Jewish Midwives - Alice Bailes
Alice Bailes is a certified nurse-midwife and codirector of Birthcare and Women’s Health Ltd., in Alexandria, Virginia. She is coeditor of the Handbook on Home Birth, published by the American College of Nurse-Midwives. Alice has two children, Jennifir and Benjamin Bailes.
Babies are so wonderful, so soft. There is nothing that smells better than a brand-new baby. My work is so much fun. I love it. I help women turn themselves into mothers.
There are psalms that I sing to myself in Hebrew when I am attending a birth. If the baby’s head is a little big for the mother’s bones and it has to mold to fit through I sing "Min Ha Metzar, from the narrow place I call to God and God answers me in this great expanse of space." I think that my singing these prayers helps the baby come.
Jewish midwives go a long ways back. My office has posters of Shifra and Puah, the midwives in the Book of Exodus. All of us midwives are kind of attached to them.
It was an amazing coincidence that my first aliyah, the first time I chanted from the Torah, contained the Hebrew words for birth, for nursing, and for weaning. It was on Rosh Hashana, the portion that describes Sarah’s response when she learns that she is pregnant....
My first birthing experience made me want to become a midwife. I had studied dance and was at one time in a premed program. The birth experience linked together for me the creative mind-body interaction I learned studying dance with the scientific approach of the premed program. The intense spiritual part of giving birth and having the baby nurse from my breasts brought together all of my beliefs. I was also concerned with social justice issues, feminism, and taking back control of one’s life from the so-called experts. As a midwife I empower women and their families to welcome their babies into the world in a way that gives them control of the experience....
After I’ve been awake for days while attending to a birth I go to the ocean. The ocean renews me. What a wonderful metaphor it is for birth. The ocean rocks you and is full of salt, just like amniotic fluid. Just the smell of the ocean does it for me. I feel reborn there.
From Paula Wolfson and Lloyd Wolf, Jewish Mothers: strength, wisdom, compassion. Chronicle Books, 2000.