It was particularly exciting for me to invite Where’s My Midwife? creators Kirsti Kreutzer and Anna Van Wagoner to be BOLD5 Honorees because they were already part of the BOLD family! You’ll get to see them at BOLD’s 5th anniversary reading and webcast of BIRTH on September 5. And now I can’t wait for you to get to know how they use creativity to improve maternity care for mothers! Before you read anything you might want to click on their “Midwives Diner” video above to get a taste of just how clever these BOLD women are!
You guys organized a performance of BIRTH in Wilmington, North Carolina – in 2007 and 2009. Can you tell me more about that experience and why you were so motivated to bring BIRTH to Wilmington?
Anna: We were working with North Carolina Friends of Midwives to raise awareness about home birth and the lack of access to providers in our state. We saw the play as the perfect tool to raise awareness about birth and open a dialogue in our community. Our talk back panels were very successful. We had a diverse group of maternity care workers, including everyone from obstetricians to doulas. The audience asked really important questions, getting right to the heart of the problems we face. My favorite questions were from the people who were new to these issues. It was inspiring to see them connecting all the dots for the first time.
Kirsti: I think my favorite moment was when an obstetrician said, “These issues are legitimate, and it’s great to begin talking about change, but we (the doctors) are comfortable with things the way they are. We’re making money and the system is working for us. Things won’t really change until women demand something different.” That was a huge moment for me. It made me realize that trying to change things by talking to the professionals was not a real solution – we needed to reach the women. So, the second time we produced “Birth” we reached out even further into our community. We decided to make the play part of a weeklong celebration of motherhood called WILD, Women In Labor Daze. I kept coming back to your message, “My body rocks!” I felt that this was what we needed to be telling women. How or with whom you have your baby is your personal decision. We need to recognize where we are all the same – we all have the amazing ability to create life! There’s not a person alive now or ever in the history of humans that did not spend time growing inside of a woman. That’s an incredible fact, and it is sadly taken for granted in our culture. So, we reached out to the local YWCA and UNCW’s Women’s Studies and Resource Center, and put together a week of events for women to come out and celebrate being mothers. A concert, a night of comedy, a pizza party, panel discussions, and the finale was the play. We are currently working on our third year of WILD.
Anna: Both productions were a lot of fun. It is a wonderful feeling to be working on something big and creative and feel so connected to not only the people you are working with but also to the people who are doing the play all over the world!
You’re being honored at BOLD’s 5th anniversary this year because of your work with “Where’s My Midwife?” Tell me about Where’s My Midwife’s mission and some of the projects you’ve done.
Anna: “Where’s My Midwife?” is a grassroots organization seeking to increase access to midwives in hospitals, birth centers and at home through education and advocacy. It was born when the largest midwifery practice in our community was abruptly dismantled, right in the middle of our attempts to produce WILD! Overnight women were left without the care providers they trusted. We felt this required immediate public action. Mother’s voices needed to be heard. We found out from the midwives that there was a policy place that required the backing obstetrician to be on site while a midwife labored with her patient. NC requires that CNMs get a physicians’ signature to obtain a license, but says nothing about those physicians being at the hospital while the patient labors. All physicians are required to live within a certain distance from the hospital for obvious reasons, so they are always a phone call away. Besides that, our hospital is a teaching hospital, so there is always a physician on-site in case of emergency. We attempted to deliver a letter to the head of the Dept. of OB/GYN at the hospital asking for a meeting to discuss why we felt their policy was inappropriate, but were basically given a brush off. If the physicians didn’t like waiting at the hospital while midwives were with their patients, and they made the rule, they could change it! We weren’t asking for much, just a meeting, and if they were going to act as if we were not there, we would make our presence known until we got our meeting! We began protesting at the hospital, everyday from 12 to 1pm. We tried to get our message out there as creatively as possible, whether that meant painting pregnant bellies at protests putting together a flash mob at the local farmers’ market. When we researched this issue on-line, we quickly realized the midwifery practices were being closed all over the place and no one was doing anything about it. We got our meeting and successfully got the hospital to change it’s policy. We have been reaching out to folks in other communities, helping them take action, and documenting their stories. We strongly believe that if maternity care is ever going to change women’s stories need to be told loud and clear.
