Cherokee-Catholic midwife, Sister MorningStar, wrote the following letter last week to the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM) as she declined to re-certify with the organization on ethical grounds.
This is the powerful reminder to those who support women in their birthing times: when the current method of scientifically managed childbirth no longer serves women, we must have the courage to go back to the “old” ways. To embrace our design, our God-given mother-wisdom, our unique experiences and to love our sisters as they travel their own birth journeys. I honor Sister MorningStar for speaking out and bringing to light the failing realities in our system.
Dear NARM Board and sisters,
Thank you for your communication. My credential was received in January 1995 and was the fifth CPM credential to be awarded. It hangs on the wall of my little cottage next to my Cherokee Holy Site papers, next to the book shelf near my work station. It was such an honor to be a part of those early formative years in the development of a national midwifery credential. It was with depth and devotion and commitment and serious discernment that I carried the messages from my state midwifery organization to those national gatherings as we worked and prayed for direction in the preservation of something so timeless and sacred as midwifery.
I am surprised to receive a notice that my recertification would be due in August. It has been in January every three years since 1995. It has not been easy to come to the discernment to decline recertification. I do not mean to burden you with my own process. I do wish to mention that as the original content has moved deeper into a medical model and further from the fluid, apprenticeship based model we had so hoped to preserve, the discernment became easier.
By traveling around the world and immersing myself in the ways of birth from global villages in Mexico or Australia to the urban core of Moscow or Mumbai, I have learned how precious the path is that preserves a midwifery born of elders who know secrets that are passed down only to those with a hunger and patient heart to learn.
Many things have become endangered in my life time. Instinctual birth is one of them.
The midwife who protects instinctual birth is another. The human species itself has become endangered as nearly all babies across the globe are now born in captivity, without freedom of site or seer who controls and separates them from their mother’s first gaze and touch. Few are the mothers who have no blood taken from their veins, hands touching their inner chambers or babies who know only a mothers arms. Who can check the cervix of a tiger?
Who takes a baby from a Mother Bear?
But for reasons that seldom distinguish life from death, does an instinct injured human female suffer politely abuses to body, mind and soul in the name of birth. If birth is the beginning of everything else, there is little wonder that the wounded female instinct keeps the sacred feminine from her rightful place in our wounded societies.
Having just returned from India where the norm is 100% episiotomy, I can still hear the echo of the surgeons over and over, “Do you want a cut above or a cut below?” So proud is the world to learn the ways of western professionalism. We do not have to tie wimyn down anymore. They receive the drugs to make them polite, quiet and compliant.
From antiquity, the apprenticeship way taught and preserved not only life of the body but of the spirit. I have seen cords replenish themselves with a newborn’s first breath when that same cord had been completely flat moments before. I have seen what undisturbed birth does to protect shy oxytocin and enable rapid and upright birth. I have seen the locked gaze of newborn and mother undisturbed for hours and witnessed what that means to long term bonding and health when I revisit decades later. I have witnessed a bite of placenta or chewing a cord control excessive blood loss faster than pharmaceuticals and with added benefits just now entering the evidence realms. I have watched the little bicycling feet of a breech baby stiffen and push off the floor to flex it’s head and birth itself while mother sways hands and knees, forehead to forehead with her midwife. I have listened to the long stories of wise elder midwives who sat in the corner, yarn in hand, transporting a tired mother to wellsprings of refreshment until all in the room were asleep only to be awakened by a baby crowning. I have learned herbs and motions and stories and touch and love and fierce patience that command strength and cast out fear. I have watched it vanish and fail when doubt and documentaries from outsiders enter the room.
Why would this surprise us? Don’t we know the kitty hides to birth her babies? What we do not see is what is important. It is the mystery that needs protecting. But who? and How? I thought, maybe many of us thought, that preserving apprenticeship model would protect it.
I have watched as professional midwifery care gains popularity, influence and increase including out of hospital birth and listened to the increasing criticism of that care by mothers disillusioned with transports and impersonalized high volume practices. I have sat and held the hands of my colleagues in America as they weep under the weight of standards and protocols that limit what they used to do.
Based on the combination of professionalism and the results of what used to be voluntary statistical data collection, midwifery boards create medically mirrored protocols. Driven by rules and regulations that glean their decisions from these professional bodies, the wise ones are faced with going back underground or abandoning a lifelong client or lying on required forms. Such unwholesome choices they face. This spring at a midwifery conference I learned that the MANA stats data collection system which I have enthusiastically participated in and supported since it’s origin before computers, is being used to support prosecution of midwives. I wept with my heart fallen and wrote immediately to close my account.
The pressure to follow NRP alone has robbed the wisdom of undisturbed maternal behavior on newborn first breaths as a critical and life saving skill. A new generation of midwives with linear thinking and action freeze in the face of the life, death, life cycle inherent in birth when they must think beyond their training. Schools have replaced the mentor and apprentice and many study for the test, as does a whole world culture who is estranged from instinct, intuition, connectedness and patience.
Where are they to learn the mystical ways of birth when you never get a second chance to make a first impression? I shall never forget Ruth saying to us when we embarked upon this priceless and periless journey to “define” midwifery. “You cannot credential kindness.” Clearly, it cannot be done. Human rights cannot be reduced to options with a check box and the right of a mother to choose where and with whom and how she will birth her baby cannot be upheld even by putting a professional midwife on every block.
Our modern culture has produced an extreme professionalism that is threatening and cross current with native ways and native wisdom. How and who will preserve the knowledge, skills and experience of wise wimyn elders as bit by bit what they know is discounted or forbidden in practice? What was once a special circumstance or variation of normal is now a risk factor that labels a mother too early, too late, too small, too large, too many, too breech, too young, too old, too non compliant, too much and yet getting too little when it comes to looking at factors such as thought and feeling and fears and desires and compassion and home visits and genuine interest and patience and ethnic respect and kindness. For native peoples the world over, the professional has become the greatest risk factor in an undisturbed, instinctual birth.
I marvel in my own country that anyone of age can purchase a car without having to sit and watch grueling images of decapitated loved ones or mangled body parts or funeral services or mental distress from the potential and daily risk of the purchase they are about to make. No disclaimer must be signed admitting to the risk and acknowledging that the seller has advised them not to take this unnecessary risk to life, limb or property. Nope. Nothing of the sort. There is a celebration of the risk and wine for the risk taker.
I marvel that a health care system can eagerly receive a bleeding, dying, mangled body from a natural or man choice disaster like auto accident. The staff goes to work without question to save the life and restore the body offering compassion to both survivor and loved ones; no grueling questions asked. But a transporting laboring mother, rich with hopes often shattered, working to bring into this world the next generation of her people and in great need of compassion, kindness, patience and no more expert care, and often less, than would be needed to save a mangled, bleeding body retrieved from a moving vehicle; this holy womyn is received with question and contempt and her midwife put at risk both legally and professionally. This unfair, insane and inhuman attitude alters decisions long before the mother even starts her labor. Freedom to purchase a car and so less to have a baby.
So I must side with the mother who is still wild and instinctual enough to birth under a tree if need be and release my professional standing to stand by her.
She and I are like the deer on the edge of the strip mall. When we leap, we must leap further back into the healthy forest to preserve simple and sacred birth.
As you move forward steering a major influence in the promotion of professionalization of midwifery, may you be granted both wisdom and kindness.
Blessed Be. Blessed Do.