Asheville Women Take Birth into their own Hands
By: Margaret Kirschner
In the early summer of 2011, Rowan Bailey and Tara Dean met for tea to water the seeds of a big idea that would take root, blossom and grow throughout Western North Carolina and beyond. Based in Asheville, NC, Rowan Bailey, of Sacred Birth Traditions is a matrona-educated, apprentice-trained community midwife, placenta medicine woman, reiki practitioner and teacher. Tara had just arrived in Asheville a month prior to meeting Rowan and was hoping to find a community of passionate birth advocates. Tara, of Soluna Birth Services, is a full spectrum doula, parental rights activist and integrative bodyworker. She is passionate about self-directed, community inspired education. Both women agree birth is a sacred celebration of life and its infinite possibilities for both personal and global transformation. They believe that attitudes of peace and nonviolence are cultivated through conscious birth choices. The way a baby is born and nurtured matters. Their passion for co-creating with families the space for powerful, transformative experiences in the childbearing year has been contagious. Together, they’re inducing a powerful natural birthing wave of interest. Several hours and many cups of tea later, the seed of a shared dream began to germinate and has taken on a creative life of its own.
The seed idea was an education group for mamas, papas and advocates for natural birth to share their stories, knowledge and experiences for the purpose of growing together toward holistic motherbaby-friendly birth care (motherbaby is intentionally merged to highlight the importance of keeping mother and baby as close as possible as often as possible during birth and the childbearing year). Asheville Holistic Birth Collective was the chosen name for their new sprout. Meetings take place weekly and donations of both money and food are happily accepted. Collectively, the group chooses topics for the following month to ponder, research and question. Through the experience of sharing individual research findings, questions and perspectives, practical information about pregnancy, birth and conscious parenting gets exchanged and, perhaps more importantly, social support is provided and emotional strength is cultivated.
Rowan and Tara established the grass roots group to be self-directed and self-taught. They’re the visionaries but do not serve as leaders. The group is a collective of many diverse individuals, including men, women, doctors, doulas, midwives, students and, of course, babies. “We’re all teachers for one another. We want this group to function with or without us; in fact, we’re now in the weaning phase in which we sense a willingness for the collective to find its feet, become mobile and vocal, just as a child does,” says Rowan. Tara points out, “Because we are midwives and birth happens regardless of schedules, we’re not always able to be there for our weekly meeting and the wonderful reality is, in the year since we’ve established ourselves, there has never been a week in which a meeting hasn’t taken place because someone will enthusiastically step up to hold the space for meaningful dialogue.” For many, the experience of pregnancy, birth and parenthood is approached with trepidation and sometimes fear, shaped by external forces. This kind of group offers powerful word medicine to each other that offers a reminder of the sacred, intimate miracle that exists within. Partners can share this awe; thereby reducing stress and increasing the capacity to be conscious of the pleasure in the process.
What began as a humble group in Tara’s living room quickly expanded to fill 4th Trimester Family Center, a postpartum support center, founded by Sarah Gralnick. At about the same time, monthly outreach events began to take shape to further the group’s mission to educate, empower and celebrate women and babies. The first event was foretelling. A film screening of “The Business of Being Born” and a panel discussion afterward was offered at Fire Storm Café and attended by interested individuals, doctors, certified practicing midwives, doulas, chiropractors and community birth professionals of all kinds.
Rather than a group of experts conveying information, the unique feature of the collective is its autonomy. Differing viewpoints are encouraged, providing a rich source of knowledge based on sacred feminine wisdom and personal experience rather than measurements and published medical research. Encouraging women and their birth supporters to tell their story, gather their own information and question current practices validates their experiences and seems to be a vital part of changing the viewpoint of birth from technology-centered to motherbaby-centered.
Just like any pregnancy, birth and parenting journey, there are mundane, trying times and miraculous, joyful times. The biggest challenge so far has been that, in its first year, AHBC has twice outgrown its meeting space and has graduated to its own house, now with lots of room to broaden from its birth specific roots to issues of fertility and a papa’s group for Dads or partners.
After 9 months of dreaming and planning, the AHBC house is now a reality at 33 Allen Street, in west Asheville. The money came through in various, loving ways, continuously affirming the original idea backed by enthusiasm from supportive community. Today, the AHBC offers a library of books and DVDs for expectant and new parents to gather their own information, and to make their own informed decisions, a free closet with love donations of clothes, toys and essential items for mom and baby available to those with limited financial resources. The concept is even being mimicked in neighboring states as birth workers learn about the collective via social networking sites. Rowan reminds us all that “Birth is a basic human right and the government doesn’t own it. We’re holding the container for remembering that.”
The most exciting recent arrival within the collective’s home is the Our Bodies Self-care Education clinic. “We want to offer a space that is comfortable and accessible to people not traditionally well-served by our medical system” says Kirsten Smith, clinic director, student midwife and childcare provider. Staffed by students, not medical professionals, the focus is on education instead of services. “Its cooperative education meets self-care. It’s what people are asking for. This is a space, not a service that we provide. It’s accessible, legal and pretty radical too!” People now have a space where they can learn about their bodies and their health care options. There are many choices and places that one can go to get an exam, test or prescription but there are limited options for becoming educated and empowered by serving oneself in a do-it-yourself model of healthcare. Women have been seeking information about their cycles, fertility, sexuality and the function of their bodies for generations. Typically the information is modified for general consumption in a way that keeps women confused or completely in the dark about their own processes. “We strive to offer knowledge, skills and community support for not only women, but also for men, trans folks, genderqueer people and children. “We’ve created a space for people to take stock of their own health, make informed decisions and plan for maintaining wellness. Sexuality, gender identity/presentation, cultural beliefs, financial status, or insurance status should not be an obstacle to receiving health care. Everyone interested in taking healthcare into their own hands is welcome”, says Kirsten. By supporting women, their partners and babies, the collective supports our greater Asheville community and, together we can grow strong, perhaps even change the world, one healthy family at a time.
AHBC operates entirely on donations from community members and greatly appreciates financial donations to improve the home’s accessibility for all as well as donations of new or gently used items for new parents and their babies.
Find out more about the clinic or the collective at www.Avlholisticbirthcollective.com
Facebook: Asheville Holistic Birth Collective
Margaret Kirschner is a certified prenatal yoga teacher and birth doula with OmBaby Birth Support. She offers many yoga classes for men and women including beginner, gentle, therapeutic and meditation at Asheville Community Yoga, a non-profit donation based yoga center. Contact her for information about Partner Prenatal Yoga plus Birth Education workshops. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. www.OmBabybirthsupport.com.