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Ina May Gaskin drives cautiously round the winding dirt tracks of the Farman eco-community buried deep in a acre backwood south of Nashville. She slows down to wave to a young woman with her two children: Every so often, a clearing reveals a ramshackle house with a rusting 70s school bus in the driveway. We overtake a large, bearded teenager on a bicycle. A closed community of people, the Farm was founded in by a group of idealistic beatniks who travelled here in convoy from San Francisco.

It’s now the closest thing to the last hippy commune on earth.

Spiritual Midwifery : Ina May Gaskin :

For four decades, it has been Ina May’s domain. Revered midwifety one of the world’s most knowledgable experts on natural birth, she has delivered most of the Farm’s current inhabitants and seen more than 2, births.

Her experience is unique. Some might call her methods primitive or even brutal — they’re certainly hippyish. But to her fans, she’s just helping women do what comes naturally.

A big noise in the natural birth movement since the mids, suddenly, at 69, Ina May is becoming a household name. Actor Isla Fisher and TV presenter Davina McCall have pronounced themselves fans of her first bestselling book, Spiritual Midwifery, a charming tome that is as much a historical document “Birth is far-out! She is the only midwife — and only woman — in history to have an obstetric technique named after her, the Gaskin manoeuvre moving on to all fours to release the baby’s shoulders.

Her new book, Ina May’s Guide To Breastfeedingis a collection of advice and anecdotes described by the US’s bestselling health writer, Dr Christiane Northrupas “the best thing ever written on the subject”.

The book is very dated, but it’s what inspired me to want a natural birth. Her passion is infectious. Moore wanted to send a helicopter as soon as she went into labour.

But Ina May didn’t want to attend anyone who wouldn’t come to the Farm. Hollywood is a world away from Ina May’s existence — she and her husband, Stephen, now 74, live in a basic but cosy log cabin.

When she wrote Spiritual Midwifery, it was full of hippies describing how “psychedelic” and “trippy” their wives looked in labour: Cat Stevens lookalikes with long, flowing hair and huge beards tending the crops, women in flowery kaftans breastfeeding their babies, unkempt children making their way to school through fields.

Looks like you got to live your Utopian dream, I say. The Farm has a zip code. You didn’t need to watch a soap opera: Wearing a purple wrap top, jade necklace and tiny glasses, Ina May’s face is framed by wisps of grey hair. She recently cut it for the first time since it used to be down to her thighs and she often wore it in Princess Leia braids.


We sit and talk over homemade zucchini bread and tea. In their heyday, Ina May says, the Farm’s community swelled to 1, people and her team of midwives handled around 30 births a month. Now it has eased back to 10, many from the large Amish community in the surrounding countryside. Outsiders come from all over the world — most recently from Ireland and Singapore — to have their babies. The Irish woman, a surgeon and an Elvis fan, made a last-minute pilgrimage to nearby Graceland before having her baby a few days later.

Even more impressively, many of the births she has handled are usually regarded as high risk and not recommended outside hospital: All delivered naturally with no pain relief and no complications.

It’s worth noting, however, that her team has effectively worked in a cultural vacuum: The Farm is popular with middle-class American mothers who like to do things holistically. In some states, homebirth is illegal. In others midwives struggle to find hospital jobs; 24 states do not even recognise midwifery as a practice.

Ina May is not confident that the changes Obama is pushing for will help: And the insurance companies have an insatiable appetite. Bonnie Reed, 37, a teacher from Bowling Green, Kentucky, a two-hour drive away, came here to have Margaret, her second child, now five days old.

Truman, two, was also born here and he, like dozens of other babies, has his footprint on the wall of the birthing room in a log cabin in the forest. Obviously, your insurance — if you had it — might cover some or even all of that. Ina May agrees, of course. I was so pissed off. As one of the few women most in their late teens and early 20s who already had a child, she attended her first birth — somewhat reluctantly — on board a bus in Weeks later, two more babies were born in a truckers’ garage in Wyoming.

It was C outside. Ina May now sees her early life as having led her towards midwifery. Her father, Talford, grew up on a farm in Iowa that was lost to the bank during the Depression.

He later became a salesman, but Ina May grew up around farming and was close to a grandmother her namesake who ran an orphanage. Her mother, Ruth, taught home economics. Ina May had an older brother and two younger sisters.

The brother died in a freak gun accident at the age of She got married inaged 19, to an arts student. Two years later she met Stephen through her first husband when they were in San Francisco. There, Stephen was running his legendary Monday Night Class where he drew crowds of 1, students wanting to share his philosophy of peace and spirituality.

Things got very complicated. It was about challenging norms. I don’t like to talk about it because I don’t want to be defined by it. Within a year, the pair had become the focus of the Farm community: Stephen was the unofficial guru, Ina May the community’s midwife, pouring her own experience into her bedside manner — in the early 70s she had two miscarriages and a premature baby who died. Much later, her eldest child, Sydney, died from a brain tumour just after her 20th birthday.


Her surviving children are Eva Marie, 37, a teacher, Samuel, 35, a personal trainer, and Paul, 34, a web designer — all were delivered on the Farm. She has six grandchildren. Some of the farm’s birthing ethos is harsh: The mother takes it as good advice and stops moaning.

Despite her passion, Ina May says she would never talk any woman into a homebirth.

Ina May Gaskin

Ina May’s techniques ensure that almost two-thirds of the women she delivers keep their perineum intact. She notes in her figures from to that, out of 2, births, eight babies were lost. This number includes the Farm’s first infant death, Ina May’s own premature son who had a rare heart condition: The maternal mortality rate in 39 years is zero. During a Farm birth, you apparently do not experience pain, you have “interesting sensations to which you must pay full attention”.

You do not have contractions, you have “rushes”. In all her years of midwifery, Ina May has only ever known one woman who couldn’t cope there is no pain medication at the Farm, not even gas and air and was taken to hospital at her own request. Sometimes humour — even if it’s gallows humour — is what works best. It’s good to laugh at times that feel inappropriate. She has an interesting theory about this. Inhalf of all US households lived on farms.

Rather, statistics show the rate has increased, from 7. Several years ago, Ina May founded the Safe Motherhood Quilt Project a giant quilt featuring the names of women who have died in childbirth, most from complications following C-sections and inductions and is building up her own bank of statistics.

It looked to me like we weren’t counting carefully, like we weren’t even trying. As her work on maternal mortality gathers pace, there is an increasing sense of urgency.

Ina May will be 70 next year and her husband Stephen, recovering from several eye operations, is physically frail, though as charismatic as ever. Despite the efforts of a few celebrity mothers, homebirth remains an alternative experience, especially in the US. It’s a lack of confidence in the idea that the body could have been made right and that it is possible to give birth without horrific injury.

There’s one consolation, at least.

And I certainly can’t complain about being bored. Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All. Spiritaul collapsed expanded unthreaded. Loading comments… Trouble loading?