Birth of a midwife
Path to life-changing career has been slow and steady
BY RACHEL CUCCURULLO
When Cynda Kelley was growing up, she clearly remembers taking part in the delivery of baby animals on the her family’s 36-acre farm in Cordova, Maryland.
“I was born and raised on the Eastern Shore of Maryland,” she said. “It’s a huge agricultural state and a lot of people don’t know that.”
Kelley’s mother had just an eighth-grade education, but managed to become a physician’s assistant. Both parents worked hard to care for a son and four daughters, Kelley being the youngest.
Following graduation, she married her high school sweetheart and headed south to Tennessee, where she and her husband spent 15 years raising two sons and two daughters.
“At that time, we lived near Summertown, Tennessee, which was where The Farm was located,” Kelley said. “I didn’t know anything about it back then, but The Farm has a midwifery center started by Ina May Gaskin.”
Gaskin is well-known among midwives as one of the catalysts who helped revive midwifery practices in the United States. And The Farm is a community of families and friends founded in 1971 on the principles of nonviolence and respect for the Earth.
“I had a friend ask me to be with her and two midwives from The Farm during her home birth and I thought, ‘Are you crazy, you’re going to have your baby at home?’ “ Kelley recalled. “I was so freaked out. I didn’t know anything about home birth back then.
“I thought, wow, this person wants me to be by their side during this time,” Kelley said. “I was so honored to be asked.”
Kelley attended the home birth of her friend’s baby and was struck by the scene of the two midwives standing at the edge of the bed looking so peaceful and smiling at the woman in labor.
As time went on, friends or a friend’s partner would request her to be with them during their deliveries. She did not know it then, but these experiences were what helped shape her views on birth and pointed her toward being a midwife.
“Believe it or not, I worked as either a bartender or server for many years before this,” Kelley said with a smile. “I worked crazy hours and did what I could to make ends meet for my family.”
Kelley had her first child, a boy who weighed 10 pounds, 11 ounces, when she was 19 years old. She had not given a thought of being a midwife in her 20s, but as time passed and she attended more births, all roads led to her becoming a licensed midwife.
In 2005, Kelley and her family moved to Stuart to help friends start a church. A few years later, Kelley met Tammy Dieffenbach at Revive Church.
Dieffenbach is a licensed midwife and owner of Abundant Life Birth Center in Stuart, which was established in 2013. Dieffenbach, who was still nursing her newborn daughter, asked Kelley if she would go to births with her to help care for her daughter.
“So, I started going to births with Tammy and learned to wear her daughter in a baby carrier so she could assist these women in labor,” Kelley said. “Then, I remember she started asking me to hand her things here and there. I, of course, was happy to do it.”
Kelley clearly remembered going to the car after a baby was born, sitting down and beginning to cry.
“Tammy asked me what I was crying for and I said, ‘This is who I want to be,’ ” Kelley said. “I remember thinking, ‘This is it; this is who I’m supposed to be.’
“I was a bartender and single mom. I didn’t have near enough money to pay for the tuition, so I started doing whatever I could to earn extra money; banquet gigs, face-painting at events, babysitting, cleaning houses,” Kelley said. “I did whatever I had to … and I prayed on it. Hard.”
Kelley lived in a small, 2-bedroom apartment with her youngest son and would host a college prayer group for about 25 people. One day, a young woman about 24 to 25 years old approached Kelley after a prayer session and handed her $2,500, saying, “I want to invest in you, Cynda.”
“I was completely floored,” she said. “She said she felt that I had invested in her all along, whether it was by meals, being there for her, praying over her. Now she wanted to invest in me.”
The next semester, her church family handed her a check to assist with the rest of her tuition, saying they wanted to invest in her. Community members hosted events to raise funds, such as a cut-a-thon at a local salon. A local doctor heard about her and sent a check because he said he believed in the work of midwives.
“I can’t even tell you how unbelievable it is to have the support of friends and family so that I could do what I know I was meant to do,” Kelley said.
One of the more special things that has kept Kelley going is her job’s many facets. She is part lactation consultant, prenatal and postpartum midwife and a doula. She has experience with in-home, hospital and birth-center births and is medically trained to help women deliver their babies.
“Birth is so healing and it reminds me that we are not broken,” Kelley said. “Watching a woman in labor die to herself and be reborn as a mother is my favorite thing. Watching it all connect for a dad; he’s felt this baby, he’s watched her grow, but now he is holding his baby in his arms for the first time. It’s so powerful.”
Kelley, who has been a practicing, licensed midwife for five years, works at Abundant Life Birth Center and has attended more than 500 births. The birthing center is located in Stuart and has helped mothers from along the Treasure Coast deliver their babies. The staff has assisted with home births in Martin, St. Lucie and Palm Beach counties.
“Every birth is so unique, but one of the most special things about being a midwife is creating friendships that last a lifetime,” Kelley said. “I love watching people become parents and a family’s love grow tenfold. It never gets old.”