Learning from Ina May

post by Odile Schalit, friend, social worker, and doula-

I had no idea the world that would be revealed to me when my Doula Mentor handed me "Spiritual Midwifery" some 5 or so years ago. Ina May Gaskin's name was but one I'd overheard in the circles I was, at the time, trying to "infiltrate." I imagined her as some sort of mystical birthing goddess. As it turned out, I wasn't too far off.

Spiritual Midwifery, her first book, which came out in 1977, speaks to Ina May's beginnings and work as a self-made Midwife on route to and eventually on the commune, called The Farm, that she and her husband founded. Since then, Ina May has established a renowned Midwifery Clinic on the Farm, written four books on topics related to birthing/breast feeding, written several articles, lectured around the world and appeared in documentaries - most recently,  Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and The Farm Midwives (trailer below).

Among many things, Ina May is clearly a pioneer for the natural birth movement but it is a subtler point that weaves its way through her work and her speaking that feels to me not only the most poetic but the most profound. Ina May speaks passionately about the reconnection of a woman with her body in its most natural and animalistic sense. The idea being that to start listening to our bodies again, to trust our bodies and their wisdom and fears, will provide for a more empowered experience in life and in birth. This sentiment and her expression of this (for example, through her quirky but brilliant "sphincter law" description which is accompanied on occasion by videos of monkeys) has been universally helpful for me as a Social Worker and Doula and can be to any woman regardless of the type of birth experience she seeks.

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