Birth/Rebirth: The Call of Midwifery

Guest Post by Sara

Sara, a native of San Francisco, is currently living in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is working as a midwife’s apprentice as she completes her specialization at the Midwives College of Utah. 

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Many are called, but few are chosen.

I have been called to the work of midwifery. I did not choose this calling – it chose me. It was, however, up to me to answer the call. I was fortunate to witness birth for the first time at the age of 14. Ever since that day in November, I felt changed. As I navigated my way through my teenage years and on into college, I was fortunate to be able to view women as strong beings, not weak or submissive creatures. I had seen the power that a woman in labor can possess. Not only did I see it, I felt it. It was this feeling that eventually led me to begin my apprenticeship to become a midwife.

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Sara’s mentor

While so much of what I do is physically and academically taxing, there is a great spiritual reward. I feel a spiritual buoyancy as I learn of midwives that have gone before me, my foremothers. There is legacy left by our foremothers. Many nights, as a keeper of the night, I feel their support. I also feel that I must uphold a reverence for the love of the female form. I must respect all women, welcome all children, embrace all partners. This is not an easy task- and I am not alone.

Sara 3I remember when I first learned of one of our foremothers and fellow midwife, Ellis Reynolds Shipp. Ellis was one of the first female doctors in Utah, and founder of The School of Nursing and Obstetrics. She delivered over 5,000 babies and oversaw the training of nearly 500 licensed midwives. Ellis was a sanctifier of the female body. Last year, after being awoken in the early morning, I found myself talking with the grandmother in the home. This grandmother spoke of her great-grandmother, the very Ellis Reynolds Shipp. As this woman told me the title of her great-grandmother’s biography, I felt chills sweep over my body: ”While Others Slept.” There is no truer statement that sums up how I was feeling that afternoon, and how I have felt countless nights as I drive through the night, guided by our moon. While others sleep, the midwives work.

There is an entire world happening once the sun goes to sleep. As the moon rises, so do the midwives. The night is our time. It is not a scary time, but a time of revitalization and invigoration. It is a time when some of the most tender needs are attended to. It is a time when all other distractions are laid to rest, and the transformation of women from womanhood to motherhood is our number one priority.

I am a keeper of the night. But I am not alone. As birth is a female realm, it makes sense to my spirit that our Heavenly Mother’s influence is near. Our Heavenly Parents have entrusted me to welcome their children earthside, and Heavenly Mother is keeping watch. I feel her presence near. Sometimes I feel that the room is full, filled with hosts of Heaven. And sometimes I feel just our Heavenly Mother’s influence, leading me and guiding me as I welcome a new spirit to our earth, into our realm.

I am called to the work. And I must answer.

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18 Responses

  1. Rachel says:

    Dearest Sara, your words and story are beautiful. Thank you for sharing them with us.

    I remember learning about Ellis Reynolds Ship for the first time, too, and how her husband rescinded his support, but she gathered all of her strength and went back East to medical school anyway. It is a powerful legacy.

    I felt chills when I read about your work at night and your drives under the moon to watch over and care for women. It made perfect sense, really, as the moon is a symbol for our Heavenly Mother.

    I am so excited for you to start your home birth practice.

  2. Annie says:

    The more I learn about our pioneer midwife mothers, the more strong I feel in my own calling as a midwife. I also feel their words, and hands, and love over the last 13 years of my midwifery study, apprenticeship, and practice. I loved reading in the introduction to the Joseph Fielding Smith manual that his mother, Julina, was a midwife. His job was to drive her to births! We have such a rich history of midwifery in our LDS community. Midwives used to be called in wards, and set apart in that calling, and even given authority to bless and anoint and heal. I hope that someday we will relearn trust in our bodies and more midwives will be attending the births of Latter-Day Saint women.

  3. Laurie Shipp Bush says:

    Oh sweet Sara, you ARE called to the work! Midwifery is the very essence of sisterhood. To be in that room with you as you assisted my grandson’s safe arrival was a privilege. I felt the generations of midwives from my family with us and imagined the many babies and mothers they kindly assisted, no matter the time of day. Ellis Reynolds Shipp also wrote the lyrics to one of our hymns, Father, Cheer Our Souls Tonight (hymn 231). The words reflect her work, especially the second verse as I think of the “waves” of pain that are required to bring a soul into this world. I think changing the word Father to Mother is also appropriate.
    Father (Mother) cheer our souls tonight;
    Lift our burdens, make them light.
    Let thine all-pervading love
    Shine upon us from above.

    Calm the surges of the soul;
    Bid the dark waves backward roll.
    Let us all thy mercies feel
    Thru the pow’r thou dost reveal.

    Bless our loved ones far away;
    Grant them health and peace, we pray.
    In their hearts let holy light
    Beam to guide their steps aright.

    Let implicit faith and trust
    Help us know thy ways are just.
    May thine ever-tender love
    Lead our hearts to thee above.

    • Rachel says:

      Dear Laurie,
      Thank you for sharing your great grandmother’s hymn here. It is not one that I am familiar with, but the words are powerful. That second verse is especially meaningful, knowing who the author is.
      Sincerely,
      Rachel

  4. EFH says:

    You make me want to become a midwife too. I enjoyed reading it.

  5. Lisa says:

    You are so special, Sara. You will do much good in the lives of many women. Thank you for having the courage to answer the call.

  6. liz johnson says:

    I love, love, love this post. Thank you for your work, Sara.

  7. spunky says:

    Thank you, Sara for this strange, powerful and lovely post.

