15 Minutes of Awkward Silence with Ina May

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.

9 responses to “15 Minutes of Awkward Silence with Ina May

  1. Once again, incredibly jealous that you got such an opportunity. I probably would have done the same thing, going over all of the stuff in my head that she really doesn’t need to know about me, or saying something incredibly stupid and cursing at myself in my head.

  2. I met Ina May last year after a talk she gave in NYC, and I felt the same way! After reading all of her books and finding out so much about the Farm, etc, I feel like I “know” her in some way (even though I don’t!) and it was very strange to be face-to-face and have absolutely nothing to say. But, she definitely has an amazing presence and it was wonderful just to have the opportunity to meet her.

  3. Hello Laurel,

    Maybe we can talk next time we’re in line together. You’ll be glad to know that your passion is mine also. I’m not—and never have been—ardently anti-choice. Abortion services must be kept legal, and they should be more available than they are now! We did offer women who didn’t want abortions a chance to give birth here, but that didn’t mean that I wanted Roe v. Wade repealed or abortion providers murdered. I just thought that women who didn’t really want an abortion shouldn’t feel forced by economic or social circumstances to go ahead with it.

  4. Ina May –

    I can’t tell you how happy I am to have been misinformed! It’s wonderful to know that you value freedom of choice for the entire spectrum of pregnancy outcomes, in addition to birth itself.

    I’m going to go ahead and take advantage of this as my second opportunity to say thank you for your work, your history, and your presence. I absolutely look forward to talking next time we’re standing in line together!

    And welcome to Cuntastic :)

  5. Oh, GOSH, I know how you feel Laurel! I met Ina May at a Midwifery Conference in Paris and HAD to thank her because she (unknowingly) was involved in assisting me find a midwife to catch my baby at home in Italy.
    It was this big HUGE moment for me, and she very humbly said, “You are welcome”. And I walked away and thought of a million things I could have/should have said. But at the end of the day, we are all heroes in our own right and may want to consider ourselves as such! That said, Thank YOU for your work, current history and presence as well. You have also made a tremendous impact on my life!

  6. I did the same thing! I went to a midwife assistant workshop at The Farm in August 2009. The first night there, I happened to be sitting next to her at dinner. I know that I spoke to her a bit – random, inane nonsense, I’m sure- but I was terribly nervous and terrified to make a fool out of myself. I was lucky enough to have several more days after that in order to get to know her just a bit, but I’m still kind of in shock that I actually sat in Ina May Gaskin’s living room during one of our classes. :-) She’s an amazing woman and I hope I get to meet her again one day.

  7. What a lovely essay, and so glad Ina May found it and commented! :-)

  8. OMG! it was a shock for me to see Ina May reply to you! i sure wasn’t expecting that lol…THATS AWSOME!!!!!!!!!!! we love you Ina May i have also read all your books and i have some of your DVD’s they are awsome. i don’t know what i would do if i were in line with you, i’m sure i would introduce myself and say Hi there i’m Eunice i am a new Midwife here in Florida….. uhhh… that’s all i got in mind i mean where else do you go with that? i feel like i know you…like you are my sister/mother/granny….in a way you are very dear to me and thu your books i have grown….grown to become better within and out…and oh dear would i loooove to learn hands on right next to you…..but i think i would just freeze after i say my name lol…i am also hispanic and my first language is Spanish so i might for those few minutes forget all the english i know….i think

  9. Ina May is coming to speak to our group in VA this fall and I cannot freaking wait. I will probably just shut my mouth for fear of saying anything stupid, but as a student midwife, I am saving all my pennies to take a workshop at The Farm to help fulfill some of my school requirements. SQUEE!!! I am so glad I found your site. :-)

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