Right before Thanksgiving, Ricki and I got to fulfill a dream…visiting Ina May Gaskin at The Farm in Tennessee. We had always wanted to film Ina May at The Farm for BOBB but ran out of production funds and time. We decided that we MUST get there to film for our follow-up DVD, so Wednesday morning November 19th (mere hours after Ricki hosted a benefit at Babeland for The New Space for Women’s Health) we hopped a plane to Nashville.
Coincidentally, my dear friend, actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley, lives in Nashville and is pregnant with her second child. I sent Kim a copy of BOBB at the beginning of her pregnancy and it really affected her. (Ironically, she had missed our LA premiere to attend a friend’s birth!) In fact, she decided to use a midwife at Vanderbilt for this pregnancy and was immediately interested in joining our Farm pilgrimage. So we drove straight from the airport to pick up Kim and then continued another 90 min or so toward Summertown, where the The Farm is located. We made a quick pit-stop at a burger joint called Sonic where the waitresses roller skate out to the car with your food. Ricki loved it. We chowed down on burgers and blizzards before heading into vegan territory.
The Farm is absolutely gorgeous, wooded countryside. We met Ina May at the welcome center, bought some memorabilia and books, and then stopped at Ina May’s home so she could put some black bean soup in a mason jar for lunch. Then we arrived at the midwifery center and met the whole team of Farm midwives. We took a tour of the little birthing houses that some members have built on their properties. The Farm midwives will attend local women’s births at the Farm or at home, as long as they live reasonably close by. Otherwise, you can come stay in one of these little birth cabins near your due date and have your baby on The Farm. The cabins can sleep an entire family and the midwives will set it up with a birthing tub. If you require a hospital delivery, the midwives can do that too and have an excellent relationship with their collaborating physicians. It’s really a perfect system. The atmosphere and the midwives are so warm and so welcoming that it’s easy to see why families would travel from all over the country to give birth there.
At the midwifery center, Ricki and I held the newborns and spoke to some of the expectant mothers. One couple had come in from Alabama (about an hour away) because certified professional midwives are illegal there. Kim sat in on a prenatal appointment and told the midwives how she was lobbying to have the first water birth at Vanderbilt. (Cross your fingers for her!)
After that, it was back to Ina May’s house for some amazing black bean soup and “ice bean” for dessert. (Much more delicious than Sonic burger…) Exhausted, we drove back to Kim’s house to spend the night and returned to The Farm the next morning.
It’s hard to describe how amazing Ina May is to be around. She already receives so many accolades for her writing and her speaking engagements and her brilliance – but in person you can feel those unique, personal qualities that make her one of the most famous midwives in the world. We took photographs with Ina May and her husband Stephen on their property. Then we got down to some serious talking. Ricki and I had a heart-to-heart with Ina May and her colleague Pamela about the state of birth. Interestingly, Ina May has really shifted a lot of her focus and energy onto maternal mortality in the US. She showed us the thick volumes that are published in the UK every year called “Why Mothers Die.” These studies catalogue and assess every maternal death in the country and looks for ways to prevent them. The US equivalent is a flimsy pamphlet put out by the CDC with a few statistics and no details. Ina May is really worried about maternal mortality in the US. She is even more worried because no one else seems to be looking into it. So, she has made it a personal mission and has constructed a Safe Motherhood quilt, which we opened up in the hay fields and filmed. Like the AIDS quilt, the personal stories memorialized in each square of the quilt are incredibly moving and sad. Ina May knows the details of each one and is in touch with many of the surviving relatives.
When it was time to leave, we instinctively knew we’d be back. It felt like such a circular moment – Ina May’s book “Spiritual Midwifery” inspired BOBB and here we were three years later, collaborating with her. It was amazing. In our new book, we profile Ina May as one of our “Birth Goddesses,” but really all the Farm midwives are birth goddesses.
Now, if we could only get them to open a NY or LA branch…
28 Responses to “Down on The Farm”
December 10th, 2008 at 6:50 pm
Kristen Gregg says:
I’m currently home in Nashville, on a visit from my new home, Hawaii. I almost gave birth with Vanderbuilt midwives, but birthed with midwives at a hospital in Hawaii. I am going to the Farm with my husband before I leave Nashville, in two short weeks, thanks to this article, and hopefully making up our minds to have our next baby there! Thank you all so much!