Kirsti: I made a documentary telling our story, and we were invited to show it to the North Carolina chapter of ACNM. Those midwives were so impressed with our story, they made some inquiries and helped us get on the agenda at the Annual ACNM meeting in D.C. I firmly believe our success is completely due to the fact that, for the first time, mothers were using their voices to affect change. The documentary is powerful because women are able to speak about how the actions of those who would run our maternity care system as a business is directly affecting how these women give birth. We started a virtual birth circle where women can tell their birth stories in their own voices. Reading a birth story is one thing, but listening to Jody in our documentary talk about her experience, hearing her get emotional, that is much more moving in my opinion. We are working on taking the virtual birth circle to the residents at our hospital so they can hear, first hand how their actions are affecting the women in their care.
Your short piece “Midwives Diner” is so clever. How did you come up with that idea?
Kirsti: Actually, Anna and Candice (one of our original members, and the first mom you see in the film) came up with the idea while we were protesting. I think it was Anna who said she kept imagining women sitting at a restaurant ordering the type of birth they wanted. Candice wrote about 3 pages of possible dialogue, and I edited the script into a two-minute short and shot it with my husband.
Anna: Midwives are best known for supporting women as they birth naturally. However they do so much more – they offer the full range of well-woman care, they support medicated births, too. The main difference is in their approach, the amount of time they will spend by your side. We wanted to convey all that information in a way that would be humorous.
What was the biggest challenge about making it?
Kirsti: The biggest challenge about making it was having my kids on set! We shot the video at a deli in town, where my sister is a manager. She ended up giving the girls a tour of the kitchen and getting them a cookie or two to keep them occupied.
And what was the funniest moment on the set shooting it?
Kirsti: I think the funniest moment on set was watching my midwife play the delivery lady! She was the one who told me about the bumper stickers that the medical community came up with (Home Deliveries are for pizzas!), so the fact that she was able to play that role really tickled me.
You two are also moms, of course. Tell us about your kids and birthin’ ‘em!
Kirsti: Katherine is six and was born in the hospital after a 25 hour home labor. I really wanted a home birth, and much like Natalie, I wanted to show my family that birth was normal so I invited everyone in my family and in my husband’s family over to the house. But, while I was in labor, I ended up holing myself up in the bedroom with my husband, my midwife and her apprentice. I could hear everyone laughing, watching “Anchor Man” in the living room! I think after 20 hours, the tone changed, and I could tell everyone was getting anxious. Instead of asking them to leave, I labored on until there was meconium in my amniotic fluid. I made the decision to transport, and Katherine was born after pushing at the hospital for about 20 minutes. The way I was treated at the hospital is really what made me an activist. The fact that my midwife had to pretend to be my doula, that she couldn’t give them my charts because her credential is not recognized by the state of North Carolina, really upset me. And my daughter had to have 2 rounds of antibiotics via IV because she had not had a Strep B test. The whole reason I wanted to give birth at home was to avoid having to spend time away from her when she was first born, to try to prevent her from being poked and prodded by strangers, but that was not meant to be. I see now how her birth had to happen exactly this way in order to get me so fired up! Her birth lit a fire in me that has led me to this very interview. My second daughter, Rose, was born at home after a short 4 hour labor! I woke up to my water leaking at 6am; ate a big egg breakfast; took a shower and the contractions started coming strong and quick. My midwife brought the pool over and set it up; I danced through contractions and in between, I would find Tom and Jerry videos on YouTube for Katherine to watch. Rose’s birth was so different because I knew what to expect, I understood what was going on in my body. As I had a contraction, I would focus on it completely and I could feel my muscles doing the work! It was incredible. I got in the tub for the last 45 minutes, and that’s where I did all of my pushing. I remember at one point, my midwife said, “If you reach down, you can probably feel her head.” When I did, I had to reach way back because my cervix was still facing backwards. I thought to myself, “On this next contraction, I need to move my cervix forward.” And I kept my hand there through the next contraction, and I felt my cervix move forward and open! She was born at 11:43am, just in time for lunch. If someone had asked me to write the perfect birth story, I could not have imagined anything as perfect as my second birth.
