A Mother and Daughter Midwifery Duo

Dear Readers,

I am thrilled to introduce you to my wonderful midwives, Mary and Pita. The narrative below is written by Mary! If you would like to hear more about their wonderful care and my experience with both Mary and Pita as my midwives, check out my home birth stories here and here. As always, I’m so happy you are here, and I hope you enjoy!

Best, Shantel

Midwife Blog Home Birth Mary and Pita

I have been involved in the birth field since 1973.  First as a Bradley instructor attending births and then as an apprentice midwife.  I started out in Long Beach, CA and then in 1976 moved to Washington State.  Before becoming a Bradley instructor, I worked as a civilian employee for the US Army as an ammunition clerk at Ft MacArthur in San Pedro , CA. I had to keep track of all ammunition used by the 6th Army Reserves and National Guard.  Before computers.  Gah!  I was also a long distance telephone operator for Ma Bell, and I worked for LA County as a dispatch operator for the LA County Sheriffs Dept.  Never in a million years did I ever expect to be a midwife until I had my second baby, Pita, in 1973.  Even then I just wanted to tell people that the Bradley Method works and that there is a better way to have a baby than to be drugged up and managed.  Knock ‘em out, drag ‘em out was how Dr. Bradley put it.  Through the birth classes I taught, I attended so many births.  Mostly the births I attended were in the hospital as a doula/photographer, but also home births.  There I met midwives and doctors that did home births.  In 1970 and on it was an uphill battle to change the way things were done.  Most births were medicated, you had to stay in bed, no food or water for the duration of labor, IV’s always, episiotomies always, spinals or epidurals always, hands strapped down, legs strapped into stirrups, no husbands in the delivery room, and no rooming in.  You got your baby 24hrs AFTER delivery and only to feed them every 4 hrs.  If they got hungry before that, the nursery would give formula.  Oh, and everyone got a high soap suds enema at the beginning of labor and a shave.  Glorious right?!  The only way things changed was that women were being educated about birth by going to childbirth classes and learning about birth.  Then the moms would request the most outlandish things like no medication, having their husbands with them at birth, no episiotomies, etc.  When we found a Doc that would oblige these mom’s, everyone would switch providers to get what they wanted.  After a bit of time and mothers requesting these things and taking their money elsewhere, the hospitals got the hint and slowly started to change their thinking.  By the time I left Long Beach in 1976, it was totally changed to a more natural approach.  Almost all of those routine procedures were gone.

Then came Vancouver, Washington.  April 1976.  I started doing public film showings at the library.  I showed the Bradley film, “Childbirth for the Joy of It” and the Brewer film, “What Every Pregnant Woman Should Know”, which people loved, and the Navy Training film that showed a normal hospital birth and all that that entailed, and also scared the bejeezes out of everyone.  What a contrast!  I was discouraged when I moved to Vancouver because the only hospital that was offering maternity care was doing everything that I fought to change in California.  They thought I was a lunatic.  Maybe I was, but I was sick to death of how the birth scene was here.  I started teaching Bradley classes and attending births and at one home birth I met the coolest lady ever, Hazel Woodward.  She was a direct entry midwife, which I had never heard of, and she told me about a midwifery school that had started in West Linn, Oregon.  I applied and was accepted and graduated from there.  Some of my class mates were Gail Hart and Patricia Edmonds among other like minded women.  Our teachers were midwives, naturopathic doctors, and chiropractors.  Some of these had been catching babies for 50 yrs or more.

What a wealth of info they had.  Way before water birth caught on, we were taught by Dr. Babnick, who was at least 80 then, to put women into a hot bath to help with labor. We got them out to births, but we learned so much from those good hearted, wise teachers.  How to not interfere with the normal process of birth.  How to listen to mothers and how to feel baby’s position with our hands and not ultrasound.  How to get baby to turn into a better position before birth to avoid problems in labor.  Dr. Jack taught us to not be afraid and to go with what we see, not the what if’s of fear based decisions. We learned herbal remedies and properties of the plants. Homeopathics also.  It was a great education and made me hungry for more.  After I graduated from midwifery school I apprenticed with Hazel for a year and then started on my own from there.  I’ve been catching babies in SW Washington and the Portland area since then.

