One Midwife’s Story
By Sharon K. Evans
In the 1820’s, a young couple, Abraham and Seneth Moyd Evans Harmon moved
to Tennessee and then to Kentucky from South Carolina. They finally settled in the
Harmon Holler, a tributary of Hominey Creek, that empties into Marrowbone Creek, near
the Marrowbone Park, in Marrowbone, Cumberland County, Kentucky. They were my
great, great, great grandparents.
One of Seneth’s daughters was a midwife. She was born October 28, 1833, and
was named America Harmon, one of ten children born to Abraham and Seneth Harmon.
Dr. H. P. Davis, the local family doctor, said he would rather have America on a case
with him than any doctor he had doctored with. America Harmon was a spinster
midwife, having never married. As far as I know, she practiced midwifery her entire life
but I don’t know who taught her. She died February 19, 1918. I have a book with her
story and picture in it.
I was born October 23, 1949, the illegitimate daughter of a 17 year old girl who
had been raped. I was born at a home for unwed mothers in Peoria, Ill. called Crittendon
Care. It’s still there. I spent a little over a year in an orphanage, but I was eventually
reunited with my mother, thanks to my grandfather. The oldest of seven children, and
having a career woman for a mother, I stepped into an early role of responsibility.
I gave birth to seven children, all hospital births. By the time I found midwives, I
was in my seventh pregnancy and high risk, so could not have a home birth. I would
have loved to have had a midwife take care of me. I know some of my experiences
would not have been so traumatic, if I were in a midwife’s hands. I read Ina May
Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery when I was pregnant with my seventh (and last) baby, and I
cried with longing. It was then, very pregnant in late 1978, that I knew I wanted to
become a midwife.
In 1984 I met a midwife in Anchorage, Alaska, who agreed to become my
teacher. She was a Native Alaskan self-taught midwife, who comes from two
generations of traditional native midwives, and she is also a registered nurse. Shirley
Davis, who passed from this Earth in 2006, gave me the best of both worlds, I believe. I
not only learned the medical side of things, like injections and blood pressure
measurement, but I also learned about homeopathy and herbs.
I studied Herbology while I was nursing my babies, so came to my teacher with
some knowledge. I was also a certified massage therapist and had taken many courses in
the natural healing arts and was also a teacher of some of the natural healing arts such as
Creative Healing, Reflexology, Kenesiology, Accupressure, Swedish Massage, Colonic
hydrotherapy, and other massage techniques.
I found out Alaska was considered alegal, meaning depending on the political
climate, we may or may not be harassed for practicing midwifery illegally. My teachers
hid their pitocin and knew if they charted its use, they could be arrested if they
transported the mother to an unfriendly hospital. (They were all unfriendly.) When we
did transport, the doctor and nurses often treated us like second-class citizens and
sometimes they were not very nice to my ladies.
Our group of midwives was/is called Midwives Association of Alaska (MAA).
Even though we were not regulated by the state, we had rules and regulations within our
association. In order to become a Registered Midwife one had to complete a list of
several essays, fulfill set numbers of prenatal exams, births and postpartum visits (under
supervision), and pass a rigorous 12 hour written examination. Our requirements were
In 1985 Alaskan midwives received legal recognition, after a major campaign
orchestrated by 10 midwives to move the Alaskan public to cry out “leave the midwives
alone”. It was a huge success!
In 1992 we received our first Alaskan state midwifery licenses. I had mixed
feelings about becoming licensed. I felt that we were always in danger of becoming
regulated out of existence. I didn’t want to be restricted like the nurse midwives I knew.
I valued my autonomy.
Licensure did not equate to acceptance. After transporting a mother or baby to
the hospital, I recall the helpless feelings, as I witnessed the medical staff looking for
something to hang me with, even though I transported appropriately. Many a night I laid
in bed wondering why I was doing this to myself, practicing midwifery under hostile
conditions. One time I told my husband “I quit.” He said “how dare you take away
women’s ability to choose.” Those words broke my heart. It always came back to the
women. I would see soft, beautiful, inquiring, trusting faces, seeking me out, so they
could become empowered, assisted, to be able to give birth with dignity and grace and
without violence. No, I could not stop. I loved my ladies (as I always called them) too
One wintry day, my midwife friend Pam Weaver and I came up with a plan to
help midwives and their students. We were inspired to write the Practical Skills Guide
for Midwifery. We envisioned a book of midwifery skills that would hopefully help the
student and the teacher alike, a book that could test midwifery skills. Our dream included
seeing the book translated into Spanish, to serve the poor neighboring third world
countries like Mexico and South America. But, we started out just wanting a skills book
for Alaskan student midwives. With input from many midwives, and particularly Abby
Kinne, the book was finally published in 1994.
