Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Motherfunker's heroes and heroines : Great teachers: Ina May Gaskin


Laid up on my back today (ouch!) with hubby doing my regular job and lying here with my wireless keyboard I thought it would be fun to do a series of posts throughout the year, celebrating some of my favourite teachers - the people I respect and admire the most, those whose words speak so deeply into my soul that it quietly says amen at every comma and full stop.

In this post I want to talk about one of the most inspiring women in midwifery. I know, I wasn't gonna do anything birthy for a while..... but I LOVE this woman!

Ina May Gaskin started her career as a midwife whilst living the hippie dream. At first, her and her husband were travelling as part of a convoy of buses and trailers, and her and some of the other women were helping one another to have their babies on the road.

In 1971, they collectively decided to buy a huge chunk of land that came up for sale in Tennessee, and it became known as 'The Farm'. Here, women were able to have their babies in more comfortable conditions, giving birth in simple wooden homes, and sometimes even outdoors. There were walkie talkies to communicate between houses, which were dotted around the 1,064 acre plot. When it became apparent that there was something pretty special going on here, the reputation of The Farm as being a safe place to give birth away from the medical dictat of the day, soon meant that more and more women were flocking to this natural birthing 'mecca', where the rules about birth, the secrets and wisdom of birth was at odds with medical fashion.

The women who were welcoming souls in, began to get more and more medical experience, and formed a good relationship with a very kind local doctor, who helped them to become better equipped, helped them form a bridge between the earth wisdom and the best of what the technological world could offer to assist. The Farm was becoming more of a formal birth centre, the lay midwives were becoming trained experts - partly through experience with the women birthing on the Farm, through the stories shared by visiting women from other parts of the world, throgh being invited to attend or speak at lectures first nationally then internationally, and through a greater and greater understanding of obstetric practices and more formalised ways of knowing about birth. The equipment available on site also became more sophisticated - although its use is sensible and used only when deemed necessary and not 'routinely'.

A lot of what they saw happening in the outside world didn't sit right with what they knew from seeing women birthing at the Farm. They could see pretty clearly what helped or hindered a labouring woman. The effect of different people coming in and out of the room, the effect of moving freely or being strapped down. They laughed, massaged, cried, counselled, held hands with, and truly listened to one another, and their own bodies wisdom. They also accompanied a woman to hospital on the very rare occasion she needed it.

Over the years, the Farm has changed a lot. Different women, men and children have come and gone, some have stayed on for many years- but it remains a fascinating and important reminder of what birth can be, and the statistics speak volumes.

In the forty years since the start of its existence The Farm boasts an impressive record for safety and low intervention. The Farm - Birth Stats

From such humble beginnings, Ina May Gaskin has become an icon in the midwifery world, and has been presenting lectures all over the world for decades. She remains wise, humble, unshakeable in her faith in women, unafraid to speak to the highest officials. She was President of the Midwives Alliance of North America from 1996 - 2002, and has been bestowed with many prestigious awards, most notably in recent times the co-winner of the 2011 Right Livelihood Award ( often referred to as the alternative Nobel prize). She is also the only midwife to date to have had a medical term named after her - the Gaskin Manoevre.

This video pretty much encapsulates her ideas in a nutshell:

here she is gives a presentation to members of the Belgian government and other officials, on collecting her Right Livelihood Award in 2011

and below is a video of her teaching a group at the Farm.

If this kinda thing floats your boat, she has a bunch of books too:

Ina May, I'm so grateful for your wisdom, your insight, your faith.

You truly rock!

Xx MF xX


  1. She is my hero too. I loved reading spiritual midwifery at the end of my second pregnancy it is totally inspiring and just as soon as my little lady goes off to school in a couple of years I'm going to train to be a midwife. Much love x

  2. Wonderful - you never know we may cross paths as I too am in Cambs ;-)