Things have changed a bit in the birthing world.  Some good, some not so good.  I have two areas that challenge me.  The first one is that so many women allow insurance coverage to dictate how they have their babies.  They’re told the insurance won’t cover them if they choose another way to have their baby.  For instance, a vaginal breech birth or a VBAC.  The way to make change is to take your business elsewhere.  A lot of people put more effort into buying a car than how to have their baby the best way.  If you look at statistics, the US isn’t doing a great job of it.  We are far behind other countries in maternal and infant mortality.  Birth might be free here, very few don’t qualify for state coverage, but it’s not as safe as it should be and is in other countries.  Even some 3rd world countries.   We do far too many inductions, and C-sections here.   When I started in the 70’s, no one was induced for being “overdue”.  Everyone waited for the baby to come.  C-sections were few and not very many were repeats.  Breeches were delivered vaginally not by C-section.  Twins also were vaginal births and 80% were discovered in the delivery room.  When someone’s membranes released and labor didn’t start, they waited for labor.  No inductions.  No one rushed to the hospital because they didn’t start contractions.  There was a woman in one of my classes whose waters broke 6 weeks before the baby was born.  Her doctor told her stay home, take your temperature, no tub baths and no intercourse and wait for your baby.  She had a great birth with a 6# baby.  No infection.

Another frustration for me is the routine use of ultrasound.  Many women receive 4-5 ultrasounds during their pregnancies.  No one has EVER proven them safe.  In fact the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that they have never been proven safe for an unborn baby.  Ultrasound disrupts cells by bombarding them with sound waves.  It causes cavitation in the cells.  What does that do when a baby is forming brain cells?  They use sound to do riot control, they tried sterilization with ultrasound in the 70’s and 80’s.  How do we know that the rise in autism isn’t caused by over use of ultrasound?  Babies tend to move away from ultrasound and they’ve shown that its as loud as a freight train going by to a baby inside.  We just don’t know.  There’s plenty of studies out there if people choose to read them. If there is a specific medical indication to check on a baby then think about ultrasound, but to find out gender?  Is it really worth it? We take too much for granted when it comes to ultrasound in my opinion.  It’s a big money maker for the medical industry.

What I look forward to the most is seeing families loving each other.  New families having their first baby.  It’s so fun to see parents loving each other and loving their kids.  I love seeing the response of older siblings when they get a new baby.  Or of grandparents.  One birth I attended in the 80’s was a family having their 5th baby, their 1st home birth.  The grandparents were against it and very uncomfortable.  Their plan was to be on call in the driveway if they were needed for the older kids.  During the labor they ended up coming into the living room.  We visited and answered some questions.  Mom was in the tub during transition and when she felt like getting out we moved to the bedroom.  She soon got the urge to push and we got ready to welcome this new baby.  I always love when families are involved and this mom asked her kids if they wanted to be there and they all said YES!  2 teen boys and 2 girls, 8 and 10.  Everyone was so excited.  When the baby was born and was on mom’s chest, I looked up and not only were the kid’s in the room but so were the grandparents.  The grandparents  were beaming and tears were running down their faces.  Big smiles, ear to ear.  That was awesome.  The baby that was born that day has 6 kids now, and I was blessed to catch 5 of them.  They even got weighed on the same scale as their dad.  Stuff like that is so much fun for me.

We are involved in continuing education classes and conferences.  Always a good thing to renew your skills in areas such as newborn resuscitation or excessive bleeding.  We learn and relearn skills and receive certification in these areas.  Nutrition, herbal remedies for different things that may come up, are also important to keep up on.  There is always so much to learn and its great to learn from other midwives that attend home births.  We’ve lost a lot of good information by relying on the medical model of birth.  Birth is not a medical event or a surgical event.  Very rarely does one need medical intervention, however a majority of women receive medical intervention for their births in this country.  Birth, in my opinion, is a normal physiological event.  Normal and natural for women.  Like eating and digesting food.  If birth wasn’t normal and safe for women, non of us would be here.  Yes things can go sideways sometimes, and some women need medical intervention, but most things are preventable with good nutrition and healthy living.  It’s important for women to educate themselves about birth and there is so much info out there now.  Childbirth education classes, nutrition information, prenatal development, how to help position your baby for birth.  So many resources.

