Editor’s note: This article appeared in the May 2003 issue of Bábák, szülésznok (Midwives), a Hungarian-language magazine for midwives.
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The regular and enthusiastic reader of foreign midwifery magazines and journals will sooner or later come across the name Midwifery Today magazine. Both on the Internet and in the writings of the most widely known midwifery experts, as well as in the bibliographies of other books, there are references that point to the magazine like compasses, no matter from which direction the reader comes. Inspired by the magazine, a few midwives decided to start our own quarterly publication, Bábák, szülésznok (Midwives), in Hungary in 2002. Very few people in Hungary can read English and we wanted information to be available to all midwives in their mother tongue.
What is Midwifery Today, and where does its immense popularity come from? The pillar on which the journal (published in Eugene, Oregon) rests is Jan Tritten, a jovial lady with long greyish brown hair and a ready smile. Her business card describes her as the “Editor and Mother of Midwifery Today.” And that she truly is. She is everywhere, always helping, with empathy and good cheer as wide as her motherly embrace. In the spring of 2002, she came to Budapest to visit the Hungarian midwives and doulas. The following is what she said about her calling:
“I gave birth to my first child in the hospital. At that time I knew women had been giving birth for thousands of years and so could I. After a forced and devastating ’saddle block’ (epidural), I swore to help women avoid this and other equally damaging medical dangers around childbirth.
”This experience happened 31 years ago but I feel the same anger and the same pain that I felt that day. But the good news is that it made me a midwife. My second child was born at home. It was a wonderful experience that strengthened my resolve to become a midwife. Three months later I was already apprenticing with a midwife co-op, attending births and engaging in prenatal care. During this time in the U.S., the situation was much the same as it is in Hungary today. Our movement also grew from the mothers’ experiences. I know a lot of midwives-to-be who want to become midwives because they had either a very good delivery or a very bad one and want to help others to have a better experience. Midwives know that women know how to give birth. The midwifery model of perinatal care is about women. You can attend 10,000 births but you’ll never know what the next one will be like. This is because you haven’t been at that moment in that situation with that woman before. Midwives are always in the process of learning, and their teachers are the women themselves. The process of learning means respecting women, their ways of life and each and every rite of passage they go through. It also means that you suggest things to them, but leave them alone when they ask you to.
In 1989, Jan Tritten retired from active midwifery practice so that she could spend more time with the magazine and all the connected organizational work. She had a totally different vision from ordinary professional journals, and this vision came to life in Midwifery Today. The magazine is not written in just two dimensions. You can not only read it, but also experience it.
Midwifery Today magazine’s mission is clear: to pass on an ancient profession with modern principles. Each issue is constructed around one topic, so by collecting the earlier issues one can acquire a thematically arranged professional library. Each article is written from a different point of view about the topic. Thus, the articles provide alternatives to the prevention and/or solution to the same type of complication, for example. In this way, we can gain knowledge about co-existing medicinal systems and we can realize there is no single ”correct“ solution. The magazine’s approach is based on the midwifery model of care: the emphasis is shifted from pathological procedures to the strengthening of healthy processes.
Logging on to Midwifery Today’s Web site, the Internet surfer who wishes to acquire professional knowledge or the company of supporting professionals will find a treasury. On the Web site, one can find not only back issues of the magazine, but also specialized textbooks, tapes and videocassettes, as well as artistic gifts that depict pregnancy. Through the mail list and forums, one can exchange experiences with midwives all around the world. And it’s not just a forum of bleak professional debate, but a nurturing community of genuine and kindred midwife spirits.
Midwifery Today also organizes several midwifery conferences every year, usually one in the U.S. and at least one internationally, so that midwives are not physically isolated from each other. Some of my colleagues and I have had the opportunity to attend some of these international conferences in the past few years. The experience generated the same kind of feelings in all of us: we came home with new ideas and enthusiasm and returned to our everyday jobs with plenty of fresh drive. We have heard Michel Odent, Ina May Gaskin, Marsden Wagner, Robbie Davis-Floyd, Penny Simkin and many others speak. In between the lectures and round-table discussions, we keep busy making new acquaintances. We articulate shared interests, solve problems and form friendships. Of the representatives of 35 countries at Midwifery Today’s 2001 Paris conference, only one Hungarian midwife apprentice was present. In 2002, two attended the conference in the Netherlands. And there will be more yet at the November 2003 Paris conference!
From all the things described above, it is obvious why Midwifery Today holds such a key position in midwives’ lives around the world. However, there is another key to this success. I heard Jan Tritten ask a question at one of her lectures once: “Why do you think the first midwife, a prehistoric woman, helped another woman in labor?” The audience answered with childlike simplicity: “Because she loved her.” A silence followed this revelation. After thousands of years, we cannot allow this ancient motive—one woman’s loving care for another—to fade from our practice of midwifery. “Because she loved her” the female companion helped the mother, without feeling ashamed of her humanity, the tears of relief after a difficult birth, the throat-tightening worry, the intimate laughter or the closeness. This primal love can be felt in Jan’s encouraging smile and her magazine’s articles.
In 1976, when Jan Tritten started her midwifery career, the same kind of medical counter propaganda surrounded independent holistic midwifery in the U.S. as it does in today’s Hungary. By now, in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, the Western European countries and moreover in most central European countries as well, women’s right to make informed choices and the availability of holistic midwifery care have become more accessible. Midwifery Today has been the means of the realization of a bold, large-scale vision. It is an up-to-date, colorful professional forum with a wide community of readers. The goal with our magazine, Bábák, szülésznok, is much the same. As we complete the first year of publication and the number of subscribers grows, we hope to have the same success on our home front.