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The art and instinct of a midwife-homeopath

After 8000 births, this midwife has mountains of experience

An interview with M.J. Hanafin, RN, CNM, NP, DHom

Nancy Gahles had the pleasure of interviewing M.J. Hanafin at the NCH
Annual Conference in Portland last April.

M.J. Hanafin is a woman whose petiteness in stature belies the ineffable dynamism
of her spirit—which shines in the twinkle of her eyes. Her enthusiasm is
as big as the great outdoors and, in fact, that is where her heart lies. She
tells me that she has two professions: outdoor adventure educator and midwife.
     Born in British India, M.J. lived there for seven
years before moving to Malaysia. She studied nursing in London and received a
Master's Degree in Midwifery. In addition to having delivered more than 8000
babies, she has been a Sea Ranger and a Girl Guide, and has led treks to Nepal,
Bhutan, and other faraway lands. She received a diploma from the Dynamis School
of Advanced Homeopathy in London and is Past-President of the Pacific Academy
of Homeopathy in San Francisco. Last year, M.J. retired from the clinical practice
of midwifery in order to teach and practice more homeopathy. Her course, Homeopathy & Midwifery,
was enthusiastically received at the NCH Conference in Portland, Oregon, in April,
and at the NCH Summer School in Baltimore, Maryland, in June.

Nancy Gahles: What did you want to be when you grew up?
M.J. Hanafin: I knew I wanted to be a doctor ever since I was three years
old. But at convent school in the early 1960s, the nuns told me I wasn't clever
enough to be a doctor, that I should be a nurse. So I decided I would go to the
best nursing school in London. In those days, there was a rule that nurses needed
to be at least 5' 2" tall—in order to make the beds! So I wore my highest
heels and tallest beehive hairdo, but still got turned down at school after school
because I wasn't tall enough. But I was determined and one school finally let
me in.

N.G.: Who was your inspiration?
M.J.H.: My mother, my father, and my grandmother. I come from a matriarchy.
Whatever we wanted to do there was always power, inspiration, and support.

N.G.: How did you get into midwifery?
M.J.H.: After finishing nursing school, I decided to get a masters in
nursing. The one-year program allowed us to specialize in either psychology or
midwifery, and I chose midwifery. We had to do 120 births. I found that I loved
the babies and teaching the moms how to care for their new little ones. Even
so, I really wanted to be a surgical nurse. Then one of my teachers told me, "You'd
be crazy not to be a midwife—you've got the gift."

N.G.: When did you begin using homeopathy?
M.J.H.: My great-uncle was a homeopath, and as young as I can remember,
he treated us. When I was a teenager, he offered to get me into a homeopathic
school, but I said, "No, I want to go to 'real' medical school."
     Then in the early 1970s while doing a birth in
Colorado in which there was heavy bleeding, another midwife handed me some little
white pills. I gave them to the mother, and they worked. Ah, yes—homeopathy!
[It was the homeopathic remedy, Phosphorus.] As time went on, I learned more "homeopathic
specifics" from other midwives, such as Caulophyllum for slow, difficult labors.
     Once while working in the Pennsylvania Amish community
in the early 1980s, I was called to assist a woman in labor with her fifth baby.
Her previous labors had all been very rapid—but this time she had labored
for five hours and her cervix was only five centimeters dilated. I gave her Caulophyllum
and her contractions speeded up ... but then stopped. This kept happening—I
would give the Caulophyllum and it seemed to help, but not for long. Then I noticed
that every so often, the woman would jump up, saying, "I just have a little job
to do in the kitchen." When she'd return, the contractions would slow down. "What
are you doing in the kitchen?" I finally asked. "Are you canning or something?" "No,
I'm just having a little tincture to help my labor along," she replied. I went
to the kitchen to see this "tincture"—it was 49% alcohol! In the old days,
we used alcohol to slow down labor! I had her stop taking that tincture, and
her contractions progressed. Thirty minutes later, she had the kind of delivery
that makes you wish for a fish-net—in order to catch the baby as it comes
flying out!
     So I was using a few specific homeopathic remedies
and getting some good results like that. But not always. And I wondered why the
remedies sometimes didn't work, because with allopathic drugs like pitocin [to
induce labor], you could be pretty sure there would be some effect. I decided
to enroll in homeopathic school to find out, and I never looked back. I was hooked
on homeopathy the first morning of class.

