Ina May Gaskin and Midwifery

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ina May Gaskin, author of the book Spiritual Midwifery and subject of the new documentary "Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives", and Mary Wigmore, who co-directed the film with Sara Lamm, discuss the midwifery movement.



Ina May Gaskin and Mary Wigmore

Comments [21]

Jeff from USA

Would you hire this midwife?

Don’t let the head suddenly explode from the mother’s puss. Coach the mother about how much and how hard to push. Support the mother’s taint with your hand during rushes. It helps the mother to relax around her puss if you massage her there using a liberal amount of baby oil to lubricate the skin. Sometimes touching her very gently on or around her button (clitoris) will enable her to relax even more. I keep both hands there and busy all the time while crowning … doing whatever seems most necessary.


Sometimes I see that a husband is afraid to touch his wife’s tits because of the midwife’s presence, so I touch them, get in there and squeeze them, talk about how nice they are, and make him welcome.


I might want to have a cunt one day and a twat the next. On the third day I might decide that pussy is my favorite word.

Would you hire this midwife?

Her quotes make her sound immature, foul mouthed, and sexually inappropriate. No doctor could say these comments without getting a sexual misconduct suit against them.

Plenty of women have hired her. Her name is …

Ina May Gaskin.
The quotes come from Spiritual Midwifery, 3rd and 4th Editions

Oct. 07 2013 03:14 PM
Patricia Lapidus from Bantam, Connecticut

I love hearing about anything Ina May does. I had two of my children on The Farm under the care of the midwives. One of them would probably have been a C-section in a hospital. I was scared and failed to progress. But the midwives taught me how to relax and help the process and I gave birth to a healthy son naturally. I think Ina May was courageous right from the beginning when she first started helping mothers birth their babies. She helped bring birth back home where it mostly belongs, finally turning the culture of birth in first world countries from way too much intervention and way too little respect for woman back toward women's strength.

Jan. 24 2013 05:47 PM
Sheryl from Howell, NJ

I had both of my sons naturally, with the help of midwives, in hospitals. After reading Naomi Wolf's book Misconceptions, I knew that I had educated myself in a way that could only benefit my family, and myself, during these life-changing years. I was able to support some of Ina May's opinions, and definitely respect them, due to her extensive experience with mothers and birthing.

In response to you, Lily, I have to say that every woman must be strong enough to make the decision for herself, and supported enough by others who can help her change paths if necessary. Ladies (especially pregnant ones) are going to form opinions about EVERYTHING once they become mothers (birthing, breastfeeding, TV time, organic foods... the list is endless).

Both of my labors lasted for less than two hours, and the feeling that I had from going through that was such a natural high... But had I been suffering in that kind of pain for more than a few hours, I think I would have went completely insane (and opted for drugs)! But had I not known about midwifery-- and been empowered to want to try my delivery in any way that I wanted to-- I would have probably ended up on my back, with the epidural, and still with a happy baby in my arms.

Bottom line: this is what makes me proud to be an American: free education, personal choice, and ongoing conversations like this one.

Brian: both of my sons (ages 6 &4) know your theme song! And my younger one wanted to know why I didn't vote for you as president, since obviously you are "the smartest guy in the world". Keep bringing on the great guest speakers! We love your show!

Jan. 17 2013 02:26 PM
Ellen from Brooklyn

As someone who had a legal home birth in NYC in 1980 and another in Austin Texas in 1986 I was dismayed to hear the caller from Austin say that home birth was illegal in New York State. That was not and is not the case. We have more home birth midwives now in NYC than ever before and to the best of my knowledge home birth has never been illegal here. Texas has a long tradition of lay midwifery which is not legal in New York but having a home birth with a Certified Nurse Midwife or now a Certified Midwife has been and remains legal. And while the current medico-legal environment makes in-hospital midwifery challenging, we still have many wonderful midwifery practices working with birthing women and their families. There's plenty that is discouraging about our current situation but as someone who has been working in the natural birth community for almost 30 years I feel very strongly that women need to know that midwife-assisted births continue to be available to them.

Jan. 17 2013 01:56 PM

My 9 year old was born via c-section because she was breached. The experience was painful (the after op) and unfulfilling. Nine months later I was pregnant with my second and decided to take charge of this birth. I switched to a midwife and had an unmedicated birth in a hospital. Ina May's book helped me work through the contractions and it probably significantly sped up the birth. I would never forget how, in her book, she said that mothers should imagine their uterus opening up as a flower. I did that and I am certain I felt it! When I got to the hospital I was 9 1/2 cm dilated and ready to push my baby daughter out.

Jan. 17 2013 01:49 PM
susan byrnes from Tribeca

In 1988 when I became pregnant with my first daughter I found I was unhappy with the medical options available.I was lucky and found the Maternity Center (a free standing midwife birthing center on 92nds street). There my husband and I gained the knowledge and received the care,compassion and community we were searching for. We went on to have our second daughter there in 92.The midwifes were a special breed of caregivers and educators. Our children were blessed to be bought into this world in such a loving and caring environment.
I am saddened to hear that free standing birthing centers have all but disappeared, and that home births are on the decline. I praise you Ina on your mission. Hopefully by the time my daughters are ready, there will be more option available.

