They knew from their own personal experience as well as from attending many other births what it was all about. They also supported in emotional ways which many of today’s busy hospital ward-midwives cannot.
But the recent history of lay midwifery is a sad one. Up until the early 20th century, lay midwifery was all that existed. It was their experience which had helped to populate the planet since the beginning. Due to the rise of obstetric medicine, more and more medicalisa-tion was brought into childbirth until a point when it was decided by the patriarchal powers-that-be that midwives must also qualify as registered nurses. Some of the old school conformed to this, some did not, and many simply retired from the profession.
For a while there were two “classes” of midwife – the nurse trained and the lay midwife – the latter being allowed to attend a birth so long as no registered midwife was available within a 5 km distance of the place of birth. They co-existed for some time until the obstetric and nurse midwifery registration bodies recommended and oversaw the passing of legislation to criminalise lay midwifery. From the perspective of natural birthing, all this is a shameful and retrograde direction to have gone.
The spiritual midwife is someone who may or may not have any medical training, and who may or may not be a lay midwife, but who has a deep understanding of the spiritual elements of childbirth. During childbirth, and sometimes before and after, they are your teacher and your guide. For all of my 3 homebirths, I had a spiritual midwife in the form of my guru who, even though a man, and even though he had no formal medical training, was the one who helped me to learn more about the spiritual nature of my pregnan-cies and childbirths. Although only occasionally present in person, his presence was perpetual in spirit such that all other support seemed irrelevant. It is this kind of teacher-midwife who can empower you to become more your own birthing midwife and to realise the truly spiritual nature of birthing and motherhood.
In the case of a woman who chooses a hospital birth, but who is still aiming for as natural a birth as possible, it can be in her interests to arrange the services of a natural birthing advocate. Such an advocate may be a nursing trained registered midwife (or even a lay midwife) who has experience in active birthing and
homebirth, and has an understanding of hospital procedures. Like an independent homebirth midwife, she will provide support and advice all throughout your pregnancy and afterwards, but rather than come to your home for the birth, she will accompany you to a hospital. An advocate is there to uphold your desires for the birth (much like a living Birth Plan), coach you on the best way to assist the most natural possible birth, and liase with any hospital medical staff to help prevent any unnecessary intrusions or interventions. They do not however have any authority to act in a medical capacity within the hospital you are at. An advocate is a good option for women who feel unready for a homebirth, but who may be excluded from using Birth Centres due to failure to meet hospital requirements.
A doula is a physical and emotional birth support person other than a friend or family member. They will attend the birth no matter where it is held. They do not (necessarily) have medical expertise and do not become involved in decisions about the birth process itself, rather, they help the mother to uphold her own ideas and plans. Some are professionally trained and certified, whereas others may be freelance and qualified from within their own birthing experiences. They may be paid or non paid. Prior to the birth date, the doula will build a relationship with the birthing mother, her midwife, her partner and any other people assisting. During labour she will work alongside all of them. Doulas also offer ongoing support after the birth in matters such as breastfeeding, bonding and baby moon (the first month after the birth). They may also help the mother out in a domestic capacity, before, during and after the birth. For some further information and contacts regarding doulas see “Resources and Contacts” in the Appendix on page 575”.
At present in our culture, the trend is for fathers to be present and indeed actively involved in their child’s birth. Many couples feel that their relationship is greatly enriched by the shared experience of the birth. However, despite this, some men still have reservations about how involved they want to be at the time of birth. This might be to do with cross-cultural attitudes, such as a belief that giving birth is “women’s business only”. It might be to do with believing they may be of no practical use to the occasion, and sometimes, it has to do