Saturday, May 14, 2011

Birth Works: On Meeting Ina May Gaskin

A sea of people who care about the future of birth.
I had the privilege of attending Ina May Gaskin's lecture at Town Hall in Seattle this past weekend, on Mother's Day. She spoke on "Birth Works! Why Don't We Know It?"

There was something really incredible about being in that sold-out room packed with (mostly) women. There were so many pregnant women and mothers with tiny babies, and the room was full of breastfeeders and babywearers. I saw plenty of people knitting, too, which was fun for the fiber art lover that I am.

When I was in line waiting to get in (and nursing Daniel in the mei tai while I stood there outside) a couple of women in front of me in line invited me into their conversation. They talked about their kids, told their birth stories, and even talked about how to make homemade laundry detergent. That interaction embodied the friendly dynamic there; it was like we all understood that we're a part of the larger picture, and that we're working together for a larger cause.

Ina May in front of a photograph of the caravan
on their way to found The Farm in Tennessee.
One of the things Ina May talked about a lot was Sphincter Law. I had read about this concept in her books, but it was fun (and funny!) to hear her talk about it in person.

She posited that we, as a society, have forgotten how to treat our sphincters (cervices included) with respect. She outlined the basics of Sphincter Law:
  • They are shy.
  • They don't obey orders.
  • They do respond well to praise.
  • They open better when owner's forehead, mouth, and jaw are relaxed and open.
  • They open well when owner is smiling or laughing.

Ina May shares a photo of her husband Stephen's
famous Monday Night Class.
She pointed out that we know these things when it comes to certain bathroom habits (the average man would be unable to pee standing in front of a group of on-lookers, for example) but that when it comes to birth, the general medical establishment treats birth totally differently. She said that we should look at how other mammals give birth, to remind us that our bodies know how to birth; we know how to birth.

Lauren and I did a bit of live-tweeting during the talk (at least, I tried...but it was hard to be quick at it). Here are a few of my favorite quotes from our tweets:
"We midwives know we need doctors; we're trying to teach doctors that they need us!"

"I had a secret desire to be a midwife, not an English teacher."

"We had discovered oxytocin...and it doesn't just come in a vial; it doesn't just come in your IV."

"I want us to claim all of our people; I want us to start acting like a country that values our women. I want that more than anything in the world!"

"Teach little kids that birth is natural, birth happens, and we're as well-made as any other mammal!"
Ina May also answered questions from people in the audience after the main lecture. Topics covered stigma about home birth and availability of midwifery care for fat women, health disparities in the low-income and black communities, and how to encourage a shy sphincter in a VBAC mom. There was a lot of passion apparent, both in the questions that were asked and the answers Ina May gave. Everyone there was trying to figure out how to help moms and babies have better birth outcomes, how to increase access to midwifery care for all low-risk populations, and how to help more people to have access to healthcare in general. It was totally inspirational to be in a room full of concerned people. The energy was awesome!

I got to meet Ina May after the talk, and she signed my old copy of Spiritual Midwifery, one of the books that made me want to go to nursing school (where I witnessed my first birth):

I met Penny Simkin (author of my favorite book for partners and doulas, The Birth Partner):

And I hung out with Lauren from Hobo Mama (as we both swooned over our birthy idols):

It was really a wonderful day, and definitely a Mother's Day I won't soon forget!

Now that you've heard my account of the events, I highly recommend that you go read what Lauren has to say about the experience. (I hear she even has an extra-special surprise in store for one lucky reader!)


  1. Ina May is my idol! I really hope to take a midwifery course at the Farm one day (hopefully soon!). Sphincter Law is sooo accurate!

  2. Thanks for posting!! Her comments are so hilarious and right on! It's amazing how she just totally gets the female body and really listens to what it can do. Sphincter Law is something that all OBs need to read up on!!

  3. LUCKY!!

    You know, when I read her Guide to Childbirth, I too was SO STRUCK by the sphincter law. It was like the biggest take home point for me - such duh / obvious information that no one seems to talk about.

  4. Your comment about the knitting reminded me of that other interesting thing she was talking about — how it's best for midwives and doulas and other birth partners to be present with the woman during the birth. So, not reading a book, where your attention would be elsewhere, but knitting would be OK, even though her professors at college never agreed that you could knit and pay attention. :) (I've had that debate as well.)

    I was just remembering how good it felt to have Sam present with me during my labor, and how I never did see any of my midwives zoning out with a book or their phones!

    It was so good to meet you and so good to hear Ina May speak. Glad it happened! And glad silly Blogger got its act together so we could post… Thanks for suggesting it.

  5. I wish there were more youtube videos of these speeches, can't find many

  6. I love Ina May. I was unable to attend a recent event she spoke at near me so I'm very jealous. I have read and re-read her books many times.

  7. Thank you for recalling your experience, wish I could have been there. I'm just now realizing my desire to start a nursing program and hopefully progress to being a douala and/or midwife so thanks!

    Stacie R

  8. So awesome...I would love to meet Ina! She was an inspiration to me. After 2 uneccessary C/S, 1 Challenging Hospital VBAC, I had a glorious homebirth. Now I am pregnant again w/ baby 5..looking forward to another amazing birth!


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