Lies and the Myth of the Uneducated Midwife

There seems to be a pervasive myth in American society that midwives are uneducated. This is unfortunately perpetuated since the myth is not only that midwives are uneducated, but often even that it’s acceptable for midwives to be uneducated. The very term “lay midwife” insinuates that all midwives who train through the traditional apprenticeship model are uneducated and have little training at all.

lay – adjective [not gradable] (NOT TRAINED)

not trained in or not having a detailed knowledge of a particular subject:
“To a lay audience, the mathematics would be difficult.”

Putting aside the question of whether or not this is true in some cases — in my experience, this perception can lead to non-midwife birthworkers, particularly doulas and apprentice midwives who don’t have much knowledge or experience yet, thinking that they know enough to attend births as “lay midwives.” After all, being a midwife is easily assumed, by the very terminology used, to be a largely untrained profession and it’s all too easy for doulas and student midwives to believe the also pervasive (in the natural birth community) myth that all or nearly all birth complications are caused by interventions.

The truth of the matter is that it takes a great deal of time, studying, and experience to become a good midwife. Not all complications are caused by the overuse of interventions. Some complications happen in even the most tranquil and supportive birthing environments and these sometimes require the use of judicious interventions in order to ensure the mother’s and baby’s safety. In my experience, most women who are looking for a midwife are looking for someone who’s experienced enough to understand when to intervene and when to leave well enough alone and these women are not looking for someone to be present for an unassisted birth. Generally speaking, if a woman wants an unassisted birth (a completely different topic), she’s usually not looking for a midwife to hire – hands-off or otherwise.

There’s a saying in the midwifery community about how, for a time during training or their time working with birthing mothers, most apprentice midwives and many doulas know “just enough to be dangerous.” Basically, that means that the student or doula in question has been to some amazing births and read some medical textbooks and thinks that they have a really good handle on this baby-catching thing, when really, they don’t know enough yet to realize how much they don’t know.

The saying, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” is particularly applicable here and the vast majority of apprentices move past the point of knowing “just enough to be dangerous” and go on to learn and gain experience and become amazing midwives. This is a stage of development that’s healthy to move through, but can potentially be very dangerous if someone gets stuck there.

One of the most dangerous things about being stuck in the not knowing how much you don’t know phase is that you don’t realize you’re there until you’re out of it and look back with some horror at how much you used to think you knew. I’ve been to some truly terrifying births with a woman who sincerely believed that she was ready to take on her own clients and attend births as a primary midwife. I look back and realize that she not only lied to her clients and to me about various important things, but – far more dangerous – she lied to herself.

How can potential clients tell whether their midwife is experienced and knowledgeable, given the state of midwifery in many areas of the country? You, as a client, can and should ask questions, get solid references, see if a midwife is a member of her state’s midwifery association, and talk to the other midwives and birthworkers in the area to get an idea of whether your midwife has as much experience as you believe she has.

Watch for red flags, such as being reluctant to tell you their statistics – how many births/prenatals/postpartums they’ve been to – or not letting you know with what midwife they apprenticed and/or school they attended. The information about where your midwife trained, with whom, and for how long really shouldn’t be a secret and, in the absence of state licensure, is one of the best ways to check on and know whether or not your prospective midwife is telling you the truth about her background and experience levels and that you are comfortable with those levels.

Even with state licensure and a professional certification, find out your midwife’s experience and education levels. Be an informed consumer and ask around before choosing a doula or midwife. Don’t just interview one doula or one midwife – interview at least a couple so that you can find someone you feel comfortable with.

If you’re hiring a doula or midwife, please, for the love of all that is good and holy, check what they tell you about their history and experience. With a doula, your birth experience could be at stake; and with a midwife, your birth, your life, and your baby’s life could be on the line. If your prospective doula or midwife is anything other than completely forthcoming about names and phone numbers of references or about how many births she’s been to or about her training or education, check with their state midwifery organization or the doula organization she claims to be certified with and with any midwives she claims to have worked with.

Your birth, your comfort, and your safety is worth the trouble of double-checking and asking questions.

A Lovely Aspect of Homeschooling

One of the absolute best aspects of homeschooling for me, personally, is discovering new interests right alongside my children.

