Midwifery Today Conference
Paris, France • 6–10 November / novembre 2003
“International Midwifery: Sharing Ideals”
Midwifery Today Congrès International
«Partageons les idéaux de la sage-femme»
All photos by Andrea Noll
Letter from Jan Tritten
We bask in the warmth and excitement of a great conference for months after the event. They can be starting points for many new journeys to change birth practices. The Paris Conference held November 6–10, 2003 was in this category. Once again, many countries were represented. For the first time, we had midwives from Russia, Latvia and Haiti, all working hard on improving midwifery and birth in their countries. Midwives from different countries bring fresh perspectives on our favorite subjects: motherbaby and birth. We are constantly reminded that we are not alone in the struggle, and neither are our new friends.
In Paris, we met Veronika Maslova and Alyona Lebedeva, two midwives who do homebirths in Moscow, Russia. My understanding (and joy) is that 34 midwifery groups in Moscow do homebirths. Veronika is a midwife-physician with a vision of translating information on the Midwifery Today Web site into Russian to help midwives there make change. She is quiet and soft-spoken, but with a keen vision for birth and midwifery in her country. She has become a country contact for Midwifery Today. Alyona is just learning English, but has an overwhelming urge to communicate about midwifery and birth. She told us the story of her experience in a Russian hospital. She said with deep feeling, “I died as a woman in that place.” Then she glowed with the story of her homebirth and said, “I was reborn as a woman.”
We also met three lovely midwives from Latvia who are working toward birth change in their country. Since the conference, one, Dace Dimitrijeva, has started a newsletter for Latvian midwives. It is so nice when you get to see some of the seeds planted at the conference bear fruit. The midwives we met from Haiti were working in midwifery education in their country.
If you want to get involved with the fascinating world of international midwifery or birth you can begin with an international conference. It is a good place to make contacts and generate ideas. You can meet midwives who want help with various projects. You might help organize a midwifery school in another country. The Romanian midwives just started their own school with some international help. Conferences are a good place to make connections.
- For me, the Paris conference was a wonderful opportunity to meet so many special people and exchange information and stories. It gave me new ideas and strength in my job! Thank you all so much for everything, and I hope we can meet again soon.
From Russia with love!
- I would like to say thank you for the Paris Conference. I got a lot of great ideas to further my work as a midwife and midwifery teacher. I also acknowledged the gaps in my knowledge as a midwife. Nobody ever taught us about “holistic midwifery care” here, and I think it’s because we were trained by physicians (we only have hospital-based training). It’s almost like we were trained seals in the circus; we did what we were told, with no chance to refuse to follow orders. But I couldn’t resign myself to the maternity care system in the hospital. I have seen all of those bad outcomes caused by “aggressive management” and unnecessary interventions in the natural process of childbirth. Sometimes, it felt like I was fighting with a windmill during stormy weather. When I had no strength left, I surrendered and I left the maternity hospital. But now I feel like I’m ready to start fighting again. But I also know that I need to get additional education in holistic midwifery, so I have started to look into training programs on the Internet. This conference was the “light at the end of the tunnel” for me. It gave me the strength to move on and fight the gaps in our health care system.
Impressions from Paris
by Verena Teschner
No matter what I feel is taking away from my energy as a midwife—whether it be my work circumstances or a lack of personal enthusiasm-after reading Midwifery Today magazine, my midwifery heart beats strong again and I yearn to attend to a birthing woman on the spot. Whatever had contributed to frustration before turns into a challenge, a potential source for additional satisfaction. Accordingly, my expectations for the Midwifery Today conference in Paris (November 2003) were high. I hoped to get inspiration, motivation, energy and ideas to stay true to the mothers and myself within my practice.
