Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Midwives and migration

Midwives and human migration

 The story of human life can be told through the many ways that people made their way across the earth. As humans moved, in small groups, across oceans and mountains and vast plains, they brought with them their wise women; their midwives.

In this way too, midwives came to Oregon.   They followed seasonal patterns of food gathering, as needed and moved to find food and better opportunity.  The midwives moved to Oregon in covered wagons and horseback and ship.  Their ancestors came from every corner of the earth.  They tended to women and babies in transition, in newly formed houses and in established communities.   People came to Oregon and the midwives came too.

We know that many European and Asian countries had well trained, skilled midwives and they came too providing valuable resources to Portland in the 1800 and 1900's.  Later people would come to build railroads and ships and come to escape war and poverty and oppression.  And within these groups of travelers, there were always midwives.

So, too when Oregon experienced a renaissance in home birth, midwives and students from all over the country came to Oregon.   The Attorney General, had decided that birth was not a medical procedure and that it was this not illegal or legal.   It was outside of the law.  Compared to other states, where midwifery was being declared illegal and midwives were going to jail, Oregon looked very attractive.

Some midwives came to Oregon for other  reasons; a husband's career or school or a desire to meet like minded people.  Others came, intentionally, to practice midwifery in what seemed a perfect setting.  Women came from California, Texas, and all across the country.  They wrote books, held conferences, started schools and created birth centers.   They added their own knowledge and experiences to the existing pool of midwives and physicians practicing home birth.  They would come to attend midwifery schools or medical school or to become a nurse-midwife at OHSU.  They came and they stayed and together became the landscape of home and birth center births in Oregon.

These home birth midwives and doctors would struggle to come together as one voice for home and birthing center births.   The same challenges that faced the general population, faced midwives.   There would be rules, customs, laws, cliques, negotiations and financial pressure that would help define who could and would practice midwifery in Oregon.  Very few midwives were born in Oregon.   They brought with them there hopes and dreams and ways of doing things.  The midwives of the 70's and the midwives embedded in the refugee communities are hard to find.   I am looking for them; not just to find out how they learned and how they practiced midwifery but also what caused them to slip away and become invisible.

Many of the children I know have one or more parents who immigrated to the United States from other countries.   Often they do not know the language of their parents and grandparents.  They are too busy to listen to the stories or learn how to cook.  Much later, when it is nearly too late, they long to know of the parent who took a boat from Vietnam or Haiti or walked across dangerous borders but it is a long time ago.

500,000 people immigrated to the west on the Oregon Trail.
 20,000 African Americans came to work in the shipyards during World War II
   4,000 Japanese first and second generation immigrants were living in Portland at the time the internment.
 16,955 Vietnamese refugees settled in Oregon after the Vietnam War
 61, 431 people have immigrated in Oregon from around the world since 1975

Monday, February 23, 2015

Gilbert and The School of Practical Midwifery - 1976

If you trace the lineage of many of Portland's midwives, that line will wind its way back to The School of Practical Midwifery.  The school was operated by Gilbert Fulton for several years around 1976.   The women who attend the school became the first wave of a new gene ratio of midwives and would in turn, train many more midwives who in turn served as preceptors to others and on and on until this very day.

I for example, was taught by Teressa Shelly and I in turn was a preceptor to Heather, Gwen, Nora, Pamela, Patrice, Joan, Lori, Susan, Shelia , Laura an many, many others.  They in turn world with other new midwives who have since worked with still more midwifery students.  

This passing down is how we as  midwives create birth communities.  We step aside an swatch as a new midwife catches her first baby, even when we love to catch them ourselves.  We do this because it is sacred to the way we have chosen to help women give birth.  

In 1976, this lineage had nearly died.  It came so close.  In our community, several people helped that lineage to grow strong again.   I know there are many stories of his school.  It did not last very long but long enough to start the process of passing down the training from one pair of hands to another.  

