I met the fascinating Janice Marsh-Prelesnik many years ago at one of her herb walks. She sent me home with sprigs of peppermint and spearmint to plant, and became a cherished friend. Janice is a seasoned midwife, body worker, herbalist, and musician – among other things – and is ever ready to listen, to teach, to soothe, and to aid.
My love of midwifery began as a child. Growing up, I loved to hear the stories from Grandma of when she attended births and helped families afterwards for two weeks. She attended school through 8th grade, and then went on to help out the Doctor in the small farming community where she lived.
I remembered those stories she told when my first child was gifted to me in 1981. As soon as I found out my baby would join us, I knew I wanted to have a home birth! At that time, there were only a handful of midwives in Michigan. I wasn’t able to connect with them until I was almost eight months along. I was so adamant that I have a home birth, my partner breathed a sigh of relief when we found the midwives!
You see, growing up on a farm, while watching animals birth their babies, I noticed that whenever they were disturbed, their labors would stop and they would get up and move. I knew as a young child that laboring animals shouldn’t be disturbed. I intuitively knew deep in my heart that would be the case for me as well. I knew I would be on my guard if people I didn’t know came into my birthing nest. I went on to have a beautiful, peaceful birth with midwives quietly knitting and reading near me, but not interfering with my need for privacy and respecting my desire to stay “between worlds.”
At that time, the midwives were covering a huge area. They needed assistance, so I studied motherbaby care and began attending to home birth families after their births with my own baby wrapped on my back. I learned what was normal and reported to the midwives when further care was needed. Gradually, I learned pregnancy care, and then birth care. I devoured every text book I could get my hands on! I also attended every midwifery conference I could and found experienced midwives to learn from. My apprenticeship mode of training was a fabulous way to learn!
I was in my fourth year of music school when I birthed my first baby, so I was surprised when a deep, primal, spiritual urge called me to midwifery. All I’d ever wanted to be was a musician! For me becoming a midwife was more than simply assisting women during the childbearing year; it was a statement to move towards feminist principles and ending patriarchy. There’s a saying (I think from birth activist Suzanne Arms) that peace on earth begins with birth. I believe that. The feminine principles of gentle nurturing, inwardness, creating, and birthing, all while being a She Bear, are what is needed, not only during the childbearing year, but also for our culture and the world as a whole to survive the out-of-balance masculine principles.
I also came to midwifery with steadfast belief and faith in women’s abilities to conceive, gestate, birth, and breastfeed their babies. I witnessed women push past fears and tribulations, bringing a glory story that would be passed down in the family mythology.
So, with these ideas close to my heart, I began my midwifery practice in the early 1980s. I felt the protection of Creator as I gathered strength from all of the women who’d gone before me. Although I continued to study from the books, and to listen to story after story, intuition has been my greatest guide and form of knowledge.
Living the life of a midwife takes tremendous determination, focus, and grit. The duality of the work is profound; exhilarating and exhausting, strong, yet vulnerable, joyful and sad. The outcome is never guaranteed and yet we continue forward with our glass more than half full. I’ve always said there’s no guarantee the experience will turn out exactly the way a woman hopes it will. Life is risky. Riding in a car is dangerous. Eating is a choking hazard. Yes, there may be complications during birth. We can live our lives in fear that something life-threatening will happen, or we can live our lives expecting all to be well. The childbearing year is a micro cosmos for life! Birth is as safe as life is! My glass isn’t just half full, it’s overflowing!
My midwife friend coined the term “glory stories” for mothers’ stories of triumph. Through the years, I’ve witnessed so many glory stories I can say I’ll never cease to be amazed at the power of women! I stood in awe with a mother who became pregnant at age 45, when she thought she’d never have a biological baby. I felt the gripping hand of a mother who pushed her baby through her pelvis though she’d been told she was “too small” to push a baby out. I listened to the sorrow of a mother who, due to myomectomy scars, decided it would be safest for her baby to have a family centered cesarean birth rather than a vaginal birth. I waited with a mother for hours and hours for her baby to finally make his grand entrance with a very short cord and the placenta right behind him! All these glory stories are truth stories, and they live on in the family history. I’ve been so honored to have witnessed hundreds of stories unfold through the years.
As much as I love midwifery, I also have a passion for herbalism, and for my first love, music. I’ve brought my work full circle by providing expressive art/music therapy for people in hospice care and for those in memory care units. I provide herb consults and create herbal preparations for clients as well. I am taking a break from midwifery while I work to improve my own health (after all, you can’t take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself), and to work on some midwifery writing projects and some musical recordings. If you’re interested, you can learn more about my work and my projects at:
by Janice Marsh-Prelesnik
All photographs were snitched from Janice’s Facebook Page – with her permission.
Thank you so much for the gift of your time!
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Kim Woodard Osterholzer, Colorado Springs Homebirth Midwife and Author
Books by Kim: