“I’ll have to get back to you. One of my moms just went into labor,” said Ridgewood mother of a three, Chris Waters, when I reached out to her for this column. Off she went into a process that could last several hours…a process that promised to deliver family drama, profound emotion, strenuous work, and-of course-a brand new baby. Waters, with a smile in her bright blue eyes and a toss of her shoulder length blonde hair, was ready for all of it.
You could say Waters is a real mom’s mom. She is a prenatal, birth doula, and a devotee of the renaissance movement promoting home births and midwifery that has been part of American culture for more than 30 years.
Unlike a midwife who is certified to provide primary care, the doula offers non-medical support. Specifically, says Waters, “During labor I do what is necessary to help the mother. I offer physical support such as massage, position change–sometimes as simple as a drink of water–(it is) very important to stay hydrated during labor. I use aromatherapy, music–whatever is necessary to let the process flow.”
However, her connection to her moms begins long before “show time” or labor.
“My role is to support the mother prenatally, meeting with both the parents to discuss options that are available for how they want to birth their child. There are so many choices that it can be overwhelming–I try to empower the mother to help her along with her experience,” explains Waters.
Typically, Waters will have two-to-three prenatal visits to work on relaxation methods, talk about what the expectant parents expect discuss exercise, nutrition and encourage mindfulness in regards to the pregnancy.
“If they are interested, I offer Calm Birth, aromatherapy their own way of coping with pain in the past and this way I can see what might be useful in labor,” says Waters.
Then, when labor starts, Waters is there and after the baby is born, she stays on a few hours to offer more support.
Helping a woman labor can be tough work but Waters, who took this up as a mid-life career switch, is loving it.
How did a former medical data analyst end up on this path? Waters took me to the one of her sources of inspiration.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, the Ridgewood Library Auditorium was packed to standing room capacity. Almost all of the audience members were women, many of them were pregnant or carrying infants close or in baby slings. On the stage, a slight, strong, grey-haired woman was talking in gentle but forceful tones and showing a video of an ape or gorilla giving birth. The room was spellbound. The ape/gorilla baby made a sweetly splashy first entrance.
The woman is author, activist, and innovator, Ina May Gaskin and she is the voice and leader of a movement that, for decades, has become a key defining feature of modern motherhood. Ina May Gaskin is also known as “America’s leading midwife.”
It was the release of her most recent book, “Birth Matters: A Midwife’s Manifesta,” that gave rise to the Ridgewood appearance. However, her message has been resonating with women and the medical community in a compelling, transformative way for decades.
Experts credit her with inspiring the home birth movement and the renaissance of midwifery. Put simply, Gaskin is “it” when it comes to birth choices and the natural birth philosophy. At the heart of her work and the work of midwives and doulas throughout the U.S., is the belief that birth is beautiful; that birth is an essential, profound, natural experience.
“Birth matters. It matters because it is the way we all begin our lives outside of our source, our mothers’ bodies,” writes Gaskin. “It’s the means through which we enter and feel our first impression of the wider world. For each mother, it is an event that shakes and shapes her to the innermost core.”
Waters who studied with Gaskin, illustrates the point. The power of her own first birth experience shook her to the core and ultimately led her to her to this work.
“After having a hospital birth which turned out to be an emergency c-section–it was one intervention after the next. Then I experienced two natural vaginal deliveries,” explains Waters. For her, the difference between a surgical and natural birth was a turning point.
“I realized that our culture has been robbed of such an organic experience, one which will shape not only our future but our whole society's. When a woman is healthy and experiencing a normal pregnancy, midwifery care is the most obvious choice - there is a place for doctors - when there is a problem.”
“The application of this woman-centered model of care has been proven to reduce the incidence of birth injury, trauma, and cesarean section,” adds Waters.
Midwife and doula attended birth has long been appealing to more and expectant parents. According to the American College of Nurse Midwives, today, more than 7000 certified nurse-midwives practice in all 50 states and many developing countries, according to birth control data. In 2005, CNMs attended over 306,000 deliveries, mostly in hospitals. This number accounts for almost 8 percent of all U.S. births. Two reports by the Institute of Medicine and the National Commission to Prevent Infant Mortality praise their contributions in reducing the incidence of low birth weight infants and call for their increased utilization.
The trend has been building for decades. In her latest book, Gaskin urges us to look at the story behind those numbers, stories like Waters’. In fact, Gaskin maintains that sharing birth stories is profoundly important.
“The influence that birth has on a society is powerful, but it’s also subtle, because most of its initial effects are laid down in private spheres of human activity in technological societies – in hospital maternity units, birth centers, and, more rarely, homes – out of the sight of most people.”
Sharing these stories is key to understanding who we are and where we have been.
In that spirit, and as part of our launch of this column about moms and mothering, we invite you, our readers, to share your birth stories with us. Your stories, your moments, your babies.
Please email your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org