2013 Conference "Birthing Social Change" Report
by Carol Downer
BACKGROUND: I have been attending meetings and conferences of midwives, doulas, childbirth educators, lactation counselors and birth activists since 2010 to prepare myself to add Childbirth and Lactation pages to my website, womenshealthinwomenshands.org. I attended the National Conference of MANA in Portland, OR to meet a cross-section of midwives from a large geographic area.
I attended as a vendor, because I am able to have many face-to-face discussions with conference attendees, display our books and literature and insert a pro-choice presence.
NARM (North American Registry of Midwives), and a few Nurse-Midwives. Also attending were doulas, student midwives, and a few birth writers (such as Suzanne Arms and Roanna Rosewood) and birth activists, such as Hermine Hayes-Klein and myself.
MANA, which is a predominantly white organization, was accused of racism by Midwives of Color who resigned as a group last year. MANA seems to be grappling with its problems of racism. The theme of the conference was “Birthing Social Change”. There were several plenary sessions, with open-mike discussion, plus several workshops dealing with how the MANA board and members can become less racist in the board’s decision-making process. Women of Color headed up several workshops and there was a Women of Color reception, organized and put on by International Center for Traditional Childbirth (ICTC). All were invited to attend.
Hermine Hayes-Klein and Roanna Rosewood which are to shift from the paradigm of “doctor versus midwives” resulting from the persecution of midwives and refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the practice of midwifery to the paradigm of a “woman’s human right to choose her birth setting and attendant”. The existence of an independent body of midwives promotes birthing mothers’ human rights because it makes home birth with a midwife accessible to women.
In the last couple of months a controversy arose between the Alliance for Ethical Midwifery Training (seems to include many Women of Color) and Midwife International, Inc (which seems to consist mainly of Sara Kraft). MI contracted with several birth centers in resource-poor third world countries to send American Student Midwifes to train. Charges of fraud and misuse of funding by MI arose. The only indirect acknowledgement of this dispute at the MANA Conference were the workshops: Midwifery, Colonialism, and Settler Identity: Deconstructing Colonial Norms in Modern Midwifery and Ethical Engagement and Midwifery Volunteerism which dealt with the problem in sending student midwives to train in foreign settings. If there were any other substantial discussions going on, on this subject I was not part of them. If you’re interested in hearing more about this controversy; contact me and I’ll supply you with the relevant websites.
Oregon leads the U.S. in home births and Portland is the capitol. (Dr Eugene Declercq gave presentation with statistics on childbirth.)
I was able to talk to many women. There was great interest in the Del’em, both as a tool for midwifery practice and for women to do together. A New View of a Woman’s Body is a beloved book. Janna Slack’s article of full-spectrum doulas and the book Radical Doula, were popular (I didn’t sell anything at my table). The idea of a Pro-Woman Agenda resonated very well with those who came up to the table. Several expressed the intent to “stop the silence” about abortion rights. I felt no hostility against me or my message from anyone.
WORKSHOPS: Workshops on colonial behavior by American midwives toward Indigenous American women and in 3rd world environments; and how and why to stop it.
- Midwifery, Colonialism, and Settler Identity: Deconstructing Colonial Norms in Modern Midwifery
by Wicanhpi Iyotan Win Autumn Cavender-Wilson BA
The Midwifery tradition in the Americas is thousands of years old, but the history of white midwifery on these continents has been built as consequence of the genocide of Indigenous peoples, often exploiting the traditional knowledge that existed prior. Modern midwifery practice has inherited the legacy of racism, privilege and exploitation inherent in the colonial project.
An audio CD of this excellent presentation can be ordered. Also, a 4-page handout given out at the presentation gives a good place to start in your own thinking. If you want a copy, please contact me.
- Ethical Engagement and Midwifery Volunteerism
by Bonnie Ruder CPM, MPH, MA
In recent years there has been enormous growth in international midwifery volunteerism and service-learning programs in low-income settings. A controversy has arisen and many are saying that: it is imperative that midwives are able to differentiate between ethical engagement and less responsible/dangerous development. The politics of global health organizations shaping birth choices worldwide- often based on the exportation of U.S.-style obstetrics, with its dismal maternal and infant mortality outcomes. (Order audio CD)I did not attend this workshop.
NOTEWORTHY CONTACTS, BOOKS, AND IDEAS:
Her Book and Her Talk
Roanna Rosewood is the author of Cut, Stapled, & Mended – When One Woman Reclaimed Her Body and Gave Birth on Her Own Terms After Cesarean. An excellent read for any women whether pregnant or not; or whether she ever intends to have a baby. Very good facts and well written.
Roanna submitted her paper on change – very lively, well-organized speaker (she held a mic and walked back and forth across the stage – paused to emphasize various points and point out things on the screen). Talked about needing a new paradigm; a perspective in which a woman’s right is uppermost. A woman needs support to achieve whatever birth she wants if at all possible.
Hermine organized a conference in Europe last year about HRiC; she left for Europe after MANA for the 2nd Annual Conference Birth Rights in the European Union: Mobilizing Change. The situation in Europe is changing – midwifery is under attack. She gave a one hour presentation at MANA which was carefully listened to and well received. She and Roanna are working together to establish HRiC.
Suzanne Arms has a vision of how gentle birth can change society. She founded Birthing The Future (a 501c3 Colorado non-profit and International NGO)
Since 1970, birth and the well being of women and babies has been her passion and her focus. She is a practical visionary, educator, renowned speaker, and author-photojournalist of 7 acclaimed books on pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and adoption. Immaculate Deception was named a New York Times Best Book of the Year. Suzanne co-founded one of the first freestanding Birth Centers in the USA, and the world’s first resource center for pregnancy, birth and early parenting. She’s co-producer-director of the public television special: Birth.
Her Philosophy (as stated on her brochure):
The mother-baby bond literally shapes the nature of society. Modern Science and Ancient Wisdom both show us that…Every mother-baby pair is one system…resilient yet also very vulnerable.
The mother-baby bond, from conception to toddler-hood, is crucial and rooted in our biochemistry.
The experiences they have shape their lifelong brain and emotional patterns. Health or illness, happiness or depression is the result. Things could be so much better.
We can prevent most of these problems!
- Suzanne Arms: Birthing The Future - birthingthefuture.org
- Hermine-Hayes Klein: Human Rights in Childbirth (HRiC) - www.humanrightsinchildbirth.com
- Roanna Rosewood: Author of Cut, Stapled, and Mended - roannarosewood.com
- Dr. Eugene Declercq: Birth by the Numbers - www.birthbythenumbers.org
- Shafia Monroe, ED of ICTC: International Center for Traditional Childbirth - www.ictcmidwives.org