Nicolle Littrell: Why I Make Films About Birth and Midwives

The “Woman” in Woman in the Moon Films

I’m a filmmaker, educator, activist and mother.  My work with Woman in the Moon Films centers on social change around birth options–from “the local” and my own backyard to the national and global.  I am passionate about birth, women, mothers and midwives.

Here’s why I do what I do:

In December of 2004 I had a homebirth with my son in an antique farmhouse in a rural community in mid-coast Maine.   My professional midwives, Donna Broderick and Ellie Daniels, both CPMs with Morningstar Midwifery lived a mile down the road.  It was like something right out of A Midwife’s Tale, the Pulitzer prize winning book about 18th century Maine midwife Martha Moore Ballard, whose clients might be “up river”–or right next door.  My midwives had attended two other births in the house we lived in.  Throughout my pregnancy, I would ruminate on how many other babies had been born there.  I felt connected to the historical continuum around birth.

My homebirth was the single-most transformative event of my life.  Though no pictures were taken the image remains crystalline in my mind.  The only light:  the illumination of the Christmas tree next to the birth tub I labored in and the full moon, beaming in through frosted windowpanes.  The only sounds:  my moaning and groaning, primal urges I could never suppress…the crackle and spit of the woodstove, blazing red with heat on that zero-degree December night…and my midwife Donna breathing beside me, in tandem with my rhythm, holding the space.

From the freedom of laboring in my own home, the loving assistance of my son’s father, the waterbirth…to the safe, supportive care my midwives provided–I got exactly what I needed with my birth.

After my birth, I came to understand that most women in the US do not have this kind of birth experience.  I wanted to do something about that!  As a filmmaker I felt compelled to produce a film that would help educate women about the choice to have a homebirth assisted by professional midwives.  The fruits of that labor are At Home in Maine (AHIM), a one-of-kind online film series about homebirth and midwifery care.  AHIM presents a series of authentic, intimate and artistic portraits of the homebirth experience and features a variety of families, midwives and locations.  AHIM is not just about homebirth but about women, family, place, values, care…and the profound experience of normal, natural birth.

While I was producing AHIM, which was my Master’s Project at the University of Maine, I was working on another project, an independent study about the history of the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA).  One of the midwives I had worked with on AHIM, Pam Dyer Stewart, was also active in MANA.  It was through her I started to learn about this incredible social change organization, which represents the midwifery profession in North America and is inclusive of all midwives.  In 2009, I went to my first conference, which happened to be MANA’s 25th anniversary celebration, and ended up interviewing a number of midwives, including the new (at that time) president Geradine Simkins, CNM, MSN, DEM.  As a major birth devotee’ and midwife groupie this was akin to a religious experience; I felt I had come “home.”  This footage became the substance of a documentary film:  MANA!

That relationship established the foundation for the project I am currently working on with MANA, I am a Midwife, a new online video series all about midwives and what they do.  I am a Midwife presents a series of short videos focused on helping to educate the public about midwifery care and is accessible online through Youtube and Facebook.  Over 40 midwives from the US and Canada, practicing in all settings–home, hospital and birth center–describe the safe, satisfying and supportive care they provide to women everywhere.

I am working with a great team on I am a MidwifeGeradine Simkins, CNM, MSN, DEM, MANA President and Interim Executive Director–and editor of Into These Hands:  Wisdom from Midwives; Jill Breen, MANA Vice President and a CPM who has been in practice for over 30 years in Maine; and Tamara Taitt, DEM, MANA Southeast Regional Representative and Co-founder of The Gathering Place in Miami, Florida.  Gera and Tamara are the co-innovators of I am a Midwife.  Thanks to each of these remarkable women for giving me another space to put my passion to work–and also for their own incredible talents, insights and commitment!

I believe in women, birth, and without a doubt, midwives.  Midwives helped me to have the safe and supported birth I was looking for.  But that experience gave me so much more.  It directed me to the work I’m doing now, which, outside of motherhood, is about the most important work I believe I can be doing.  As Ellie Daniels, one of the midwives that will be featured in I am a Midwife (and my midwife!) says, “Once a woman has found that innate part of herself that is full of passion and power…then she just becomes the most unbelievably awesome person for herself, her family, her baby, her community.”

No other way of looking at it:  my birth experience turned me on.  Got me activated, engaged, political.  My work in this area extends to the academic arena where I am adjunct faculty in the Women’s Studies program at the University of Maine.  I am also working to develop a non-profit organization, the Maine Coalition for Choices in Childbirth, focused on education, advocacy and support around birth options for women in Maine.

I feel most fortunate to be doing what I do, working with national social change organizations like MANA on I am a Midwife, as well as others, such as toLabor, a national doula-training organization–and advocating for birth options in my own backyard.

The passionate and talented women at MANA are devoted to helping make birth a safer and more satisfying experience for women and their babies.  Consider midwifery care when researching your birth options.  Consider, as well, becoming a member of MANA–not just for midwives!

Can you tell I’m a big fan?

P.S.

Subscribe to I am a Midwife on Youtube and be the first to see new videos as they are released!  Midwives Know Birth Matters is the next piece in our series and will be officially released this Saturday, May 12!

My homebirth story was the subject of my Master’s Project manuscript.  Click here to read in full.

Subscribe to Woman in the Moon Films channel on Youtube

 

Nicolle Littrell

About Nicolle Littrell

Nicolle is a filmmaker, educator and activist. She produces films about birth options and women’s reproductive health through her indie film co., Woman in the Moon Films, located in Belfast, Maine. Her film series, “At Home in Maine” features authentic, intimate and artistic portraits of the homebirth experience. She is also adjunct Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies faculty at the University of Maine. Nicolle is co-producing “I am a Midwife” with the Midwives Alliance of North America.