In many ways, I know my peers and family see me as a strong woman. Outspoken, hard headed, and committed. However, there is always this little corner nagging at me, dragging my confidence down, turning me away from difficult conversations, and sending my own head into doubt. The truth is, I’m afraid of being perceived with all my truest beliefs out and shining, because I know that still, in our culture, that which I am could be labeled a witch, a woo-woo practitioner, a hippie spiritual freak. I am afraid of these words enough to not fully embody my passions. Why is this? Where does this worry come from?
The other day I went to have a nice dinner with my family. It was a fun time, and we were all in good spirits. At one point, my dad made a little harmless joke involving the implication that my infant niece wasn’t forming memories yet, and I found myself saying, “Well, SCIENCE has proven that memories form even before birth…” and I just stopped mid sentence. I was embarrassed by the fact that I was using the word SCIENCE like it was the prime authority on my opinions. I used it in that sentence because I feared my opinion didn’t matter unless it was validated by science. I do this all the time with my family. It makes me ill-hearted and sad and small.
I am a homebirth midwifery assistant. My mom still refers to me a doula, and when someone who is interested in what I do mentions that I am “studying to be a midwife” in my family’s presence, they look to the side a bit…or so it seems to me.
Counter this with the fact that my parents’ best friends’ son is a OBGYN. The phrase I continue to hear from my mother’s mouth is, “Oh, he really likes doulas. But he doesn’t like those midwives.”
This is heart wrenching and disempowering, and I still allow the comments and misrepresentations by looking away myself. Why am I allowing this? What can I do to break my own spell? How could I possibly be strong in my professional choices when I’m afraid to show myself to my own family?
As I drove home from that dinner the other night, I started speaking out loud. I began speaking to an audience I imagined included my family and skeptical medical practitioners. It went something like this:
What we come from, what the medicine I use represents, is bigger than the small arguments we make amongst ourselves. The wisdom I am becoming and seeking has been around longer than the pill bottles and anesthesia of the modern-era science obsession, and I need for you to understand that this deep heartbeat of midwifery, herbalism, and earth-based spirituality is going nowhere, has never disappeared, and must remain vital for a people to be healthy and an earth to be whole.
The origins of obstetrics and gynecology are steeped in the rape, abuse, and silencing of an ancient and ever present art of midwifery and herbalism. Those who practiced old ways were slandered, killed and demeaned many times over for profit and power. This is a cycle that is not over, as I too still feel slandered and disrespected for even considering that I believe what I do is important and wise and foundational to health.
I am an herbalist. This means I look to plants, trees, minerals, fungi, and bacteria first for cures before I seek out the ways of modern medicine. It means I will step into places you see as unsafe so that I can preserve inside of me a faith that plants are wiser than any medical doctor. I do this because medicine does not need to come wrapped in plastic and formulated below fluorescent lights. Medicine is what grows in your backyard and in wild forests, or comes packed inside your own beating heart. Our modern day medicines are poisoning waterways, destroying forests, shattering delicate psyches and creating patterns of addiction and suffering. This is not the medicine I believe in. I have to allow it to exist, as I know so much has been forgotten and destroyed, but my deepest prayer is that the pill bottle consent to take a long vacation, or at least find real estate on a dusty back shelf.
My fiance cured himself of cancer with, above all else, Chaga mushroom and his own process of reframing belief, something you would call ‘the placebo effect.’ The belief work was essential to his success, and I do not want to discredit this element of his faith. You work with medicines that are rated by their statistical ability to not require belief, and I see their effectiveness as a result of molecules enslaved to ‘get results’. I do not care to trust this sort of medicine tradition, nor trust a culture that would rather enslave molecules to heal than to ask plants permission to harvest, make medicine, and consume them. Asking permission takes time, and demands that a thought leaks in, a memory that perhaps plants are sentient. Plants are sentient, are alive and ensouled, and demand from us a reciprocity of action to work with them. This for some is an inconvenient possibility, that maybe the corn in your field is aware of you, just as the cows are. This is the sort of inconvenient possibility that keeps me alive and curiously seeking moments where I am able to glimpse the memory or possibility of plant and earth sentience.
This seeking sends me to many places. It has sent me to the Amazon where I learned some of the plant traditions of people who still work with entheogenic healing medicines. It has sent me to herbal conferences all over the country to take classes from very wise practitioners. It takes me to New Mexico twice a year to study with a man who once lived with a people who remembered how to keep seeds and story alive. It has sent me to the high Andes to begin to learn the complex systems their peoples use to give gifts to the Holies in mountains. It has sent me deeper into a study of midwifery, and has made me a seeker and mourner of traditional techniques in midwifery. These explorations of self have not been because I am lost: they are because I am daily reminded that I need to be looking deeper and more delicately at the nature of life and our history as humans. The systems we have in place do not serve people and planet, and there are no bandaids to fix this. This is the big grief of these times: once you step outside of systems, you discover there is nothing there fully in place to hold you. And so, as you journey forth, you learn you have to create this new way out of the still living memories and stories that are still held in the collective memory of the earth.
It is my belief that the regulation of medicine destroys a people’s ability to heal themselves and their families. When we need to be protected from ourselves with regulations, anyone outside of the regulations becomes the enemy. You trust in regulation because you are worried about the Charlatan, or guru doctor, but people like that who prey on others’ need for healing through sleight of hand or manipulation are a symptom of the disease that is our culture, and they will always find a crack through which to slip. Regulation will only barely stop those people, but it will must surely stop the disheartened healers wishing to practice in the way their friends and families need. Brave families who are allowed to learn and know plants and trust their community healers do not need miracle doctors, because they will know that the miracle lies within their own forests and hearts.
I recognize that we live in times that make all I believe in seem impossible. Impossible to imagine that you could have a birth plan that didn’t involve a back-up hospital transfer, or that you could heal your cancer with the trees. But if I stop believing in these possibilities, these seeds of change, I will become just another cog in a machine I wish to see put out for scraps in the junkyard. I want to be unafraid to say ‘I am studying as a midwife’ in a roomful of sceptics, or to say, ‘the natural immunity found in mushrooms is more protective and effective than vaccine protocols’. I want to not have to backup my belief with science, as a lack of belief bore science unto us. Science is not the enemy, but He is an uninitiated growing teenager whose actions have been disrespectful of the wise memories of his family’s rich legacy of holistic earth medicine.
Perhaps by writing this I am bringing myself one step closer to calming my fears. But to be in a profession where I still feel as if I could be killed or locked away for truly practicing in the way I believe is challenging to my spirit, and makes me want to run and hide from the road that is calling me onward. Please, if you are reading this, be brave enough to learn plant medicine. Be brave enough to feed you and your animals whole foods and raw milks and fresh medicinal greens. Be brave enough to think and consult an herbalist before you accept your doctor’s antibiotic prescription. Be brave enough to talk to plants, even if it’s hard and confusing and weird. Be brave enough to speak up when you feel that the status quo is unhealthy for our future. Perhaps if you are brave, and I am brave, we can plant some seeds of hope from which our children can feed and grow. That is all I want – for a better world to feel brave enough to sprout within the compost of our efforts and passions.
Thank you for reading to the end, and thank you for considering another opinion. May you be blessed with a long life filled with healthy moments, and may the earth feel the blessing of your joyful remembrance of Her as you walk upon Her back.
Homebirth Midwife Assistant
Joanna has been pursuing her initial midwifery education via the PEP Process of learning through Gentle Landing Midwifery and now serves families as a midwife assistant since 2016. Joanna currently offer services in North and Central Vermont as a bodyworker, postpartum doula and birth assistant. Reach Joanna here: firstname.lastname@example.org.