third/fourth wave midwifery and spinning babies

December 6, 2008 § 2 Comments

do you remember that democracy now! with melissa harris lacewell and gloria steinem talking about hillary and barack earlier this year?

it is one of the greatest exchanges that happened during the election imho.

it was the difference between second wave and third wave feminism…i know we are not supposed to acknowledge the difference between the generations approach to feminism…but i need the analogy to explain third/fourth wave midwifery…

well, alot of the midwives that i have met (primarily in minneapolis) are second wave midwives.  they have fought so hard for legal recognition that everything else becomes secondary or tertiary in their view.  and they are very protective over the ‘gains’ they have made, no matter how the privileging of ‘certified’ and ‘insured’ midwives has been not only negligent but destructive to women of color, the queer community, sexual and trauma survivors, imprisoned women, and many more marginalized in the birth community and in the world at large.

what they seemed to be much more concerned with is protecting their status and the status of certified midwives in order to advance their cause.  they do so by looking toward women’s cultures that are black and brown and saying: see!  see!  those women have ‘natural’ birth.  and we, white women, are using those black and brown exotic women’s cultures as a model for us to change birth in our white communities.

‘what she is trying to do there is bring in black women into a coalition around issues around gender. and asking us to ignore the ways in which race and gender intersect.  this is actually a standard problem of second wave feminism. …have really failed to think about the ways in which trying to appropriate black women’s lives experience in that way is really offensive, actually…this is actually the ways in which the system silences the questions of gender that are actually more complicated than simply putting white women in positions of power and then claiming and then claiming that women’s issues are cared for…i think it is the very worse of second wave feminism’

–michelle harris lacewell


as i was recovering from the c-section and had was taking care of a newborn, i was looking toward to taking a doula class hosted by great gail tully.  i had had a lovely conversation with her before my birth for nearly an hour about pregnancy, birth, my midwife, etc. gail is the author of the spinning babies website.  a site i had fallen in love with before ever talking to gail, before ever moving to minneapolis (where she resides).  i had met a couple of her former students who raved about her and i was excited to study with her for a couple of days.

so i emailed her, telling her i was still interested in the class after the birth, asking if i could bring my baby to the class (we had talked about me doing so before).  and that my midwife (whom gail had given me advice on how to deal with before) had said that ‘no certified and to-be-trusted midwife in the twin cities would have done a homebirth for a post-term pregnancy’ (post 42 weeks).   i wanted to know if that was true.  i wrote that i felt that my midwife had decided that because i was black and a survivor i was too high risk. i was looking for a second opinion.  i didnt hear back from gail for a few weeks.

i finally heard back from her a day before her doula class basically telling me that i couldnt bring my baby to the class, and that she hadnt written me back sooner because of my ‘tone’ in the letter.  i wasnt going to bring the right energy to her doula class. and that she hoped that i would ask these questions of my midwife and reconcile with her.

of course, my midwife, after i had paid her a couple of grand, and she had told me that if i had any further questions i should email, never answered any of my emails.  so i couldnt ‘reconcile’ with her, because she refused to communicate with me or my partner even when we were just trying to work out the last of the financial details.

basically, gail cut me off.  i was really reaching out for help to understand how had this trauma happened to me.  what information had i not known?  what was the full story?  i am sure my tone sounded betrayed and saddened because that is how i felt when i thought about my birth. and my midwife.

i was already working as a doula, had already taken a doula workshop that winter, i was really just wanting to study with the best so that i could give mothers the best care i could.  give them what i hadnt received.

implicitly i felt like, if i wasnt appropriate for a doula class, then maybe, gail of spinning babies, was saying i wasnt appropriate as a doula…

thank, god, the black and african mothers i worked with didnt agree with her.

but then i realized that she was being protective of my midwife.  that she didnt want to contradict her.  that she was more concerned with my midwife’s reputation than she was about my post-partum healing.

she could have answered my questions.  given me a call.  asked for more information about my birth.  but she didnt.

