In the 1820’s, a young couple, Abraham and Seneth Moyd Evans Harmon moved to Tennessee and then to Kentucky from South Carolina. They finally settled in the Harmon Holler, a tributary of Hominey Creek, that empties into Marrowbone Creek, near the Marrowbone Park, in Marrowbone, Cumberland County, Kentucky. They were my great, great, great grandparents.
One of Seneth’s daughters was a midwife. She was born October 28, 1833, and was named America Harmon, one of ten children born to Abraham and Seneth Harmon. Dr. H. P. Davis, the local family doctor, said he would rather have America on a case with him than any doctor he had doctored with. America Harmon was a spinster midwife, having never married. As far as I know, she practiced midwifery her entire life but I don’t know who taught her. She died February 19, 1918. I have a book with her story and picture in it.
I was born October 23, 1949, the illegitimate daughter of a 17 year old girl who had been raped. I was born at a home for unwed mothers in Peoria, Ill. called Crittendon Care. It’s still there. I spent a little over a year in an orphanage, but I was eventually reunited with my mother, thanks to my grandfather. The oldest of seven children, and having a career woman for a mother, I stepped into an early role of responsibility.
I gave birth to seven children, all hospital births. By the time I found midwives, I was in my seventh pregnancy and high risk, so could not have a home birth. I would have loved to have had a midwife take care of me. I know some of my experiences would not have been so traumatic, if I were in a midwife’s hands. I read Ina May Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery when I was pregnant with my seventh (and last) baby, and I cried with longing. It was then, very pregnant in late 1978, that I knew I wanted to become a midwife.
In 1984 I met a midwife in Anchorage, Alaska, who agreed to become my teacher. She was a Native Alaskan self-taught midwife, who comes from two generations of traditional native midwives, and she is also a registered nurse. Shirley Davis, who passed from this Earth in 2006, gave me the best of both worlds, I believe. I not only learned the medical side of things, like injections and blood pressure measurement, but I also learned about homeopathy and herbs.
I studied Herbology while I was nursing my babies, so came to my teacher with some knowledge. I was also a certified massage therapist and had taken many courses in the natural healing arts and was also a teacher of some of the natural healing arts such as Creative Healing, Reflexology, Kenesiology, Accupressure, Swedish Massage, Colonic hydrotherapy, and other massage techniques.
I found out Alaska was considered alegal, meaning depending on the political climate, we may or may not be harassed for practicing midwifery illegally. My teachers hid their pitocin and knew if they charted its use, they could be arrested if they transported the mother to an unfriendly hospital. (They were all unfriendly.) When we did transport, the doctor and nurses often treated us like second-class citizens and sometimes they were not very nice to my ladies.
Our group of midwives was/is called Midwives Association of Alaska (MAA). Even though we were not regulated by the state, we had rules and regulations within our association. In order to become a Registered Midwife one had to complete a list of several essays, fulfill set numbers of prenatal exams, births and postpartum visits (under supervision), and pass a rigorous 12 hour written examination. Our requirements were strict.
In 1985 Alaskan midwives received legal recognition, after a major campaign orchestrated by 10 midwives to move the Alaskan public to cry out “leave the midwives alone”. It was a huge success!
In 1992 we received our first Alaskan state midwifery licenses. I had mixed feelings about becoming licensed. I felt that we were always in danger of becoming regulated out of existence. I didn’t want to be restricted like the nurse midwives I knew. I valued my autonomy.
Licensure did not equate to acceptance. After transporting a mother or baby to the hospital, I recall the helpless feelings, as I witnessed the medical staff looking for something to hang me with, even though I transported appropriately. Many a night I laid in bed wondering why I was doing this to myself, practicing midwifery under hostile conditions. One time I told my husband “I quit.” He said “how dare you take away women’s ability to choose.” Those words broke my heart. It always came back to the women. I would see soft, beautiful, inquiring, trusting faces, seeking me out, so they could become empowered, assisted, to be able to give birth with dignity and grace and without violence. No, I could not stop. I loved my ladies (as I always called them) too much.
One wintry day, my midwife friend Pam Weaver and I came up with a plan to help midwives and their students. We were inspired to write the Practical Skills Guide for Midwifery. We envisioned a book of midwifery skills that would hopefully help the student and the teacher alike, a book that could test midwifery skills. Our dream included seeing the book translated into Spanish, to serve the poor neighboring third world countries like Mexico and South America. But, we started out just wanting a skills book for Alaskan student midwives. With input from many midwives, and particularly Abby Kinne, the book was finally published in 1994.
