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Ina May Gaskin Wins Alternative Nobel Prize

by ACNM Guest Blogger, Kimla McDonald, CNM

Before I became a midwife, I studied design in my training as a landscape architect. I learned to look for symmetry and balance, which can be quite nice in gardens, although sometimes it’s even nicer when things are a bit disorganized and asymmetrical.

But lately I noticed a symmetry that seems almost perfect. It has to do with the 2011 Right Livelihood Award, a recognition recently bestowed on our own Ina May Gaskin.

The Right Livelihood Award was established in 1980. Its founder is the Swedish activist/political thinker/lecturer on environment, justice, and peace issues Jakob von Uexkull, and the award has become widely known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize.”

Uexkull wanted to recognize and honor the work of people tackling “the pollution of our air, soil, and water; the danger of nuclear war; the abuse of basic human rights; the destitution and misery of the poor; and the over-consumption and spiritual poverty of the wealthy.” When his proposal to the Nobel Prize Foundation to establish two new awards, one for ecology and one relevant to the lives of the poor, was turned down, Uexkull created the Right Livelihood Awards. In 1980, the first two awards were given. There are now 145 Laureates from 61 countries, with Ina May being one of four 2011 recipients.

The beautiful symmetry is this: Stephen Gaskin, who is Ina May’s husband, was one of the two first recipients of the Right Livelihood Award in 1980 for hiswork with the organization PLENTY, which he founded in 1974. He shared this initial award with Dr. Hassan Fathy, an Egyptian architect whose classic book Architecture for the Poor demonstrated that it is possible to build for the poor and teach people to build for themselves.

In his acceptance speech in 1980, Gaskin spoke of PLENTY’s initial volunteer efforts with the Mayan people of Guatemala, and how the community of people on The Farm in Tennessee, which he founded, learned to live and work together:

“We are well below the official US poverty level. But we are not poor. We are strong, because our collectivity has made us that way. As Hassan Fathy said, when a man helps another to build a house he knows that part of his pay is that the other man will come back and help him build his house. This is the basis of everything we do.

We have learned to deliver babies the same way. We delivered over 1300 children, only about half of them ours. The others came from all over the world to The Farm to have their baby. People will travel thousands of miles to go to a farm that has dirt roads and live poverty-style with a bunch of hippies, rather than go to a brand new shiny hospital to have their baby! We have now developed a large enough statistic to show that our deliveries are safer for both mothers and children than in the US and many other countries. We have been following the natural process. Our midwives made the assumption that if the process wasn't pretty perfect, how did we get here? There have only been doctors for 75 years. The natural process is perfect by itself about 98% of the time, we find. The midwife recognizes the other early and consults a specialist then.”

Spiritual Midwifery
was one of the first books I read when I knew I wanted to become a midwife. I’ve had the pleasure of being at The Farm and studying with Ina May and other midwives there, and learning from their experience and wisdom. Every time I think there might be a shoulder dystocia coming, I think of her and the midwives in Guatemala, and thank them with all my heart.

Congratulations, Ina May!

Photo: Ina May Gaskin by Jeanne Kahan. Image via.
Posted 11/8/2011 9:02:39 AM



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