whateva.  she protected her status that she had fought so long for.  and if i was a casualty in the fight for legal homebirth midwifery, in the fight that certified midwives decisions cant be held to community accountability, so be it.  that my midwife’s racism and classism and bias against survivors should be questioned…

this why i think that we need to look at outlaw midwives.  my midwife was really concerned about her insurance liability and her standing in the homebirth community.  she was afraid of getting sued or having her licensed revoked.  and she told me that i had to go to the hospital out of respect for her and her profession and for mothers whose homebirth would be put in jeopardy by my desire to stay home and follow my body’s intuition.  that is alot to lay on a mama going into labor.

outlaw midwives to me represent the next wave in midwifery.  when legality vs. the mother’s empowerment come into conflict, who should we support?  outlaw midwives embrace reproductive justice, anti-oppression/anti-authoritarian/ community-empowerment/anti-exotification models of conception, pregnancy, birth, and motherhood.  outlaw midwives says that categories like ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ are white/western-centered modes of discourse.

my midwife, in defense of her bullshit, said that she was a ‘research-based midwife’ but didnt bother to state what type of research she was based in.  is it the same medical research that has shown time and time again to be racially biased?  is it a medical model of research?  who did the ‘research’?  for what purpose?  to serve whom?  for what institutions?  did she look at the research that i have accumulated on this blog, alone, that deals with race and class and the ways that such categories determine the type of care that is provided?

the funny thing is, that i was so in tune with the position of my babe during the last couple of months of pregnancy.  her position was mapped against my belly every time i closed my eyes and hummed bob marley’s songs.  i could talk to her about turning one or another inside of me and she would do it or tell me why she didnt want to right now (she has always been an explorer.  cant blame her. she takes after her mama, in that way) \.  and she promised me that she would be in the perfect position when she was ready to come forth into the world.  but my midwife wasnt willing to wait for us.  she just wanted to get home and get some sleep.  or at least that is what she told me.


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§ 2 Responses to third/fourth wave midwifery and spinning babies

  • birth says:

    Thank you for posting this. I am an outlaw midwife and the one reason I am what I am is because of women like you who demand to have their choices respected and have a solid support system regardless of those choices. And I believe in women to make accurate decisions with good education and support, so there should be no issues. But there are.

    All the midwives I know who are wonderful, loving, caring, self-less as all midwives should be; though they are afraid. The system is not created for women on any level to be supported to choose. If we went back in time to the turn of the 19th century we would find that women did not vote, they were not allowed, they were not asked what they thought about bodily integrity or choice. They had little voice in society.

    So when midwives began to become illegal they could not stop it. They were driven by fear and went with the flow of cattle into the male arms of control…right into the system we have now…

    Maybe this can be overturned in the Supreme Court? Because we did not have a right to vote about it back then maybe it falls under some blanket to be re-evaluated? Maybe someone could look into this. I am tired of fighting…I just want to be able to help women do what they want to do. It is a basic human right, a bodily function of man & woman…

  • Thanks for this post. In my first birth, 22 years ago I encountered the same bias with my midwife. The racism in the midwifery movement is so ingrained. In my recent birth, 5 years ago, I had a totally respectful (White) midwife who had my concerns and needs at heart. She was actually so well-versed in my cultural heritage that when i explained I felt my son would come in the caul and that no breaching of the amniotic sac would be permitted, she glowed with excitement. When my son did come in the caul, it was one of the first things she exclaimed! “He’s in the caul! He’s a seer!” She gave me the birth I had so wanted 22 year ago – even if we were in a hospital.

    What makes this particular midwife so special is that she created a program at the Birth Center where she practices to provide no or low-cost midwifery services to women-of-colour. It is amazing, she gets it. Their obstacle – however – is to try to attract Women-Of-Colour to “go back in time.” It hasn’t been so long since natural birth was a matter-of-fact for us. And a hospital birth “with the works” was the sole province of wealthy White women. Amazing how instead of following what has worked for us ancestrally gets pushed to the side in favour of hand-me-downs from White women.

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