December 10th, 2008 at 7:37 pm
Thank you all for working so hard for natural childbirth and moms everywhere.
December 10th, 2008 at 8:28 pm
I’m a doula in training, expecting my fifth child and am planning a home water birth for the first time. I’ve done medicated and un-medicated births in the hospital and each birth has been an incredible experience for me. Home birth just feels right this time, and I’m really excited to be moving forward with it. I live in Utah, and the childbirth laws here are getting more and more strict all the time. It worries me that our choices are slowly being taken away from us. I’m hoping as we can get the word out about how beautiful, natural and safe birth is, that maybe we can help empower more women to trust in themselves and their bodies and in their natural ability to birth their babies. Thank you so much for the wonderful work you are doing! It has helped me make some important decisions, and your work in the public eye is doing so much to empower women everywhere!
December 10th, 2008 at 9:09 pm
Kelly Kravitz says:
I am so pleased to be supporters of natural birth, because of wonderful women such as you & Mrs. Gaskin.
What an inspiration to read this blog & hear your experience with the midwife that inspired me to become a Birth Doula. She is GOING to achieve maternal death awareness because that is what she does… sets goals & accomplishes them.
Thanks again for living my dream life!!
Kelly Kravitz, CD
Doula Surround, VA
December 10th, 2008 at 10:50 pm
Everytime I read about The Farm I get chills. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth was such an inspiration to read while I was pregnant and preparing for the birth of my daughter. What a dream to be able to visit there, and better yet, to give birth there.
Thank you Ina May, Ricki and Abby!
December 11th, 2008 at 12:30 am
The most amazing experience of my life was giving birth naturally to my daughter, Anna. I was fully supported by the WONDERFUL nurse midwives at Vandy.Every woman deserves to feel that power. Continue the mission ladies! Woman are listening.
December 11th, 2008 at 9:42 am
I want to thank you, Abby and Ricki, for the important work you are doing. I volunteered at the New Space for Women’s Health last month to help them get ready for that Babeland event. It is an honor to be even a small part of the mission of reinstating and protecting the rights of women in our most basic power as “vortices for humanity,” as I like to call us. (When my son was very young he asked why we hold doors open for women and let them go first… and my answer was that… because women are the vortices for humanity and that’s how we show our respect).
I met a woman while volunteering who told her tragic hospital birth story. She and her baby survived the trauma, but there are long lasting emotional scars that will take a very long time to completely heal. She was so brave in the way that she responded to her ordeal, but she needed help from others who suffered similar insult from the doctor who violated her in the hospital. Her experience makes the legality and availability of home birth and the midwifery model of care all the more necessary. I empathized with her aloneness and I feel the same for Ina May Gaskin in her struggle to shed light on and correct the issues contributing to maternal mortality in the U.S. When one woman is disempowered, violated or dies in the process of giving birth, we are all disempowered, violated, and dying, women and men. If there is anything I can do to help her or you all from NYC, please let me know.
December 11th, 2008 at 4:34 pm
Ina May Gaskin is indeed a Birth Goddess, but so are Abby and Ricki for helping to bring natural med-free childbirth into focus again. Thank you so much for continuing the work that Ina May so tirelessly and bravely continues after all of these years. The birth stories in Guide to Childbirth are so inspirational, as are all of you.
December 11th, 2008 at 5:02 pm
Heather L. Maurer says:
Thank you for your work. I greatly appreciated. I think it would be great for you to do a film with women who have had their babies with midwives as an educational video for mothers to be. thank you for your work. If you are ever in DC let me know. I can help organize.
Mom to Daisy Jade born 2-7-07, with a midwife, in a free standing birth center (litle house actually) 18 hours with two of those pushing in every position known to a birthing woman, no drugs, no interventions, just lots of love and support…nursing 22 months later….