We’re trying something new this year. Last year we were part of a local Charlotte Mason co-op, which won’t work this year due to scheduling conflicts, and we learned about different composers and their music, artists and their art, poets and their poetry, and we did nature study outside using nature notebooks to record findings.

Those subjects of study may seem peripheral to most people and even to the public school system, from what I can tell, but I believe that they form a foundation for an appreciation of the finer things of life, as well as for a greater understanding of the world and culture we live in, and I can’t imagine ignoring these subjects, despite the fact that the co-op isn’t going to work for us right now.

We were able to base nearly all of our minor subjects on the lives of musicians, artists, and poets last year. Geography, social studies, some musical math, a bit of science, and even some history have all been brought alive by the music, art, and poetry of various countries, time periods, and individuals. I can turn on classical music and my children can tell me what instruments are being used, what type of music it likely is, and sometimes which composer wrote it. My children can immediately recognize the style of Impressionism when faced with an unfamiliar painting and I look forward to introducing them to many more styles as we continue throughout the years.

Anyhow, this year, given the situation and also to help my children handle the disappointment of not being able to see their friends for co-op, I had my oldest (8yo) choose our first subjects of study. She has chosen Degas for our artist, Tchaikovsky for our composer, Rose Fyleman for our poet, and to begin with leaves for nature study. Her next younger sister will get to choose the next set of topics once we have thoroughly examined this first set :-)

Throughout the process of gathering books and information on Degas, I’m apparently developing a great appreciation for art. I’ve always been more musically inclined, but I suddenly have found an appreciation where there wasn’t any before. It’s invigorating to find good sources, books about his life and works, and documentaries to fill our days that aren’t going to be quite as productive due to various factors.

This year is looking far more promising than I had previously expected it to be and all the children are thrilled to be so involved in the choosing of our poet, composer, and artist. I, also, am looking forward to continuing to develop more of an appreciation for art and poetry alongside my children and for my children to continue developing a great appreciation for the great composers, which has been my greatest pleasure to share with them <3

Nursing in Public

I read an excellent article yesterday about all of the public places/situations where it is inappropriate to breastfeed. Amazingly enough, as a strong breastfeeding proponent, I agreed with it!

Five Places Where Breastfeeding is Certainly Inappropriate

A friend of mine reposted the article and one of her friends commented about the “courtesy” of breastfeeding women not “drawing undue attention to their exposed anatomy” and of being modest. In my somewhat limited experience, those are some of the most common reasons given by people who seek to restrict where a woman is able to feed her baby in the biologically normal way. Given that our society still has a great many social biases towards *artificial baby-milk feeding, I believe that it is of extreme importance to address those biases whenever I see them.

This was my response:

It’s also courteous to look away if someone is nursing and showing too much skin for your comfort. I would ask you, very respectfully, to consider the following:

Perhaps the hypothetical woman who is “drawing undue attention” to the act of feeding her baby is just starting out with nursing. Perhaps her baby won’t nurse with a cover (most babies I know personally refuse to nurse while covered up). Perhaps she wore something that (in retrospect and to her great embarrassment) wasn’t the most practical nursing attire. Or perhaps her baby needed to nurse immediately due to hunger or injury, leaving no time for the mother to be overly concerned with the opinions or even sensibilities of adult strangers who can easily avert their eyes if their sensibilities are offended.

Perhaps the fact that the mother could have very valid, non-exhibitionist, reasons for not being as modest as some might prefer could help you see that (rare, in my experience) occurrence in a different and more positive light than as, negatively stated above, a purposeful drawing of attention or lack of modesty.

 

Babies need to be fed. If a baby is hungry, then they should be fed as quickly as possible. Preferably with breastmilk, but with formula where necessary for whatever reason. If someone can bottle-feed in a location or situation, then mothers should be able to also breastfeed in that same location or situation. Feeding a baby is not a sexual act. Breasts are primarily organs for feeding babies, not for titillating the males in our species.

*I am not anti-formula and I fully understand that it is necessary to feed babies artificial baby-milk under several circumstances. The first rule of feeding babies is “Feed the baby” and many babies thrive on formula. However, I also believe that we do a disservice to both babies and mothers, as well as society as a whole, when we pretend that artificial baby-milk is in any way comparable to breastmilk or ignore the fact that there are very real disadvantages, and even dangers, to feeding babies formula when compared to breastfeeding directly or feeding babies breastmilk from a bottle.

