I don’t really know how old I was when I first heard my mother’s birth stories… I suspect I wasn’t more than 4 or 5 years old, mesmerized by the idea of giving birth. She talked with such ease (as I recall) about the support she had from her ob-gyn in Brooklyn as she birthed my older brother vaginally — an almost 9 pound double footling breech. Then I came along a couple years later, right here at the UNM Hospital, fast and furious — an Aries fire dragon, ready to go to battle. As I listened to her stories, I knew deep in my being, even as young as I was, that birth was powerful and awe-inspiring, and that someday, I would get to do it and be as strong as my mother. I took very good care of all of my baby dolls, nursing them, making sure they were clean and well-dressed. By the time I was 8 years old, I was giving birth to them too; working hard to bring them earthside and then rejoicing in my effort as the imaginary birth attendant handed my baby to me. Oh my, did I love babies!
I was 10 years old when I realized that Heathcliff Huxtable, an ob-gyn on prime-time television GOT TO DELIVER BABIES (you mean that is a JOB?!) Dream. Come. True. He had his office in the basement of his brownstone in NYC. What I truly appreciated was how kind he was to the few patients who were featured on the show, particularly Theo’s teacher who requested that he deliver her first baby. I also quickly understood that he was well-regarded in the community, and that resonated with me. At that very young age, after having given birth to my own baby dolls and had such good care by my imaginary birth attendants, I had the first “a-ha moment” of my professional career: I was going to be an obstetrician and deliver babies and have these really special relationships with the women I took care of. And although I knew the part I wanted to do, I also knew what I didn’t want to do — I didn’t want to be a surgeon. I was going to just be an OB, and the kindest one at that. I already had ideas about how my practice would be high-touch and heart-centered.
Only four years later, my sister had a homebirth attended by a midwife in California. She brought her new squishy baby to visit the family pretty soon thereafter and showed me photos of her in the tub with her sweet newborn girl, their eyes locked on each other like there was no one else in the world. That was the first time I saw that “look,” the look of true, unconditional love. Uninterrupted and fully supported. A-ha moment number two! That was it! That’s what I was going to be — a midwife. It coursed through my veins and infected every cell of my being. A calling, as they say.
Over the next few years, I learned the different paths of becoming a midwife and chose to be a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) for one reason: I didn’t want to fight quite so hard to be considered a legitimate birth provider. It was abundantly clear that midwives were not the norm when it came to who was attending birth in our country; I had heard many birth stories by this time and never, other than my sister, had I heard of a midwife-attended birth… much less an out of hospital birth. I knew, even without really knowing, that midwives would have to fight to be seen and regarded, as OBs took over birth in our country some decades ago (See “Mythbusters” article from two weeks ago).
I spent the last 5 weeks of my senior year in high school completing a senior project with a CNM who worked with one of the local hospital-based practices. I focused on teen birth, learning about teen birth rates and prenatal care, and I took their birth classes and was thrust out of my private school cocoon into a world where teen pregnancy was not so uncommon. I then got to see my first birth a few months later, a co-worker who was pregnant with her third baby and knew my passion. She had a rip-roaring labor, barely making it to triage at UNM. She birthed almost completely unattended, because no one was really paying attention. And although her birth was exhilarating, I knew that was not going to be how I did it, just a stranger barely walking in the room as the baby came. She deserved more than that from her providers. I wanted more than that with my clients.
Only a few months later, I found out I was pregnant. I had just turned 19. I contacted that same midwife that helped me with my senior project, and she cared for me and midwifed me with empathy and tenderness. She “specialed” me for my birth, staying by my side for the last few difficult hours. I remember looking into her eyes, exhausted, so hungry, and sure I was going to die, as she promised me it would be okay. She gently offered position changes and other interventions while I dropped f-bombs at an unnatural rate. She stayed right there, along with my mother, as I found the last bit of strength from my female ancestors who had done this before me and birthed my first baby boy Alexander. I immediately rejoiced as she handed me my baby. My baby.