December 11th, 2008 at 5:07 pm
Kim Collins says:
Abby & Ricki,
The Farm is such a special place! I loved the time I spent there (day trip & then 2 weeks for a training - I hope to return) - I loved living in the little cabin next to the clinic, loved the people and loved the ice bean (and the announcements when the ice bean was fresh at the community center!!). When you were at Ina May’s home, you were next door to Louise Hagler’s home - one of the most amazing vegan cooks - check out her cookbooks!
I’m so pleased that you also got to spend time with Pamela - she is such a wonderful woman and she and the other midwives don’t often get mentioned, but they are such a big part of The Farm, too.
Looking so forward to your book and all that is to come from BoBB!
South Orange, NJ
December 11th, 2008 at 5:19 pm
Stephen and Ina are national treasures, some of the most inspirational people.
Thanks for including the recent pictures of them. You all look so radiant and beautiful on the Farm!
December 11th, 2008 at 5:46 pm
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth was transformational for me, I read it during my third pregnancy and the info and birth stories were my birth companions as I labored with Baby June (my third homebirth here in O.C., California). June’s birth-day was the best day of my life and I attribute much of that joy to the inspired attitude that Ina May’s book imparted to me. I thank God so much for her work. I have such a positive attitude toward birth from Ina May’s book, that I literally wish I could give birth more often! I’m looking forward to this new DVD!
December 11th, 2008 at 5:47 pm
Abby & Ricki,
Thank you so much for helping Ina May spread the word about natural childbirth! I read ‘Spiritual Midwifery’ more than 10 years ago, then had the privilege of listening to Ina May speak at a Florida massage school. 5 years ago, I gave birth to my son in a WA birth center w/ a midwife. I read the birth stories in early labor. I became a childbirth educator so I could help other women have natural childbirth. When the military took us to Mississippi for my second birth, I had my first prenatal visit w/ Pamela up at the Farm. I so wanted to deliver up there. It’s a long story, but several factors prevented me from continuing my care up there. (nothing that had to do w/ the Farm midwives) I was lucky to find a Dr. supportive of natural childbirth. But I was so very disappointed that I didn’t get to deliver my daughter up at the Farm. I feel privileged, all the same, to have met Ina May and Pamela. I wish for all women to find a birth attendant like my midwives in WA, or the Farm midwives, or my doctor here in MS who trust women’s bodies to give birth on their own.
December 11th, 2008 at 5:59 pm
I just gave birth to my second child six days ago! It was another fabulous water birth, this time at home instead of at a birth center. I wish I could express just how fabulous giving birth can be, but I just can’t find the right words!
Here is my daughters birth story: http://legaladdictivestimulants.blogspot.com/2008/12/kate-elizabeth...
And pictures from the birth: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=66101&l=01982&id=7084...
December 11th, 2008 at 6:04 pm
YES! Keep spreading the love to all mothers and fathers in empowering them to take back the experience of birthing! I’m a huge supporter all around! Hope I can see that farm and meet Ina some day!
Big huge hugs,
December 11th, 2008 at 11:02 pm
Keri Pommerenk says:
I was lucky enough to attend The Farm Midwifery workshop for 2 weeks in October 2000. It was a life changing 2 weeks for me that I will never forget. Ina May and all the other midwives are truly inspiring. I’ve been sharing all that I learned both about life and about birthing with every pregnant woman I’ve met since then. I’m so excited Ina’s wisdom will be spread to the mainstream through the new DVD.
December 11th, 2008 at 11:14 pm
Or an Indiana location, her farm sound like just what I need! Does insurance cover it?
December 11th, 2008 at 11:38 pm
Your NameTerry says:
Ricki and Abby, you are reaching many women. I speak to pregnant women everyday,in my job, from all over the country.Lots of women have seen the film and are seeking better birth experiences as a result. As a nurse-midwife I have seen more medicalization of birth as each day passes. In meetings I have listened to comments about c/sections going to 100%. with laughter following, like ha ha funny joke.At this time I look to our new president to jump into this arena & do away with some of the legal crap that drives so much of the medical interventions. In the 70’s we changed hospital birth a bit and to some extent gave rise to many home births. We can push past this pain too! Now is the time to do it our way. My 2 sweet babies were born into the hands of Mary & Leslie on the farm. Not godesses to me Angels. I remember Ina May telling me to keep talking, keep my mouth open and that worked just fine. Also had the privelege to travel to USSR in 1989 with my sisters from the farm and others. People there had partial copies of Spiritual Midwifery and knew of Ina May and the farm. After reading some of the other comments here, I again realied how important all of the previous efforts for normal birth from the midwives on the farm and around the world are. We can never give up. Thanks so much. Live in love.
