First of all, Valerie, thank you so much for making the time to let us get to know you better. Our Big Ocean tenet number two states that “we are empowered by our feminine nature and biology, and we honor our procreative power.” Midwifery is an ancient art. It has been a part of the human story from the beginning. Though the practices around midwifery vary- at its core it is about supporting a mother through her birth experience. As a licensed mid-wife you give so much of yourself to creating a way for women to have powerful and transformative birth experiences. Can you tell us, what led you to midwifery? I have always been interested in birth/breastfeeding issues. In 2007 my husband and I became Bradley Method teachers to help our daughter prepare for her first baby. Next I started doula work, then it was a slippery slope from there. Truly, if I had not felt called and led to it, I could never have done the training and started work as a midwife.
Tell us about your training as a midwife. I did my academic work through Midwives College of Utah and my clinical work at Agape’ Birth Center in Rigby, Idaho. It took me 3.5 years but will take most people longer now.
Now that you have your own practice up and running- tell us about your typical workweek. I do all my care in people’s homes at this point, so it’s a lot of travel. I try to reserve Monday and Friday for office work, and do my visits on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Of course, if someone is having a baby it throws the schedule off and we have to regroup as best we can.
How has midwifery affected your perception of the female body? It has given me an ever-deepening reverence for the divine design. I have also come to understand that the body itself does not do the work of motherhood. It is closely linked with spiritual and emotional functions. All female bodies are beautiful.
As a midwife you see women at their most raw and vulnerable. What are some experiences that have stuck with you? What have you learned from these experiences about our feminine nature? Women often find their true femininity during pregnancy and childbirth. It’s different from what our cultures tell us is feminine. I have seen women do amazing things in labor. One of the things I love best is to see a woman really own the process. When SHE is the one doing the work (instead of having someone else “delivering” the baby), the result is a humble, powerful, strong mother who knows she can do whatever she needs to do to help this child.
Tell us about building your practice. What is it like to work so closely with other midwives? How do you support each other? How do you work together at births? What have you learned about sisterhood through these experiences? It was actually very frightening to start my own practice because I have never seen myself as a businesswoman. All the details of running a business are foreign to me although I’m getting better at that. I had a lot of help from my husband and from my student, Angela. Without their help I could not have done it. I still rely on help from my students, my daughter (who works as our office manager) and my husband.
At first the practice grew slowly, and that was good because it took a while to work out the mechanics of doing everything from my car. It’s not especially expensive to start this type of practice. I was able to get started without debt and put a lot of profits back into the business.
All my life I have been afraid to work with other women because of my experiences in high school. I never knew how to play the “girl games” and was always the victim. I was much more comfortable hanging out with boys. It took a lot of faith to start off in a field that is nothing but women. There have been a few bumps along the road but for the most part the midwives in this area work together well. We are willing to step in and help each other when needed. Now that there are more midwives it’s even easier. I think we all have a vision of the work and a desire to help mothers and families. That sense of mission supersedes the tendency of women to work against each other.
Midwives are a strong-minded bunch. We have to be. Each has her particular strengths and I think it’s true that there is a midwife for every woman. The more midwives there are in a particular area, the more work there is for everyone because home birth begins to look normal and mainstream.
I have been very, very blessed in my students. They have all been wonderful women with great hearts and have helped me along as I have helped them. In our practice it truly feels like a sisterhood. I don’t think there’s any jealousy or territorialism. I love seeing the advanced students taking the new students under their wings and bringing them along. My first student, Angela, just became a licensed midwife and will work with me. That’s very exciting.
Midwifery is a difficult profession. Sisterhood makes it beautiful.
What has midwifery taught you about motherhood? It has taught me that motherhood is the superpower women come with. Even women who cannot bear children are mothers in one way or another. Our society does not value motherhood, but that’s a big mistake. Mothers really are the power in every culture, whether the culture recognizes it or not. That’s why throughout history women have often been denigrated and persecuted. It’s because they are so powerful it’s scary. Ultimately, all real power is the result of self-sacrifice, and motherhood is all about self-sacrifice.
How is birth a spiritual experience? Are there some special experiences you feel comfortable sharing? Of course birth is one of the gateways of life, the gate of the joining of spirit and body. Once conception has occurred, women have complete stewardship over that gateway. There is nothing more spiritual than the process of extending oneself beyond the bounds of what one thought was possible, in order to bring forth life to someone else. If her husband is there supporting her, it is a profound experience for him to see her go through that process. A woman giving birth holds the hands of angels. At some births that is very apparent. At the birth of one of my grandchildren I was very aware of spirits from both sides of the family filling the room. Some of those from our family I knew/recognized and others I knew were from my daughter-in-law’s family. I don’t think any birth is ever unattended by angels.
What do you want women to know about birth, their nature and biology? I would say to them: “You carry within you the great privilege of bringing forth life. You know in the very cells of your body how to do this work. Prepare well. You build your children from the materials within you, so make sure these are the best you can provide. Keep your body healthy, your spirit pure (quickly turn away from anything unworthy) and choose joy. Learn that you have the ability from moment to moment to choose the emotional, mental, spiritual and physical environment in which your children will grow. You are their garden, their ecosystem. You are a wholeness, not a lot of separate parts. Be whole for their sakes, and you will find joy in the process. The actual events of the birth process are not as important as the way you look at them. Every birth is for the enlightenment of the mother, no matter how it takes place. Accept and learn.”
Are there any other insights you have that you want to share with us? I did not come to midwifery until after I was 50. Don’t worry too much about finding your life mission. If you stay humble and open and curious you will be led in the ways you need to go, and maybe you’ll only see the pattern when you look back from the end. You don’t have to know everything from the beginning. Trust and be patient and do the good you can today.