Jan. 17 2013 01:07 PM

Nicole, home births are NOT illegal in NYC!

Jan. 17 2013 12:35 PM
st john from New Orleans

My partner and I had the realization, when she was halfway through her pregnancy, 'Why not have a homebirth?' That led down a road of unintended wonderful consequences. I have to place a caveat: we were lucky enough to have an OBGYN as a friend, a doctor experienced in over a thousand births, who agreed to come to our home. What transpired was one of the most amazing experiences of all our lives. There was, of course, pain and frustration on her part, and there was (excuse the TMI) tearing, but we all had the most beautiful, warm, and unstressed of moments. Our doctor was prepared for every emergency, and we were ready to go to the hospital if needed, and this should be true of any situation outside of the hospital - as for everything, preparedness is the key. But our son was born in the bath, healthy, beautiful.

Afterwards, our doctor was so inspired by the experience, he has gone on to offer homebirths, including friends of ours, and to set up a birthing center focusing on the homebirth style practice at his business.

Again, I know this is controversial, and I'm not saying everyone should have a homebirth, or is lucky enough to have the circumstances we had. But surely birthing centers and midwives and the attempt to create as natural an environment as possible for both mothers and their partners, is the thing to strive for, and, I believe, would greatly reduce the c-sections and other horrifying experiences that many have at birth.

I was shocked at how many people, like my father, said things like "Oh, expect to be yelled and cursed at by her (my partner) and her screaming for drugs". We experienced none of that. And my partner is by no means a 'superwoman', she was as petrified of the pain as any woman! I just believe that creating as natural and stress-free an environment as possible, in this act that can truly have the word 'miraculous' attributed to it, is the key to not only a thousand times more pleasant an experience for the mother, but for the baby as well.

I look forward to this documentary, and recommend the movie 'The Business of Being Born' as well. And I'm not saying tragedy doesn't occur - it does. A home birth advocate in Australia, Caroline Lovell, died during home birth only a few days ago, and there are scores of articles with babies dying, things going horribly wrong. But, surely there is middle ground, where we could all be better off treating birth not as some medical horror, but as a time for truly being in the moment with love, our eyes fully open.

Jan. 17 2013 12:33 PM

Lily -- on the whole in New York City, we have a very high intervention rate and I might add a very high rate of unnecessary interventions. That does not mean that interventions are not needed as was illustrated by Ina May's response about preeclampsia and eclampsia.

I labored for 17 hours in the birthing center and my son unfortunately had his head turned sideways. He was in the birth canal ear first. So, rather than look at the inevitable surgical delivery as a defeat, I looked at what was empowering. I was able to tolerate 27 hours of camel back contractions and back labor. I was able to use the jacuzzi. My son's lungs were stronger from having undergone labor. I'll tell you what I tell mothers who can't exclusively breastfeed, look at what you did do and what you are doing. You did give your baby the gift of 24 hours of unmedicated labor.

My birthing class instructor used the Bradley Method, but she said one thing that stuck in my head. When a mother is exhausted, short term use of the epidural can give them enough rest that they can push the baby out, preventing a surgical intervention.

So, in your case, your baby has one advantage that my son did not (since a transverse head was just impossible). You managed to use the epidural in such a way that you were able to push your baby out rather than have the surgery. So, you additionally gave your baby the gift of a reduced risk of allergies because your baby has the flora that babies are supposed to get as they travel down the birth canal. My son will be at 7 times higher risk of allergies.

So, think of it as a short term appropriate use of an intervention that may have prevented a bigger intervention. And embrace what you WERE able to do.

Jan. 17 2013 12:14 PM
Beth from Brooklyn

Ina May Gaskin has had a huge impact on my life: my own meaningful rite of passage into motherhood, my husband's rite of passage into fatherhood, and my career as a maternity care provider - educator, prenatal yoga teacher, doula, aspiring midwife.
She has been at the forefront of keeping alive absolute essential wisdom and knowledge of the physiology of birth that has been largely disregarded and lost by the medical profession: the fundamental importance of treating women with dignity, respect, kindness and love as they birth the future. In medical words we could call this the neurobiology of birth. Ina May is an advocate for evidence-based physiological maternity care, and an advocate for women and families to have access to this kind of care.

Jan. 17 2013 12:06 PM
Lily from NYC

I'm a young mother in a social circle that seems to be almost OVERLY focused on natural birth. I read Ina May's book when I was pregnant with my first daughter and was told by most of my friends that natural birth was really the best kind of birth experience. So, I tried very hard to have a natural birth. I had a very supportive doctor and a doula as well as my husband and mother in the room. In the end, I ended up getting an epidural after 24 hours with no sleep and a truly excruciating 5 hours stuck at 8 cm, only after everyone in the room told me in a very compassionate way that I needed a rest. That epidural saved me. And because of everything I'd heard about needing a natural birth I didn't get it. Isn't there a possibility that we can focus TOO much on natural birth?