Gilbert moved to Utah.  I found his obituary today.  He had many children and grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.  At the end, he was a bus driver.  Thank you Gilbert for the chain you began.  I would love to know who taught you.   If you have pictures or stories I sou deb happy to share them here.

Here is his obituary:

AKA David Living-Stone
AKA Henry Krakowski Jr
AKA David Living-Stone
AKA Henry Krakowski JrGilbert A. Fulton Jr., age 67, passed on peacefully in his home on May 25, 1999.
He was born Feb. 27, 1932 in Cleveland, Ohio. He married Elizabeth Ann Bjorkman (Richards,) Feb. 5th, 1970.
A man of many gifts and talents: As a Naturopathic Physician, he delivered over 1,000 babies at home. He established the Northwestern School of Practical Midwifery in 1976 in Portland, Oregon. He did tremendous research into L.D.S. Church History resulting in the publication of numerous books on the subject. He was also a veteran of the Korean War.
His last few years were spent driving bus for UTA and sharing joy and "Happy Stones" with whomever he felt impressed. Every day was a "Happy Day" right to the end.
He is survived by 28 children, 66 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Family Services will be held Monday, May 31, at 3 p.m. at the home of Joseph Fulton, 4334 South Beechwood Rd, in Taylorsville. Contact Joseph or Julie at 261-3836 for further info.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A letter from the mayor to a home birth baby - 1948

It is easy not to notice this letter.  It is tucked in a case at the Oregon Historical Society.  There is a new exhibit called "Moving On; Black Portland in the 1940's and 1950's."   There is so much to take in and so I do not see it the first time I go.  It is in a small case about Dr Unthank; an African American doctor.

It is dark and I have to squint but then I see.  It is a letter form the mayor of Portland in 1948.  The letter says welcome and that the baby was born at home.  

I think to myself- 1948. Ah ha.  Babies were indeed being born at home in Portland.

Does it mean this baby was African-American because it is in this exhibit?  Did this famous doctor attend births?  I know he did not have hospital privlidges because of segregation laws. Did he work with midwives?  I wonder all these things.

And then I pause.  I was born in 1948 too. I think of the fact that the mayor wrote a welcome letter to all the babies born in Portland. I look at the photos of Portland in those days.  I see the post man walking down the street calling hello to the people on their porches and in their shops.  He reaches in and pulls out a letter for a new mother; a letter from the mayor welcoming her new baby.  This was before the neighborhood was bulldozed down for a freeway and a colosseum and Emanuel hospital and the school district building.   It was before the streets became hip and even more was torn down for high rise apartments and more places to eat out and shop.

It was written in a time, before the PDC decided to tear so much down. It was a time when  a baby could be born at home in the mostly African-American neighborhoods of Albina and Williams Street; when doctors made house calls and a mailman brought each baby a letter, from the mayor. welcoming  them  to the world.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Portland's First Maternity Hospital - 1921

Portland's first maternity hospital was built in 1921 in what is now a part of the Good Samaritan Hospital Campus.   It is a lovely, old brick building tucked beside vast modern structures.  I walk in and timidly ask the receptionist if babies were once born there.  She smalls and lets me know that every day someone comes in and says, "I was born here."

Mother and Baby on the outside walls of Wilcox Maternity Hospital
The maternity center was open from 1921 to 1979

It served as  a maternity hospital from 1921 until the maternity ward was moved into God Sam in 1979. At the time, hundreds of maternity or lying in hospitals were being built in the major cities of the United States.  It was a time of prosperity and upper middle class women were encouraged to choose doctors over "low class midwives."  

It was a time of prohibition, women's suffrage and the first Miss American Pageant.  30'50% of all babies were born in hospitals and Twighlight Sleep Societies were being formed to demand painless childbirth.  

Dr Joseph  Delee stated that birth was pathologic and that all women should be given anesthesia and episiotomies and the baby delivered with forceps.   Ether was also popular.  It was  a time when bottles were being introduced and babies were increasingly being fed canned milk.  Where women who did not want to breastfeed once depended on wet nurses, they could now turn to cows milk and bottles.

