I know the traditional root of the word midwife is “with woman” (some sources say “wise woman”), but I’d like to offer another. When I was pregnant with my second son, I had a wonderful midwife and we spent many hours together talking about birth and midwifery. During one conversation she said to me, “you can’t be a midwife unless you love women.” This struck me profoundly—a midwife must love women. This phrase has come back up for me several times in the last couple of months as I reflect on my relationship with my current midwife and give thought to midwifery care and birth care in general. I actually believe that not all midwives do, in fact, love women and indeed, my observation is that midwives from specific religious traditions, may actually hold a perspective of women that is almost the opposite of loving them :(
In any subset of birth work—including breastfeeding consultation—I’ve noticed there are two primary motivators for the women doing this work. For some, it is about the babies and for others, it is about the women. I have noticed this as a volunteer breastfeeding counselor also—women who do this work will say, “I just love babies…” or, they will say, “I love helping mothers.” Please note that I’m not actually saying that one motivation is “better” than another (though, I personally prefer one), just that I’ve noticed this trend. And, obviously, the two are also inextricably intertwined. But, some women do come into birth work primarily to improve the world for babies and some come into it to change the world for mothers (which, I believe, changes the world for babies!). Obviously, you’ve guessed that I’m in the latter category. I believe that we cannot help babies without helping mothers first and that by helping mothers, we cannot help but also be helping babies—but, for me, the mother comes first. And, from the perspective of both a pregnant woman and a birth activist, I think we need midwives whose definition of midwifery is loves women.
In the Autumn 2010 issue of Midwifery Today, I read an interview with a midwife named Gigliola from Paupa New Guinea and in the article I marked this quote:
“Gigliola has a strong reverence for the power of mothers, for women who are willing to give up their lives for their children, willing to work hard through long labors, feeding their babies from their bodies, staying up nights with them, loving and loving for long years. Then as graciously as they can, watch their ‘successes’ walk off to lead their own lives. The path of motherhood is as rigorous a spiritual path as any on our planet. Gigliola holds motherhood as a sacred calling, deserving of great respect…’Tell them it is about the mothers,’ she said. ‘The mothers are amazing.’” [emphasis mine]