Initiation

Today I attended a YSN midwifery potlock.  I’m not sure what I was expecting in terms of numbers, but I was surprised by how many of us there are.  We spent the first hour or so eating and mingling and then the faculty asked us all to gather in a circle.

They welcomed us to YSN, to midwifery and to the group of women (and man!) who would become our family during our time at school and beyond.  The faculty members then presented roses to the second year midwives, who in turn presented a rose to their little sib (first year midwives), who in turn presented one to each of us (GEPNs, their little sibs).  Midwifery is an ancient profession, one that has existed without doctors or nurses for as long as women have been giving birth.  The craft was passed down from one midwife to her apprentice, and so midwives learned not just from their mentor, but from all the women who came before them.  Just as a Mother becomes a vessel for the child she carries, Midwives become vessels for the wisdom of women, for the ancient art of being “with women” and the mystery of birth.

In The Red Tent, the narrator begins by saying that in order to understand a woman, one must first understand that woman’s mother.  As if to that end, our big sibs presented us with binders containing the stories of YSN midwives dating back to 1994.  Since then, each class has written a letter offering words of wisdom to the incoming class and then short bios about who they were, where they came from and what brought them to YSN.  There are also poems and art and quotes about midwives, birth and women.  We were also given mixed CDs with songs to get us through the year.  Then the second year midwives performed a dance number for all of us, parodying Beyonce’s Single Ladies, “If you didn’t want it, you should’ve put a ring in it.”  To close, they sang the midwives’ song – I don’t remember the words now, but I am sure I will learn them in my time here at YSN.

None of this stuff about the history of midwives was explained to us, but then it didn’t have to be.  Even before I arrived, I heard stories about nurse-midwives:  We are the only(?) advanced practitioners who are not nurse practitioners (according to rumor, CNMs have actually lobbied against the APRN designation on the basis that midwifery has a long history of existing independently of medical institutions and therefore CNMs do not have to be APRNs in order to be midwives).  Unlike other specialties, we are not interested in dabbling in other disciplines; we just want to catch babies.  We tend to think of ourselves as midwives first, nurses second.  Not one to be labeled or pinned down, I bristled at these generalizations at first, but like all generalizations, there is some truth in them.  I have spoken to a few classmates in other specialties who have some ambivalence regarding their chosen path, but those in midwifery are not among them.  I don’t think I have been asked by anyone in my group, in any year, “Why Midwifery?”

In The Circle of Life Elizabeth Davis and Carol Leonard say of midwives, “Just as Mothers are fascinated with their offspring and rejoice in their unfolding, Midwives are drawn to assisting others in the creative process, celebrating triumphs of the human spirit.”  Midwives are present to help initiate women into Motherhood, and I was grateful and honored to be initiated tonight into such a warm and caring community, into the great tradition of Midwives.

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