It was 11 p.m. on a spring night in 1980, and the family who lived above the river was getting anxious. An expectant mother laid on her side, waiting for Glenn Cameron to arrive.
Cameron, a midwife, arrived with her assistant at the river bank. They hopped into a canoe and paddled out to the house built on thick, sturdy poles.
She made it to the top and saw her client waiting for her. She took a seat on the ground and lightly touched her arm, making her feel at ease.
“I’m ready,” the mother said.
In a matter of seconds, without commotion or vicious huffs, the baby was born.
As the sun began to rise, Cameron stayed with the new mother during the first few hours of the baby’s life.
Then, she departed, having completed her normal routine as a midwife.
Cameron is a small player within a much larger network of midwifery.
The main goal of a midwife is to help women maintain healthy pregnancies, have optimal births and postpartum recoveries, according to the Midwives Alliance of North America website.
Midwives can work in hospitals, birthing centers or set up their own practice. Different certifications allow them certain levels of practice and access to medical centers, Cameron said.
A licensed midwife is certified to practice, according to the requirements of the American College of Nurse-Midwives. A certified nurse midwife has a master’s in nursing with a specialization in midwifery. A CNM can work in hospitals alongside obstetricians and physicians, Cameron said.
A direct-entry midwife (DEM) is an independent practitioner in the discipline of midwifery through self-study, a midwifery school or university-based program. A DEM is trained to provide care in out-of-hospital settings, according to the Midwives Alliance of North America website.
Cameron, a 61-year-old retired midwife who practiced for eight years in Gainesville and other parts of the world. Although she never became licensed, she was part of midwifery’s resurgence in the 1960s.
It was part of a larger social upheaval occurring at the time, what she refers to as a time when hippie lifestyles were popular and Woodstock made history.
“You have the women’s movement (during the 60s),” Cameron said. “You have feminism rearing its head. You have anti-war, anti-Vietnam. You have desegregation starting to happen.”
She also said this was a time when women were becoming more aware of their bodies – many returned to a “back-to-the-land” organic lifestyle.
“We were very interested in returning to this sort of natural, commune-living situation,” Cameron said. “I don’t know why, but we were. We wanted to know about herbs, and we became very conscious of our diet.”
This consciousness also made some women question hospital births, which were most common in the 1940s and 50s, she said.
“We didn’t want to go to the hospital and have babies because if you checked into the hospital, you were usually put under hardcore anesthesia,” Cameron said. “You were alone. Breastfeeding wasn’t supported, and (there was) no skin-to-skin contact. The baby went to the nursery.”
In 1975, after receiving prenatal care from her physician, Cameron gave birth to her first daughter at her home in east Tennessee. She was in the company of her husband at the time and his brother.
She recalls driving down 34th Street with her former husband after their daughter’s birth and telling him, “I think I want to be a midwife.”
The idea of home births began to spread through word of mouth, Cameron said. She and a few other women were taken under the wing of a nurse midwife who trained them in nursing care.
She attended about 20 to 25 births as part of her training, during which she engaged in consoling mothers and shadowing the nurse.
Without formal instruction, they diligently relied on medical textbooks for reference, such as Varney’s Midwifery and Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin.
Cameron said she never felt apprehensive being present while a woman was giving birth.
“Most people who end up in midwifery, in my opinion, have been there and done it before – or their grandmother, or their aunty or their great-great-great grandmother,” she said. “There’s a connection to want to be present for birth. So I’m sure that was in my soul somewhere in the background.”
Passing on the Legacy
Cameron stopped being a midwife after her third daughter was born in 1983.
Although she decided to stay home and raise her daughters, Cameron participated in grassroots campaigns to pass Florida Midwifery Practice Act, F.S. 467, in 1982. This established a three-year education without a nursing degree as a pre-requisite.
She became an administrative coordinator at the Florida School of Traditional Midwifery in 1997 and began teaching history of midwifery in 2011.
She is scheduled to teach the course again in Fall 2015.
Margo Keane, a third-year student at FSTM, said Cameron was the first person she spoke to when inquiring about the school. Keane said Cameron loves her students as if they were her own daughters.
“She believes in me – in all of us – like no one else,” Keane said. “She tells us when to suck it up and get over it, and she is a shoulder to cry on if we need one. The road to being a midwife is daunting, but she’s supported us through everything.”
Rachel Smith, the administrative assistant at the school, was also adamant about the connection Cameron makes with her students.
“The students feel a deep connection with Glenn,” she wrote in an email. “She is very passionate about the advancement of midwifery practices and devoted to the training of competent and professional midwives who can provide women the type of maternity care they deserve.”