Long term goals for me are to provide great care for families and to be able to help them to have their babies the way THEY want to have them.  We’re all different and have different ideas on what is important to us.  I try to get families to think about what they would like and to help them plan for it.  To see families grow and enjoy each other.  As a believer and follower of Jesus, I believe scripture when it says that children are a blessing and a heritage from the Lord.  Ps 128  For something so important, we really should put some thought into how we birth our babies. It starts during pregnancy and continues on throughout their lives.  It’s each of our responsibility to make those decisions for our kids.  Not the states responsibility,  or the doctor’s responsibility or the midwife’s, but as parents to choose the best for our kids.

When I meet opposition to home birth, I try to explain that it’s a safe, reasonable option for families.  The midwives I know are well trained, they keep up on continuing education and certification in newborn resuscitation.  There is less infection in your own home for mom and baby.  Prenatal care focuses on good health, good nutrition, childbirth education, optimal fetal positioning for labor and birth, far more postnatal care also.  Lactation consults and breastfeeding help. We’re available by phone 24/7. Far less expensive than the hospital and the family is in control of the decision making.  Of course there are medical situations that require the hospital and intervention.  No one that I know will argue that, however I don’t believe in making decisions based on fear but on what’s before you.  There is a wide range of normal and most of us fall into that middle range, but some don’t.  Some are on the edges of normal but still normal.  It’s not for everyone, but home birth should be an option for those that desire it.  Birth, after all, is not a medical event or a surgical event.  It’s a normal biological function of a woman’s body.  She was designed to grow a baby and give birth to that baby and feed that baby with her own body.

Most of the families that I serve are conservative and are like minded with regard to nutrition, pregnancy, and birthing.  We are in a small town and rural as well as city dwellers.  We serve women in Portland, Ore and throughout SW Washington.  They are teens to older women.  Some work, most stay home.  Most are married some are not.  Many have large families.  Over the years the demographics have changed some.  In the early years, there were mostly hippies and people wanting to live off the grid. Bikers too!  Lots of bus births, teepee births, etc.  Fun times!  Once I had a biker family having their first baby.  I went to their home to meet them and was greeted at the door by this huge, burly biker dude decked out in leathers and motorcycle boots with long hair and long beard.  He just stood there with a beer in his hand looking at me and I asked if I was at the right place.  He said yes and I went in and met his “woman”.  She was in leathers too with her pregnant belly poking out of her leather vest.  Their Harleys were parked in the living room on tarps.  We got along great.  They were a hoot.  Always offered me a beer when I came over.  Cracked me up!  When she had her baby, he didn’t want to be in the room with her.  He mowed the lawn at least twenty times, running out of gas and refilling and mowing some more.  He was so nervous.  In no time she pushed out a little girl, but dad wouldn’t come in till we were all done with everything.  When he finally came in, he took one look at that baby and burst into tears.  This big hairy, burly, biker guy was total mush.  That baby had him wrapped around his little finger at one glance.  It was so fun to watch them interact.  Now days not too many bikers are wanting home births here.  LOL.

Now we mostly see stay at home moms that are better educated about birth and nutrition and all things birth.  We’ve helped teachers, nurses, doctors, pastors, electricians, women in all walks of life.  I love what I do because I get to see women for who they really are.  No false faces that we show others, but the real person with all of that stripped away.  They are strong and capable.  They love their families.  They are vulnerable during birth and one of the things I want to do is to protect their space and their inner selves until they can do it on their own.  Birth is so different than anything else.  You’re committed to finish it.  It’s really hard, it takes all of your concentration and strength.  I think it’s one of the hardest things a woman will do.  Women are strong and know how to birth their babies when given the chance.  They just need reassurance that everything is normal and progressing normally, and someone to encourage them and tell them that they’re doing a great job.

