Elder Midwives in Practice

n 1981, I began attending births at the age of 21. I began serving as a midwife in 1986 and still am today. So yep, that makes me almost a senior, depending on whose age scale you use. 🙂

I have been blessed to share my journey with 40+ different ladies; students, apprentices, doulas, and childbirth workers in that time period. I desire to leave all my lifetime learning and wisdom to the next generation, the same wisdom that my foremothers gained in their life’s journey of midwifery. 

But unfortunately, I find this quote might be true: 

“In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer

As many of my elder sister midwives see, there is a new generation of midwives and consumers of midwifery care. Both are much more medically-minded, technologically driven, more socially networked, and a lot faster paced. 

Most of us elder midwives enjoy a cup of tea with our Mamas and share stories and experiences of motherhood and life. I regret to find this is becoming less and less practiced by both midwives and Mamas today.

Things change with time, but the things that made midwives – who Mamas sought out to love and care for them and their babies – should not slip away with time. To prevent this from happening, we must call upon our midwife elders and their wisdom before it’s too late like I witnessed.

When I began my journey in the early 80’s, there were only three midwife elders I could find in my area: Onnie Logan, Rosie Raby, and Dolores Hornsby. They said there was a time each had tried to share their learning and experience, but no one seemed interested. Tired and elder, they were not willing to try anymore. I was so heart broken. If only I had been there sooner in their lives.

I was blessed to spend some precious afternoons with Mrs. Onnie and she would share her birth stories with me. I taxied her and Ms. Rosie to a couple of conferences that they spoke at. I would just listen endlessly to these precious ladies sharing story after story. I learned so much just listening to them.

When I first began practicing, I thought what I did came naturally to all midwives. I soon realized this was not so. I have always been able to rub/palpate Mama’s tummy and know/’see’ where the baby was. I thought that was common. I soon realized that for most, it was a learned skill. Mrs. Onnie told me she would close her eyes, and with her hands she could see the baby and even the placenta. I just assumed that happened with time. No, she meant from the beginning of her journey as a midwife. When I told her I had always been able to do that too, she smiled and relayed her thoughts on “the calling”. I now know God equips some and some have to work hard to get it. I know I was called to be a midwife.

Now that I am an elder midwife, I want to share some things I have learned over the years. 

There are facets of your practice that will affect how well you serve, your success rates, and how long you can personally continue to do the work of midwifery. Here are some thoughts/questions I wish to impart with you.

Ask yourself if the Mama is truly a good fit for you as her midwife.

We all know how difficult and just plain uncomfortable it can be on a long car ride with someone you have different beliefs with, right? So why would we think being with them for 24 hours of hard labor together would feel comfortable?

Also make sure that the Mama wants the kind of care you provide. Do they want a more western medicine approach, or holistic? Do they want a midwife who is hands-on, or someone who is more hands off? 

Decide how much time to spend with your clients

Think about how much time you want to dedicate to…

  • During prenatal visits,
  •  Childbirth classes (if you teach them) Do you know or care how much and what Mama actually knows about the birth process?
  • Postpartum – Will you or someone be available for postpartum support? Breastfeeding questions, recovery concerns, etc.
  • Do you labor sit? If not, does Mama want someone to be with her?

Expected skills and equipment 

Do you have the skills and equipment the Mama expects her midwife to have? There was a time when Homebirth meant Natural birth. But not so anymore for many midwives and Mamas.

Many midwives carry pharmaceuticals, rupture membranes routinely, induce labour, routinely cut and suture episiotomies, etc. Many Mamas expect those items and skills to be available and utilized.

* * *

If you are an elder midwife, I encourage you to be available to pass on your wisdom, experience, and heart to this and the next generation of midwives.

If you are a young or incoming midwife, I encourage you to seek out that wisdom and experience from the elders before it slips beyond your reach.

I love midwifery to my very core. Not as a professional, not as a career, but as my true “God-given calling.” I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. Something about loving on a Mama when she is most vulnerable, seeing and smelling that precious newborn baby, seeing the look on Mama’s face as she adores her ‘Prize’ right after birth – all snuggled in her bed, in her home; that makes me know my life has been well spent.

May my granddaughters, if they desire, have a midwife with a Head (knowledge to know what to do and what NOT to do), Hands (the skills to be present and serve with her hands with gentleness and precision) and most importantly, Heart (to truly care about them and their babies as their midwife in pregnancy, birth, and beyond).

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