Jan. 17 2013 11:58 AM
Molly from Brooklyn

I am from Berkeley, I watched my sister be born at home, so I am very familiar with Ms. Gaskin's work. When it came time to have my own baby I was excited to read her book but I was very disappointed. I had a hard time with the idea that if you experience too much pain or complications it's somehow your or your partner's fault for not being "telepathic" enough. (That's a word she uses a lot in the book.) I talked to my mom about it and she told me that I was being to hard on her because of what a mess the birthing industry was before her. But I still had a hard time with the book.

I ended up having an unmedicated birth with a midwife so I thank Ms Gaskin for her role in making that an option. I just feel very conflicted about "Spiritual Midwifery" and I wonder if anyone else out there feels the same.a

Jan. 17 2013 11:56 AM
Meghan from Brooklyn

I am eternally grateful to Ina May for her books, practice and model. We have had two, midwife-guided births, and they have been and will likely be the most deeply satisfying experiences of my life. Ina May and those like her made it possible for me to fully experience the power of my humanity and gave my daughters the best of life's beginnings. Thank you!

Jan. 17 2013 11:55 AM
pliny from soho

what is the immigrant community
take on this ?
aren't they sort of reinventing the wheel here

Jan. 17 2013 11:53 AM
Nicole from Sunset Park

Now that home births are illegal in NYC, what should women who want one do, if we don't want our midwives being reported and their licenses taken away if we have to be transferred to a hospital?

Jan. 17 2013 11:51 AM
Molly from Gowanus, Brooklyn

I was inspired by Ina May's book, among other things, to have my daughter at home in Brooklyn 10 months ago and had a wonderful experience. I was told by one of the midwives who was at my birth that I would probably not have been allowed to give birth naturally without intervention in a hospital because my labor was so long and I was not progressing as fast as a hospital expects a laboring woman to progress. Since making the decision to have birth at home I have been dismayed by how many people will assert despite evidence to the contrary that home birth is "unsafe" or is a selfish decision because it's too "risky." I want to talk to other women about natural birth and about home birth, but I have found that most people are not open to the information that is out there and just assume that a hospital is the safest, best place to give birth.

Jan. 17 2013 11:51 AM
Alexis from Brooklyn

Michelle “Dat Body” Phillips was a young African American woman who worked as an exotic dancer in Miami and was poorly educated about labor and delivery. She labored with a midwife for days before dying and I fear she represents a new wave of really poorly informed women who have picked up on at-home births as status symbols and a token of bourgeois aspiration. More of these women, tended to during their labors, are going to die at the hands of hacks.

Jan. 17 2013 11:50 AM
Ellen from Williamsburg

I met Ina May sometime in the early 80s at The Women's Center in Tampa. I had recently earned my license as a lay midwife in Florida, and she had come to give a workshop for women interested in becoming midwives.

Ina May has been an amazing resource not only for the women she served so lovingly, but also to the women she has trained, including Lakota and Amish women.

Among her most valuable lessons is the empowerment of women from giving birth, as opposed to being delivered, and the good common sense to trust the wisdom of our bodies to be able to do what it is intended to do. I am not ignoring those who need intervention for help, but in the proper setting, this is extremely rare.

I myself, have attended around 250 home births. I am fortunate to have shared so intimately with women and their families.

Thanks for everything, Ina May!

Jan. 17 2013 11:50 AM
Colette from Brooklyn

Ina May was a big influence on me during my pregnancy. Because of her I carefully chose a midwifery practice and arranged to give birth in a birthing center without any drugs. I had a tricky delivery, and after 2 hours of pushing my own midwife was urging me repeatedly to go up to the regular floor and get meds even though the baby was not in distress. Fortunately, I am rather strong willed and had a wonderful partner with me, and managed I to stay put and deliver a healthy baby boy after 4 1/2 hours of active pushing.
Please ask Ina May how and when we can give women the option to give birth in a natural, non-medical way without stressful opposition even from those she should be able to trust?

Jan. 17 2013 11:49 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

My ex-mother in law was a midwife, though she was also a trained ob-gyn, and delivered some 10,000 plus Bedouin babies in Beersheba Israel in the '70s and '80s. My own son was delivered by her in that same hospital in Beersheba. There is no question that a caring and well trained mid-wife who works with pre-natal, delivery and post-natal care is superior than using just doctors. Mid-wives are intimate specialists.

Jan. 17 2013 11:44 AM
Debbie Ray from Mendham

When I was pregnant with my daughter (1979), Ms. Gaskin's book, Spiritual Midwifery was my constant companion. Living in Berkeley, I was lucky enough to have midwife-attended home births with seamless hospital back-up arrangements. Those births were certainly the most joyful experiences I have ever had. Unfortunately, home births are not an easy option in Missouri, where my daughter currently lives. She has my copy of Spiritual Midwifery and was empowered to advocate for a natural childbirth for her children's births. At one hospital in St. Louis, this was so unusual that medical students and staff came in to observe. Thank you, Ina May, you have been one of the guiding lights in the life of my family.

Jan. 17 2013 11:24 AM

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