It was an honor for me to facilitate an interview between two beautiful women who aren’t related to me by blood, but I certainly call family. Maggie Benedette-Smith and Jann Foley came in to celebrate National Midwife Week (October 7 – October 13). I learned that midwifery has always existed in the United States, but was legitimized in the 1920s by Mary Breckenridge, founder of the Frontier Nursing Service. Breckenridge and her staff traveled on horseback or foot to women’s homes over a 700 mile radius in rural Kentucky and dramatically lowered both infant and maternal mortality rates. In Jann’s 12 years as a nurse and midwife she has guided women through the birth process. It has often been emotionally and spiritually uplifting. “I love to see the women be empowered by the fact that they take over the whole experience. I’m just there to facilitate the birth, give a helping hand when it’s needed.”
But it is equally as challenging. Jann has continually struggled to prove that there are safe alternatives to a hospital birth, and has even found it difficult to find supportive doctors to work with. The work is also long and physically demanding, keeping Jann on call (and away from her own children) many hours a week, “waiting for babies to come out.”
Maggie first watched her mother deliver a baby at age 12 on Take Your Daughter to Work Day. Jann wanted Maggie to witness her work first hand, “because if she could understand the importance of my providing care for other people when I could be providing care for her, perhaps that would help her not miss me so much.” Maggie put on scrubs and followed her mother around through the night witnessing deliveries.
Jann remembers that night with Maggie. “You were awesome. You were just amazed by the whole thing. I remember when the baby came out it was a little bit stunned and we had to take it over to the warmer… and the mommy was asking, ‘Is she ok? Is she ok?’ And you just reached out your hand and patted her on the leg and you said, ‘She’s ok. Everything is going to be ok.’ And I thought, ‘She’s 12 years old, I’m supposed to be saying that!’ ”
Maggie has recently decided to study medicine and has her head deep in Organic Chemistry books. She told her mom, “It took a while to find what I like, and this just sort of seemed right. I’d always sort of shadowed you and seen the births with you. I kind of had to convince myself that I could get through the science, and now I think, ‘Oh my god, I like this,’ and it’s just very exciting.”