Feature: The People In Your Neighborhood

Cassaundra Jah, Certified Professional Midwife

Renee Chavez
6 min read
Mama Stork
(Robert Maestas)
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Cassaundra Jah, 37, is a Certified Professional Midwife and owner of Empowered Women, Empowered Births, LLC. She is a published author and has served as the primary midwife at 128 births, witnessing a total of 219.

Alibi: What exactly do you do as a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM)?

I provide care to women and their families from pre-conception through the postpartum period. That includes pre-conception counseling, prenatals, the birth (I do home birth) and postpartum care.

Why do you do what you do?

I got into it because of the mom’s experience. I feel like a pregnant woman is so wide open—her heart is open, her body is literally opening, and her mind is open to so many changes. A woman has great potential to feel a profound sense of empowerment in the birth process—both in her body and what she is capable of and in being birthed herself as a mother. And that’s not just true of the first baby. Participating in that experience is what draws me to midwifery. It’s a profound thing.

What started you on this path?

When I was five, I decided I wanted to be an astronaut. And basically everything I did from 5 to 25 was so that I could be an astronaut. I have my bachelor’s and master’s degree in aerospace engineering. I was working as an engineer out in California, and after I had my son, I had moderate postpartum depression, and I just kept thinking, I need a hobby—something to do. I thought back on my birth with him, which was in a hospital, and I had had a doula. I thought, “She had a pretty cool job. I’d like to do that.” So I went and took doula training and told [my boss] I wanted to start this hobby. Basically, he was just mortified that I was talking about pregnancy and babies, and he was like, “Do whatever you wanna do.” So that’s how I got started in the “birth world.” [Then] I got pregnant with my daughter, and we decided to do a home birth. When I walked into that prenatal, I was like, this is it. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. I kinda filed it away in the back of my head. After I had my daughter, I had severe postpartum depression. I was seeing a therapist, and we were talking one day about the doula work and engineering work. Engineering wasn’t bad; there was nothing wrong with it, [but] it never put anything in my cup. Most days, what I came in with was what I left with. And then I’d go to a birth—one birth—and my cup would be totally filled up and pouring over. My therapist asked me, “I wonder what it would be like if every day you woke up and did what you loved?” And I thought, frankly, “Who the fuck gets to do that?” But it planted this seed in the back of my head, and I just couldn’t get those words out of my head. One day, I was like, I just gotta know. So I quit my job as an engineer and became a midwife.

What kind of training did you have to do?

There’s a couple of paths to becoming a CPM—the one that I chose to do [was] I went to a MEAC-accredited school called the National College of Midwifery.

How exactly does what you do differ from what goes on at the hospital?

The biggest difference is really philosophical. In the midwifery model, we view birth and pregnancy as a normal life process. You may choose not to have a child, but it’s a normal process. You are not sick. So the emphasis is more on how can we improve your health. The medical model views it more as “you have an increased potential of being sick.” So [they’re] going to screen and screen and screen to make sure you’re not sick.

What’s the most amazing thing that’s ever happened at a birth?

I’ve seen lots of amazing things. I think most of them fall in the category of: “something is different, and baby helps it.” Let me give you an example: I have had a few situations where there’s been something different about the umbilical cord. Maybe there’s a knot in it, or it has gotten looped around the baby’s neck, or it’s really, really short. I’ve seen the most amazing ways that babies handle that. [If] a baby has a nuchal cord—a cord around their neck—baby will put up a hand to protect it [the neck]. Or they have a knot in the cord, and they put a hand on either side of it [the knot] and hold it so that the knot doesn’t get any tighter as they’re coming out. To me, those are amazing things—that the baby is participating in the process. And moms that do really long labors, that’s amazing.

Do you believe there is a spiritual component to childbirth?

I have said in the past that attending births is my spiritual practice. People of all different faiths talk about meditation, and that means different things to different people. But for me, when I am at a birth, and I’m squatted next to a woman, and I am totally in service to her, from wiping her brow to massaging her legs to, frankly, wiping poop off her butt, I’m looking for ways to serve her [and] her family. It’s quiet, [and] I sit there, and I don’t say anything because it’s not about me. There’s [so much] love and determination; it’s just a profoundly spiritual experience—the quiet that happens with that much love in the room.

Why are people so often disgusted by the subject of birth?

I think many people have this perception—and media perpetuates it—that there’s just going to be blood everywhere. And actually, it’s a point of professional pride that [when] I leave, there’s not blood anywhere. Also, almost every single woman asks if she’s gonna poop when the baby comes out, and they’re just mortified by it. I think there are things that are a faux pas in our society. You don’t talk about pee or poop or blood. Cover it up. Clean it up. The same with birth—it’s ingrained from day one, and so it sets it up later in life to say those are the disgusting things.

What would you say to women who are afraid of “natural” childbirth?

You couldn’t be sitting here with me today if all the women before you didn’t have bodies that were made to deliver babies. I would encourage them to read Ina May Gaskin’s books. She’s a very famous midwife in the US who has a great quote that says, “Your body is not a lemon.” You got pregnant; you carried the baby to term; you just have to push it out. It really is that simple.

Advice for the world?

Follow your joy.
Mama Stork

Robert Maestas

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