‘Famous Midwives’ is a Feminist Midwife blog series to bring awareness to the work of midwives, promote the national and international impact of midwifery, and advertise the images of those known to some by name, too few by face, but to midwives as part of our community. Each “Part” of the series includes midwives considered “famous” by the nature of their work, their contribution to the profession, and their presence as motivators and forward-thinkers and change-makers. Five midwives are included in each “Part,” with great respect for the diversity of the profession’s history and future, attention to the past and the present, and ultimate adoration for the variety of capacities midwives fill in their provision of our dedicated model of care. If you know a famous midwife who should be featured on the series, please email email@example.com.
Pineville, South Carolina
From the blog series “Famous But Forgotten” by Critical Care – Reflections of a Male Nurse:
Maude E. Callen (1898 – 1990) was a nurse and midwife in the South Carolina Lowcountry, USA, for over 60 years. She became famous when her work was brought to national attention in W. Eugene Smith’s now classic photo essay, “Nurse Midwife”, published in Life Magazine in December 1951.
The South Carolina Hall of Fame made a video about Maude Callen, called “Angel in Twilight,” available here.
Ina May Gaskin
The Farm Midwifery Center
From the biography on her personal webpage:
Ina May Gaskin, MA, CPM, PhD (Hon), is founder and director of The Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee. The 41-year-old midwifery service is noted for its women-centered care. Early in her career, Gaskin learned an effective method for dealing with a feared obstetrical complication (when baby’s shoulders become stuck during birth) from indigenous midwives in Guatemala. Years later, the low-intervention Gaskin Maneuver became the first obstetrical procedure to be named for a midwife in this era. The Farm Midwifery Center is noted for its low rates of intervention, morbidity and mortality despite the inclusion of many vaginally delivered breeches, twins and mothers of more than five babies. Author of several books, she promotes joyful birth, maintenance of breech skills and recognition of certain ingenious skills and techniques used by indigenous midwives of Mexico and Brazil. She has been awarded honorary doctorates from Thames Valley University, London, England and Shenandoah University, Winchester, Virginia. In December of 2011, she received the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize.
Birth Story, a documentary about The Farm and its midwifery service, is available here.
Ina May’s TedX talk entitled “Reducing fear of birth in US culture” is available here.
University of British Columbia
Saraswathi Vedam, is an Associate Professor at the Division of Midwifery in the Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, and founder of the UBC Midwifery Faculty Practice, Birth & Beyond. Over the last 27 years, she has cared for families in the U.S., the Netherlands, India, and Canada in a variety of private and public health care settings. She serves as ACNM representative to the ACNM/MANA Liaison Council, member of the Joint Midwifery Normal Birth Task Force, and Senior Advisor to the MANA Division of Research, and Interim Executive of the Board, Canadian Association of Midwifery Educators. Professor Vedam is a has enjoyed teaching in midwifery, medical, and nursing programs universities across North America.
Professor Vedam has been active in setting national and international policy on home birth, and midwifery education and regulation, providing expert consultations in Mexico, Hungary, Chile, Canada, and India. She has provided leadership for State legislative initiatives on nurse-midwifery practice, compensation, and regulation and ministry in New York, California, Indiana and Connecticut. While Director of the UBC Division of Midwifery from 2007-2012, she was responsible for achieving significant increases in funding from the BC Ministries of Health and Advanced Education for the expansion and revision of midwifery education.
Professor Vedam’s scholarly work includes critical appraisal of the literature on planned home birth, evaluations of provider attitudes, and development of the first US registry of home birth perinatal data. In 2010 and 2012, she chaired two highly acclaimed International Normal Labour and Birth Research conferences. She has authored several national clinical practice guidelines and articles on evidence-based midwifery practice in low resource settings.
Supported by funding from the Canadian Institute for Health Research, Professor Vedam is currently completing a national, mix-methods study to investigate the experiences and opinions of multidisciplinary maternity care providers’ regarding planned home birth in Canada. In October 2011, she was Chair and host for the historic multi-disciplinary Home Birth Consensus Summit.
Founder and President, Birthing Hands
From the biography on her website:
For more than eight years, I have served the women of the Washington, D.C., metro area as a birth doula in hospital, birth center, and home birth settings and as a midwife birth assistant in birth center and home birth settings for more than 600 births. I’ve practiced as a birth doula primarily at Sibley Hospital, George Washington University Hospital, Georgetown University Hospital, The Washington Hospital Center, and Virginia Hospital Center (Arlington). Recently, I became a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM).
Having studied with Ina May Gaskin and the midwives at The Farm in Tennessee, I recognize the many variations that normal birth may include. My midwifery training has given me additional knowledge (such as fetal heart monitoring) and a deeper understanding of the birth process and how to identify and resolve hindrances.