The Sheppard-Towert Infancy Protection Act was passed in 1921. It required states to develop a plan to lower and maternal and infant mortality.  The maternal mortality rate at the time was 600-700,00 per 100, 000 births.  

Meanwhile another 50-70% of the babies were bing born with midwives in their homes; the mothers walking around house and yard surrounded by family and friends; children and animals until the urge to push became strong and she laid down in time to let the midwife catch the baby.   I know this because this is how I chose to give birth and how I mostly deliver babies.

In 1920, Portland was a deeply segregated city.  There were laws that tried to keep people from Asia, the Pacific Islands and African Americans out of the state and the city.   It was difficult to find adequate housing, let alone a place to give birth.  I am looking for those midwives; the brave ones of the 1920's who caught babies in the midst of discrimination.  They are who I always wanted to  be.  I do not know what they did in an emergency or what tools they had but I know they knew how to touch a woman to ease her pain and whisper prayers to the newly born, no matter where they were born.

I walk out the back door of the old maternity center and see the Healing Garden where people sit and eat lunch or read.  I look up at he mother and baby on the wall and think of all the people coming back to say. "I was born here" and how sweet that must be.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

An old cabin and the stories it tells

Last night I go the Architectural Heritage building on SE Grand Avenue.  It does not seem a likely place to find the story of birth in Oregon but I go.  I realize I have to follow every lead and see where it takes me. I am coming to see that I lift up many rocks but only find a treasure under a few. It's how it is. The talk is about a log cabin that they believe was built in the 1700's, in present day Oregon, by Russians.  If their research is true, it is the oldest known non-Indigenous structure in  Oregon and shows that Russians were trying to settle here long before Lewis and Clark.   They show slides of logs and how they were cut and put together. They do archaeological digs and listen to lots of oral histories.

They paint a picture of  a group of settlers; men, women and children building this house and then disappearing before it was finished.  They say that there was a Russian settlement in Alaska and that perhaps they came south to grow crops and trap.  The historical detectives try to put a story together for us.  After years of research, they give us their best guess.

Over the years, people moved in and and out of it.  They even moved the whole cabin in the 1800's.  Were babies born in this oldest cabin in Oregon?  I am pretty sure somewhere along the way, a baby was born.  They say women were sent by Catherine the Great to settle the lands of North America and that indeed women were sent on a long ship bound journeys to Alaska and then down the coast to Oregon.  These settlements did not survive and in the end, the United States laid claim to the coveted land.

There was no birth control so when we consider women being sent, by ship, from Russia and watching as a cabin was built, we can be sure the women were in some state of pregnancy or had a baby.  It is clear, that however, they arrived in what we now know as Oregon, pregnancy and childbirth were not a deterrent.

I tell the man next to me, that I am researching birth in Oregon and he says, "Oh they were just about to tear down a Lying In House on Glisan."  He tells me of others.  I listen to the man and woman who spent years on the history of one log house and I understand I too am on a journey.   I can see the little sigh when the woman speaks. It is as if it say why did I do this and why do I care and why should you care?  I find myself asking this too but  I am also excited about this story of Russian settlers and the oldest cabin in Oregon.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Chiropractor - Naturopath Connection

I, like many midwives and naturopaths of my generation remember Dr Babnick.  He was Portland's elder of the home birth community.  I remember listening to him at workshops and going to a birth or two with him.   He was the obstetrics instructor at the Naturopathic School for  many years.  He taught many of the ND's who went on to support and teach new generations of midwives and naturopaths.  He is an important link in the story I am trying to put together.

I try to remember the births I attended with him.  He put nuchal pitocin in the laboring woman's nose.   This is the image I have retained.  A young woman walking around with q-tips in her nose.  I also remember his birth chair and him putting it on the bed.  And that he told me to put my fingers in" there" and dilate her cervix.  I looked at it all with some doubt, I will admit.