Pam and I became aware, through Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA)
that the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM) was forming. Its task was to
create a legally defensible written examination for midwives. This organization would
become an international credentialing body, certifying midwives from various
educational routes, creating the Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) credential.
We made arrangements for Pam to be at their first gathering in San Antonio,
Texas. She took with her a draft of our book. We felt our skills book could be used in
the process. Pam had considerable experience with test proctoring with her EMS
background, serving on the EMS Board and we both felt her experience would be an
asset to NARM. Pam soon became a member of the Board of Directors for NARM.
From 1995 to 1997 I worked for NARM as a committee chair. From 1997 to the
2004 I worked for NARM as Director of Applications. My daughter, Anna and I review
applications of those desirous of receiving the Certified Professional Midwife (CPM)
credential. We also issued re-certification to CPMs. In 1999 I was invited to be on the
Board of Directors for NARM. I was also appointed to the Alaska state midwifery
licensing Board and eventually retired from both.
Many years ago, I absolutely hated anything to do with politics. I have come to
realize we must become politically savvy in order to survive as a group, as a movement.
This requires volunteer hours of work, in dedication to the cause. In reviewing history, I
couldn’t help but notice the midwives who were burned at the stake were isolated. They
were not organized. The knowledge of our history, not so pleasant, moved me into
I saw the need for responsible action on our parts, if we want our grandchildren to
have the option of midwife-attended out-of-hospital births without harassment, or without
the parents being accused of child abuse for choosing an alternative route. As a result, I
am an avid supporter for apprenticeship in midwifery, and therefore want to be involved
in the laws governing our practice and the making of fair laws. My goal is to preserve
the alternative routes of entry into the profession.
After years of practicing alone, I finally reached a state of burnout in 1998. I
found it necessary to go on an indefinite sabbatical. My health reached a critical state,
forcing me to seriously review my priorities. At this time, the only births I attend are the
five required each year to maintain my Alaska state licensure as well as family and some
friends. I usually relieve another midwife on vacation to acquire the needed births.
I am honored to have attended hundreds of women in their most vulnerable
moments, most at home, some in birth centers. Through the years I have practiced
primarily alone. It’s ironic, but it seems each time I trained a new midwife, I would have
to move. I often did births with a friend for an assistant, and usually a new apprentice.
When I anticipated a potentially complex birth, I would fly a midwife in to my area to
I have a rich background as a midwife, having studied under my ladies very
studiously. They have taught me so much. I learned to listen to my ladies. I found they
were my teachers. I also listened to my gut, that inner voice that always protected me. I
have battled with doctors, winning the respect of many of them, and utterly hated by
others…for my ladies. I have come to understand we midwives are a threat to the
medical system. What if the Midwifery Model of Care catches on all over the world?
I purposely chose to become educated in midwifery through an alternative route,
the one-on-one traditional apprenticeship model. I have come to see the benefits of this
route of entry into the profession even though the medical system considers
apprenticeship as an inferior method of education. We know it is a superior method of
education, and we’ve had to fight to preserve it. We midwives serve a very important
purpose. Our role is one of empowerment and healing to women and their families. This
kind of role has gotten us into trouble in the past. When I think about my ladies and
those precious babies, I know it’s worth fighting for.
My husband Dave Evans and I have been married forty years. We have twenty
grandchildren, many of whom were born into my hands at home. On February 11, 2001,
my grandchild Angela Desire’ Evans was born at home, with grandmother and Auntie
Anna and 15 year old cousin Vanessa as assistants in attendance. Baby Angela came into
the world gently, with candles and soft music in the background. My daughter-in-law,
Tammie, did supremely well! Angela weighed in at 8 lbs. 0 oz., with 9/9 Apgars. I have
another native Alaskan grandbaby, thanks to Tammie!
We midwives have so much to offer. Our skills include science, art and a keen
awareness of a spiritual component that crosses all religions and beliefs. We have come
to honor and trust, not fear, birth. We are the guardians of normal birth. It’s time the
world finds out, don’t you think?
Today I am retired from practice, but I am still actively involved in midwifery
education. That connection with the precious student midwives that come my way serves
as balm to my soul.
When I think about our roots, the song “We Shall Overcome” sings within my
soul. America Harmon’s blood runs passionately through my veins. It is an honor to be
Midwife and grandmother Sharon K. Evans with new baby granddaughter,
Angela. Sharon’s son Nathan, the proud father, is in the background.