A Trip to Women’s Prison

“Midwives historically have been known as the wise women of the community. People came to midwives for birth, healing, counsel and death. We believe every woman is a midwife.”  ~Alice Skenandore, Wise Women Gathering Place, Inc.  

A month ago when Dr. Janet Hagen asked me to speak at the John C. Burke Correctional Center in Waupun, Wisconsin, I accepted with eagerness. After contemplating what to speak about, we decided to go with, “Wise Women Traditions”. Having rough teenage years and heading down a dangerous road myself, I spoke on rising up out of that way of life with the help of other women and personal faith in God.

I facilitated two one-hour sessions that were dynamic and moving. I heard heartbreaking and triumphant stories. The two meetings ran much like smoothly flowing Home Birth Meetings. We put the chairs in a circle and held open discussion. Our theme was Wise Women Gathering Place’s motto, “Every woman is a midwife”. We discussed ways that women nurture and uphold one another through trials and tribulations of life. We discussed being advocates and witnesses for each other, the importance of not being alone when facing elements of “the system”, whichever system that might be: schools, prison, government, medicine, social services….etc.

I told my story of being falsely accused of a crime and having to prove my innocence, and about the commitment to helping women I made in response to that event. I told of family’s struggles to have safe home births, false information and opposition encountered when attempting to get help. I shared the triumph of finding midwives who believed in me, stood by, encouraged and directed me to the facts so I could go forth in confidence.

Participants drew interesting parallels about midwifery and prostitution, both of which have been punishable by law at various times in history and cater to some of the intimate needs of human beings. One woman, my age, had been incarcerated for prostitution and she told how a number of the men she worked for sought companionship, not sex.

We discussed the blackballing of Wrightstown, Wisconsin home-birth doctor, Pierre Slightam, and the politico-financial power games that attempt to own the natural event of birth. We talked of Illinois where midwives are being arrested, homes rampaged, yards dug up, family life invaded and the recent incarceration of Vancouver, midwife, Gloria LeMay for practicing medicine without a license. We pondered, “What exactly does medicine own about the act of holding a friend’s hand, talking her through the pain, listening to the heartbeat of her fetus or even touching her as the baby’s head emerges?”

We covered the sexuality of birth, the need for privacy, emotional safety and knowing your helpers in order for birth to flow freely. I left them with the message of gathering together, wherever we are in life, in prison, the workforce, in childbirth and parenting, among neighbors, friends and foes.  I encouraged them to form circles of support, helping each other without vindictiveness or competitiveness. Being there for each other and claiming their own womanly abilities to “midwife” each other in all challenging areas of life.

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