Mother knows best

The Maternal Integrity Project aids expectant and new mothers

Mary Gilbert holds baby Ryker Vukich.

Mary Gilbert holds baby Ryker Vukich.

Mary Gilbert, 24, wants you to understand that child birth is completely normal. She should know—she just gave birth to a new brain-child, the Reno-based Maternal Integrity Project, a forum for women and growing midwifery.

Can you tell me about the roots of the Maternal Integrity Project?

This project in general was a creation that I came up with as a means to give women all of the resources they needed to be informed during their pregnancy and all throughout parenthood. I have found in my studies that many women find themselves [so] bombarded with information that it makes it extremely difficult to get any feel of what is real and what isn’t. As an apprentice midwife, I am constantly getting text messages and phone calls from friends and acquaintances asking for advice on their pregnancy, birth control, and everything in between. It became upsetting to me that so many women were getting their sources from books like, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, which doesn’t give all of the options out there—it mainly focuses on hospital birth and complications during pregnancy. Women deserve to be educated about their bodies and the choices they have throughout their pregnancy, and so this website hopefully will become something that they will be able to find out every choice possible!

At what stage is this project?

First trimester! [Laughs] It is still very early on. Hopefully within the next few months, I hope to have a forum up for mothers all around the world to use to be able to talk to one another about their experiences in a safe environment free of judgment. Also, within the next couple of weeks I hope to have a tab that shows all of the services I provide in my community in the greater Reno, Sparks and Tahoe area as a doula for both birth and postpartum, as a placental encapsulation specialist, and soon-to-be childbirth educator.

What is something you wish was more understood in the realm of child-birth? Do you see problems in our society when it comes to pregnancy, birth, postpartum…?

Gilbert puts a hat on a newborn.

I want everyone to know that childbirth is normal. Birthing a child and being pregnant is not an illness! If our bodies were not made to give birth, then none of us would still be around. We all come from a long line of pelvises that have worked up until now, so I can guarantee you that there is an extremely minuscule chance that yours is going to be the one that fails.

I think the biggest problem in our culture is that we place such a high regard to the medical model for everything. We live in a lazy culture where we treat health problems as they come instead of trying to do something to fix them before they happen. We live in a culture full of fast food, microwave dinners, television, cell phones, and cars and none of us are trying to do anything to better it. I’m not taking away from the fact that many of those things have become beneficial to us now, but the fact of the matter is that the last time the majority of any of us have gone outside our house for a walk, or the last time the majority of us have taken the time to really take a serious look at the foods we are putting into our bodies. … We are not taking care of ourselves in a way that can prevent us from getting sick or that keep us healthy. I think that is why we rely on modern medicine so much now, because we feel that it is the only way to keep us healthy, when it actually begins with us.

Another thing about birth is that women believe they have no other options than hospitals and what their doctors tell them to do. The importance we place on doctors—a highly male profession, ironic considering we are talking about a realm that is heavily female—is insane. Women have trusted their bodies for years now, and all of a sudden we have started to believe that we are so fragile and that we have to be so submissive that we must believe what someone else is telling us to do with our bodies when we should be trusting it in the first place as something that will tell us to do when the time comes.

Your website seems to focus on the power of sharing experiences. Blog posts that center on birth stories, postpartum confessions that bleed into more controversial topics such as an introduction to vaccinations. You even have a tag for abortion. Can you expand more on why you think an open-minded strategy helps women?

Because every woman deserves to have a choice, regardless of what that choice is. It is not up to me to judge a woman for having a different opinion than mine. If she has educated herself, and knows the risks and benefits of what she is doing, than who am I to tell her otherwise? I can only give her the real information, and that is information based on evidence and fact.

You state that the project is open to diverse approaches to birthing, yet you favor natural birth and midwifery over a hospital birth. Expand on why? Do you see a new wave of organic parenthood emerging and if so, how will it evolve? I know some consider it to be a bit of a trend.

I do favor one over the other, and I am sure that it shows on my website, which is fine by me. This is why—there have been studies to prove that there is a link between surgical births and postpartum depression. I believe strongly that women who birth in hospitals have a bigger chance of finding themselves feeling robbed of an experience that should have been amazing. I find that women who birth in hospitals find themselves with lower self-esteem, and feeling as though they could have done many things differently. They feel betrayed by the doctor, their partners, their families and their bodies. I would be all for hospitals if I knew that every woman who came out of there felt as though they were happy with the experience, but that is not the case. I have yet to meet a woman who has been with a midwife who felt as though they missed out on anything whatsoever. This is not to say that I do not believe in birthing in a hospital. I believe women who are high-risk should be delivering in a hospital under the care of a doctor. I believe hospitals are necessary, and I believe that modern medicine is wonderful, and extremely beneficial.

Indulge me in your own personal dream for this project. What would the next five years look like?

Hectic! Hopefully in the next five years I will be starting up my own midwifery practice, and The Maternal Integrity Project will have blossomed into something that every woman uses as a resource during their pregnancy. Until then, I will be doing everything in my power to help women from all walks of life feel empowered in their experiences, and feel as though they are going through womanhood knowing exactly how powerful and capable they really are.