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Mary Breckinridge’s Grand Vision

by Kimla McDonald, CNM, Guest Blogger

God bless you, Google, for bringing me to this Web site from a search for Mary Breckinridge,” where I learned that the US Postal Service issued the 77-cent Mary Breckinridge stamp on November 9, 1998, in Washington, DC. No official ceremony was planned. The stamp was designed by Howard Paine and illustrated by Burt Silverman. Banknote Corporation of America, Inc. printed 110 million stamps in the intaglio process.

No official ceremony? I’ll bet there were a couple of private ones, and that at least a few midwives raised a toast to Mary. You’ve probably heard of Mary Breckinridge, but ask your average American and I doubt you’ll find many who know that she started the Frontier Nursing Service in Kentucky in 1925 and championed the development of midwifery as a profession in the United States.

Mary Breckinridge is special to me. I’ve had dinner at Wendover, her house near Hyden, Kentucky. I’ve had the privilege to sit with other midwives in her bedroom, listening to Kitty Ernst tell stories about the early days. Part of my desire to be a midwife was fueled by those horseback riding women who served the families and birthing mothers in the hills of Kentucky. Sitting in Mary’s house, surrounded by the history of those early midwives, strengthened my faith in birth as a natural process; in out-of-hospital birth as a safe option; and in the ingenuity of midwives practicing independently (as in “I’m riding this horse 20 miles into the woods with no one to back me up in an emergency” independently!)

Since graduating from the Frontier School of Midwifery and Family Nursing (which changed its name to Frontier Nursing University in July), I’ve thought a lot about Mary Breckinridge, remembering her statement that “our aim has always been to see ourselves surpassed, and on a larger scale.” She was a woman who knew how to roll with the punches and dream big, and she wasn’t afraid to pursue grand visions.

These are turbulent times in health care reform, and change has come to Mary’s original home in Kentucky. But the historic Wendover property remains an integral part of this landscape of midwifery. A new endowment campaign, managed by Frontier Nursing University with the goal of raising $10 million over the next five years, will help to maintain Wendover as a national nursing and midwifery retreat center.

If you’ve never been there, it’s worth the pilgrimage. You have to drive a long way from the nearest city, and then drive even farther outside the bustle of tiny Hyden. Follow the creek, deep into the woods, until you come upon a two-story log home, beautiful in its simplicity.

How lucky we are as midwives to have a place like Wendover, where we can go to recharge our psychic and spiritual batteries. Midwifery is stressful work. We need time to retreat and re-energize. Self-care benefits us, and in turn, helps us be more present for our clients. We bring our energy into every room we enter where there is a woman in labor. How much better for all if the energy we bring is peaceful, centered, and positive.

So I’m going to look for one of those 77-cent stamps, put it on an envelope, and mail a contribution to the Frontier endowment in a manner that Mary would appreciate.

Posted 8/26/2011 11:16:03 AM



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