with host Ricki Lake
meet midwife ina may gaskin
A new documentary offers an intimate look at the life of pioneering midwife Ina May Gaskin.
I’ve known filmmakers Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore for years, so when I heard they were finished with their documentary about Ina May Gaskin–a midwife who is basically the spiritual godmother of the birthing rights movement–I wanted to be sure to tell you all about it. I spoke to Sara just after the film premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival, where it won the audience award. –Ricki
Ricki: Tell us about the subject of the film.
Sara: “Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and The Farm Midwives” is built around a group of women, living in the woods, who went searching for a better way to give birth. They wanted to be connected to the earth, to their families, and to each other through what is one of life's most moving experiences. Many women intuitively sense that birth is sacred, but they may not know how to find caregivers who will honor the birth process. Or they may be too fearful of their bodies, or of labor itself, to connect to their own inner voices.
Hopefully this film will help expectant moms and care providers of all kinds–midwives, OBs, and nurses–to honor the connections between women's physical and emotional experiences in labor. No matter where and with whom a woman chooses to give birth, she should have access to someone who will treat her with respect. And, if a woman chooses to experience childbirth with a minimum of interventions, she should be able to find a care provider who has the training and the belief system to support her.
Ricki: The film is fundamentally about birthing rights. What made you decide to explore this world from the point of view of Ina May?
Sara: When I was pregnant with my first baby, a friend gave me a copy of her book “Spiritual Midwifery,” saying, "This is the ONLY book you need to read." It was such a pleasure to read the positive birth stories, and I had fun with all the beautiful hippies. I love the way they talked and dressed and wore their hair in long braids. So when my friend (and co-director of the film) Mary Wigmore got pregnant, I passed the book along to her. We are both filmmakers, and both of us thought, “Wow, what an incredible documentary this would make”–only we never dreamed we would be the ones to make it.
Ricki: At what point did you decide to make the film?
Sara: Local doula and birth educator Ana Markel invited me to a gathering honoring Ina May. I screwed up my courage to ask Ina May if anyone had ever made a documentary about The Farm Midwives and was so surprised when she said, “not yet.” When I got home, I immediately called Mary and she said, "Let's do it! We have to!" Our partnership was key because we were both mothers with young children. We laughed a lot, and had each other's backs when we were supposed to be in the editing room but the babysitter cancelled.
Ricki: What were some of the most amazing moments during shooting?
Sara: Before making this film, we had never seen a baby being born. After a week of waiting around in Nashville for one of our subjects to go into labor, we were impressed by the dedication of midwives, doulas, and doctors to be on call all the time. Once our subject went into labor at her house, and the Christmas tree lights were on, and her mom was baking cookies, we just couldn't believe how beautiful and simple it all was. Pushing her baby out, she was calm and beautiful in labor, just like Ina May says women should be. What also struck us was the camaraderie between Ina May, the newest Farm Midwife Stacie Smith-Hunt, and the baby’s grandmother, who was a labor and delivery nurse for many years. A light bulb went off for us: Birth is not only sacred, but it’s also a lot of fun.
Ricki: What do you hope people take away from the film?
Sara: We want women to be inspired, to feel courage, and to have confidence in their bodies. We want to give the general public a new, viscerally powerful experience of the Midwifery Model of Care. We want to help preserve some of the incredible skills that great midwives have worked hard to learn, and we want to document an important part of women's history. Also, we hope that people will come away thinking about how much women can accomplish when we work together.