Assigning Positive Intent

flowers in the yard

I believe that learning how to assign and even to assume the positive intent of others is one of the most important things I’ve learned how to do over the past several years.

I first remember hearing about this concept from my father as he taught an adult Sunday School class that I was attending. He explained that, when someone seems to be angry with you, they very well may not be at all. They might be dealing with a difficult personal or family issue or they could even be experiencing chronic pain – nobody, my father explained that Sunday morning, has an easy time being nice to other people when they have chronic back pain.

Well, that made and still makes perfect sense to me. In addition to the point that people always have other things going on in their lives that we can’t possibly know about, another point is that none of us is the center of anyone’s universe except possibly (probably?) our own. The idea that I would do something purposefully to make a friend or family member of mine upset or to offend them utterly baffles me. I don’t know why I would spend any time trying to do such a thing.

And if I wouldn’t spend my time doing something like that, then why would I assume that anyone else would do such a thing to me?

That was enough to convince me and over the years I’ve gotten much better at assigning positive intent to others and not taking personally any differences of opinion or belief.

The assumption of positive intent has made a huge difference in my life and has been very freeing. I’m free to believe that I’m not the center of anyone else’s world and that nobody is messing with me by just living their lives.

One of the most important places to assume positive intent these days, in my opinion, is online, but it’s also one of the more difficult situations to assume positive intent. We are now exposed to so many more of our friends’ and family members’ beliefs and actions than we were before social media came around that it’s bound to be a rough transition. Family members interacting with high school friends and college friends and parenting friends… it can be a mess sometimes.

It can also seem, occasionally, as though people are posting negative things that are directed right at us and at our choices or beliefs. In reality, the people posting them probably just saw something that lined up with their own beliefs and posted it because they liked it – not because they’re thinking about how you do or believe the opposite and they want to send you some sort of cryptic negative message.

I’ve mostly avoided that sort of thinking, especially after spending several years on a gentle parenting board where we are expected to always assume positive intent with our children as well as with other mothers on the board, and am normally very adept at simply scrolling past most things that I find to be potentially offensive or divisive, but I’ve found that I sometimes get very defensive or even offended responses from my friends when I post something that has been helpful to me personally with parenting or living.

It’s even possible that this post will ruffle someone’s feathers somewhere, although I can’t imagine whose and it’s not intended in that way either… it’s just a helpful topic I have on my mind and that I wanted to share with anyone who reads this <3

So what are some examples of positive intent, as I see it?

Positive intent (as I see it) says that parents who make different decisions than you do are just doing the best they can with their unique situation and the information they have, even if you think you’d never make those decisions yourself. Positive intent says that those parents also have the best interest of their children in mind, even if you vehemently disagree with how they go about showing it.

Positive intent says that people who generalize about specific parties in politics and denigrate those who support them are just frustrated with the state of politics right now (aren’t we all?) and possibly lack the capacity to express their extreme frustration without also casting aspersions on everyone who supports the party they’re frustrated with. Positive intent also says that those aspersions are not about you or me, but rather tells you a bit more about the frustrations and beliefs of the person making them.

Positive intent says that people are trying their hardest and doing their best to live their lives in a difficult and fallen world, even if you look at them and think that they seem like abject failures by your own definition. Nobody is perfect and everyone falls short in one way or another. Some of us struggle more than others do and none of us have walked in anyone else’s shoes, figuratively speaking, so it really does behoove everyone to assign positive intent.

Positive intent says that we treat others the way that we would want to be treated by assuming that there’s a good explanation for behavior that we could easily take personally or poorly.

If I ever appear to be a jerk to someone then I want to know about it and have a chance to make things right. It only makes sense to me to give that chance to anyone who seems to be acting like a jerk to me. Maybe they thought  I was a jerk first or maybe their mom just died or they just found out they have cancer or they simply woke up late and have been scrambling to catch up all day long… you’ll almost certainly never know for sure unless you assume the best and ask them nicely.

Positive intent says that it’s not all about us and that we should strive not to take things personally unless we have asked for clarification and the person clarifies that it is, specifically, about us.