Pam and I became aware, through Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) that the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM) was forming. Its task was to create a legally defensible written examination for midwives. This organization would become an international credentialing body, certifying midwives from various educational routes, creating the Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) credential.
We made arrangements for Pam to be at their first gathering in San Antonio, Texas. She took with her a draft of our book. We felt our skills book could be used in the process. Pam had considerable experience with test proctoring with her EMS background, serving on the EMS Board and we both felt her experience would be an asset to NARM. Pam soon became a member of the Board of Directors for NARM.
From 1995 to 1997 I worked for NARM as a committee chair. From 1997 to the 2004 I worked for NARM as Director of Applications. My daughter, Anna and I review applications of those desirous of receiving the Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) credential. We also issued re-certification to CPMs. In 1999 I was invited to be on the Board of Directors for NARM. I was also appointed to the Alaska state midwifery licensing Board and eventually retired from both.
Many years ago, I absolutely hated anything to do with politics. I have come to realize we must become politically savvy in order to survive as a group, as a movement. This requires volunteer hours of work, in dedication to the cause. In reviewing history, I couldn’t help but notice the midwives who were burned at the stake were isolated. They were not organized. The knowledge of our history, not so pleasant, moved me into action.
I saw the need for responsible action on our parts, if we want our grandchildren to have the option of midwife-attended out-of-hospital births without harassment, or without the parents being accused of child abuse for choosing an alternative route. As a result, I am an avid supporter for apprenticeship in midwifery, and therefore want to be involved in the laws governing our practice and the making of fair laws. My goal is to preserve the alternative routes of entry into the profession.
After years of practicing alone, I finally reached a state of burnout in 1998. I found it necessary to go on an indefinite sabbatical. My health reached a critical state, forcing me to seriously review my priorities. At this time, the only births I attend are the five required each year to maintain my Alaska state licensure as well as family and some friends. I usually relieve another midwife on vacation to acquire the needed births.
I am honored to have attended hundreds of women in their most vulnerable moments, most at home, some in birth centers. Through the years I have practiced primarily alone. It’s ironic, but it seems each time I trained a new midwife, I would have to move. I often did births with a friend for an assistant, and usually a new apprentice. When I anticipated a potentially complex birth, I would fly a midwife in to my area to assist me.
I have a rich background as a midwife, having studied under my ladies very studiously. They have taught me so much. I learned to listen to my ladies. I found they were my teachers. I also listened to my gut, that inner voice that always protected me. I have battled with doctors, winning the respect of many of them, and utterly hated by others…for my ladies. I have come to understand we midwives are a threat to the medical system. What if the Midwifery Model of Care catches on all over the world?
I purposely chose to become educated in midwifery through an alternative route, the one-on-one traditional apprenticeship model. I have come to see the benefits of this route of entry into the profession even though the medical system considers apprenticeship as an inferior method of education. We know it is a superior method of education, and we’ve had to fight to preserve it. We midwives serve a very important purpose. Our role is one of empowerment and healing to women and their families. This kind of role has gotten us into trouble in the past. When I think about my ladies and those precious babies, I know it’s worth fighting for.
My husband Dave Evans and I have been married forty years. We have twenty grandchildren, many of whom were born into my hands at home. On February 11, 2001, my grandchild Angela Desire’ Evans was born at home, with grandmother and Auntie Anna and 15 year old cousin Vanessa as assistants in attendance. Baby Angela came into the world gently, with candles and soft music in the background. My daughter-in-law, Tammie, did supremely well! Angela weighed in at 8 lbs. 0 oz., with 9/9 Apgars. I have another native Alaskan grandbaby, thanks to Tammie!
We midwives have so much to offer. Our skills include science, art and a keen awareness of a spiritual component that crosses all religions and beliefs. We have come to honor and trust, not fear, birth. We are the guardians of normal birth. It’s time the world finds out, don’t you think?
Today I am retired from practice, but I am still actively involved in midwifery education. That connection with the precious student midwives that come my way serves as balm to my soul.
When I think about our roots, the song “We Shall Overcome” sings within my soul. America Harmon’s blood runs passionately through my veins. It is an honor to be a midwife.
Midwife and grandmother Sharon K. Evans with new baby granddaughter, Angela. Sharon’s son Nathan, the proud father, is in the background.