The second woman to be interviewed for my inspirational interviews series, Linda Johnson, is responsible for helping women in the southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio areas, to have safe, natural, and comfortable pregnancies and births. She is the owner of Mother's Own Birth Center, the only free standing birth center in the area. She falls into my personal category of "women who have inspired me" because she took me from the "can I do this?" phase of natural childbirth to the "I can do this" phase, to the "I am doing this" phase; she pulled me back out of the "I can't do this!" phase just in time to push my daughter out and be able to say "I did this."
To top it all off, she finds time in her hectic schedule to train for triathlons, an ambitious and inspirational activity in itself!
And so, on a rainy autumn afternoon, Evie and I made our way back north, to the place where our journey with Linda began,armed with a list of questions. This interview is typed word for word.
Jess: When did you open the birth center and what was the vision for it at that time?
Linda: I opened it in 2001, and did the first birth in April of that year for a couple that I did a birth for before. My vision, initially, was just to have the option available so that women could have babies at home or have babies at the birth center rather than at the hospital. I just wanted it to be a place where there are options available. And it has become, more now, a place where women can go for information. When they are looking for other midwives, I have links to other midwifery sites so they can find midwives in the Michigan area or in Ohio. There is information about vbacs, and there is a lot of information about recovering from a trauma from a previous childbirth. So it's become more of a resource than just the birth center.
Jess: And how did you decide to become a midwife? That's a pretty bold choice to make in life.
Linda: When I was in nursing school doing my OB rotation, our instructors had assigned us little projects. And the one that I and two of my fellow students got involved getting a video tape from the local public television station. Our instructor knew about it and she wanted us to do a report on midwives. The people in the video were midwives who had done birth at home; there was a doctor who did a natural birth at a hospital, but just the concept of doing birth at home, I thought there were no midwives that did that anymore. I knew both of my parents had been born at home, so I thought midwives, hmm, interesting.
I just kind of set it aside for a few years and I thought “well I'll just work in the hospital.” but it just kept coming back to me. And I became a childbirth educator and a lactation consultant, and I was working at the hospital, and I thought “there's more. There has to be more to this.” and so I decided to become a midwife.
Jess: What is the hardest part about being your job; about being a midwife?
Linda: When I have to give people bad news. I have young women who call me up and tell me that they want to apprentice with me, or that they want to be a midwife and they want some guidence on how to accomplish that, and my first question for them always is “Are you strong enough?” Because it's really easy to attend a birth where everything has gone well, and mom is happy and the baby is healthy, and just everything is as perfect as the mom could have wanted it. But there are those times when I have to tell women that there is a problem with the pregnancy, and they're not going to have the birth that they wanted and it's in fact probably going to be a very medical birth, because that's what's needed to make sure that the baby is safe. Or when somebody calls me and says “Linda I'm spotting and I'm cramping.” and we both know that she's probably having a miscarriage. Those are the things that are the hardest.
Jess: And what's the most rewarding part?
Linda: When everything goes well! When the midwife was actually not a necessary part of the birth.
Jess: Why do women, generally, choose to have birth at home or at the birth center rather than the hospital?
Linda: For some women, especially those who are having their first baby, it's because they have never seen the hospital as an appropriate place for having a baby. It's where you go when you are sick, not when you are doing something that is a normal part of life. For a lot of other women who are having their second or third baby and in one case we have a woman who chose a home birth with her tenth pregnancy, it was the fact that they don't think that the hospital is an appropriate place to have a baby. The hospital requires a lot of things that are not necessary for a healthy pregnancy or a safe birth. Women just feel like their birth has been interfered with too much. For some women, it is because the first birth was so traumatic that they realize that if they are going to have the birth that they want, they cannot repeat what they did the first time around, and so they choose something completely different.
Jess: What are some of the things that mothers should be aware of if they are thinking about having a home birth or a center birth rather than a hospital birth?
Linda: That they are going to be taking on a lot more responsibility for their own care and for the care of the baby afterwards. They are not going to have nursing staff around for the first 48 to 72 hours, answering all of their questions, taking the baby for the night. They have to be ready to take on the responsibility and the choices and the risk and the benefits that come with it.
Jess: You often talk about, to your pregnant moms, exercise and nutrition.
Jess: (laughing) As a mom that was kind of annoying when you'd ask “so what did you do for exercise” and I tried to pass off chasing around my toddler, but that didn't work
Linda: A lot of people do that, yeah.
Jess: but why do you feel that it is so important for pregnant women?
Linda: There is more and more literature coming out that says that pregnancy, even a well planned healthy pregnancy, involves a lot of stress. There is the stress for your body, there is the changing family dynamics. It is something that takes place over nine months, and there is an awful lot of life stuff that comes up that adds to the stress, or maybe decreases it depending on what's going on. But when you are exercising, we know that it improves the baby's immune system; it improves the baby's ability to breathe when they're born; it makes sure that your blood sugar stays within a normal range so you don't get into complications with gestational diabetes or some type of glucose intolerance during the pregnancy. It makes for a healthier pregnancy. And for women to have their baby outside the hospital, their pregnancy has to stay low risk because we don't have the immediate availability of the medical equipment and the technology and the personnel that they have in the hospital that can handle a high-risk situation. So for a woman to have their baby outside the hospital, they have to take the responsibility of keeping their pregnancy low risk as much as they can. That's the reason that I'm such a bug about the exercise. Plus the fact that I'm a crazy person who does triathlons and if I can do it then you all can do it!
Jess: You just mentioned that you do triathlons, when did you decide to begin to do triathlons?
Linda: Two years ago, I was trying to recover from yet another running injury, and was doing a lot of biking and hadn't really done any swimming, but I said something to one of the guys that I knew up at the Y and he said “There's a triathlon in a couple of weeks, you should do that!?” And I said “But I don't swim! And I don't have a bike!” and he said “We'll fix all of that.” and the next thing you know, three weeks later I did my first triathlon. I still was having problems with running, so I didn't do a lot of them until this year, but I've done four of them this year.
Jess: What was the hardest thing you had to overcome as a triathlete?
Linda: It's too easy to be a slacker. “I did enough today” or “I had a hard night” you know, there's always a thousand reasons why you shouldn't have to go and work out that day. And reminding myself that I'm not going to like myself later in the day if I don't go out and exercise, that's usually enough motivation to get me out of the bed in the morning.
Jess: Finally, if an expecting couple came in, right now, and wanted to know what home birth was all about, what would you tell them, kind of in a quick summary of it.
Linda: Birth outside the hospital means, at least in my practice, that the parents are taking on a lot of responsibility. And the word “allowed” is not used here. Women are not “allowed” to choose how they give birth, they're not “allowed” to do anything. They are mentally competent adults, and using the word “allowed” is not the proper terminology. There is a midwife in England , and her name is Mary Kronk, and she says that on a regular basis “allow” is not appropriate terminology with a mentally competent adult. The families need to know that they get to make the choices, and the choices that they make are the ones that they get to live with. I will guide them. I will give them as much information that they feel that they need, but it is their responsibility to educate themselves and that ends up making it their birth. And I always tell people that if in ten years from now you think about the birth and you don't remember who the midwife was then I've done my job because it should be your birth.
Jess: Great, well thank you for taking the time to do this with us.
For more information about Mother's Own Birth Center and the services that Linda and her staff offer, please visit them on the web at http://www.mothersownbirth.com/index.html