Almost always though, there’s another explanation; one that doesn’t involve cryptic or indirect personal attacks because, really, who has time for that kind of thing?

Small Houses: Our Story Part One

Small houses have always held an appeal for me. During my childhood, my family seemed to move into larger and larger homes as I got older – we’d get more stuff and need more space to store it all. My husband and I have managed to avoid that so far. We have moved from tiny to large to medium to large and back to small/tiny, then we repeated the pattern once again, staying with various friends and family for a few weeks sometimes between actual spaces of our own. We’ve acquired things and gotten rid of things and try to continually reevaluate what we have and what purpose it serves – this is vital when living in a smaller than average sized space and it’s not something that comes easily or naturally to me at all.

While the average square footage per person in America was 832 in 2009, our own home comes in at 200 square feet per person. That’s including a home office in our third bedroom, which is largely unusable space during the daytime when my husband is working. We sometimes joke that most of his 200 square feet come out of the office space. We also homeschool all our children so, many days, all six of us are home all day long.

On the other hand, this 1200 square foot space is far from the smallest home we have lived in. Our first home, after we got married, was around 300 or 350 square feet, but only two of us and the dog lived there. Over the living room it also had a sleeping loft that wasn’t counted in the square footage. That house was more than big enough! We had a futon couch, a coffee table, a desk, a bookshelf, our bed was up in the loft, and we had a small kitchen table with two chairs that fit just perfectly into our kitchen. The stove was half-sized (and gas!) and we had a clothes closet and clawfoot bathtub in our rather spacious, for the size of the house, bathroom. We had guests over frequently and always made extra food for friends or homeless folks who would stop by for dinner with little or no notice sometimes.

Our little house was located in the middle of downtown San Luis Obispo, CA in a little courtyard with other small cottages as neighbors. We could both easily walk to our jobs and pretty much anywhere else in town or near Cal Poly we wanted to go. Our car didn’t work when we lived there so friends would sometimes give us a ride to Trader Joe’s or the tiny little natural foods co-op we were members of. We could walk to the co-op, and often did, when we needed something small or just a few things. We also lived less than a block away from a large park with a playground, an adult playground (with stationary exercise “equipment”), a giant field, and a community garden. We would walk there in the middle of the night to let our dog run around the field and to exercise on the adult playground. Then we would walk leisurely through the beautiful community garden before heading back to our perfect little house.

Alas, we had only lived there for 7 months when the retirement home that owned our house decided to kick out all their tenants and demolish all the little cottages, including our own, in order to expand their facility. It was a sad day. We could easily and happily have stayed there for much longer and had at least one baby in that space, given the opportunity.

Our next house wasn’t small at all. It was huge! We moved to my in-laws’ 1400 square foot double-wide manufactured home in Washington State after my father-in-law got remarried. Our first baby was born there, but it was odd living in such a large space after our cozy little home. We acquired a great many more material possessions while living there and when we moved into a one-bedroom 700 square foot apartment with our new baby and all that stuff stuff, it looked  just like an episode of hoarders with boxes stacked quite high.

We never really unpacked in that space because we literally couldn’t. There just wasn’t enough room for all our stuff and, with the new baby, I just never got around to decluttering everything. I’d never been taught how to declutter by my parents so the next few years in our next few houses were spent learning on my own, with the help of decluttering books like Sandra Felton’s Messies books and Don Aslett’s Clutter’s Last Stand, how to get rid of things and decide whether something should be kept or not.

Our next place, an 800 square foot studio downstairs duplex, achieved the status of being a home; not just a storage facility with a kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom like our apartment had been. We unpacked our many boxes, decluttered to the best of our abilities, and contributed a ton of things to the local annual Rotary Auction and Rummage Sale. We also acquired more things from the Rotary Rummage Sale, but these were mainly things that we either needed, like a couch, or things that helped us organize the house, like bookshelves for our extremely large collection of books.

We adopted a cat while in the downstairs duplex and lived there until our oldest was around 18 months old and I was 2 months away from having our second child. Then we moved just upstairs into the 1200 square foot duplex above us. It was huge after the apartment and downstairs duplex! We had our second baby there and moved to a 500 square foot house when she was only 5 months old because of heating and cooling issues with the space.

