There once were two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah. These midwives were ordered by the king to act violently against the mothers and babies they served. Guided by their moral compass and fear of God, Shiphra and Puah disobeyed those orders. When questioned, they admitted their clients were more robust (dare I say, “self-empowered”) than other women and there was no chance of the midwives interfering even if they wanted to. Because of this moment of fortitude and faith, God blessed the midwives abundantly. (ref: Shemot/Exodus 1:15-21)
The story of the “Hebrew Midwives” Shiphrah and Puah is the oldest historical record of the midwife role.
Aside from the obvious religious comparisons, this story resonates with me on so many levels. There is no mention of these women performing heroic feats. No mention of how many births they had attended. We know very little about these women except for the evidence of their character. They stood courageous in the face of the highest, man-made governing authority, and let only their awe, respect, and fear of the Divine Authority dictate their actions. They only needed to delay their own interference and let the women birth on their own terms.
“Midwifery is a spiritual practice. Birth is a ceremony.” - Maryn Green
Midwives are meant to be the guardians of that sacred space through which light and darkness travel. The ones walking alongside women as they are on their motherhood journey — whatever that path may be. Our role is to step back unless we are wanted closer, to observe without interfering, to be hands, ears, eyes, and voices guided by the Divine Creator, the birthing mother, and her baby. We are meant to be so connected with the same veins that guide all of creation that we know that we can trust the process and the communication that flows within it. We offer skills, provided by nature itself or the tools of scientific discovery. We offer wise counsel, pulled from our own experiences, the experiences of our ancestors, and the wise ones we surround ourselves with. We offer ourselves in service, for a time, to nurture and mother the mother while she learns the pattern of her new rhythm.
Today, too many midwives are quick to interfere, quick to “obey orders” (yes, even of violence), quick to ignore their moral compass, and even quicker to act as though there is no Divine design, let alone authority, to respect. To me, that isn’t true midwifery, its something distorted by layers of negative influence, lies, ignorance, or inflated ego. But the point of this writing is not to grind into the ones who practice this way. Ultimately, I hope to unite us all in service of our calling.
I am not perfect. We are not perfect. We are all learning the lessons we are meant to learn. Like our fertility cycles, we shed the old and grow the new. There is light and dark. Birth and death. A give and take. An ushering in and ushering out. An ebb and flow of everything. The grand spiral forward.
My prayer is this:
May the Divine give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and the courage to pursue what is important. May we be like Shiphrah and Puah — guided by our respect for the Divine Creator and designs of nature. May we hold space for light and darkness, and behave wisely and skillfully. May God bless each of our journeys with the focus of these intentions. Amen.