Embracing my lifelong career in midwifery began not as a conscious intention, but rather, as Destiny. In 1976, I was a twenty-something back-to-the-land hippie in rural northern Michigan when I caught my first baby for a first-time mother. I was also pregnant with my own first child. I wasn't doing it for the money. I was doing it for "the movement" to take birth back. I figured I'd be catching babies long enough to help my girlfriends have their births the way they wanted them, and for me to have mine. After that, I'd move on to my "real job."
Thirty-eight years later, it turns out catching babies was not only my real job, but moving midwifery forward in the United States was my real calling in life. For nearly four decades I have answered my calling fully and wholeheartedly. My midwifery journey has taken me to assorted destinations from community-based homebirth, to clinic-based healthcare for underserved populations, to co-founding a freestanding birth center with a team of DEMs and CNMs. I have caught babies at home, in birth centers and in hospitals. Even in sailboats and under apple trees. I have been educated through multiple pathways including self-taught lay midwifery, competency-based direct-entry midwifery (DEM), and university-based nurse-midwifery (CNM) with an accompanying Master's degree. Each pathway contributed to my expertise in a unique and valuable way. But my early homebirth roots—when our nurslings and toddlers accompanied us and stood wide-eyed and open-mouthed as they witnessed everyday miracles in the birth bed—laid the unflappable foundation for it all.
In the 1970s in my local neighborhood, I blazed a trail for a liberated and personalized way to give birth. In my state in the 1980s, I joined with likeminded peers to organize and co-found a vibrant professional midwifery organization that thrives to this day. In the mid-1990s, after specializing in normal physiological home birth for almost two decades, I went back to school and became a nurse-midwife so I could serve a broader range of women and their families.
It has been a gift and a pleasure to work for two populations different from my own. First I served Hispanic migrant farmworkers who traveled from Texas, Mexico and Central America to harvest fruits and vegetables in Northern Michigan, and then, numerous Tribal communities in the Upper Midwest. It has been a privilege to learn about traditions, health practices, languages, and beliefs unlike mine. For it is only through being immersed in a culture distinctly different from one's own that we learn to think outside of our narrow lens on the world. It is then that the doors of true compassion and understanding can open wider. When I moved into the realm of national midwifery leadership, advocacy to affect U.S. maternity care policies, and international midwifery initiatives, I was able to bring the numerous lessons I'd learned from people, cultures and politics. I became fiercely dedicated to issues of access, equity and respect for women's self-determination and for their right to make decisions about their health and that of their unborn and newborn infants.
In the late 1990s I made a transition from MANA member-at-large to a member of the MANA leadership team. For more than 15 years I have been deeply embedded in that team, first in three different roles on the Board of Directors, including President for two terms, and more recently as MANA's first Executive Director. Throughout those years, it has been my pleasure and privilege to work with many talented, passionate, and dedicated people, very few of whom are paid, and most of whom volunteer their precious time and energy to MANA and the midwifery movement. Gratitude, gratitude to each of you.
As I stand on the cusp of this transition, it is stunning how swiftly all of the years have flown by. During those times when I patiently waited for a breech baby to be born or feverishly worked to get a stuck baby out, the moments were inordinately slow. In fact, at those moments, time stood still. But earlier this month, as I worked amongst colleagues at the historic national meeting of the US MERA Work Group, it was odd to hear these words coming out of my mouth..."I am retiring." A voice inside me whispered, "Already, really?"
But indeed, I am retiring. I heard my calling. I answered it with a lifetime of service. And now, I am entering into a period of rest and renewal.
As many of you know, after more than 20 years of living as a single, self-employed midwife and mother of three kids, seven months ago I married Fred, my old friend and lover. And as many of you also know—life is short! I intend to jump deeply and fully into this new adventure. Fred has a sailboat, and who knows what destination you might be hearing from me next.
A new and intriguing era for MANA has begun...and I wish you many blessings. May you be confident that MANA is in good hands with the next generation of leaders that are taking the helm and with the generation of Founding Mothers standing side-by-side to guide them. May you be generous in supporting the vision for the future articulated by your new and inspiring President, Marinah Farrell. May you be patient with the leadership team as MANA makes its next evolutionary leap into unchartered territory. And may you find a comfortable and welcoming home in MANA and a satisfying place just right for you to contribute your unique talents to the U.S. midwifery movement.
I leave you all with my spirit-arms wrapped steadfastly around you in camaraderie. Thank you for the honor of serving you all these years, for the many extraordinary and memorable adventures, and for the love you have shown me.