May 5th is International Day of the Midwife. The word “Midwife” means so many things to the families who birth in their care and to the people who fill the role of being with them during the process. Depending on which state, province or country you live in, “Midwife” can mean so many different things, ranging from someone who has trained in traditional birth practices and primarily attends births at home, to regulated medical providers / clinicians who attend births both in home and hospital, or in some places, just in hospital settings.
The historical practice of attending families in the transformative, sacred, biological process of birth is one that has become (or maybe always has been) a highly politicized one.
In my work, I have had the privilege of working with and learning from some amazing practitioners who know what it means to be “with woman”, to support families, to encourage, to honour, to witness, and to serve. This includes some of our local Registered Midwives. However, the woman who has taught me the most about attending births in a meaningful and effective way does not call herself a midwife. Here is a quote from her:
Giving Up The Word “Midwife”
I’ve received many Happy Day of the Midwife greetings. I don’t promote this idea. In Canada, the word “midwife” can only be used by women who pay money to belong to a “college” which is a government sanctioned surveillance organization.
I do not pay money to our provincial “college” and, therefore, I do not use the term “midwife” to describe myself. The courts in Canada have deemed that I may attend births, I may make a living attending births, I may teach midwifery BUT I may not use the term ” midwife ” to describe myself.
There was a huge freedom for me in giving up the word “midwife”. The word has come to mean ‘highly controlled obstetric nurse’ in my country so it doesn’t describe my work, at all. Every day is MY day. I am loved, acknowledged and am able to express my love for my community.
I can blog without being edited, I can speak up against injustice without being suppressed by a governing body. As long as we have midwives in front of courts and in prison in North America, we have more work to do to bring midwifery into the modern age.
As long as there are women committed to having a gentle arrival for their babies, there will be women’s work to do and good women will be there, no matter what label they have.
They Used to Call me Midwife
I have been coming to the same conclusion as Gloria, it is time to give up the word midwife.
There are so many definitions and controls being decided by institutions and government authorities that the word has been twisted out of its original meaning.
Call me by who I am and by what I do. I am the woman who is with the woman. I am the one who attends — who stands by and assists — while the woman gives birth. I am the helper, counselor, advisor, and (occasionally) the person who renders first aid. I am the cook and the maid, and the babysitter for the older children. I do whatever is needed to help provide a peaceful, secure, safe place to give birth. I serve the woman and her family. Not the state.
They used to call me Midwife.~Gail Hart