December 12th, 2008 at 2:00 am
Vicky Thompson says:
Congratulations to all of you from Birthworks South Africa (www.birthworks.co.za
) - firstly to BOBB for highlighting the medicalisation of birth and to you, Ina May Gaskin for making it your mission to highlight and decrease maternal mortality in the US. Both issues are problematic world wide and if we can mobilise ALL midwives / doulas globally - pregnant women will have informed choices, resulting in better births.
December 12th, 2008 at 4:16 pm
Denise Hibben says:
How wonderful to be able to visit with Ina May and Stephen. i would absolutely love to go to The Farm and Study with the Midwives who inspired me to become a midwife.I start my apprenticeship in January!
Thank you for all you are doing for birth, Come up to Alaska… We may be small in population, but the birthing community up here is AWESOME
Continually amazed by the power of birthing women,
Love and Light,
December 13th, 2008 at 1:18 pm
Ina May says:
Thanks, Ricki and Abby, for spreading the word so effectively and thanks to all for your heartfelt comments. Hi Terry (I remember that trip so well!).
I’m very hopeful that we are going to be able to make some real change in this area in the months and years to come. We have to, for the sake of the generations to come.
Great blog, Abby. Thanks for posting the photos—such good memories of your visit here. Come back when you can! You’re always welcome.
December 15th, 2008 at 4:57 pm
Wendy Drewelow says:
I love hearing more about the progress being made to help women take back our births. If Kim is able to have a water birth at Vanderbilt that would fantastic.
Thanks for all you, Ina May, and Ricki do to give women a voice so that we can have safe and woman-centered childbirth. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
Origins Doula Services
December 18th, 2008 at 8:37 am
Nichole Goff says:
Thanks to Ricki, Abby and my heroine Ina May, Midwifery and Birth Options for Women seem to be reaching more and more of the public at large. There is more open debate and forums than ever before. I am a mother of two young boys and a doula, inspired by my own spiritual births. I hope to continue spreading the word as these trailblazers did. I attended a Birthing From Within Workshop this past April, at The Farm, where I met Pam England, Ina May and Pamela Hunt. And, I am continuing my education at an Assistant Midwifery Workshop with Ina May and Pamela and the other Midwives. I thank them for their years of service as Birth Guardians, and for holding the space for us to follow, and join them.
December 20th, 2008 at 4:26 pm
Tanya Reid says:
That would be so awesome to visit The Farm! I can’t wait to see the next movie. I hope Kimberly Williams-Paisley has a great water birth. I wish she was going to have a home birth but hopefully she will speak out on water and natural births as an alternative to all the celebrities bragging about their elective c-sections.
January 1st, 2009 at 3:09 pm
Well, the decision is made. I am paying the $4000 out of pocket to birth at The Farm!
After speaking with Pamela and hearing about so many other women’s experiences at The Farm I know it is what is best four our family. I am so excited!
I wrote a bit about the decision on my blog: http://www.harvestofdailylife.com/still-trying-to-find-somewhere-ne...
Now I am trying to find other bloggers who are planning or have had a Farm birth already.
March 4th, 2009 at 4:01 am
Down on The Farm-- LifeSpring Midwifery, LLC says:
April 1st, 2009 at 1:29 pm
Alice Trask says:
I learned of The Farm back in the 70s when I was studying to become a midwife. I’ve always admired the folks there and even considered living at the farm. I’m happy they’re still going strong.
God Bless you Ina May.
April 5th, 2009 at 1:38 pm
I am a mother of 5 and childbirth educator. After sharing the joy of the births of my grandchildren, including a waterbirth - and watching the BOBB, I signed up for the Midwifery Assistant Program at The Farm. Thank you for helping women trust their bodies and birth naturally - it’s the most beautiful journey!