A Weekend with Ina May Gaskin: "Rock on"
**EDIT** Original post April 2013
What would you ask the world-renown “Mother of Midwifery” if you had the chance? I had been so excited to have the opportunity to spend some time with her, after having spent months planning with a wonderful group of people with the vision and commitment to bring her to our community in SWFL, that I nearly forgot to worry about what to actually saywhen I finally met her.
I was getting ready to pick her up from the airport, just Ina May, me, and my trusty lil' Prius. What will I say in the car? Oh gosh, what will I wear? We were heading straight from the airport to the venue hosting our VIP reception and screening of her new documentary Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and The Farm Midwives. What will she say? What if I say something stupid? This quickly followed by the thought that I will say something less than perfect at some point so I may as well get over it now, and enjoy myself instead.
I waited at the foot of the escalator inside the airport, seeing dozens of pairs of feet as they were the first thing that became visible under the ceiling overhang above me. Does that pair of boots belong to Ina May? Here comes the face...no. How about that pair of fuzzy flats? Could it be...no. Her flight had been delayed and we were already going to be beyond fashionably late to the reception. Maybe she didn't make her connection? Maybe I somehow missed her walk by? Finally, a small pair came into sight, brown Mary Janes, and I dismissed them for those of a child. Wrong! Here she was, a petite, strong woman with small feet and gray hair, wearing a brown straw hat and carrying a backpack. She feigned a smile after 12 hours of travel and we waited for her bag to arrive. I asked her if she’s ever been “spotted” in an airport, to which she replied no. Really? The world renown Ina May? My shock must have shown, and I asked her if she would welcome that sort of thing or if she would feel uncomfortable. She smiled a wide smile and said, “I’ll let you know if it happens.” I’m already in love with her spirit.
The weekend was a whirlwind of activity between the VIP reception and screening and the next day’s First Annual SWFL Green Family Expo where she was our special guest speaker. I shuttled her from activity to her B&B and back again, and reveled in this chance of a lifetime, this amazing opportunity to talk birth with one of my birth heroine’s, one of the reasons I became a doula. I learned that she checks in with her daughter when she arrives from a flight, just like any mama would. That she is happy when she is fed. That she likes IZZE drinks. That she's self-conscious about her hair (she really wanted to get a flat-iron to beat the Florida humidity, though she didn't know what to call it; we never did make it to the store...). During our rides we talked about fear’s role in today’s birth culture and that her antidote is love. Lots of love to laboring moms, given out freely and compassionately. She likes to make moms laugh, and believes that feeling good during labor is paramount. We talked about women’s different ways of knowing and from where they receive their knowledge, and I shared with her the book “Women's Ways Of Knowing: The Development Of Self, Voice, And Mind” by Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger and Tarule. I learned that Ina May’s knowledge comes most directly from her experience of being with laboring mothers (the definition of a midwife), and she has a ton of it.
During our car rides I shared with her that our local birth community is growing, and she asked with curiosity why that might be. I shared that we have a number of really wonderful new birth professionals eager to encourage change, with our new SWFL Birth Network chapter (www.swflbirthnetwork.com) as well as our new ICAN local chapter (www.ican-online.org), an explosion in the number of great doulas in our area, our steadfast dedicated midwives at our two local birth centers, and some other tuned in professionals dedicated to pregnant and post-partum moms. We both heartily agreed that we really need more men on our side to really make some changes in birth. I bragged about my husband and his love of birth, and his desire to begin prenatal birth counseling with couples in his own calling as a psychologist. As we talked about highlights from her film, she shared with me how some of the footage was filmed by her male friends in the 70's with huge camera's (not very subtle) and how that posed challenges. At some point I said how incredible this experience was and said, “Pinch me! It’s like I have Ina May sitting beside me in my car!” She literally did with an audible, “Pinch, pinch!” Did I mention that I’m in love with her spirit?
So while we agreed on having more men involved in birth change, we also discussed the insurance companies' roles as well as medical malpractice issues (and we threw in some discussion of our broken school system too, but that’s a story for another day). I told her about a conversation I recently had with a local birth mentor of mine who shared her opinion that any change we are looking to make to fix a broken U.S. birth system must start with the women; empowering women themselves to demand a better way to birth without such reliance on medical support; making the demand for out-of-hospital birth so high to create more demand for a larger natural birth community with more options for the women in our community. Ina May heartily agreed with my friend and said yes, the change begins with the women making inf