non-nurse midwives who practice in jurisdictions where their services are outlawed, take a moment to think about your midwife and the potential sacrifices she and her family are prepared to make so that your family can have the safe and empowered birth you deserve.
Do you know that: in some jurisdictions, the midwives are taking their freedom at risk when they serve you; in some jurisdictions, they could be subject to arrest just for catching your baby; if prosecuted they could lose custody of their children. In jurisdictions where non-nurse midwives are not legally recognized, there may be unnecessary bureaucratic processes in place for them processing birth certificates. Not to mention the demeaning and inaccurate statements and issuances made by medical staff about these midwives and the exemplary and evidence-based care they provide.
Each time she steps up to help you have the safe and empowering birth you want for your child, she is taking the chance of sacrificing her freedom and the safety of her own children and family. Quite heavy, but true.
Why would anyone want to be a non-nurse midwife in a jurisdiction that outlaws or does not recognize them?
A soon-to be-midwife has responded to this question:
“I guess it is because the desire or call (however you perceive it) is so strong and your love for women in that time of life so great that you defy what you see as an unjust law. For me, I look to the verse in Exodus that says (and I paraphrase) "And the midwives feared God and did not as the [State of Maryland] (King of Egypt in the original) commanded, and saved the children alive.” Women and children are being traumatized, hurt and killed by an unjust and abusive obstetrical system and those who are called are willing to serve the mothers of their community whether they be burned at the stake as in days of old or prosecuted and imprisoned today.
The call to serve will exist for all this earthly life and there will always be women who will accept the call—the CPM or CNM who defies the practice guidelines that ACOG and Nursing Boards should have no right to be controlling, that restrict her practice and tell her who she can and can't serve. For the VBAC, breech and twin mamas who also wish to choose their place of birth and caregiver. The diabetic mother who feels that she has control of her condition and should be in authority over the timing of her birth. The indigent mother who demands to birth with a person who will not treat her as lesser just because she is economically disadvantaged, but a human deserving of loving tender support in her time. Because men were not involved in birth for thousands of years and when they invited themselves, they tore our birthing communities asunder and our children and we continue to suffer for it to this day.”
Something to think about and digest.
For me, I know that how you were birthed makes an inextricable imprint on your self perception; and how you birth your children sets the foundation on how you will feel about each child and yourself. And the guarantee of a good birth, whatever that means for each of us, is a Supreme Right we each have.
I also know that a community that cannot birth itself cannot survive, and the various communities that make up the Untied States of America, must birth its own midwives, of whatever credential path.
Note: In early to mid-May the planet Mercury went retrograde. According to astrologers, when Mercury is retrograde, communication and travel are filled with mishaps and misunderstandings. In my experience the worst days are those when the planet comes to a stop (its energy becomes stagnant) and then slowly reverses its direction, retracing its steps. During this time I head for Nashville.
On Sunday morning , after 4 hours of sleep and a raucous melt- down on my daughter (sorry in part) I start to pack for my 2 weeks at The Farm, thinking I have 2 hours until Chinyere arrives to take me to National Airport. The phone rings and I was wrong, I had only 1 hour before I was to be picked up. I throw everything summer in the only bag in the house (it weighs about 1,000 pounds empty), and did a few things, and headed to the parking lot.
Off to National Airport at 9:00 am for an 11:00 am flight. With the help of a good friend and an AARP discount, I had gotten a standby ticket to Nashville but I had to fly first to Milwaukee and then to Nashville (the anti-Magellan theory of travel). When I arrived at National Airport there were many vacant seats left on the flight; by flight time every seat was filled and I was left behind. The next flight was about 5:00 PM with arrival in Nashville at close to midnight.
So, I grabbed a Super Shuttle bus for BWI and a Southwest Airline flight. I arrived 30 minutes before the flight was to leave and got to pay a one-way fare equal to a round fare if I had bought it a week ago. The clerk said to me, “If you would like Business Select Class you can upgrade for only $20.” Uh, “Sure”, I thought and paid the extra money. I skipped through security dreaming of myself in a wide seat drinking a tall rum and coke(s). Of course when I get on the plane I am informed that according to Southwest, Business Class entitles you to choose the seat where two other folks will squish into you and you get one free drink on the plane.
When I arrive in Nashville, my bag arrives with the pull handle broken off. I drag it like a dead stegosaurus to the airlines office, only to be told that airlines are no longer responsible for broken handles, wheels, and just about everything else “suitcase related”.
I go outside to wait for my ride to The Farm, a 70-mile car ride, only to discover my phone had not been working inside the Airport and my ride had been waiting for me for almost 30 minutes. Thank goodness, Carole Nelson’s husband, Donald, is a patient man!
Finally, into the car and off for the last leg of this trip. A wonderful ride while the storm clouds followed us down the road and I and kept waiting for a cow to fly across the road like in “Twister”.
I took some photos along The Farm main road as Don gave me an update on things that have happened recently. Diego, the blind horse died; there is a new dome constructed for group meetings near The Farm Store; my friend Gwenelle died.
Into Carole’s wonderful home for a delicious dinner, then a brief conversation about the plans for the next 2 weeks. I head to bed and discover that my cell phone charger has broken, but I brought the car phone charger thing with me. But my laptop works on Carole’s WIFI.