That 550 square foot home was a standalone house, which was absolutely wonderful after the apartment and duplexes. We had an enclosed carport, a covered front porch that was at least 150 square feet, and a detached laundry room that doubled as an office for my husband, which all helped quite a bit with the small space. The yard was lovely and our next door neighbors, whom we shared a driveway with, had chickens, ducks, rabbits, and a large garden that they let us have space in so that we were able to grow some of our own veggies in addition to offering us some of their excess produce. They had apple trees that they shared freely from as well.

We had two children, a dog, and a cat in that space along with a piano and thousands of books. We managed to make food from scratch every single day in the tiny kitchen and even have friends over sometimes. It was quite a nice place, other than how expensive it was and some mold issues, which eventually got to be quite a problem so we seriously began planning to move three thousand miles away to the Georgia/South Carolina border where the cost of living was more reasonable.

At the time of our cross-country move, we had been married for five years and now we’ve been married for ten so I’ll conclude this part of the story now and pick up again soon with the second half :-)

My Children Talk to Strangers

Yes. You read that title correctly. In fact, my children are encouraged to talk to strangers under most circumstances.

Today I took all four children (by myself – whew!) to a local grocery store where they have a children eat free night once a week. While I was waiting for our food at the deli, my children asked and were given permission by me to go and sit down in the seating area, with the general admonitions to stay together and to actually stay sitting once they found a place to sit.

So, anyhow, when our food was ready I paid for it and headed over to the seating area to find my 6 year old daughter chatting happily with a lady who was wearing her baby in a ring sling, the way I wear my little babies. I smiled at both the lady and my daughter while I continued about 10 feet away to the table where my other daughters were sitting, waiting expectantly for their food, which I delivered to them while also half listening to my 6 year old talking to the lady about her baby brother.

About five minutes later, my 6 year old joined us at our table and began eating. When they were all settled in with their food, my 8 year old started telling me about the lady they had talked to so I asked them a few questions. We have talked a bit about strangers, but I don’t really teach about “stranger danger” and I wanted my girls to have an opportunity to evaluate why they all had felt comfortable talking to this lady.

My first question: “Why did you feel comfortable and safe talking to the lady with the baby?”

I got several different answers, “Because she seemed nice.” “She had a baby.” “I liked her.”

Great! I told them that listening to that feeling inside them is one of the most important things they can do when deciding whether or not to talk to someone. I reminded them that any adult – not just a stranger – who asks them for help or tells them to do something without telling me, is probably not safe and they should let me know immediately about anyone who does those things. I reminded them that if they ever do get that feeling about someone, then they should, what? “Tell you or Papa!” there was a chorus of voices answering that question. That was an easy one.

I want my children to be comfortable interacting with people in public. They will be doing that for the rest of their lives, after all. Besides, anyone can become “not a stranger” simply by introducing themselves and it isn’t just “strangers” who are dangerous for children. Most of the time, children are abused by people who are very well known to them and to their parents.

That last point bears repeating: Most of the time, children are abused by people who are very well known to them and to their parents.

Because of that, I want my children to be very attuned to their “gut feelings” about people. We don’t force our children to hug or even to talk to people whom they are uncomfortable hugging or talking to. They have ownership over their bodies and they need to be able to say “no” now in order to effectively say “no” when they’re older and maybe getting pressured by dates or meeting people who might not have their best interests at heart.

So far, so good. This lesson about trusting their intuitions and watching out for “tricky” adults, along with the many other lessons they’ve had about “secret touching” and the teachings of proper terminology for body parts will hopefully help my children both in the short and long runs as they navigate a sometimes hostile world.

Exactly, Just Exactly!

The poem below is exactly how I feel right now about my house and about my fourth (and almost certainly last) baby. I just want to snuggle and love on this baby boy as much as I possibly can before he gets big, which I know will happen too soon, and maybe won’t want to snuggle with his mama any more (I don’t even want to think about such a thing!).

The laundry and cleaning does get done eventually, but very gradually and on an as-needed basis. Snuggling the baby, homeschooling and spending time with the older children, and spending time with my husband are taking priority right now.

I can’t imagine that I would possibly ever regret spending more time with my lovely family when I look back on these years <3

 

Song for a Fifth Child
by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton

Mother, oh Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
Sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.
Oh, I’ve grown shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).

The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.

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