The Land Where Midwives Dwell

photography ZULILAH MERRY


Every birth reaches a place that feels impossible.  “I can’t do this” is whispered or yelled, eyes search for a way out, hands grasp tight. “This is normal, you are so strong” are the only magic words I have to offer. And they work. Focus moves inward, babies are born, tears of joy and relief are released.

This land of deep falling in love, of overwhelming emotions, of raw intensity and vulnerability—this is the land where midwives dwell. Holding space between the worlds of pregnancy, birthing, recovering, growing, living and each transformation along the way. We sit and we wait for as long as each stage needs, supporting families as they navigate the intensity of birth, holding still as mothers learn the delicate dance of breastfeeding, answering phone calls in the middle of the night to hear through tears the worry and fear of new parents.

Home birth midwives have the special privilege of meeting families in their own homes, of entering into their space where time is moving slowly and orbiting around their new baby, where they can be honest and blown wide open.

Our work is emotional, based on human connection and empathy; and it is cerebral, based on science and research and protocols. We use the skills we learned through study as well as the invaluable information that comes from taking the time to get to know each family and individual as we provide care through all the reproductive years and beyond.

Fifteen years ago I was a college student, studying in Costa Rica. As if a predetermined path unfolded, I was led to an informal apprenticeship with a home birth midwife. By her side and cradled in mountains looking out to the sea, I found myself witnessing the wonder of birth for the first time. It felt like falling in love. I felt that I would never need to sleep again, consuming every midwifery book I could find. I was one of the lucky people to have found my calling at a young age.

From that beautiful mountain birth I went on to an equally beautiful but much more intense apprenticeship with an amazing village midwife in El Salvador. Even with the challenges I witnessed there I was still drawn to follow this calling, so I attended a formal direct-entry midwifery school, and went on to apprentice for five more years with midwives in Vermont, Maine, Senegal and Indonesia.

For the past seven years I have practiced in Maine as a certified professional midwife. Following years of effort I am proud to have been a part of, home birth midwives in Maine are now on the brink of becoming state licensed providers for the first time.

Midwifery is often referred to as a passion as much as a profession. In my experience it is equally both. The passion keeps me running with enthusiasm after days without sleep, inspired by the miracle and strength I am entrenched in. I fall back on the passion after a hard day, or a hard birth—when midwifery saturates my bones to keep me standing tall.

The profession is a part of every day: Running a business, researching, answering phone calls while my toddler clings to my legs, staying up half the night to find the answer to a question, talking a client through difficult decisions, peer reviewing with other midwives. The profession of midwifery originates from the beginning of humankind, and continues to grow and evolve with each new generation. It is as dynamic as birth itself.

Midwives commit to the profession, and to the passion, in every aspect of their lives. Our partners know to keep our cars shoveled out and the coffee hot, our young children ask questions like “Is it time for a baby to come out?” and our friends and family show up at the drop of the hat to hold together the pieces of our lives as we excuse ourselves, throwing equipment into the trunk of the car and driving into the night. On the drive I run the family’s history through my head, whisper prayers for an easy birth and step fully present into their home for as many hours or days as this unique baby needs.

Often I tell my clients, you have me for your lifetime. If 10 years from now you want to talk about your birth you can call; I will be here to listen and remember with you. As midwives we have been witness to the depths of human experience and we understand the importance of being seen in those times of great power and vulnerability, and of the honor we hold to be the ones to say, “I know you can do this.”

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Photo still from the independent documentary No One Told Me. Zulilah Merry.

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