I, like the vast majority of North American birth junkies, have fantasized a time or two about meeting Ina May Gaskin. In the fantasies, we would hit it off (duh!), become best buddies, and my life would become a whirlwind of midwifery excitement.
So when she walked into the hotel lobby during registration for the MANA Conference in October, I was pretty starstruck. I went through an entire mental process around being in the same room with her as she walked past. And then she was gone.
So I’m standing in line at the registration desk, I turn around, and…she hasn’t left the room afterall! Ina May Gaskin is standing directly behind me in line.
Naturally, I put out my hand and said, “I hate to be one more person doing this, but it’s really hard to stand in line beside you and not introduce myself. I’m Laurel.” She smiled perfectly politely, in that grandmotherly, scholarly, ultimately wise way she has, and shook my hand and said, “Nice to meet you.”
And that’s all we said. I then proceeded to awkwardly stand there in silence for another 15 minutes. I had Ina May Gaskin’s undivided attention for 15 minutes, and blew it.
Not that 15 minutes is really enough time to imprint myself in her mind in any concrete way. Then again, maybe it could’ve been. Maybe, if I didn’t freeze up and waste an enormous opportunity, we could have communicated and connected.
We could’ve had a conversation about my passion for the right to safe, affordable abortion services…except for the fact that she’s ardently anti-choice, from what I hear.
I could’ve thanked her for her pioneering work and talked about the value and necessity of her voice in the birth world…except for the fact that I’m sure she’s heard it all before.
What do you say to someone like that? To someone who fills the role of culture hero to so many birthworkers? She doesn’t need to know that I’ve read all her books, or that I’m inspired by her story, or that it’s my dream to give safe, affordable, compassionate care to even just a fraction of the women she’s served in her life.
What do you say to someone like that? You say, “…it’s really hard to stand in line beside you and not introduce myself. I’m Laurel.” Then you shake her hand, stand there awkwardly for 15 minutes, and remember it for the rest of your life.