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

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