 Now, all these years later, I am trying to discover who he was.  Where did he learn and when did he first deliver babies.  I go to the library at NCNM.  When Dr Babnick got his ND degree, it was a night program that chiropractors could take after becoming an ND.  For years it was located in the upstairs of the old postal building.   This was where Dr Babnick taught obstetrics.

Today, I walk into a beautiful. large, well equipped school with many students.  There are schools in Seattle and Arizona.  Dr Babnick would have been amazed at the grout of his profession.   I ask the librarian if she has anything on him.  She shrugs and hands me a DVD of him giving a lecture on patent - doctor relationships.  He is gruff, good natured; wise and funny.  He says its important to listen and to touch your patients.  He says he always gives them a little massage and warms them up with some form of heat.

I google him.  I find out that he was most likely Catholic and had four children and ten grandchildren. I wonder if I can find them. What are their memories of their home birth doctor/ father?
He married his wife, Catherine, in 1945.

Someone tells me that one thing, I should know.  He delivered all of Bill Walton's children. Bill Walton was the most famous Portland Trailblazer.   That was in the 1970's.

There are names of other chiropractors that come up in conversations.   It has been a long time since chiropractors delivered babies.   Still the midwives, I talk to; the ones who were working an learning in the 1970's, remember chiropractors.  And I am trying to follow that trail.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Natural Childbirth and Post World war II USA

It seemed that the re-birth of midwifery grew out of a woman's wish to be in control; to not be drugged, to feel powerful and connected.   The post World War Media portrayed mothers as wearing high heels while cleaning the house and baking a cake.  Women, in these images, lived in  suburbs that were too often defined by redlining; the exclusion of families of color from certain neighborhoods.   Leave It To Beaver showed us how mothers were suppose to act.  The horrors of the industrial-military complex and violations of basic human rights were hidden from us.  Our country had survived World War II and the image of a happy, no-fuss housewife was what everyone said they fought for and wanted.

But the Civil Right Movement and the Anti-War Movement of the 60's changed all this.  Many young woman doubted those images and knew they came with a cost.  These obedient mothers had not been all that happy, as we would later see in such television series as  Madmen.  Women saw their fight as a fight for women everywhere.   What women did decide to give birth, many did not want to lie on their backs with their legs up in the air and be shaved and prepped and knocked out.  

If they had lied to us about what women were capable of once, maybe the whole childbirth thing was wrong too.  Natural Childbirth made its way to the US from Europe and women began attending natural birth classes.  The problem was, even if you could find a class, it did not mean you could find a doctor or a hospital that would let you birth the way you wanted to.  In some places, doctors like Gregory White still did home births for his mostly traditional Catholic Community, in Chicago, but most of us went to local hospitals and came away ,even more determined to have a natural birth.   Others had a first baby in the hospital with frightening results.  Either way, when women could not have what they wanted in the hospital,  women began to study midwifery and to attend each other's births.  They help study groups, conferences and read whatever they could.

The belief that the doctor would take care of everything and that a bottle wasps good as a breast, were replaced by another image from World War II; the one that said we can do it!   Midwifery was re-born out of this awakening.

The woman in the picture was soon found, barefoot. leaning on the counter, in an upright position, as the baby emerged amongst families and friends.

Although many sought these early 1970's midwives, for deeply felt philosophical reasons, it was also true that there was no public health insurance and many families found it to be the only option they could afford.  Many a midwife, served low income and immigrant women with joy and respect for  many years before Oregon Health Plan mostly ended what had been a positive partnership for many.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The effects of the war in Indo-China; the wish for a whole new way of living our lives

I am trying to tell a story or rather I am trying to find a story.  It is the story of how women gave birth over time in the place where I live.   It is the story of how people moved across the landscape of mountains and rivers and plateaus; who the landscape was changes and the ways of birthing with it.

I first gave birth in 1970.  At that time my country was at war with Vietnam and was dropping bombs on Cambodia.  My one day adopted children and their families were running from bombs and napalm and agent orange.