I went back to school nine months later and was finally accepted to nursing school after my third attempt — the path that we must take to become CNMs. I graduated Cum Laude from UNM in 2000, and was the first baccalaureate student ever to be accepted directly into the nurse-midwifery program without nursing experience. While in midwifery school, all of my instructors had some experience practicing in birth centers and shared their stories of birth, family, and community. In those years of nursing and midwifery school, I worked in the mother-baby unit at a local hospital where I poured my heart into dyad care, nurturing mothers and babes as best I could; I also kept a mental inventory of all of the mothers who thought a birth center would be the perfect middle ground between home and hospital. And there it was. A-ha number three. I was going to open a birth center, a home away from home. I realized I had been gestating on this birth center since I was 10 years old. So what if Albuquerque hadn’t seen a birth center since the mid-80s and others had had the same dream that never came to fruition? Remember, I was an Aries fire dragon. And the one thing you don’t do to an Aries fire dragon is tell them they can’t do something. They will, without fail, prove you wrong.
Dar a Luz is a South American Spanish term that literally translates to “to bring to light,” meaning to give birth. The origins of Dar a Luz do not just start with me. Alisa, my original business partner and our current clinical director, moved back to NM to open the center with me. We incorporated in 2007, and developed much of our business structure, including our 501(c)(3) status, over the next couple of years. She moved on to different things for the next decade-ish, but found her way back to us in 2018. In 2010, I brought in Melanie, our previous clinical director and staff midwife of nine years who literally built and maintained so many parts of the center. Shelley (Director of Operations) was there from the very beginning as well, working diligently to help create a community birth center for all who wanted to come. Laura (Blissborn co-creator and educator) showed up at every fundraiser and came on the next year. Erica (client financial specialist), Nancy (car-seat educator/technician), and Robin (lactation consultant) trusted us with their care in the first year of business, which is maybe the most important thing of all! All of these women have been part of the origins of this center and crucial to its success. We finally opened on March 24, 2011. We opened with 5 directors on our board, 3 employees, 4 potential clients who signed up for birth, and $50,000 in the bank. As of this writing, just over 11 years later, we caught our 1,272nd birth at the center, which was the fourth for this particular family, in which I had the honor to be in attendance for all four of their births with us. We now have 22 staff members, and in 11 years, we have cared for nearly 2,400 birthing people and their families; not everyone can birth at the center, but they are just as loved and cared for by our team. Birth, family, community.
Our origin stories are long and tangled, with many paths taken that seem to be dead-ends. I have learned that every path has led and continues to lead me to this place of birth, family, and community. My family of origin was wildly supportive of me, even as a young single mama, in pursuing the passion that could not be ignored. My married chosen family, some years later and for the next third of my life was supportive as well, though it was hard on our family. I was gifted a son by marriage, Jesse, and our next son by birth in 2009, Aidan. Even in the heartache of the loss of that family through life changes, it’s all part of this tangled web of how I got here and where I am going…
My forever chosen family are the badass birth workers I work with and spend most of my days, each and every one blazing into battle with me. Together, we are fighting for and protecting low-intervention and physiologic birth outside of the hospital, guaranteeing that there is another place to safely bring babies earth-side; and advocating for our families and dyads who must transfer to the hospital and helping them navigate the very system they were hoping to avoid. We support families in every way we are able, including health choices and birth control, and showing up to witness their lives and struggles, as well as their triumphs. This chosen family is fierce. They are dedicated to making our center a leader in how to give and receive care, not just in our state, but in our country.
My origins have brought me to exactly where I need to be.
In addition to being a staff midwife, Abigail is the Executive Director and Founder of Dar a Luz Birth and Health Center. She was born and raised in Albuquerque and attended the Albuquerque Academy. Abigail went on to UNM and received both of her nursing degrees — a Bachelor’s in 2000 and Master’s with a concentration in nurse-midwifery in 2002. Her three sons give her infinite joy and ongoing strength as she continues to work on growing this incredible organization.