Anji Church of Heart Thoughts Midwifery is large in a divinely feminine way, a fact not lost on pregnant women who choose to birth their babies with her in their homes.
Her stature lets you know that she is in charge while her soft voice almost contradicts that knowing. But her dual nature is what is perfect about Anji; soft and flowing, large and powerful. She inhabits the wise crone and the pregnant goddess, she is the earth and the sky. Her dark elephant-mother eyes assure birthing mamas with the wisdom of matriarchal ancestry, her large and sure hands take over the moment a laboring mother begins to lose faith, weaving and spinning memories, stories, blood, and yes, even faith into the moment mothers wait entire lives for. Moments captured deep in strands of DNA and embryonic fluid, moments that change girls into women, moments that mark a woman's life forever.
Thinking back on the hospital births of her four now grown boys, Anji recalls not knowing that there were choices other than birthing in a hospital. Had she known that home birth was an option, she would have made different choices.
Anji is not necessarily a staunch supporter of home birth, she is more an unwavering advocate for parental choice. She believes all options should be offered to pregnant mothers so that they can make an informed and well-rounded choice in how and where their babies are born.
Anji has been present at more than 500 births in her many years as a birth attendant, starting her career as a doula in 1998 and then as a midwife for the past eight years. Her philosophy is that welcoming babies onto the planet in a peaceful and gentle way will make a difference in who they become. She sees herself not as a "deliverer" of babies, but more of a "receiver," helping to communicate to these new precious people that, as the bumper sticker says, "Peace on Earth begins with Birth."
Anji began her career in birth as a doula, helping mothers in her home state of Connecticut to deliver their babies. Often she spent little or no time with the mothers before their labor began, usually just getting called in to help assist a laboring mother. She never really considered midwifery although she loved being present during births.
People suggested midwifery to her often, but it never seemed feasible as the stay-at-home mother of four home-schooled boys. Rather, midwifery called her to it. Anji was sponsored for an online midwifery program when she answered an online question about home schooling. The woman who'd posed the question, who unbeknownst to Anji was the owner of an online midwifery program, wrote back "You have the heart of a midwife," and sponsored Anji for the three-year program. When she finished the program she began an apprenticeship in Connecticut.
Right after her apprenticeship began though, her husband lost his job, and they relocated to this area. Anji thought her career was over but before long interviewed at the Birth Cottage in New Hampshire and trained with both a Certified Professional Midwife and a Certified Nurse Midwife, which is unusual for midwives in training.
In addition to all of her training, Anji maintains that part of what guides her and keeps births safe is a deep intuition and connection with the mother and the child during birth. She calls it the "mother energy" and hones this energy and knowledge with her extensive prenatal visits. Anji spends at least an hour with her expecting mothers during each visit, getting to know them so that she builds this very important connection. She also does home visits before the baby is born so she can get acquainted with the homes of soon to be parents.
After the baby is born, Anji does in-home postpartum visits for six weeks to make sure the new family is transitioning well and to make sure both mother and baby are healthy and happy.
Anji is also an herbalist. She believes that herbalism is what started her on what has become her life path. It began when her kids were little, finding ways to care for and treat them naturally and extended into several apprenticeships with different herbalists over the years. It is another way in which Anji honors and treats her patients, finding that "trusting the body and trusting the plants is so connected" and enjoys "observing how different bodies respond to different plants."
Anji does not base her level of care on what families can afford, but rather on what families need. Anji has delivered babies for free, recently taking a repeat client into her care even after her first birth was not covered by insurance. This mother was going to give birth in a hospital, where she knew her birth would be covered even though she would rather birth at home. Because Anji feels the "birth of a child is too sacred to have a woman birth somewhere she doesn't feel safe," she decided to attend this mother's second birth so that she could have her baby at home.
Anji also pushes her comfort zone in order to make home birth possible. One of her clients had a low platelet count. This is the sort of thing that midwives across the board stay away from because of the possibility of hemorrhaging. However, after speaking with her client about her medical history, Anji decided to do some research. After talking to the head of the local hospital laboratory, she found that this particular mother's platelet count was way above the numbers that indicate the possibility of hemorrhaging. Because she was able to know for certain that this would not affect the safety of her birth, Anji decided that home birth was still a viable option for her client, and the baby was born in her parent's bed into the safety of Anji's capable hands.
Being a home birth midwife in Vermont and New Hampshire is not an easy career. Eighty percent of Anji's mothers are on Medicaid. On one hand Medicaid does cover home birth, but on the other hand pays out less than $2,000 per birth, with many clients unable to afford the remainder of her fee. Anji knows that she would live more comfortably if she were able to make her fee of $3,500 per birth, but she rarely does. Many of her clients use the barter system and have paid in goods, with gifts such as a motorcycle, a roof, a half a pig and a shed in exchange for her services. While she has become one of the few motorcycling herbalist midwives on the planet, Anji lives very humbly.
Faith is something Anji is good at. As a mother of four, Anji and her family struggled financially for years while her boys were growing. Becoming a midwife seemed like such a far off dream that she never considered it until it was literally handed to her. And now, despite having a career that takes huge amounts of sacrifice, commitment, knowledge, and the costs of maintaining a license in both New Hampshire and Vermont in addition to the state required medical malpractice, Anji still struggles. She lives in a very modest dwelling, she drives a very used Subaru, and sometimes has to borrow gas money to get to her clients. Still her faith in a woman's right to choose keeps her going. Her complete trust that women's bodies were made to birth naturally compels her and her deep knowing that "midwifery is an extension of her being" is why she continues throughout her endeavors.
Sometimes she wonders if her work is good enough, and visiting houses of clients much nicer than hers becomes a burden on her mind. Her work, so valuable to generations of great grandmothers before us, is all but forgotten in our mainstream modern society. But ultimately Anji's faith in her work, in the plants, and in women's bodies bring her back to the place where a deep knowing resides.
In her heart thoughts, she knows she is the ancient and wise grandmother and she is carrying the torch for all who've forgotten.