I am: daughter, sister, woman, wife, mother, nana, midwife, student, and friend - not necessarily in that order. I came to midwifery by way of my own children’s births, and was drawn into it through the births of the many women and families who have invited me into their lives over the past 37 years. In the fall of 1979 I gave birth to my eldest son, at home, attended by my first midwife, Chris Johnson, CNM. Gideon was my 4th baby and his birth was a revelation; a peaceful, powerful, and life changing experience. He was my first son; my first 10 lb baby; my first posterior presenting baby. (He turned, at the end)
I began attending births first with my midwife, Chris, then with any other midwives I could find who would take me along as an assistant. I became a childbirth educator and taught Bradley Childbirth classes for around 11 years, until midwifery took over
and edged out other pursuits. I studied midwifery for 7 years before I realized that I was, indeed - a midwife. I became a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) in 1995, and began my journey as a birth/midwife/political activist, first as a member of the board of Midwives Alliance of America (MANA), then as a board member of the Foundation for Midwifery (FAM). I have worked on legislation in 4 states over the past 25 years. We now have licensure of CPMs in over half of our states, MD and DE included!
I find myself daily astounded and delighted, and awed; by birth, by women, by families, but mostly by the power of women in birth. I have learned, through trial and error, by listening to and learning from the wisdom of my elders, as well as my ‘youngers’; by witnessing women in labor and giving birth - to cultivate a deep abiding respect for birth itself: such a miraculous, joyous, fierce, sweaty, sexy, sacred, hormonal, process! Birth is a mistress who does her best when she is left to find her own perfect path.
We midwives are the lifeguards, the guides and handmaidens; we attend women in birth; we guard the space of birth and the unfolding path that labor follows to birth. We do not manage birth; we do not ‘make it happen’. We are there to make sure the process is unfolding in a safe and healthy way, for mother and babe, and we allow space for the mother to do her work, surrounded by her loved ones, while we stand to the side, observing and quietly monitoring. We are there to intercede if our expertise and skills are needed, but mostly we watch and wait.
I am deeply committed to preserving the apprenticeship route of entry into midwifery; isn’t that how most professionals learn their craft? Physicians, plumbers, electricians, architects, attorneys, etc. - they all must learn through some form of apprenticeship.
I am happy to be able to work with students/apprentices, though I’m not a conventional teacher, but more of a midwife mentor, for students on the path to becoming midwives. I am grateful to all of the students who’ve come through my life; I know they’ve given me as much as I’ve given them.
In the end, I must acknowledge my family, because they are the reason that I’ve been able to be a midwife and continue on this path. My husband, Rick, who has provided such unwavering support through the years, and who has had to give up much so that I could be present for others. (What’s that saying? It takes a real man to be married to a midwife! So true)
I thank each one of my children, who have come to births with their midwife/mama to watch their nursing siblings, encouraged and informed their own friends in the ways of normal pregnancy & birth, written papers in high school and college about the politics of midwifery, and finally, have chosen homebirths for their own children - what better testimony is there; what better validation for a life of work, than that?
Karen is a licensed CPM in Delaware; a faculty preceptor for the National College of Midwifery, and clinical preceptor for Birthwise Midwifery School, both nationally accredited direct-entry midwifery training programs. She is owner & founder of WomanWise .