I recently had someone (a former doctor) ask me (in a tone filled with confrontation), “Why midwifery?” I had barely answered when he interjected, “Because in my home country, it is only when someone is stuck at home that they call those people. And I thought with the specialization of medicine in the United States that those sorts of things weren’t necessary.” My response at the time? “The specialization of medicine has not change the normalcy of birth.” Do I wish I had added something else? Yep. Ideally I would have said, “And midwives are experts of normal birth.” But was I cut off yet again? You betcha.
Deep breath. Now, I’m paraphrasing our conversation here. But “those people” and “those sorts of things” rang over and over in my mind, and clearly had connotation. As the conversation changed topics with the arrival of other people, I came to realize he was generally a jerk, and not just regarding midwifery. But this was a moment. A moment in which I could have made a difference in someone’s mind about midwives, midwifery care, and who we are as a profession. I should be ready for that question, whether its tone is aggressive or inquisitive, with a clear but passionate answer. Moments to discuss midwifery care are no longer few and far between. They happen often, seemingly more often now that I am no longer a student, and I am practicing. And I should be ready for those moments.
For me, no standard answer ever comes to mind immediately. I am working on this, but I still do not have my own two- to three-phrase response. I wish in the midst of all the memorizing during midwifery school, I had memorized a standard answer to this question so that I could be more prepared. Perhaps I did, and I have forgotten it because I thought that living it was enough. But, I am working on creating a strong new one. I remember when my mother was developing an elevator speech for her work; it was tricky, for her and those of us trying to help. Ideally, you have the length of time of an average elevator ride to tell someone about what you do and its value, leaving an impression and an understanding, and a remembrance of you and your work. “Why midwifery?” can be a brief answer, but what is it exactly? And, the moments to answer questions like these rotate around the same theme. “So what is a midwife?” “How are midwives different from doctors?” “Why would I want a midwife to be with me at my birth?”
“Why midwifery?” In my heart, I answer that I am one of ‘those people,’ who believes in midwifery as a model of care, its evidence-basis, its history, its path forward. I believe in ‘those sorts of things’ like patience, beauty, women’s power, midwives as guardians of normalcy, and birth as inherently normal. But what do I say when people ask, ‘Why midwifery?’ I have specific phrases, like the buttons I adorn on bags and sweaters and coats, like “trust birth,” “listen to women,” and “vagina warrior.” Often I stumble through what I feel so passionately but would like more than an elevator ride to explain, and mini-phrases do not come together to explain what can be hard for newcomers to understand.
The American College of Nurse-Midwifes has jump-started this conversation even further with the campaign, Our Moment of Truth: A New Understanding of Midwifery Care. The mission of this work? “Your health needs are unique. To get the care that you deserve, you need a provider who understands you—your past experiences, current situation, future goals, work, family, sexual identity, and faith. You may never have stopped to think about what you want and need in a women’s health care provider. Midwives are a great option to provide this personalized care.” Heck yes.
On the campaign website, they provide this answer to “Why midwives?”:
“The skills of midwives and their expert knowledge of women’s health care are often overlooked. Many people don’t realize how highly educated today’s midwives are, or think that midwives are only knowledgeable about childbearing. But providing care and guidance through pregnancy and childbirth is just part of the range of services offered by midwives. Many midwives can provide care for women of all ages—from teenage years through menopause and beyond. In fact, many women visit a midwife for women’s health needs before, during, and after pregnancy.”
Starting with the words of women, this campaign is working to advertise the profession and the life path of midwives from the ground up. Midwifery is perhaps misunderstood as a profession by the lay public, and there are myths which need debunked in this misunderstanding. Through an August 2012 survey, Our Moment of Truth focuses on what women have expressed as their wants, their concerns, their wishes for their healthcare, including during pregnancy and birth. And through these concerns, ACNM and this campaign take the moment, and many moments, to explain “Why midwife?” Women are encouraged to take a pledge to take control of their healthcare and make their opinions heard, and to share their stories about midwifery care. Midwives matter, and perhaps you do not know how much they could matter to you and your healthcare. Our Moment of Truth is present in this moment, naming midwives and midwifery as the new beginning for women’s healthcare, with an old history and passionate providers.
What a moment for midwifery. The stars are aligning. So many other pieces of work are coming onto the scene at the same time as Our Moment of Truth:
- Did you this upcoming week is National Midwifery Week? October 7-13 the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM) has a daily piece of work you can accomplish to participate in the week. Get involved, and spread the word about midwifery!!!
- Call the Midwife premiered last Sunday in the United States, with some great reviews
- Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein are releasing More Business of Being Born
- Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin & the Farm Midwives is out on the scene
- Ina May’s Birth Matters: a midwife’s manifesta continues to be the talk of the town (in my life, anyway!)
Have I yet perfected my elevator answer, my moment to describe “Why midwifery,” for me and for midwives and for women? Nope, but I am working on it. I love this profession and this work and every moment involved in it, and just want to make sure I make the moment count when it comes time to share my passion and my belief. The moment for midwifery is now.
What about you? Whether you are a midwife or someone who has accessed midwifery care, how would you answer the question “Why midwifery?”