I am almost as Vashon as they come — “almost” only because some of you may claim more generations of occupation of this place — but I am one who was born, raised, and is now raising children on the island. As she did with my sister before me, my mom gave birth to me in my bedroom, through the support and guidance of a direct-entry midwife (thanks, Margaret). Though still relatively uncommon in 1988, I have come to learn that a fair number of us in the community share that experience. It wasn’t until leaving for college that I realized how statistically uncommon it was among US-born Millennials.
For most of my life, I didn’t think too much about this stuff. As a man who reflects often on that part of my identity, I would say the likelihood of a casual chat about pregnancy, labor and/or delivery among most males is about as common as US home-births (around 1% of the total). But then I met my future wife, who, largely through the transformative experience of her first childbirth, later committed herself to her career in midwifery.
There are many perks to this relationship, not least of which is my now-superior knowledge of Latin, reproductive health and the mostly-white-dudes who have put their name on everything. I also enjoy being able to talk openly about all the body parts without blushing — especially helpful as a parent. But my greatest benefit in this dynamic is an appreciation for the practice itself.
Midwifery is and always will be the original way we become human. Isn’t that cool to think about? It has many millennia of human generations behind it, and it is one of few disciplines that has survived to now that has predominantly been practiced, developed and advanced by women. Plus, it draws from many cultural traditions around the world and is boldly people-first when much of modern medicine seems to have forgotten that our bodies are not commodities.
Midwives remind us that birth is a natural process and not a disease or problem to be dealt with — and one that doesn’t necessarily need to start with hospitalization or intervention. One mantra I’ve heard among them is simply, “Healthy and normal.” Thanks to advances in science, direct-entry midwifery is now safer and more evidence-based than ever before.
While modern midwives come equipped with many of the same tools and technology as you’ll find with an OB, it is where they come from that is not oft mentioned (and perhaps more important): a lineage that recognizes the joy and the grief associated with birth as a rite-of-passage. Midwifery is a craft itself born in the wisdom to hold the totality of the human experience as sacred — in the protection of life, honoring of death, no matter the outcome, and entirely in service to birther and child. It is this part of the practice that I connect most deeply to.
Now is a good time for me to assert that I have nothing against hospital birth. In fact, we chose it for our first child, as it can safely hedge against higher-risk situations. No doubt, it is the right choice for many. But if we were to look closely at the cost/benefit analysis, especially for low-risk pregnancies (around 85% of the total), I think we’ll find a homestyle solution to one of our major accessibility problems in healthcare.
Sadly, I’m reminded of my mother telling me about the harsh criticism she received for her birth plans. Perhaps some of you reading have been on one side of that exchange yourselves. Still today many birthing families are highly torn in their decisions — and it is a big one — with family, friends, and medical authorities all vying for influence, often with conflicting advice. As residents of an island community with limited healthcare resources, restricted access to hospitals, and a passionate and opinionated populace, may we recognize the vitality of this conversation with regard to our long-term health and wellbeing.
Thankfully, safe, accessible and high-quality homebirth is an option here once again. Following in the footsteps of those before them, the women at Vashon Island Midwifery are doing the good work of today for tomorrow, providing safe passage for our future generations. As is true with any birth, this brand-new organization is ready for the nurturing love of its community. Sign up, spread the word, and donate what you can. Your support is a winning investment in all of us.
Nicky Wilks is a co-founder of Journeymen Institute and a proud board member of Vashon Island Midwifery.