Thoughts on Birth and a Personal Philosophy Susan Terwilliger LM, CDM, CPM
Susie with mother, Wanda
I began reading about birth and midwifery in the early 1980’s after a lifelong interest in children’s education and development, alternative health care, and choices for women. My BA degree in English in the late ‘70’s taught me to look at the forces that shape the human experience, and my mother, Wanda, taught me to question conventional thinking. During her first labor in 1956, alone (no husbands allowed in the birth room then) in an Army hospital room in Georgia, she was reading a book on natural childbirth by Dr. Grantly Dick-Reed, a pioneer in the natural childbirth movement. When they wheeled my mother to the delivery room, she was lucky enough to get a doctor supportive of her non-drugged birth, and he asked if she wanted to see the placenta. My mother didn’t know what that was at the time since she had not gotten to the end the book she was trying to read in labor.
I have laughingly wondered if the spark of my eventual midwifery career started then, as the baby absorbing the questioning and determined efforts of her naturally birthing mother, unusual for that era. Years later, I was drawn to authors like Ina May Gaskin, Suzanne Arms, andRobbie Davis-Floyd, and my journey into midwifery was born. I became a student of the practice of midwifery, and a student of women’s stories. The experience of pregnancy and birth has life-long physical and emotional memories and consequences. There are studies about these consequences by researchers of human development, validating what already makes intuitive sense to mothers who seek midwifery care. The way individuals, or communities, or cultures honor or dishonor childbirth affects us all in both subtle and profound ways.
Ina May Gaskin
Each birth teaches me something new about babies, women, and families. The beauty and impact of childbirth is always unfolding for me, and I treasure the multidimensional way midwifery, as a profession, looks at pregnancy and birth. I can’t imagine any other profession that I would feel this passionate about. Becoming a midwife became a purposeful and heart-felt calling that I could not ignore, regardless of the medical hegemonic approach to childbirth that has developed in the last 100 years.
Susie Checking baby Saphin
Having a baby in the comfortable, nurturing, and empowering surroundings of one’s own home can be a beautiful start to a loving parenting experience. I have served all kinds of women and couples from all sorts of backgrounds and beliefs. They have been all ages and in various economic situations. Their uniqueness has been respected and supported at their births. The one thing they have all had in common was a desire to have a baby the way Nature intended.
Midwifery has long been the guardian of healthy, normal deliveries, its safety known by consumers and documented in published studies. The word “midwife” comes from Old English, meaning to be with (mid) a woman (wif) in childbirth. It is also sometimes used to describe the act of supporting someone’s process, to stand along side them, offering help, or holding the space for a bringing forth. To practice midwifery today is to understand the ancient art while embracing modern wisdom and prudence. It is a profession that understands the value of the birth process, the appropriate incorporation of medical science, and the need for loving respect of the newborn. I am proud to work to keep midwifery an option for women, and humbled by the service so many have given before me, usually in the middle of the night, keeping vigil with their head, heart, and hands.