My formative years were spent in California, in the 70’s. I tried to experience everything that implies, from bad boyfriends to smoking pot and wearing hippie clothes my parents hated. Mom was a mathematician and Dad was an artist. When Mom told me I could do anything I wanted with my life (she meant be a doctor), I believed her. But I sure couldn’t tell her what it was I really wanted to do.
Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to know stuff. Stuff about sex. Stuff about how babies get born. Wet, gooey, secret stuff. The stuff people shut up about when a kid barges in. Nothing you could ask an older mother whose family values needle was stuck in the 1940s.
But Dad told me I could find anything I needed in a book, so while Mom was grocery shopping, I’d have her leave me at a bookstore. And that’s where I found it: Ina May Gaskin’s now-classic “Spiritual Midwifery.”
As soon as I saw the word midwife, I knew that’s what I wanted to be. Really hadn’t a clue what it meant, but knew I wanted to be the person on the other end of those hands catching the baby. It was just so damn cool. Wet, scary, and sexy. And very nearly illegal back then.
When push came to shove, I wasn’t OK with the illegal part. Unlike Ina May, I didn’t have the guts to leave home and travel across country delivering babies with only the guidance of a medical text and my common sense. So I got a job at the local newspaper. Still cool, and didn’t require a college degree. It made my mother crazy.
Mom’s gone now, and though she did live to see me get a couple of degrees and become a midwife, she made no secret of wishing I’d been a physician. The fact that I had to be a nurse before being a certified nurse-midwife galled her, coming as she did from an era when women were expected to either stay home or learn shorthand. Nursing, she said, was no better–just glorified maid service. I don’t think she ever changed her mind about that.