Sunday, March 6, 2011

Birth Matters:The Doulas Meet Ina May!

The vibe I got watching Ina May Gaskin speak is that she's a "cool person," someone I would enjoy hanging out with. She feels very approachable, likable, etc. Roz, one of the doulas who went with me yesterday, said that Ina May reminds her of me. That, of course, made Roz my new favorite best friend.

Roz, Ellen, Naomi and I left from Syracuse around 7am yesterday to go see Ina May speak in Ridgewood, NJ. The drive there was almost as fun as one of our Doula Connection meetings; only these women can make four hours in the van seem like a short trip.

Since we were making the trip to attend, we all signed up for both the general talk and the session for professionals.

Ina May's new book, Birth Matters, was available at the event and quickly sold out. It seems the publisher underestimated the number of people who would want to buy books.

During the first session, Ina May established her birth history, the things that got her interested in birth and the early days of The Farm. She spoke about the births that she attended on their caravan of buses and how she and her partners got their midwifery training. She emphasized that birth works and that our culture has scared pregnant women into accepting interventions that don't make birth safer for them or their babies.

One quote that I wrote down during the first talk was, "The common assumptions that form the basis of our beliefs about birth are really screwed up." I wholeheartedly agree with her. I think that women have been backed into a corner by (mostly) male doctors who have taught us that we need them to "save" us.

The professional session focused a lot on reclaiming birth as a feminist action. Ina May said that "millions of women have been convinced that their bodies are gross." She gave several examples of how society is cruel to our mothers and asked the question, "Where is our compassion?" She referenced the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, an organization that works to defend the rights of pregnant women. While I disagree with roughly half of the actions that the organization seems to be working on (I am what you could call anti-abortion), I like seeing that this organization takes a stand against shackling pregnant prisoners, coercing women to have C-sections and defends young, low-income, minority women who choose to continue their pregnancies despite those who think they shouldn't. Ina May talked about how wealthy women of the past had their ovaries, clitorises and uteruses removed as punishment for what the men in their life viewed as sexual sins. She asked, "Why is the American male so bullying to the woman in the realm of birth?"

Near the end, she showed a chimp birth video that clearly illustrates that mammals know how to birth their babies:

Look at this mama! She knows just what to do!

Ina May talked about this elephant birth video, where a baby elephant is born and takes a few minutes to start breathing. The mama elephant resucitates the baby in her very elephanty way. The question Ina May asks is "How did she know how to do that?"

At the very end, Ina May brought out a portion of the Safe Motherhood Quilt and shared about the many people who had contacted her since she began the project. You can learn more about the quilt here:

When the quilt came out, every camera flash in the audience was going off and every cell phone that could take pictures was doing so (including mine obviously). It is a very sad and powerful thing to listen to someone talk about mothers who died because of things that could have been avoided, prevented or detected.

I am now working through her book, Birth Matters. I can't wait to see her again in a couple of weeks at the Midwifery Today conference.


  1. I'd love to hear what you think about the book, and get more of a description of what it is about! :)

  2. Oh, wow. Those videos are so moving. Although I know the "point" is to see how normal birth is, the thing that strikes me the most is the kinship I feel with the mothers, especially the elephant mother - her increased agitation as the baby continues to lay limp on the floor, her trumpeting in desperation, her focused efforts to save her baby - I felt like I was watching a human, her emotions were so clear.