I recently spent a week at The Farm Midwifery Center in Summertown, Tennessee. For those of you who may not be familiar with The Farm — and with Ina May Gaskin — it has been a center for profound work in the birth field since 1970. I often recommend Ina May’s books to anyone who’s interested in gaining a more holistic and empowered view of birth; Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Spiritual Midwifery and Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding are great primers — combining scientific and medical information with a reverence for the awesome power and capabilities of our bodies, her books offer encouragement and information for better birth outcomes and experiences.
What began as a Caravan journey across the United States in search of ‘a new way of life that would establish a stronger connection to the values of humanity’, led to the creation of a collectively-owned commune known as ‘The Farm’. The founding members started by growing their own food, publishing their own books, building their own houses and attending each others’ births. The Farm is probably one of the only communities of its kind to continue to flourish today; after converting to a monetary system in the eighties (having operated via barter and mutual aid up to that point), The Farm continues to provide services at modest cost in a manner aligned with the life-affirming philosophy of its founders. The community collectively owns land, houses for approximately 250 permanent residents, a book publishing house, a school, a solar energy production facility, a soy dairy and the renowned Midwifery Center.
Since the seventies, The Farm Midwifery Center has delivered over 3,000 babies, with 95% of them born at home (many, in the Farm’s birth cabins), a Cesarean section rate of 1.7% and a 5% rate of hospital transfer in case of emergencies with zero maternal deaths and two infant deaths in that time. They also have had success delivering breech babies and twins vaginally. Compared with statistics from the rest of the country, their success rate is staggering. There’s a lot we can learn from their example, and with that in mind, I went to spend a week soaking up everything I could from Pamela Hunt and Joanne Santana, two of the very same midwives who — along with Ina May — traveled in the Caravan from California to Tennessee and were integral in establishing The Farm.
Their approach is astonishingly simple, and is based on one fundamental imperative: Treat each person with the care and concern that they deserve. There were very few ‘routine’ prenatal tests, and ultrasounds were conducted as common sense dictated (after weighing the risks and benefits of each person’s unique situation and family history, along with individuals’ preferences). This is what birth with minimal interventions looks like — conversation, comfort and hands on touch and connection.
No woman is ever judged by her body or her baby’s size. In fact, one of the midwives responded to a question saying: “Your body will make a baby that is the right size for you”. In pregnancies where gestational diabetes is a concern, blood sugar and diet are monitored regularly. If a baby is breech or in the case of twins, a late-term ultrasound is recommended to check position. The midwives are well-versed in early detection of issues that require hospital care, and are deeply-experienced with emergency transfers, have a wonderful relationship with the doctors at the hospitals nearby and will stay with clients to coach labor and interface with the hospital.
Postpartum care is included in the continuum of support provided by the midwives of The Farm, and they offer breast-feeding and nutrition counseling, as well as infant care. Most importantly, they implicitly respect every woman’s strength, ability and wishes and are completely in love with and in awe of mothers, babies and the birth process. I hope that one day their standard of care is the norm and not an exception; and working toward that feels like a worthy goal.
The Farm is located an hour southwest of Nashville, TN. They offer prenatal care, well-woman care and birth midwifery services. The midwives will attend a home birth within a driving radius of one hour. You can also rent birth cabins and give birth to your baby on The Farm.