I had very lithe prenatal care. Perhaps three appointments altogether.  I was mostly in denial that I was pregnant and kept living in the college dorm as long as I could.   I has never been in a hospital.  I stood on the vigil line against the war, as my baby grew.  It was impossible to find a doctor who would let me have natural childbirth in the college town where I lived.  I could not have anyone with me.  One day someone told me of a doctor who had worked in Africa and would let women deliver naturally so when I went into labor, we got arid from a friend and drove several hours to have an undedicated birth.  It was not that I knew much about it. Perhaps I was afraid of shots, of being drugged and unaware.  He was born easily but still I was shaved, given an enema and strapped to a table with an episiotomy.   Everyone was so curious to see a mom and baby awake after a birth.  I could not imagine what they were use to seeing.

The next day,  peaceful protesters at Kent State were shot and killed.   Somewhere in my young heart, the way they wanted us to birth and the whole industrial - war complex became connected.  If you could * and I am not sure who the you is ) could shoot protesters and drop napalm, then maybe it was true.  Everything had to change;  how we earn, eat, take care of the earth, take care of each other and yes, starting with how we give birth and feed our young.   In shock, that our country could kill innocent people, my country took a deep breath in and said we are going to give birth to a new and better society.   I have alway felt the two were connected; the rebirth of midwifery in direct opposition to the destruction around us.

Kent State Massacre and young girl napalmed in Vietnam; these images made a whole generation
question the way we were doing things and gave way to a hope that there could be a better way
Including a better way to begin life and be born.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

She Who Watches

High above the Columbia River is Tsagaglalal  or  She Who Watches.   She was carved and painted a long, long time ago by the first people of the Columbia River. It is said that Coyote turned  the chief into She Who watches so she could always watch after her people, even when things changed.  

Sometimes, when I think of being a midwife I think of her.  I think of what it means to wait and watch and the power of that stillness.  I think of her quiet strength over a long stretch of time.   I am sure she has meant many things to many people but to me she has felt to be  the Midwife of Oregon - that image of waiting and watching as people come and people go; of welcome and acceptance.  Of looking at the world with wisdom that comes with time and age and perspective.  

I will tell the truth.  Sometimes when I am  at a birth and I want to do something - anything to make it go faster, I think of She Who Watches, and I sit back and wait.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Midwives in Oregon - 13,000 years ago or longer

This sandal was found in Fort Rock Cave in Southern Oregon in Lake County.   They believe it was made 9,000 to 13,000 years ago.  I look at these sandals often. I am collecting the stories of Oregon's midwives.  Mostly I am trying to go back thirty or forty years to try to understand how midwifery survived  and the people who kept it alive; the people who passed it on.

I look at these sandals and I think women were giving birth in Oregon for at least 13,000 years. Perhaps the person who wore these sandals was a midwife and if not, they were helped into the world by a midwife.   It is an ancient story.

I have done this for some time.  It is a favorite pass time of mine.   I walk along and there the stories are and I pick them up and put them in my pocket, like a cherished shell on the beach.  These days, though, I am making calls, going to meet people.   Its sometimes is a little painful.  Midwives seem wounded.   I am not sure.  Does collecting these stories and saving them for future generations of midwives help?  

I am not sure a story ever can be really finished and certainly not this one.  But we have set a date- Midwifery Day on May 5th of this year.  We have invited people to speak on a panel and we will tell stories and share artifacts of the time when a new generation of midwives connected with the past and brought those skills forward with grace and determination and intelligence.  

It is this thread that draws me in; the way midwifery is handed down from one generation to the next - all the way back to these sandals; left in a cave thousands of years ago.  

I am working with the Oregon Historical Society on this project.  They are going to help preserve this history and bring a story booth to the event on May 5th.   I am also hoping to put together a collection of midwives stories about how midwifery was re-born in Oregon and how they picked up that thread and made it strong again.