Mother’s Wisdom from Ina May Gaskin

By Gail Condrick

Article published in all 55 Natural Awakenings magazine franchises in the United States in May, 2009

Natural Awakenings is now available on the Web -- to see this article, click on Natural Childbirth

Ina May Gaskin is the author of Spiritual Midwifery and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, the developer of the Gaskin maneuver for shoulder birth complications, and founder of the Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee. Since 1971 she has influenced and inspired women around the world with her views on natural childbirth.

You have been called the nation’s leading midwife and the founder of the natural childbirth movement in America. How did you get started?

A: Like many women I had tried a hospital birth and vowed never to be treated that way again. It was the late 60’s and America was in rebellion.  Women started demanding birth centers and midwives. At the same time, my husband Stephen and I were traveling on a lecture tour around the country with a caravan of 50 school buses, and along the way babies were born and we mid-wived each other.  We began to coalesce into a community, finding roots and settling in Tennessee, founding the Farm. Some of our people were doctors and nurses and we made contacts with local hospitals and health authorities. We had very good outcomes with our pregnancies and our breastfeeding rates right from the start. So we got our on the job training in the caravan, learning from each other as midwives and friends.

What do women and their partners need to know about natural childbirth?

A: Most importantly, women need to know that their bodies work better than they think.  It is important to trust the process of nature. When we as a culture understand how women’s bodies work, and trust that ours will work, we will have an entire new psychology of childbirth. We must trust that women’s bodies are perfectly made for childbirth and the natural rhythms of giving birth. Natural childbirth can provide a holistic approach to childbearing that includes the physical and emotional, spiritual, and cultural needs of each unique birth.  To be at the birth of another person is a great, humbling, wonderful opportunity.

Why does the mind/body connection play a key role in childbirth?

A:  When the biological process is allowed to unfold in the most peaceful way, you have a release of a mixture of ecstatic hormones, oxytocin and beta endorphins.  You actually have this ability to become more fluid and are able to relax the muscles that need to open. If the body senses fear, the muscles of the involuntary system become rigid and inflexible which makes it hard to change shape.  Then it escalates, causing extreme pain where normally labor would continue.  This fighting wastes lots of energy. But you can make an instant change and release the ecstatic hormones naturally by deep breathing, laughter, and even experiencing gratitude for those helping with the birth. This works best in an atmosphere of privacy and calm.

Will you explain what you refer to as our country’s “big secret” regarding childbirth?

A: There is a generally held belief that childbirth is safe in the United States, but really there is no good reporting on the maternal death rate.  We have both the neonatal death rates and the maternal death rates going up and that is intolerable. Maternal deaths in the United States were 12 per 100,000 in 2003 and 13 per 100,000 in 2004, with many complications from c-sections. There is no one who can convince me that is not a problem.

What can families do to ensure a more natural birthing process is available to us and our daughters?

A: We need to do a lot of rethinking.  Americans believe that the more technology you throw at problems, the better.  But that is not necessarily true with birth. We should be studying why the death rate is rising and doing something big to turn it around.  That is possible.  We need a national system for collecting data, more midwives, a revolution in obstetrical education, and a national health-insurance system with better pre-natal and postpartum care for all women.  Families must insist on this. 

For more information visit and consult a health care provider. Ina May Gaskin’s latest book, Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding will be released in the fall of 2009.

Copyright © Gail Condrick, 2009

Gail Condrick is a writer and lover of all things earth and ocean living in Sarasota, Florida. Write to Gail