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"I found myself in a school bus, somebody was giving birth and wanted me to be there. She has the baby in two hours, looking wildly beautiful. Later, when I talked to doctors and nurses, I found out how rare that was that your first glimpse of birth was this wild beauty." — Ina May Gaskin
In 1971, three hundred hippies set off from California in a convoy of 90 trucks and schoolbuses to find a new life. The pregnant women amongst them, out a desire to treat birth as a normal part of proceedings, passed around birth manuals and learnt to deliver each others' babies on the road.
It was the memory of the very first woman, calmly and tenderly birthing in the arms of her husband in the back of a bus on a pitstop, that was to change the lives of two watching women in particular: Ina May Gaskin and Pamela Hunt. Called in spontaneously to assist, and watching in wonder at the first natural birth they'd ever seen, that Ina May would describe decades later as an 'astonishing, wild beauty' that 'gave her something that has never left'.
Ten more babies were born along the way, till the Caravan arrived settled on 1700 acres of land in Summertown, Tennessee, where Ina May and her husband Stephen Gaskin founded The Farm, at the heart which was a fearless belief in the physiological normalcy of childbirth. Ina May began to recruit an army of likeminded midwives and spearhead a new subculture, publishing their stories in 1975 in Spiritual Midwifery. Now in its fourth edition, consumers to this day use the book to seek alternatives out of the hospital model.
In a tribute both to the legacy bequeathed by the first birthing woman on the Caravan, and to Ina May's advocacy of the imagery of crowning to demystify birth, this unprecedented visual re-telling of the 'wild beauty' on the schoolbus in 1971 suggests to an audience in 2020 how we might again seek out a culture of our own.
"We weren't afraid of birth. Birth was part of our culture. And we were making our own culture." — Pamela Hunt
“When male and female energy combine in a powerful and graceful way, what can be more liberating to an expectant father than to know his loving words to his partner may give her strength and energy - even to the point where it ventures into ecstasy?” — Ina May Gaskin
"I kept having contractions without pain... All of a sudden I felt the baby's head crowning. I pushed a few more times and then just relaxed and took a deep breath. A few more pushes, and the baby was out. Franz put him on top of my belly. He lay there looking into my eyes, looking so beautiful. We decided to name him Immanuel." — Anna, 'Our First Birth', Spiritual Midwifery (1975), p. 34
"She was beautiful. She had huge big blue eyes, looked around the room, and had a baby. What we noticed in the first births, was that it was a holy sacrament to have a baby. There is a lot of spirit at that time." — Pamela Hunt, Farm Interview with Natalie Lennard, 2017
“The excitement generated by each Caravan birth was contagious. Each mother who gave birth became an inspiring and encouraging example to the other women. We came to look at birth as a sort of initiation or rite of passage - something for which you could gather up your courage with the help of your friends and contemporaries... As we travelled, we had common experiences and began to know each other better. When each birth took place, we all parked in a sort of protective formation around the bus in which the birth would take place, and e everyone waited for the baby's first cry." — Ina May Gaskin, Spiritual Midwifery (1975) (p. 17)
"I found myself in a school bus, somebody was giving birth and wanted me to be there. So I go in, and she has the baby in two hours, looking wildly beautiful - that was the astonishing thing - wow. And later, when I had the chance to talk to lots of doctors and nurses, I found out how rare that was that your first glimpse of birth was this wild beauty. They didn't often see that, in fact I never met anyone who saw that the first time unless they lived on a farm and saw it in an animal." — Ina May Gaskin, TEDx talk (2013)
Photography, director & editing: Natalie Lennard. Tennessee Videography: Tribe Creative Media (Ben Peterson & Jayme Crockett) with support of Parachutco. With thanks to Farm Interviewees: Pamela Hunt, Carol Nelson, Umm Salaamah Sondra Abdullah-Zaimah, Deborah Flowers, Judith & James Dodge. UK Videography: Tim Charles Matthews, with thanks to Blackberry Wood, Brighton. Opening narrator: Pamela Hunt. UK Shoot Models: Matt and Adele Allen, Ostara and Kai Allen; Skye Lennard and Lilith Lennard. Featuring clips and screenshots from 'Birth Story' documentary 2012 (link below). Featuring images by David Frohman, Jeanne Kahan, Ashlie Moon, Elizabeth Bachner, Joel Mitchell and Dianne Hamre. Interview transcription: Joanna Dybisz. Prosthetics: Davy Jones
BIBLIOGRAPHY / RESOURCES:
Spiritual Midwifery, first edition
Spiritual Midwifery, Revised (second) edition
Spiritual Midwifery, fourth edition
Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, Ina May Gaskin
Birth Matters, Ina May Gaskin
Recommended documentary: Birth Story, Ina May Gaskin & The Farm Midwives (2012) Dir. Sara Lamm, Mary Wigmore
What Do We Know About The Effects of Cannabis Use During Pregnancy? Stacey Marie Kerr, Hawaiian Ethos