Review of a Bradford Screening of Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives

A Bradford pre-release screening of the Award Winning Documentary 
BIRTH STORY: INA MAY GASKIN & THE FARM MIDWIVES 

Notes and Reflections

This is a film that every radical, every campaigner, every change-maker should watch.  It serves as an inspiration and as a warning.

It is about birth but it is also about the birth and development of a small religious and alternative community and reflects the audacity, the excitement, of the birth of such a community in the Summer of Love.  But also reflects the growing pains and difficulties of sustaining an intentional community and a culture changing movement.  It hinted at the personal cost to many of its devotees.

This film talked about birth but we also saw a glimpse of the personal stories and the personalities behind the movement.  Changing the culture of birth takes considerable effort and a lifetime of personal sacrifice.  This is not to say there is not also excitement, fun, adulation, love friendship, community love – but that there can be a high personal price for that and lots of self giving, learning life’s hard lessons.  I think this is what pierced my soul and left be very thoughtful through the night.

I think my favourite moment was the Newscaster’s reaction when he asked an anodyne question about her new book and Ina replied, “Yes you will learn all about what I call Sphincter Law in the book. ” The (male) newscastor nearly spat out his teeth, and turning to the camera said “After the break :Sphincter Law!”, and then off mike:  “I don’t believe I just said that!”  Ina May sat there serenely as with a little boy who has just reacted to the word ‘bottom’ being said in public.

Yes, it is difficult to talk about birth without talk about ‘bottoms’  – and so many good and polite citizens of this planet find it hard to talk easily and appropriately about such things.

I think what I missed in the film because of the sound quality ( or my hearing quality) were the comments and reflections of Ina’s husband and founder of the community Steven.   Ina May said it was his fearlessness and his confidence in her that gave her the confidence to take this path – which has led to a movement neither of them envisioned at the start.  I would so liked to have heard the words – I will certainly want to watch this film again to ensure I catch them.

And of the message of the film itself? Here are the soundbites and highlights that I noted in the cinema darkness and can still read the following morning:

 

Ina May at a Conference begins:  “Anyone here not born of a woman?” then ” Good we live in the same universe.”

The danger that midwifery as a profession will be wiped out.

Described her own first birth and the lack of care and compassion of the medical staff, she then says to her midwifery students:

Rule one of caring for a birthing woman : “Be nice!”

We watch the emergency birth kits being taken out of airing cupboards and kitchen drawers:  people think that because we  are Farm midwives we take nothing to the birth.  We bring a whole hospital to the birth – although we almost never use it.

About how birthing women feel with the oxytocin running through their bodies unfettered:   “It is the most pain I have ever been in but the best I have every felt.”

There was a lot about how fear fetters oxytocin and stops women feeling so good and stops women birthing well and safely.

The story of the first edition of Spiritual midwifery was fascinating:

Someone got an inheritance and they thought ” Let’s do something substantial with it.”  Women were writing down their birth stories and they were so good, they thought “Lets put them in a book! Let’s write a book!”  And Steven said: “Also tell them about how you do it, how you do your midwifery that makes these stories happen.”  They took the idea to the whole community  of women, and everyone agreed.  It was a community decision insists Ina May, this book was written and produced by the community.  So a printing press was bought, they commissioned artwork, took photos and they produced their first edition of Spiritual Midwifery.  To their surprise, thousands and thousands of books were being sold – they could not print enough books quick enough.  And it was not just hippies buying the book, either.  Ina May shows the languages the book has been translated into ( German –  it had to be 2 volumes!) .  A Dutch doctor makes it required reading for her students because she says ” This is authentic midwifery!”

Flipping through the book,  there is a page of photos of Midwife Pamela Hunt, I think, and they both laugh (separate recordings) because Ina May took the photos whilst Pam was checking Ina’s dilation during labour. Ruth: I remember the photos in the book and now understand the expression on Pamela’s face!

Taking away the power of fear. This was a constantly repeated phrase.

The power of visualization. Two stories:

Ina May noticed a woman ‘opening up’ to be really large, really easily.  After the birth she asked the woman about it.  The woman told Ina that Ina had made a comment to her once and it made an impression, and so at the birth every time she contracted she imagined her cervix openning to be very large.  the power of the woman!  the power of visutalization.

Another occasion a woman told her that she had read something about a baby being born and not breathing.  Ina said I did not deal with this when she told me, and when her baby was not born the baby did not breathe . . .

The safe way to do a breech: keep out fear.  And the best way to keep out fear is to have a fierce midwife, husband or doula who keep out strangers ( sceptical medical staff?)

The above was after and between much about sphincter law: we don’t open our sphincters in public, and if something threatens we shut them fast – a woman needs to have no fear or threat birthing a baby – but especially a breech baby.  We do not want that sphincter to close shut from fear:  A calm mother will not trap the baby’s head.

 

Ina May says: I attended 180births before my first CS.  This told me that women could birth normally.

Ina May says:  Farmers don’t induce their animals – because it is so apt to go wrong.  Why do we do it as humans?

We are just as good at birth as other mammals!

Shoulder dystocia – film footage of a farm midwife delivering a shoulder dystocia from 20 years ago.  Midwife shows no fear, calm, quietly giving oxygen whilst cord attached and between mothers legs.  Mother may never know anything.

Ina May and one of her colleagues from the early days reflect on the changing relationships with women now the babies being born could be their grandchildren rather than their children.  Say that now they are older they get less trouble from the doctors – much more deferential and when they say the woman needs this – they agree right away!

Depiction of Ina Mays campaign against the appalling maternal death rate in the USA –  and her quilting – each square a tribute to a mother who has died in childbirth in the USA.  Medical birth is killing women she is saying rather than saving them.

Ina May says at a conference: “We need you men to help us change things.  We as women cannot change birth on our own.”

And somewhere in the film someone uses my analogy of Dandelions – we are like dandelions!

There ends my notes on the film.

But finally, it needs to be said that it was not just the film that was inspirational but the people I met afterwards who were watching the film – people who will make the difference here in Bradford and in the UK! Thankyou!  We do not do this alone.

 

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Because it is not an ideal world . . . .

This week I have had a lot of ‘in an ideal world . . ‘ comments from people talking about midwifery staffing and one to one care.

And I want to say I am fed up of it, I want it to stop and it needs to challenged!

To say that in ideal world we want gold standard one to one midwifery care, is to consign that notion to impossibility.  One to one care IS happening on the NHS now in Liverpool (the Wirral) and elsewhere.  Small puddles in the desert they may be but nevertheless demonstrations of the concept of real world gold standard care.

Yesterday I was at a meeting about where things went badly wrong in maternity service, and the report states that staffing had been an issue on the night and it was clear there was big lack of continuity of care – but it was deemed unchangeable – in comparison to changing the policy to ensure many more women will have a medical birth to ‘save’ this happening again.

In an ideal world was the medical directors comment, and I said “No, its not about an ideal world its about saving women’s lives’

Sisters brothers, comrades in arms, one to one midwifery care, gold standard continuity of carer that provides dignity and time and respect to every woman, saves women’s health, sanity, and their lives.  This kind of midwifery ensures baby gets mothers milk and fathers get support and guidance, this kind of support is called social care and it makes a big difference to families and communities.  And its not for an ideal world because in an ideal world we would not need it – gold standard midwifery care is for the real world because we need it to meet the challenges of healthy birthing and parenting.

Our mantra should be ‘Its not an ideal world  – that’s why we need gold standard one to one midwifery care!