N.G.: Can you give some examples of how you've used homeopathy at births?
M.J.H.: A doctor asked me to sew up a very nasty tear in her patient's
perineum after the baby had been delivered. There was a lot of blood from the
tear, and the skin was very broken down with poor tone. Every time I put the
needle through the skin it didn't just bleed—it squirted blood like a fountain.
With all that blood, I couldn't see where to sew, and the skin didn't look like
it would hold the stitches well either. I glanced up at the head of the bed and,
by some good fortune, saw homeopath Gina Inez there consulting with the patient.
I asked her if she had any Crotalus horridus in her kit, a remedy that can be
useful when blood won't clot. The moment the remedy hit the woman's tongue, the
blood on her perineum dried up and I could see where I needed to sew. I couldn't
believe the remedy had made this dramatic change so quickly—I thought maybe
the blood had finally just begun to clot on its own. So we poked at the wound
as a test—and it still didn't bleed! Homeopathy had really worked!
     I've seen Crotalus horridus save lives a number
of times. In one case, a woman pregnant with twins had developed severe pre-eclampsia:
her kidney function was decreasing, blood pressure was rising, and blood platelets
were falling. She wasn't responding to allopathic medications. The doctor wanted
to do a C-section to rescue the babies, but the mother would have severely hemorrhaged
because of her low platelet count. The doctor asked me if there was anything
I could do; they couldn't wait longer than an hour or two to do the C-section,
for fear the patient would go into D.I.C. (disseminated intravascular coagulopathy),
a life-threatening situation where the blood won't clot at all and there is severe
hemorrhage from within and without (something like what happens in ebola). I
had never met the patient but was allowed to see her for a few minutes. I had
one shot—I knew that Crotalus horridus can help when the blood stops clotting,
steadily oozing and pooling in tissues, and the skin bruises at the slightest
touch—so I gave 2 doses of Crotalus horridus 10M, 10 minutes apart. The
doctor waited an hour and a half before running another platelet count—to
her surprise, the number of platelets had more than doubled! Although still low,
this platelet count meant it was safe enough for a C-section. Not only was the
operation successful, but there was less bleeding than a normal
C-section! The doctor was extremely impressed and wanted to submit the case for
peer review.

N.G.: You've done so many births. What were some of the more unusual ones?
M.J.H.: During my first year in midwifery school, we noticed a red double-decker
bus careening toward the maternity unit. When it got close, we could see all
the wide-eyed faces looking toward us … Uh-oh! A woman upstairs in the
back seat was having twins. I had to get her down the skinny, spiral staircase
large enough for one person. I helped her deliver her second child right there
on the bus platform.
     On my annual treks to Nepal and Bhutan (which lasted
anywhere from one to six months), people of the area would find out I was a midwife
and ask for help. I carried Pulsatilla, Sepia, and Caulophyllum with me (in addition
to a regular homeopathic first-aid kit). Pulsatilla has worked to flip breech
or transverse babies. Sepia has helped for failure to progress and has turned
babies (when the typical Sepia emotional symptoms were present). Caulophyllum
has helped with failure to progress in labor or if the baby is unstable and flipping
from side to side.

M.J. Hanafin (center) with Karen, Bradon, and baby Georgia Duisenberg,
born August 17, 2003.

N.G.: What is the continuing inspiration for your work?
M.J.H.: I'm passionate about a woman and her baby's rights to get the
correct care. The birth process can be made easier when midwives are taught the
art of midwifery. Midwives are being taught the mechanics of midwifery but not
the art. The art is dying and I want to make sure it carries on.
     Art can be taught to a certain degree. What you
have to teach them is an instinct. I teach and encourage midwives to be brave,
to follow that instinct. Using humor and common sense, I teach them not to fear
birth. Common sense comes first. There's usually a simple solution. Nothing's
that complicated. If you poke at something, it will get complicated.
     Observation is a key element of homeopathy and
the art of midwifery. Wait and watch and be in tune with your instincts, and
go with them. Listen to your intuition. It will keep you safe. When you pray,
you are wishing for something. When you meditate, you are listening for the answer.

