SPOTLIGHT ON THE PRACTITIONER:
CERTIFIED PROFESSIONAL MIDWIFE SHELLY GIRARD
by Cordelia S. Hanna-Cheruiyot, MPH, CHES, ICCE, CLE, CBA
“We aren’t going to change the birth experience for the majority of women in this culture until we can start to view childbirth from a more wholistic perspective.”
- Shelly Girard, Midwife
Her path is that of a Yogi, her mission to honor and revere, to the best of her ability, the physical, mental and spiritual power of women, and to serve God by doing so.Shelly Girard has been a midwife since 1972. It wasn’t an occupation that she pursued; it just evolved over time. “I really wanted to be Mother Theresa”, Shelly says, “But the job was taken” she says. Of course, Shelly has all the qualities necessary to be a great midwife: vigilance, integrity, excellent judgment, a highly-evolved intuition, a scientific mind, the ability to listen to women’s needs, excellent skills, and most importantly, chutzpah.
Maybe it is “in her blood”: her father was a doctor–an orthodontist, facial surgeon and nutritionist– who attended medical school at Harvard, Columbia and Johns Hopkins University.
Shelly was one of five daughters who grew up in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. In 1971, she graduated from Tufts University in Boston where she was a pre-med student, majoring in Biology and Psychology. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology. She married Jay Patt in 1971, and became pregnant with their first child soon after when she was 21 years old.
Influenced by her older sister who had natural childbirth in the sixties, her grandmother “who had eight homebirths with no complications,” and her mother, “who had six hospital births, and developed complications with every one of them”.Shelly decided that she was not going to have her baby in a hospital
So, Shelly set out to find resources for home delivery. Eventually, she got the name of a woman who had had a homebirth and called her up. She referred Shelly to Boston Association for Childbirth Education (BACE) and she took classes with them; they were very enthusiastic since she was their first home-birther.
The homebirth mother let Shelly know what supplies were needed and gave her a Mexican midwifery manual–in Spanish. The only other book available on natural childbirth was Thank You, Dr. Lamaze. Books on the subject of homebirth or midwifery were then non-existent. Spiritual Midwifery byIna May Gaskin and The Farm Midwives hadn’t been written yet, as the hippies who were to become the community of The Farm were caravaning in their painted school buses and birthing on-the-road at this same time. “Midwives were non-existent in New England at this time” Shelly says. There were a few “granny midwives” working in the South, but they were not accessible to most people planning home births in The North.
So, Shelly set out to find a doctor who would help her give birth at home and found three doctors who would help her: a M.D. (who specialized in nutrition) did her prenatal care, a psychiatrist helped her at the birth , and a third doctor agreed to be her hospital back up. Her birth was five hours long and the baby boy, who she named Chesed, was healthy. “This experience changed my life” Shelly says.
Shelly became involved with The Cambridge Women’s Health Collective (authors of the landmark feminist health care book, Our Bodies, Ourselves). Then, in January of 1973, Shelly responded to an ad placed by Tonya Brooks (who would become a midwife also) to formulate an organization that would provide information and referrals to persons wanting home births. This organization came to be called Association for Childbirth at Home, Inc. (Shelly left ACHI in 1975 to work with Homebirth, Inc.).
Friends were wanting to have their babies at home, and knowing that Shelly had hers at home, they asked her to come as a labor companion. Soon word got around that Shelly would help at births, and before long, she was being asked to catch babies. By the time she had been to ten births, she was considered by her community to be a midwife. (My, how times have changed!)
A macrobiotic doctor who did homebirth deliveries asked Shelly and several other women to be his assistants; Shelly went to births with him from 1975-1977. Through The Cambridge Women’s Health Collective, Shelly learned from doctors, nurses and other women many skills: suturing, blood drawing, urinalysis, pap smears, vaginal exams.
She also studied with Irridologist Bernard Jensen and learned about herbology from John Christopher, “the father of herbal medicine.” She took seminars with childbirth educator/anthropologist Shiela Kitzinger and gentle birth advocate, the French obstetrician Fredrick LeBoyer, M.D., author of Birth Reborn.
Shelly also worked at The New England College of Acupuncture from 1976-1977 where her husband was a student. She and other midwives were backed up by obstetrician and homebirth father Dr. Leo Sorger, M.D.
In 1977, Shelly, her husband Jay and son Chesed, now five, moved to Los Angeles County so that Jay could attend chiropractic school. Their second child was born at home in Altadena that same year, and this time Shelly, with help of her husband, delivered their son Shawn.
Shelly learned about chiropractic while her husband was in school and she also took college courses in anatomy and physiology, chemistry and pathology.
Shelly is also a Certified Massage Therapist from The Institute of Psycho-Structural Balancing. Being a massage therapist allowed her a flexible schedule when she had to attend births.
Since 1971, Shelly has been a member of Self Realization Fellowship and has studied the teachings of Parmahansa Yogananda and practiced daily meditation and a vegetarian diet for four decades.
“the medical profession does not acknowledge the mind/body connection and they do not treat the whole being: the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual”. In 1996, Shelly became one of the first direct-entry midwives in the state of California to obtain a license to practice her vocation. She is a Licensed Midwife, regulated by the California Medical Board. She was also among the first midwives in the US to become nationally accredited by The North American Registry of Midwives as a Certified Professional Midwife.
Shelly’s midwifery practice has gotten busier and busier over the years as word caught on of how awesome a midwife she is. In 2002, she started a partnership with Seannie Gibson, LM, CPM who was her apprentice and became licensed in 2002.
During her many decades of practice, having brought in over 4,500 babies, Shelly has apprenticed several students in her practice who are now midwives in their own right or maternal health specialists.
“We aren’t going to change the birth experience for the majority of women in this culture until we can start to view it from a more wholistic perspective,” Shelly says.
Shelly Girard can be reached at 323-221-2299 or by e-mail at: ShellyG@socalbirth.com