The care we provide is structured to fit the mom and her family.  Our visits are pretty informal and children are welcome.  We normally see women in our clinic. For many years we saw women in their homes, but it got to be really hard to drive all over creation.  We still will see women in their homes if needed.  We’ve even met up at workplaces, or other locations for prenatal visits to accommodate schedules or distances.  We monitor baby’s growth from month to month, listen for baby’s heart tones which all are anxious to hear,  monitor blood pressure, urine for protein and glucose and check on labs that are needed.  We don’t have any routine procedures, women are free to request things or to deny testing that they don’t want.  I want them to be fully informed of the testing involved and procedures.  We really encourage childbirth education classes and some are held at our office.  We talk about nutrition and what makes up a good diet for mom and baby.  Letting moms know when baby is forming certain areas like bones, teeth, brain.  Nutrition needs can change during these times.  Comfort measures in pregnancy and different ways of coping with things like morning sickness, heartburn, varicose veins, etc.  We also stress optimal fetal positioning during prenatal visits.  Exercises that promote good positioning for labor. Babies can’t fit through a pelvis if they can’t enter it.  There are ways to help with this.  We’re proactive in this regard.  If a family has needs we try to hook them up with people that can help whether it be for food, work, moral support, child care, whatever.  If they need referrals for something that we can’t provide then we do that also.  Towards the end of pregnancy we talk about their birth plan and what they want to see or have at their birth.  We go over supplies that they need to have on hand.  At least one visit is at their home, usually towards the end of the pregnancy. Some people want a party and invite family and friends, others want it to be more private.  For us, it’s up to the family.  We try to help navigate through it all.  Some women want a lot of supervision, others do not.  We try to accommodate these women as best we can.  There is my daughter, Pita, who is also a midwife and an assistant, Jenna, also a midwife, who are present during the prenatal visits so that families can get to know us and we them.  I think its important for women to feel confident in themselves and comfortable with us when we are helping  them.  At the birth we come whenever families want us to.  If things are putzing along we may come and go.

Especially for a first baby.  Basically seeing that everything is moving along normally. We wait for the mother to tell us when she needs to push baby out.  She is free to be in any position comfortable for her.  Most women today want to birth in water, which is great.  The water is a wonderful pain reliever and helps to relax the perineum to prevent tearing.  If she is out of the water, we use olive oil and warm compresses to help with this. Father’s are encouraged to be as hands on as they want.  Some want to catch and some don’t.  After baby is born, baby is usually up skin to skin with mom.  We don’t rub or stimulate the baby unless they need it, which almost always they don’t. We leave them to ooh and ahh over their baby but are watchful for bleeding or complications.  We offer juice or tea for the mother to raise her blood sugar.  Then we wait.  We wait for the placenta to come on its own.  We don’t actively manage 3rd stage.  Soon mom will feel crampy or a fullness in her vagina and we have her push the placenta out.  She is free to nurse her baby before the placenta which helps with bleeding and placenta delivery.  We have mom get in the shower when she’s ready and when she’s back in bed we do a newborn exam on the baby and weigh and measure.  We don’t leave until all is good, bleeding normal, mom has eaten and had fluids to replace those lost, she has showered, baby has nursed, etc.  It’s usually at least 2 hours after the birth.

Kids are welcome at the birth also.  I’ve never seen a kid not thoroughly enjoy it.  We usually see families at 1, 2, 4 days after birth and at 1 week and 4 weeks.  We do newborn screenings when parents want them done and hearing tests at our office also.  We use herbs, oils, homeopathics, and vitamins when it’s helpful.  We also refer to chiropractors, doctors, or others when its beneficial.  Many times acupuncture, or adjustments, or massage are very helpful for prenatal complaints or labor stalls.  We are on call for 3 weeks before someone is due until they have their baby.  I’m so thankful for cell phones.  When I started, we couldn’t be away from a phone.  If we had to go somewhere we had to call everyone and let them know what we were doing.  Then check back in when we returned.  Then we got pagers that made it a little easier.  You still had to hunt  for a pay phone and have change with you, but it was better.  Now cell service is pretty good and affordable so its better in that respect.  Are there any payphones anymore?  Hmmmm.

I’ve been able to help my kids birth my grandkids, even catch great grands.

I’m so glad that God has called me to do this.  I’ve met some great people over the years, a couple of wing nuts too!  It’s like I have all of this extended family everywhere.  I’ve helped women have babies, I’ve said goodbye to some women too. Helped them to pass.  Birth is a lot like dying I think.  You need to do it yourself, no one can do it for you, and you’re committed to finish it, and you need someone there that cares about you and can encourage you and tell you that its okay.  It’s an investment of heart and time and resources.  I love it.  Sometimes it makes me crazy, but mostly it’s the best.  Besides, how else can I sniff those sweet baby heads and kiss those baby necks.  Sorry, I’m hooked.

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