    It reads almost foreign to me, as I cannot have children. In your words, and within the scope of your midwifery experience, I am not sure how you “respect all women.” Do you really mean “all” women? Or all childbearing women? Along the same lines, the “womanhood to motherhood” connection made me bristle– as though motherhood is a required step in the progression of females. Because I will never be a traditional mother, I am intolerant of the ideology of motherhood as a requisite part of womanhood. In that artery, the “many are called, but few are chosen…” quote made me feel as though you perceive infertile, non-childbearing women as unchosen. You might imagine my thoughts on that.

    That being said, I think your focus is on the part- rather than the obligation- of motherhood that is a part of womanhood. I think you feel called to this part of many women’s lives. I relate to the sense of being spiritually called, and of being a part of a heritage that is made of strong women, and has the spirit of these powerful women in such close attendance. In this, I am VERY grateful for your contribution. I hope you will write more on this, it is clear you have a gift.

    • Sara Vranes says:

      I appreciate you honest comment, Spunky. I feel like I should clarify that I do not have children, and there is no guarantee that I ever will. But I am still very much a woman and a mother- of ideas, creativity, and social change. When I wrote “Many are called, but few are chosen” I was referring specifically to my journey as a midwife. People may interpret that in whichever way is empowering for them, but as for me, as I explained in the paragraph following that statement, I was called to be a midwife. And yes, “I must uphold a reverence for the love of the female form. I must respect all women.” I truly mean all women, regardless if they have born a child or not. It just so happens that the majority of women I interact with on a daily basis are going through their own personal journey of birthing a child. When I’m with them, it doesn’t make me feel like less of a woman. It increases my awe & wonder that all humans were once birthed.

      Thank you for your kind words. I hope this addendum helped to clarify my essay.

      • spunky says:

        Thank you, Sara. I appreciate the concept of being a mother of creativity, ideas and social change. I used to feel that way, and was even empowered by Sheri Dew’s talk “Are we not all Mothers?”… but I shrunk away from it when I realised I seemed alone in that thought. (that is an essay in an of itself) Suffice to say, I am pleased you are I are of the same mind.

        Thank you again for your post– I hope you feel welcome to write again for us when you are inspired to share your experiences, you are very welcome here.

  8. Susan Fleming says:

    Sara,

    Indeed not all women will be a mother, however, all women have a mother. Birth is meaningful to many men and woman. If I am so blessed one of my four daughters will have a midwife like you Sara. A midwife who brings in the spiritual aspect of birthing. Perhaps Dana will have you. I praise Brigham Young for calling ‘women’ to go to medical school and for Ellis Shipp who answered that call. Most nursing and midwifery schools in the early 1900s were taught by men, which is fine. But I would have loved to sit in one of Ellis Shipp’s classes.

    Thanks for sharing your eloquent thoughts of being a midwife
    ~Susan Fleming

  9. EmilyCC says:

    I love the phrase, “keeper of the night,” Sara. When I worked as a hospital chaplain, I felt that way, too, though I never was able to articulate those feelings at night when all is quiet and those who are called as healthcare professionals and caregivers work to help usher those through the sacred veils of life and death.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on your calling with us.

  10. Melody says:

    Everything about this is beautiful – the words, the photos, your soul. Thank you for writing and sharing with us. God bless you in your work. Always.

  11. Stargazer says:

    Another student midwife. It does call you…it’s persistence cannot be denied even when you try to conceive of every other work, and finally when you make a plan, God creates a “better plan.” And on the road late at night I sing ‘I Need Thee Every Hour’ over and over till I get home, tired but filled with joy for the hard work and small part, for the oxytocin boost and bonding I got to see.

    When she said many are called but few are chosen, I thought she was talking about birth workers. In my midwifery school/ study group we started with 24 women and one man. We finished with five. I have seen many start and then leave from my preceptor ship, usually right when they were trained and about to start taking call. Nursing programs have a pretty high attrition rate. So that is what I understood.

    I too enjoy a link with my past–my great grandma was an obstetrical nurse whose training was put on hold inSLC due to the flu epidemic of 1918, and my ancestrix Marinda Black, who remarried twice in polygamy both times, and took up midwifery after her kids were older, in Utah and later the Mexican colony… Everyone wanted Aunt M’rindy at their birth, even local Mexican women… I am so loving this series!

  12. Woodley B Shipp says:

    Sara,
    I hope is OK for a man to make a comment here. That little guy you helped deliver for Chloe, Aaron, Laurie and their family is our great grandson. We are grateful to you for your loving care and especially for bringing such a spiritual attitude to your calling as a midwife. As partners with our Heavenly Father in bringing his children into the world, your closeness to Him just has to be felt by you as you carry out your calling. It brings something special to the process of giving birth that is truly marvelous.

    As a family we have a close tie to Dr. Ellis Reynolds Shipp, and to her sister Dr. Margaret Shipp. During her practice, Ellis established a school for midwives, and taught many women so the sisters of the area could be better served in their pregnancy and childbirth. My mother was one of her students and delivered over 200 babies herself. I was born in the back bedroom of my parents house. A doctor was present, but I have always felt it was my mother who delivered me.

    Thank you Sara for your dedication to your profession. It is very much appreciated by our family, and I am sure by all you serve.

  13. Karalee says:

    I can think of no greater woman to answer this magnificent calling. Keep doing what you’re doing. You are remarkable. I can’t wait for the day when you are called to me in the moonlight:)

  14. Diane Vranes says:

    My dear daughter, the precious gift I was granted after my final laboring, I so loved your post! Keep doing what you love, and may you always love what you are doing…Mom

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