The 2018 Winter Park Conference was a magnificent success, and those of us who had the pleasure of attending agreed to be part of what we hope will prove the first among many returns of the informative and nourishing event a thing to treasure.

Our time together opened with the opportunity to renew our certification in Neonatal Resuscitation followed by an energizing discussion of pelvic floor physical therapy and exercise for the childbearing woman by Betsey Stec, PT.

And then the tears began to flow as first, a father and second, a mother shared their stories of midwife-supported sorrows.

David Monteith of the United Kingdom joined us by internet and drew us straight into his raw, yet thoughtful and poetic account of the death and birth of Grace Dinah, the second of his four daughters. Grace died upon the release of her waters when a strand of amnion wound itself round her umbilical cord. Their midwife was unable to find her heartbeat and suggested they shift to the hospital where it was confirmed she’d slipped away. David and his wife, Siobhan, labored to bring Grace to birth through the long, dark hours that followed until, at last, they greeted her, then bid her goodbye. Since then they have labored to live without her, as well as labored to bring about a greater awareness and sensitivity to perinatal death via the birth of the organization, Grace In Action.

Click here to experience the poem David wrote about Grace called “I Pause.” It’ll make your throat tight and the hairs tingle and rise along the nape of your neck.

Dianna Vagianos Armentrout blessed us with her presence and, in concert with her extraordinary midwife, Anni McLaughlin, told the story of learning her unborn Mary Rose bore within her cells an extra chromosome and would most likely die before, during, or soon after her birth. Though Dianna and her husband, Tim, were counseled to submit to an abortion, they made the courageous decision to carry her as long as she would be carried, and to press her into the light of day amidst the peace and love of their home. Anni, most tenderhearted, far-seeing, skilled, and intrepid, agreed to serve the family as they moved through the excruciating, exquisite process. Dianna’s written a book about her experience called Walking the Labrynth of My Heart.

The two heart-wrenching tales reduced the room to tears, and the time we were able to spend with the grieving families alone would have made our time at the conference well worth attending. As birthworkers, the likelihood we’ll any of us make it through the course of a career without being called on to walk beside a family through the shadows of death is slim. I haven’t escaped it, and the chance to live a bit of the experience from the perspective of parents is essential. We possess the opportunity to provide a special measure of validation, empowerment, and healing within tragedy as we do what we do best—create and guard space for mothers and fathers to bring forth their little ones, even if—especially if—those little ones are born without heartbeat or breath, or are born destined to soon be without. I recommend we each take the time to partake in the rich gifts David and Dianna have bestowed us through an exploration of their websites and the many priceless resources therein.

“When a child dies, a parent is still tied to that child. Souls tied together across universes. It doesn’t matter the age when they passed. It doesn’t matter how long ago it happened. It doesn’t matter… Their souls are forever tied. That’s the love of a parent. That’s the love that is more powerful than death… That’s the beauty of unconditional love.”

Scribbles & Crumbs

The bulk of our time together was spent as it began—session after session just bulging with information!

Our beloved Janelle led us on a foray into substance use disorders, catastrophic disparities in outcomes among minority people groups, early and late postpartum complications, understanding fetal heart rate patterns, how to facilitate presentations, and hosted a viewing of the wonderful film about medical professionals who choose homebirth, Why Not Home? Anni McLaughlin, besides describing the care she provided the Armentrout family as they gave birth to Mary Rose, demonstrated the use of her ingenious invention designed to aid birthworkers in the positioning of newborns for effective resuscitation, the Resus-A-Cradle. Lynnette Chambers led us in an analysis of common complications of pregnancy and the concept of shared decision making. Benjamin Komorowski enlightened us on the detection of congenital heart defects in newborns and the reduction of maternal mortality via timely use of a cutting edge treatment option called ECMO, or Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation. Dr. Brittany Downing explained the Webster Technique and Dr. Karen Lewis educated us on the topic of pubic symphisis diastasis. Stephanie Pearson provided information on essential oil use and residual income for birthworkers, Adrienne Leeds apprised us on the most current understanding of pre-eclampsia, Althea Hrdlichka expounded upon the use of herbs, and I led an integrative review on the true skills of a midwife. Oh my! I hope I haven’t forgotten anything!

And in the midst of all the learning, we were thoroughly nourished and refreshed as we deepened existing bonds and forged new friendships. I believe a comment made by Anni McLaughlin, veteran midwife of nearly forty years, says it all…

“I have to say I learned more at this conference than any other I’ve attended! Thank you, everyone, for sharing so much of yourselves!”

I urge you, my fellow birthworkers, to mark your calendars and keep your eyes peeled for Winter Park Midwifery Conference round two next year!

Kim Woodard Osterholzer, Colorado Springs Homebirth Midwife and Author

Books by Kim:

Homebirth: Safe & Sacred

Homebirth: Commonly Asked Questions

A Midwife in Amish Country: Celebrating God’s Gift of Life

Nourish + Thrive: Happy, Healthy Childbearing

One Little Life at a Time: Recommendations + Record Keeping for Aspiring Homebirth Midwives

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