In 2004, I founded the volunteer labor support program at the Family Birth and Health Center in Washington, D.C., where I served as a midwife birth assistant for the Center’s birth center births and as a birth doula for the Center’s hospital births. Until my departure in 2007, I served as a midwife birth assistant there. Since 2006, I have served as a midwife birth assistant at Birth Care and Women’s Health in Old Town Alexandria, Va., for births at that birth center and for home births, and with other local home birth midwives.
As the founder and president of Birthing Hands, L.L.C., (www.BirthingHands.net), I am committed to ensuring that the families I serve are provided the level of expert and quality of care they deserve as they usher new life into the world. I am committed to provide these services in an environment of trust and support, of experience and sound practice—with my clients empowered to navigate the birthing process, confident with information and strengthened with compassionate, professional care and support.
I am also myself a proud mother to daughter, Azulai, who is a pre–‐school teacher.
From the “About” section on her personal website, available here:
Sheila Kitzinger campaigns for women to have the information they need to make choices about childbirth. She is a strong believer in the benefits of home birth for women who are not at especially high risk. Sheila is also concerned to give a voice to pregnant women and new mothers in prison and has worked to free them from chains during birth, to keep mothers and babies together unless a woman can be shown to be a danger to her baby, and to provide woman-to-woman help to prisoners during birth.
Sheila Kitzinger lectures to midwives in many different countries. She is honorary professor at Thames Valley University and teaches the MA in midwifery in the Wolfson School of Health Sciences there. She also teaches workshops on the social anthropology of birth and breastfeeding and on unhappiness after childbirth for birth educators and postnatal counsellors, too.
Sheila Kitzinger combines birth activism with research, writing, lecturing and appearing on radio and TV. Her research includes work on women’s experiences of antenatal care, birth plans, induction of labour, epidurals, episiotomy, hospital care in childbirth, children’s experiences of being present at birth, post traumatic stress following childbirth and the many different messages that touch can give during childbirth.
Note: Sheila passed away on April 11th. A beautiful biography of her full life’s work is available here. The write-up is so lovely, and her own biography written above so minimal, that I share an excerpt below:
“…Sheila Kitzinger, the “high priestess of natural childbirth”, has died at the age of 86. She could reasonably be said to have done more than anyone else to change attitudes to childbirth in the past 50 years. It was her belief that childbirth should not be reduced to a pathological event and she waged a relentless crusade against its medicalisation. She felt obstetricians had taken control, pushing aside the hands-on experience of midwives and the personal needs and wishes of mothers.
Kitzinger believed birth should be seen and experienced as a highly personal and social event, one that was even sensual and sexual. She promoted birth practices that were far more women-centred and humanised than those followed in most hospitals in Britain, and other western societies. She suggested that women should draw up their own birth plans and decide for themselves whether, among other things, they might want to move around during labour or even give birth in water. Body awareness, innovative relaxation techniques and special breathing patterns were all elements she promoted. More controversially, she advocated the acceptance of labour pain, seeing it as a side effect of a task willingly undertaken ‑ pain with a purpose…
Kitzinger researched styles of childbearing and preparation for childbirth in societies as varied as those of the Caribbean, US, Canada (among the Inuit), China, South America and in Africa. In Britain she taught couples and trained teachers from the NCT as well as lecturing widely in North and South America, Israel, Europe and Australia. But it was in 1962 that Kitzinger came to real prominence, with the publication of her book The Experience of Childbirth. Radical at the time, it was a powerful exposition of her argument; a woman-centred view of childbirth. In the late 1950s and early 60s the medicalisation of childbirth was at its peak and Kitzinger’s message, that birth is a potent and exhilarating experience in which women’s needs and choices should be paramount, struck a chord with many.
The book’s impact was considerable. Up until then, enemas, shaving and episiotomies had been unquestioned routines in modern childbirth and seen as essential. As a result of the book, the publicity surrounding it and Kitzinger’s efforts, these views began to be challenged. The book ran to several editions and was updated and expanded as The New Experience of Childbirth in 2004.
Kitzinger became a prolific writer and later publications included Birth Over Thirty (1982) and Birth Over Thirty-Five (1994), Women’s Experience of Sex (1983), Giving Birth: How It Really Feels (1987; a revised edition of her 1971 book Giving Birth), Breastfeeding Your Baby (1989), Ourselves As Mothers (1992), The Year After Childbirth (1994), Becoming a Grandmother (1997), Rediscovering Birth (2000), The Politics of Birth (2005) and Birth Crisis (2006).
Other books such as Education and Counselling for Childbirth (1977) and The Good Birth Guide (1979) extended her argument that problems in childbirth could be reduced through education and by using a range of relaxation techniques. In all she wrote more than 30 books, translated into many different languages, on birth, sexuality, breastfeeding, childcare, motherhood and grandparenthood, many of which were bestsellers. Her 1980 book Pregnancy and Childbirth, revised as The New Pregnancy and Childbirth, with the latest edition published in 2011, has sold more than a million copies…” read more at the full article, linked above.