October 3, 2007

The Farm: part I

Three weeks ago I received a phone call from Pamela Hunt at the Farm Midwifery Center informing me that a space became available in the Midwifery Assistant Workshop. At first I hesitated. The class was to start in less then 2 weeks and if I went, I had a lot of preparations to take care of. But after talking it over with my husband, I decided to just go for it! After all, as I have learned from many of my students, “If you always wait for the perfect time, you will always be waiting.” Besides, I was dying for the chance to go see and learn from The Farm midwives.

After a slight delay at the airport gathering some of the other members of our group we soon passed through the gates of The Farm. (Let me pause here for a moment to give you some of the background of The Farm.)

Back in 1970 a group of well intentioned hippies took to the road on a caravan of more than 300 people and more then 50 white topped and pastel bottomed buses to start an experimental community. Along their travels, as nature would have it, a baby was ready to be born. None of the attendants on the caravan had any experience with helping to birth a baby, but Ina May and several other women went to assist with the birth. After finally “landing” (as the locals like to say) in Tennessee, it became apparent that the babies were still coming and they did not have the means in which to pay a doctor so they were going to have to learn how to deliver babies themselves. With the help of a generous and kind local doctor, Dr. William, the women taught themselves how to birth babies. This was the starting seed to what has now developed into a notable, very skilled and highly respected group of women called “The Farm Midwives.”

Fast forward a bit and the “crew” refined their skills and became certified midwives. One study compared The Farms statistics with US National Natality/National Fetal Mortality Survey and revealed The Farm to have a 1.5% cesarean rate, a lower perinatal mortality rate, labor related complications and assisted delivery (the use of cesarean birth, foreceps or vacuum extracator) In the past 30-something years thousands of babies have been born in the cabins and homes of the expectant moms. Women from all over the country come to The Farm to have their babies. One reason could be because of the excellent care (many of the original crew members are still catching babies.) and the fact that these midwives still deliver vaginal breech babies and twins. Sadly, these are skills that are not often taught to many current OB/GYNs.

The week I spent at The Farm revealed the most meticulous, instinctual and caring work I have ever seen in childbirth. These women palpated bellies and felt for fetal suture line to determine baby position instead of solely relying on ultra sound machines. They check for the baby’s heart rate without being confined by an external fetal heart rate monitor by using a fetal scope. I wish more doctors would roll up their sleeves and dive into the trenches and not be afraid to touch a woman. I have attended about 50 births to dates and very rarely see a doctor touch the mom’s belly.

The first hint to this amazing history was revealed not long after arrival. After a short orientation, I walked over to the cabin I was staying at. While waiting for my roommate, Pamela (our primary teacher) and I were chatting. I expressed how excited I was to observe and learn their birthing rituals. I asked her when we will get to see the midwives “in action” at a birth. She promptly replied “Oh no. You have to have met the mom at least 4 or 5 times before being invited into the birth. This way the mom can feel comfortable, unselfconscious and relaxed.”….”Interesting” I thought…But of course! How many of us can poop or make love with strangers walking in and out of the room. Yet we are expected to open up and experience the intimacy of birth with a myriad of people parading in and out of the labor and delivery rooms!

So I had been at the Farm barely an hour and I was was already seeing the error of our ways….

….More about The Farm to come!



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