What “With Woman” Really Means


Doula, doctor, nurse, or midwife … it doesn’t matter what our titles are. What matters is what we are share — our commitment to empower, respect, and support women during birth.

In the past 11 years, I’ve had many roles. First I called myself doula, then midwife’s assistant, then labor nurse. In the past 11 years I have worked alongside countless others in this profession. They have had many different titles — nurse, OB-GYN, CNM, comadrona, lactation consultant, doula. But I’ve discovered that their training matters much less than what inspires them to continue their work.

Supporting a woman through birth, without judgement, while respecting her desires and beliefs, can impact her life forever. It can completely transform her ability to mother her baby.

I’ve learned through this work that it doesn’t matter what I think makes a good birth. A planned C-Section, a vaginal breech birth, a birth with an epidural, a birth in water, a birth in high-heels, a birth surrounded by mantras and oils and crystals and singing prayer bowls — it doesn’t matter, as long as it is what the woman wants and needs.


{Photo by Bellies & Babies Photography}


Midwife – the word comes from the German, “mit wife” — which means “with woman.”

But someone doesn’t need to be a midwife to be “with woman.” “With woman” means non-judgmental, compassionate, loving support. It understands that every woman comes to the experience of birth at a completely different place, with a completely unique life experience, unique needs and desires.

“With woman” understands that an unplanned C-Section may be deeply traumatic for one woman. For another, getting to the hospital when her baby is crowning, which means she doesn’t have time to get an epidural, is even more traumatic. One woman desires more than anything to have her baby on her chest, for as long as possible, without interruption. Another woman needs time and space after birth to process the experience, and needs her husband to hold the baby until she feels ready.

One woman tells you that she “doesn’t want to feel anything at all”. You may never find out that this is because she was sexually assaulted as a teenager. But you hear her, and so you make sure that she has an epidural that works very well – even if it means she is numb to her breasts.

Another woman also has a history of sexual abuse (which she never tells her doctor). Her reaction to labor and birth is completely the opposite. She wants to feel everything. Still, as soon as her baby is born, she sobs, and sobs, and sobs. All she does is cry. Others whisper to you, “What’s wrong with her?” You hold her hand and tell her it’s ok with you, she can cry as long as she needs to.

A woman comes into the hospital for labor pains. Even though she is weeks away from her due date, she has only once ever seen a doctor. She confides in you that she wants to give the baby up for adoption. She asks you if you think she’s a bad mother. You tell her no, she’s actually a very good mother. A good mother is willing to let her own heart break if it means that she can give her baby a better life.

Jagger Photography, bellingham birtth photography

{Photo by Jagger Photography}

Being “with woman” means that you catch a baby while standing over the toilet in the bathroom, because that’s where a woman felt safe. (Once she was in there, you couldn’t get her back out!)

It means that even though you haven’t done it before, you turn the lights down in the OR before a woman’s C-Section starts, and ask everyone in the room to speak quietly.

It means that you know how to shake her hips to relieve back labor.

It means you don’t blush while teaching her nipple stimulation.

It means you reassure her it’s normal when her epidural makes her shake.

It means you teach her how to feed her baby formula without getting too much gas.

It means that no matter who she is — whether she’s 14 or 45; whether she’s a doctor or a lawyer or she sells pumpkins for a living; whether she is black or white or some ethnicity you’ve never heard of — that you promise to support her. No matter what.


{Support comes in many forms. Photo by Bailey Nicole}

Thank you, fellow “with-women” for helping women have babies. Thank you for what you do, and for understanding how important, and powerful, it is to love someone without judgment, and support them regardless of your own beliefs. Your work is far more important than you know.

“I do not care what kind of birth you have … a home birth, scheduled cesarean, epidural hospital birth, or if you birth alone in the woods next to baby deer. I care that you had options, that you were supported in your choices, and that you were respected.”

~ January Harshe

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