N.G.: Why aren't midwives being taught the art anymore?
M.J.H.: The politics of working in midwifery in obstetrics today is distressing.
Ninety percent is politics; ten percent is delivery. Politics controls your delivery.
The art of midwifery doesn't really go well with modern medical obstetrical protocols.
You may know that the woman can safely deliver this breech baby, but the hospital
may not allow it. The more we try to go along with them and "be good" in the
obstetrical setting, the more we have to suppress our instincts because there
is not space for both. It's an exhausting, constant battle.
     When you are practicing the art of midwifery, you
are in touch with the birth process on a deeper level. Sometimes my instinct
will tell me there is something wrong with the patient, even though I can't find
anything specific to tell the doctors. It may not be visible yet on a medical
level; then, boom, three hours later, the uterus ruptures and we just about save
the mother and baby. I began to get a reputation with the hospital staff as a "witch." They'd
say, "If M.J. is worried about a patient, you know that something must be wrong!"

N.G.: What is your best advice for pregnant women?
M.J.H.: Trust in yourself. Don't give your power away—to the midwife
or the obstetrician.

N.G.: What has been your greatest challenge in life?
M.J.H.: To express myself on exams and on paper as intelligently as I
do in spoken language. I always wondered why I had to prove to people that I
was as clever as I knew I was. I was 50 years of age when I was tested and found
to be dyslexic. It was a spiritual experience when I found the dyslexic program
and got retrained in reading, writing, computers, and math. It changed my life.

N.G.: What was a defining moment for you?
M.J.H.: When my mother observed me doing a birth. She noticed that I was
totally changed, a different person than she knew. I was in the moment and one
with the process. "If you had been around for my births, I would have come to
you," she said. You know you are following your path, your purpose, when you're
not hungry or thirsty or in pain but totally fulfilled. It was affirming for
me—my mother observing many years later what my teacher in midwifery school
had told me. It completed the circle.

M.J. Hanafin leading a trek in the mountains.

N.G.: How do you nurture yourself?
M.J.H.: Outdoors. I go to the mountains. Be with other midwives. Not in "complaining" places.
And laughter. I like the children's book characters Arthur, Harry Potter, D.W.,
and Angelina Ballerina. You need to be able to play. You have to keep
the child in you alive or else you will die.

N.G.: Tell me more about your love of the mountains.
M.J.H.: I have no fear of being in the mountains. In good weather or in
bad, I know how to look after myself. Once, on a trek in the Himalayas, the sun
came out and shone on a valley. I was taken with the sudden beauty: the colors
of the flowers, the whites and blues of Gentians and Edelweiss, and the yaks
crossing. It was so beautiful it made me cry. I knew I was in the right place.
There was a feeling of peace and joy.
     In Bhutan I wrote my will. We were stranded at
16,000 feet in a snowstorm. For ten days, we had little food and water. I wrote, "I'm
fine. Sorry I didn't get to say good-bye to you. Don't be sad. Know that I died
in the place I wanted to be."
     Mountains are my home. Mountains and birthing are
the same. Before I climb a mountain, I ask permission to pass. At births, I ask
a force greater than myself to use me as an instrument—trusting to let
go to that invisible force that can give the healing, the cure. It always makes
me humble when I feel it go through my hands at a birth.

N.G.: When you pass your practice on, what advice will you give your successor?
M.J.H.: Courage!

N.G.: I would like you to leave us with a quote. An "M.J. quote."
M.J.H.: Keep it simple. Don't forget to laugh. Especially at yourself.

About the author:
Nancy Gahles, DC, CCH, RSHom(NA), is a chiropractor who has been in practice
for 23 years. She is a Certified Classical Homeopath with offices in Manhattan
and Belle Harbor, NY. Dr. Gahles is the Director of Health and Harmony Wellness
Education, providing consultations and workshops on Complementary and Integrative
Medicine. She is a health and science columnist for The Wave, Rockaway's
newspaper. She may be reached at