Meet the Mentor: Maeve Sundstrom

Maeve Sundstrom, midwife and Birthing From Within mentor

In our ongoing Meet the Mentor series, you’ll get a chance to meet some of our amazing Birthing From Within Childbirth Educators and Doulas. You’ll learn a little bit about their Birthing From Within work – and, just for fun, get a glimpse into their personal lives and opinions! Today, let’s meet…

Maeve Sundstrom

Maeve is a midwife and BFW mentor who has a busy midwifery practice in Redwood City, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been with BFW for over ten years, and has an enormous wealth of wisdom and experience to offer! Let’s learn a little more about this inspiring birth professional…

How did you enter the birth field?

Prior to birth work, I was a Certified Massage Therapist and Certified CranioSacral Therapist, practicing for about 13 years. I taught professional trainings in Swedish, prenatal, infant and couples massage for about seven years until switching to full time birth work in 2013. I taught Pilates off and on for about five years in there too. Everything I learned about adult learning, anatomy, physiology, touch skills and the body in motion is still super relevant and useful in my work as a midwife and mentor.

I knew I wanted to be a midwife by my early 20s, but did not start working in the birth field until after my daughter was born at home in January 2008. After her birth, I started volunteering at my midwife’s office helping facilitate parent/baby groups, filing paperwork, restocking supplies – really anything I could do to be around midwives and birthing families. I worked as a birth and postpartum doula beginning in 2009, enrolled in midwifery school officially in 2012, and got licensed as a midwife in California in 2017.

How did you encounter BFW?

My first exposure to BFW was as a pregnant parent in 2007. In tandem with care from my midwives, BFW validated my need and desire to experience birth as a rite of passage and as a pivotal moment in my life, not just as a means to an end. I took my first professional training with BFW in 2009, and it has been a primary source of inspiration and a guiding light for me ever since. It is a major influence in my work as a midwife as well as my way of being in the world as a human being.

Tell us a little bit about your work now.

A special offering in my practice is Village Care™ — a unique group midwifery care model that honors and builds upon the power of community. Village Care™ combines a one-on-one checkup with me for each family with a facilitated group session, peer learning, and social time with other expectant parents. BFW practices and processes are at the center of the shared group component. We use art, self reflection, partner activities, pain coping practices, storytelling and more to help participants connect to themselves and to one another as they move toward the birth of their baby and their own transformation as parents. After birth, parents come back to share their birth stories within the supportive community they have developed. Covid has brought challenges to this model, but I have been working to find a way through.

Midwife Maeve Sundstrom with a client

Are you working on any interesting projects?

I’ve been around the birth world long enough now that I feel like I have a clear voice and I have a lot to say! I’m starting to do some writing and public speaking on birth related topics, especially midwifery and community birth (by this term I mean birth that takes place in a home or birth center). I’m planning a series of short educational videos, and I’d really love to do some longer form writing about what I think matters most in birth and midwifery.

Being a midwife during the COVID-19 pandemic is a wild ride that is challenging me to grow and change in a lot of ways. Since the beginning of the pandemic, my practice is busier than ever, and I’m needing to reimagine a lot of things about how I work and how I meet the needs of my clients and my greater community. I’m getting new opportunities for educating the public about midwifery and community birth, which is exciting. The current acute crisis in healthcare has people looking at the value of community birth in a new way. I’m hopeful that this leads to lasting change and better access to safe care outside of the hospital system for people who want it and would benefit from it.

I am planning a sabbatical from clinical practice for 2021 to recover from the intensity of midwifery in a pandemic this past year, spend time with my family, and dive into the teaching, mentoring, and creative projects that I have been incubating and gestating.

I have a passion for birth and midwifery education, and while I love mentoring and educating parents, I especially thrive when working with up-and-coming birth workers. I love working with midwifery students, doulas, and BFW mentors.

Outside of work, I’m a mother, wife, friend, daughter. I love to read and to learn about anything really. I love Pilates, mythology and storytelling, foreign languages (I’m fluent in Spanish), and I love learning more about my Irish culture, stories, history and heritage. Although I was born in the U.S., I am an Irish citizen by birth through my dad, and we lived in Ireland for a while when I was little. I just got my first Irish passport, which was really exciting and meaningful for me.

What are your favorite authors or books?

I could never choose just one favorite author or book! I recently read The Overstory by Richard Powers and it kind of blew me away. It inspired me and broke my heart all at once. It’s a novel where the human characters are all organized around trees as the connecting beings. Ever since, I chose the redwood tree as the symbol and central image of my practice, I’ve gotten really interested in learning more about how trees live and what we can learn from them. This book was a serendipitous discovery along that theme.

What are your favorite movies?

Como Agua Para Chocolate is probably my number one, with number two being Song of the Sea. Both are beautiful, lyrical, deep, poetic and magical. I think that pretty well sums up what inspires me in art, movies, and music.

Who is your favorite musician?

Glen Hansard. He’s most well known for the movie and Broadway musical Once, but he has a decades long career in music. I’ve seen him live eight times, and have travelled to New York and L.A. just for his shows. Seeing him live in Ireland is on my bucket list.

What’s something that most people don’t know about you?

A lot of people don’t realize that I’m a fluent Spanish speaker. I have always had a love of languages, and I worked hard to thoroughly learn Spanish despite not having any native speakers in my family. My daughter’s dad and all of her extended family on his side are Mexican, so Spanish has continued to be a big part of my life. I love Spanish-language music and movies.

What keeps you with BFW?

The depth of offering in BFW is unique in our world. We are surrounded by sound bytes, quick fixes, shallow promises, platitudes. For me, BFW is the antidote to all of that. Here is a community and a philosophy that dives deep into the complexity of birth and the variety of experiences had by birthing people. So many times I have witnessed visible softening of shoulders and deepening of breath in clients when I can meet them with the spaciousness and acceptance I have cultivated through my work with BFW. Those moments when people are seen and acknowledged for their lived experiences rather than squeezed into boxes of good and bad, wrong and right, are truly priceless.

I’m also really proud of and invigorated by BFWs recent rededication and commitment to addressing systemic inequity in the birth world. The birth world is a microcosm of the culture at large, especially because women, birthing people and families are at the center of it, compounding and highlighting biases and inequities in how they are cared for – or not cared for, as the case may be.

I care deeply about becoming part of the solution and actively working to dismantle systems of racism, misogyny, and oppression. I’m thrilled that BFW is serious about this work too.

Maeve Sundstrom teaching a class of professionals.

About the Birthing from Within Team

Birthing From Within is blessed to have a team of bloggers that includes childbirth educators, doulas, and birth story listeners who, in addition to being deep thinkers and skilled writers, are dedicated to the amplification of the BFW mission and philosophy. Birthing From Within is a collective creation, always evolving to reflect the new layers of understanding and unique approaches to the childbirth experience. Our goal is to change the conversation about birth in our culture, and to uphold the possibility of growth and transformation for birth professionals and birthing people.

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