Ina May Gaskin gives me a lot to think about

Ina May Gaskin gives me a lot to think about

This past week I had the honour of attending a talk featuring a hero of mine, Ina May Gaskin, American midwifery champion/famous feminist/author extraordinaire of many of the books on my bookshelf right now.

As much as it was a platform for her to speak about her work and her life, c-section rates and coping measures, woman empowerment and breastfeeding advocacy, the real takeaway for me was talking about our mammalian instincts. Because as much as we have advanced as a society, so too have we forgotten to trust our most basic mammalian instincts when it comes to birth.

Ina May reminded me that people had babies before there were hospitals.

Though it seems like such a simple an obvious statement, it really spoke to me. All views on birth practices and preferences aside, and also stating for the record that I strongly believe there is a place for these things, we simply would not exist as a race had we not evolved to the extent we did before interventions, doctors and institutions for birth.

Somehow, around this time, women began to forget their instincts. Although our ancestors before us evolved to birth babies in caves, on ships, in tents or in alleyways, somehow, in the mid to late 1900s, all that knowledge was cast away for sterile rooms, shiny tools and bright lights in which to greet our babies.

The argument here, as stated above, is not really an argument at all, but the observation that women’s instincts became sidelined. From one generation to the next, the birthing landscape abruptly changed from hosting mothers whose babes were birthed in the desert to whose daughters were having c-sections. Women whose ancestors birthed successfully in the jungle were suddenly told their pelvises were “too little” to birth children and were talked into forcep deliveries. And today, tokophobia, the extreme fear of pregnancy and childbirth, exists in such a way that we now have a definition for it.

My experiences with birth have been so varied. From my first child to my second, from one client to the next, I have seen and experienced so many scenarios: some of them planned and some of them not. But the key ingredient, and the one Ina May hit on as the successful ingredient for any birthing scenario, is trust. Trust in your care providers, and importantly, trust in one’s self.

Ina May said that the system in which some women are birthing babies is not conducive to hosting this main ingredient. She then reminded us we are all mammals. Cows give birth, dogs give birth, cats, giraffes, elephants and goats give birth. And most all of the time, they do so without episiotomies, c-sections or drugs, when allowed to birth in their natural environments. For some reason we trust in their ability, she says, but not in our own, though we deem ourselves the intellectually advanced.

When it comes down to it, birth is a simplistic act. Heroic, brave, courageous, inspiring, life affirming and life giving, but simplistic in its nature. As my own midwife once reminded me, there existed a time before there were official public health nurses, lactation consultants, or even official midwives. But there were always wise women who had done it before, to draw upon for strength when a new mother questioned herself, rather than assuming a trained professional ought to have all the answers.

Otherwise, not a single one of us would be here today.

If you’re a birthing nerd like the room of us were, you’ll enjoy this video of an elephant mama giving birth to her calf, as Ina May suggested we do. Although she was in captivity and therefore not her ideal birthing space, she knew exactly what to do without any interference from onlookers, as she would do in her natural environment. Trust is at play in all aspects of this video.

You can also check out her background story in her documentary, Birth Story, here:

Finally, a good Ted Talk on reducing the fear around birth can be accessed here:


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