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!