Jan Tritten, Midwifery Today founder, did not disappoint! Neither did all those at her side: midwifery activists, authors of books that have helped shape the English-speaking alternative birthing scene, forever-hippies and so many others. (Among those teaching were Michel Odent, Ina May Gaskin, Verena Schmid, Sara Wickham, Lisa Goldstein, Robbie Davis-Floyd, Naolí Vinaver, Marion Toepke McLean, Betty-Anne Daviss and Suzanne Colson.)
Jan and all of the teachers emphasized the value that every single one of us has as agents of birth change. They encouraged us to look beyond those already sharing the same birthing ideals and to approach medical personnel, the press and the next generation. They offered facts, strategies and positive role models to make this work. Michel Odent once again bridged the gap between two worlds for us; he supports “alternative birthing methods” with medical reasoning based on endocrinology. The secretion of the love hormone oxytocin, for example, is at its highest ever in life immediately after the birth of the baby and is then set free again repeatedly throughout the entire breastfeeding period. Artificial oxytocin, routinely given postpartum in many places, cannot cross over from the blood stream to the brain, but stalls the body’s secretion of its own oxytocin. This results in a weakened “love high” right after the birth, and the level of the love hormone falls far behind during the breastfeeding period.
Verena Schmid gave us important information on fetal development and metabolism close to birth. Isn’t it wonderful to learn that the placenta will actually neutralize a newborn’s pH values if they are acidic, as long as the cord is still pulsating?
Workshops and presentations focused on strategies to bring about change. Ina May Gaskin described how the midwives of New Zealand have set an example by setting up a system of care for pregnant and birthing women in a fairly short time. Robbie Davis-Floyd presented 10 guidelines for mother-friendly midwifery care and congratulated those already working according to these guidelines. All the others were encouraged to ask themselves specifically what it is that keeps their practice from complying with the guidelines. And to ask, “What does it take to change that?”
In the Strategies workshop, I remembered the value of praising any positive developments, as well as the value of encouraging couples to voice their wishes, demands and criticisms for themselves as a key to change. Their voices often carry more weight than ours. Ideas for approaches to existing problems kept finding their way into my notebook.
There was certainly an abundance of live role models. Naolí, the vibrant midwife from Mexico, taught us various traditional techniques of influencing fetal positioning with the aid of the rebozo (a shawl used for carrying babies). Andrea Noll, a young Hungarian childbirth educator, was also among the participants. She talked about how Hungarian midwives and doulas are working toward an independent holistic midwifery school, which will bring about independent midwives as opposed to obstetric assistants. One of Andrea’s ideas is to have teachers from around the world pass on their knowledge with the aid of Web cams.
Two Russian midwives, who have been unofficially offering homebirth for years, were particularly happy about sharing midwifery ideals and coming together with sister midwives; they offered impressive Russian singing in return. I talked to two mothers, one of six, the other of eight children, who were walking on their path as midwives with the added strains of politically difficult environments (the US and Latvia). A midwifery teacher from Israel shared her experiences of trying to receive permission to open a birthing center. She said that she had spent her own money on lawyers, in vain.
It was wonderful to share all of these stories with each other. I was surprised to learn that midwives from other countries knew that the number of birthing centers in Germany has risen significantly lately. They also said that our law that mandates a midwife has to be present at every birth and the independence of midwifery versus nursing in Germany are both positive midwifery examples.
In the presence of so many incredible personalities, it was easy to feel insignificant at times. But these feelings gave way to a sense of meaning in everything I do, whether as a midwife, mother or simply as a human being. I traveled home filled with peace and confidence. Or was it actually a significantly elevated level of natural oxytocin? We (the German midwives) will be hosting the next international Midwifery Today conference to be held in the spa town of Bad Wildbad (October 20–24, 2004). It sounds very promising. And I have learned not to attend a Midwifery Today conference right before a two-week vacation, as I did in Paris. There I was with all this birthing energy and no births to attend!
Verena Teschner is a German midwife who has some work experience in the US. She is the mother of Ruben, Tatjana and Oliver, and works part-time in a German hospital.