Anna: Both of my daughters were born at the home, the first one was an accidentally and the second intentionally. For the first I planned to give birth at this wonderful birth center. My labor started hard and fast, but it was manageable. When my midwife told me over the phone that I was in early labor and it was going to get much worse I believed her. I had heard such awful things about labor and birth that I was ready for anything. She told me I should try to get some rest. So that is exactly what I did. I stopped timing my contractions. I just focused on breathing fully and went into a very deep state of relaxation. I even slept. Labor was no longer painful once I turned off my brain and stopped wondering if this contraction was worse than the one before. I felt like I was simply an animal, doing what animals do. When I started vocalizing my husband called the midwife back and told her we were coming in. Shortly after that my vocalizations got graveley and my body was pushing. He called her back and told her that we weren’t coming in because we knew we wouldn’t make it and didn’t want to give birth in a taxi. After five and a half hours of intense labor I squatted on the bathroom floor and she slipped right out into my husbands arms. It was so easy, my body did everything on it’s own. It all felt so right. I felt so strong, like I could do anything. I was high for weeks. I wanted every woman to experience what I had!
My second birth was totally different. In addition to my husband, I had a midwife, a doula, Kirsti with her camera, and my six year old daughter. All of these people were dear friends. My labor was a lot shorter, only an hour and a half of it was serious, but boy was it serious. I had to use all my energy to ride the contractions and relax my body. I could feel each contraction pushing my baby down.
It all happened really fast. My mantra was, “This is so intense!” At one point my husband recommended that I go to the bathroom. I remember thinking “That sounds like I good idea, I feel like a lot of stuff needs to come out.” So I walked across the house and in that short distance my body was ready to push. My baby came out easily with just a little extra effort on my part and again I had the feeling of total awe. Both births were absolutely prefect.
If I had a magic wand and could make your best-case birth world come true what would it look like?
Kirsti: My best-case birth world would be a place where all women were respected in their birthing. All professionals would collaborate together and place women in the center of their care. We are actually trying to create just that in Wilmington! We are going to build a birth center that is also a women’s wellness center. Imagine a campus – two buildings surrounded by trees with paths to walk around a body of water. One building is a birth center, where women of all ages can come and be cared for by midwives and counselors who will truly provide ‘health care’ instead of ‘practicing medicine.’ The other building is a wellness center. This building is home to a variety of classes and support groups (yoga, childbirth education classes, massage therapy, new parent support groups, breastfeeding support, self-esteem classes for young girls). There will be a café for folks to bring their children and meet up with the other mothers who (maybe) were in their Centering group at the Birth Center, a place where new moms can talk to the ‘veterans’ and ask questions, and see that things will get better. At the wellness center, teenage girls are partnered with doulas and attend births, so they can see what labor and delivery is all about. This will give them a respect of what their bodies are capable of, and help to normalize birth. They may also attend the new parent support groups so they can understand the amount of work involved with having a newborn! There could also be support groups for single moms; widows; women going through menopause; the possibilities are endless. The point is to create an alternative to the current medical model of birth in our culture. If we cannot convince a system that is based on greed and arrogance to change, we must create an alternative that honors women and places them at the center of their care.
What’s Where’s My Midwife up to next?
Kirsti: WMM? is going to continue working on the map on our website. We would like to have a link to an interview with a mom or midwife in every one of the communities on our map. We hope that hearing from the women who were affected by the closing of midwifery practices will help the professionals see that their actions have consequences. We are also working on a new campaign called ‘Pregnant Mayhem’ which is set to launch Labor Day Weekend. Once a month for the next year, we will use creative means to raise awareness (flash mobs, film screenings, art displays, etc.). We already have people signed up in communities all over the country (and Canada!) to participate in our first super secret act! Our goal is to reach out to all of the birth communities, to unite the advocates, the activists, and coordinate our efforts to educate the public about the maternity care crisis in our country. To find out how to get involved, go to pregnantmayhem.org
Anna: It was our experience that actively engaging the powers that be, that taking to the streets got our message heard! We hope that Pregnant Mayhem will inspire other activists to take this message to the streets, “We won’t take birth lying down!”
Anything else you want to add?
Anna and Kirsti: Thanks to Karen and everyone at BOLD for being trailblazers! Your play brought us together, and your creative activism has inspired us in all of our endeavors. YOU ROCK!
To watch BOLD’s 5th anniversary reading and webcast of BIRTH go to www.GetBOLDaboutBirth.com