Ina May Gaskin is a righteous feminist for choice who has spent her life striving to improve women’s health services. Gaskin has not only made significant and historical contributions to the women’s health field, she continues to be actively engaged in the movement to educate both pregnant women and the general public about pregnancy, safe labor and delivery, and societal misconceptions about the childbirth process.
Gaskin received her start in midwifery in a manner that is heavily romantic to a post-modern hippie such as myself. After a disappointing birth experience with her first child, Gaskin and her then-husband moved to California to join its hippie community. It was there that she met Stephen Gaskin, a popular speaker on topics of interest to the growing hippie community. Gaskin and her then-husband became close friends and eventually joined a 50-bus convoy that traveled the country while Stephen gave presentations arranged by preachers about what being a hippie was all about. The convoy eventually founded the famous commune The Farm, and Gaskin become its lead midwife, although her only training was the hands-on training she had gained delivering babies while the convoy was on the road. Wow!
Gaskin authored Spiritual Midwifery in 1977, largely based on her experience working as a midwife at The Farm. The book provides a comprehensive guide to childbirth and includes empowering birth stories from several of the families who birthed at The Farm with Gaskin. One of my favorite things about the book is that it includes the mother’s partner and community as an integral part of pregnancy and birth. When viewing the black and white photographs of The Farm women and their partners (most often husbands at the time) in “hippie” clothing that I would sell my left arm for, I smile to myself and aspire to have a birth experience that will leave my family and I with similarly contented expressions on our faces.
The book introduced an entire generation to the notion of natural childbirth and continues to be studied by practitioners today.
Gaskin’s contributions to women’s reproductive health are many:
• Author of Spiritual Midwifery
• President of the Midwives’ Alliance of North America from 1996 to 2002.
• Her promotion of a low-intervention method for dealing with one of the most-feared birth complications, shoulder dystocia. Now referred to as The Gaskin Maneuver, it is the first obstetrical procedure to be named for a midwife.
• Most instrumental figure in educating the public about C-sections and low-intervention pregnancies
• Continues to work tirelessly to prevent maternal mortality
• Instructional materials on how to handle such birthing situations as shoulder dystocia (using the Gasking technique), twins, and vaginal breech.
• Strong promoter of breastfeeding
• Recent book, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth aims dissolve fear associated with childbirth by helping women to reclaim confidence in their bodies. Alice Walker says of the book: “Few books have the potential to improve the life of everyone born on the planet. This one does.”
One of Ina May’s current projects is the Safe Motherhood Quilt Project. The project’s goal is to memorialize American women who have died in childbirth since the year 1982. The quilt is in both virtual and physical format, to ensure that all women taken in childbirth are remembered by as many as possible.
From the 50-bus convoy to perhaps worldwide regard, Ina May has lived a fascinating and selfless life. I can’t wait for the memoirs!
Janice is a Virtual Assistant, aspiring doula, and long-time feminist activist with a passion for women's history, nonfiction, nature, and wearing flowers in her hair. She is the Founder of The Feminist's Guide, a women's history travel website, which can be found at www.thefeministguide.com.