Why I am not feakin’ out? Reason #1- last week I heard Steve Harvey give a bit of advice, "If you have a negative outlook, you will have a negative outcome." I am living the opposite of that statement. I am on an Adventure of My Life with Good Friends and Sisters!!
In 2004, toward the end of my first year of being a birth doula, I began serving as a volunteer doula at the Family Health and Birth Center (FHBC) in Washington, DC. It was my first experience working with midwives (CNMs there) and serving as labor support for women who chose an out-of-hospital birth. There I heard the name of Ina May Gaskin for the first time; I knew of her husband from back in my Black Hippie Days but I knew nothing about the midwives.
So, I did some research and took the money I had made from being a doula and signed up for my first class at The Farm. In June 2004 I caught a plane to Nashville to attend the “Midwifery Assistant Training, #I” with about 15 other women from all over the US. Many of them looked like they were from the ”Nations of New Hippie”; none were women of color, and none were over 27 years of age. I loved every moment I was there and thrived in the fact that I was not like the rest of the women—afraid of snakes, leery of ticks (wore tube socks each day and got no ticks) and a proud flex-atarian. Plus, Pamela Hunt, one of the Farm midwives and primo singers, had sung me out of my seat the first night. A place to sing and drum at night by the Gazebo!!!
The added present I got was being with midwives who were from the same place and time in the U.S. that I came up in. They witnessed and participated in some of the events of that time; I participated and witnessed some events of that time; together we were women, who, put together, were a complete picture of life experiences of the U.S. in the 60s–80s.
When we left after that week, all 16 of us were Sisters in Birth. We had a hand-sign protocol we gave each other at the Nashville airport which depicted a vaginal exam…In addition, Ina May gave us an assignment to complete before we returned—to interview our mothers and write down the story of our births from our mothers’ perspective. Also, do the same with our mother’s mother.
Two months later I returned to The Farm for the “Midwifery Birth Assistant Training #II”. I had gotten the FHBC to let me organize its first voluntary labor support project. One of its midwives, Erin Fulham, had agreed to train 6 doulas to be midwife birth assistants for the women who wanted to birth the FHBC Birth Center.
In preparation to return to The Farm, one evening I called my mother to get her story on my birth. I called with full bravado because my father had told me the story of my birth and it is one of my fondest memories of my father. I had already heard the “Hallmark card” story of my birth and I was just making the obligatory call to have my mother co-sign on my father’s version so that I would have completed my Ina May homework. Was I blown away (and I am still blown away) by my mother’s story of my birth. It was saturated with fear and isolation; she was alone with no support or information. Plus, at that time in Washington, D.C., pain medication was not available for African American women. This horrific story could not be my birth story—but it was. God, my mother could have used a doula!!!! I am sure that after hearing her story it has pushed me to be the best birth doula I can and to share my knowledge with other Sisters in Birth.
In August 2004 I returned to The Farm to finish the birth assistant training. Too much fun was had!!!!
It was 2 years before I could return for further training. In August 2006 I returned for the “Advanced Midwifery Training”. This class was attended by about 19 women who were well on their way to completing their midwifery training and had been working as midwife birth assistants for quite some time. I had come to dip my toes into the waters of home birth. At the time I had been working as a midwife birth assistant at FHBC well over a year and at Birth Care for almost a year and at FHBC, but home births made me uncomfortable. I was not sure if I was just scared because I did not know enough about home birth or if I just did not like it. So, in true Scorpio fashion, I decided to come to The Farm and learn more about home birth and then only take home birth clients for 6 months. Once again I learned a lot from the midwives and other students. We studied suturing, complications of second stage, and other issues. I had a blast and knot tied (with or without instruments) my way to DC!! Plus learned some new songs. I got hooked on home birth!!
In the year since my last visit I have had the pleasure of having Ina May Gaskin spend nights with my daughter and me on several occasions and had seen The Farm midwives at numerous conferences.
But there was a part of The Farm history I would not learn about until I became the DC State Rep. for The International Center for Traditional Childbearing (ICTC) in 2007. Midwives of African descent had been coming to The Farm for over 20 years to share their skills, experiences and stories with The Farm midwives. Back In The Day they hung out here!!!! In fact, Ummsallamah UmmSalaamah Sondra Abdullah-Zaimah received the foundation of her midwifery training at The Farm before attending Emory and Frontier!!!
Last summer when I decided to re-define “my desire” to be a midwife to one of “ being on a mission” I explored moving here; it was not a reasonable step at that time. But the draw of being near Carlotta Crawford and Ummsallamah and The Farm midwives is a piece of heaven.
So, a little while ago I got an invitation to spend some time at The Farm doing whatever needed to be done. My daughter-mentor said, “Mom, you can NOT not do this!”
So, with the help of my Sisters in Birth including: Doris and Tracy who agreed to be my doula back-ups; and Gwen and Liz who agreed to be my Birth Care; and my usual “I Got Your Back Crew” of Chinyere, Carolyn (and thanks Lorrie for the tub rental $$), I am on my way—tie dye, overalls and high socks in my suit case, Ekere Tallies’ poem on “Oshun” in my pocket, and Arrested Development on my IPod. Off I go!