Dear Friends, Midwives, Friends of Midwives,
and with my special greetings, all Hungarians in the world,

I’m Andrea Noll, student midwife and member of the Board of the Hungarian Association of Midwives, and I’m writing to you to tell you about my unconventional quest.
Birth and midwifery are usually topics that people don’t pay much attention to, unless they are in their childbearing year or they are birth professionals themselves. Few are aware of the fact that birth is the very first impact of life’s reality on a person and as such, it’s probably the most deeply imprinting moment of life. Being at the same time a rite of passage for the birthing woman into motherhood, it may affect her (and her children’s) entire parenting experience and the way she preceives herself as a woman. Thus, it is no exaggeration to say „the quality of birth is the quality of life”.
During the last two decades, great efforts have been made throughout the world to improve the quality of maternity services. Modern midwifery, as the compassionate, holistic way of assisting childbirth has been reborn in most developed countries.
At a conference, once I heard a fitting comparision about the general pattern of the evolution of midwifery: It can be pictured with a circle-shaped diagram; one descending side of the circle represents the developing countries, where traditional midwifery from the ancient times is still in place; then, with increasing industrialization, birth is more and more medicalized and midwifery is on the decline, to the point, past the bottom of the circle, where people once again become more conscious of nature, their environment and their need for natural healing arts. Then, midwifery starts thriving again in its modern form, using both ancient natural remedies and modern medical tools, based on scientific evidence.

Right now, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Danemark are on the top of this imaginary diagram, with their highly professional midwives, excellent maternity care, remarkably low perinatal mortality rates, as well as complete freedom of choice for the individual regarding where and with whom they wish to give birth.

At the bottom of the circle, people have no choice. Their ancient traditional midwives are no longer in practice, birth has ultimately moved into hospitals and modern midwifery has not yet made its breakthrough, midwives are reduced to obstetric nurses assisting doctors, there is no continuity of care, no alternative remedies are allowed in perinatal care and birthing women have little or no say in what kind of care they are receiving. Oftentimes they can’t even decline unnecessary obstetrical interventions (for example routine episiotomies, shaves or enemas) performed on them.

Well, my country, Hungary is one of the few places in the world unfortunate enough to be at the very pit of this diagram. Out-of-hospital maternity care is illegal, the only independent midwife who has been in practice during the last 13 years (for a population of ten million people!) is constantly being harassed, prosecuted and threatened by the medical and legal authorities. Families who would wish to give birth at home or in a freestanding birth center are forced to give up their plans or  break the law and lie about it. Women who give birth in hospitals are usually forced to accept every decision their obstetrician is making; the principles of informed consent and client confidentiality are abused on a daily basis.

As another hardship, maybe as the last curse of the former communist system that had tried to make every aspect of life uniform, we are facing the fact that it’s extremely difficult to convince the authorities of the possibility of the co-existence of several different options (alternatives), without the need of declaring one or the other as The Right Way for everyone. As of today, in Hungary it is impossible to give individualized perinatal care, because there is one single centrally determined obstetrical protocol that everyone has to follow, from the largest hospital in the capital city to the smallest rural maternity ward, regardless of the circumstances (or the price women who don’t „fit in the box” have to pay).

Finally, about two and a half years ago, a handful of devoted people has decided to try the impossible: to change these circumstances, including the law, against all these odds. We got organized, founding the Hungarian Association of Midwives, raised public resistance and literally cried for help at an international midwifery conference in 2001. The global midwifery community did its amazing best to come to our aid. Based largely on volunteer work of many people from all over the world, we held our first midwifery conference in 2003, and also managed to organize a consensus-seeking roundtable for the legalization of independent midwifery, involving international professionals, local chief obstetricians and a representative of the Ministry of Health. All of this has produced slow but steady progress, the authorities are getting increasingly mollified towards us, we have achieved considerable publicity and now we are planning our next conference, together with what we hope will be the „breakthrough round” of the roundtable in October 2004.

Meanwhile, it became clear that we cannot revive midwifery in our country with only one senior independent midwife and not even with three or four (some members of the movement have gone through nurse-midwifery training during the last few years). Also, most of the new trainees have little experience in out-of-hospital care, because all of them have been hospital-trained and lack holistic skills yet. It is said that „you tend to practice the way you are taught”. Thus, we realized we needed to rethink midwifery training as well.

Slowly, we are getting used to the idea: „if it doesn’t exist, you have to create it”, be it the new law, or a whole new system of midwifery education. So we laid down the foundations of a new training- and research institute called the National Institute of Midwifery Education. We have invited several experienced, wise international professionals to form an assembly of advisors, the Senate, to guide us in our efforts. All of them have accepted our invitation, including Elizabeth Davis, Ina May Gaskin, Michel Odent, Jan Tritten, Marsden Wagner, Betty-Anne Daviss, Ken Johnson, Marina Alzugaray, Robbie Davis-Floyd, Sara Wickham and others, most of whom are among the world’s most respected professionals in the midwifery field. We will be forever thankful for their devoted support.

On the other hand, it is also true that a country cannot be built on foreign influence alone, so we realized that we needed more people within Hungary who are well enough trained in modern independent midwifery to outface the opression.

I myself had never thought that in the end, I will be the „youngest daughter” of the tales who had to go on this quest, but after trial and error, I ended up being called to it. Currently, I’m in the United States, studying midwifery at what I believe is one of the world’s best midwifery schools, Maternidad La Luz in El Paso, Texas. If I succeed, I will be the first midwife in Hungarian history who has acquired modern professional training in an out-of-hospital setting. Then, God willing, I can go home and continue writing that history together with my colleagues, since with no preexisting system and a new law in-the-making, we have quite a few blank pages!

The learning program I have chosen (or rather, the one that chose me) sets an incredible pace: 24 hours of clinical practice every third day in a freestanding birth center, adding up to what would be normally required in a 3-year program, within just one year. We are acquiring a wealth of knowledge day by day, while our physical endurance is challenged to the extreme. It’s one of the greatest challenges of my life, even more so since I have my two children, 5 and 3 years old, with me, missing their Daddy, who had to be left behind to help make our living.

Now, when I’m writing these words, I have already completed the first Quarter of the program (moreover, I can report with some pride, I wrote the best end-quarter test in my class), and I’m busy trying to get through the second by the end of September. However, some new circumstances are beginning to put my undertaking in serious jeopardy.

Compared to Hungarian conditions, the amount of money we need to survive in the US is the equivalent of approximately four average Hungarian’s wages. The united efforts of my family and the Hungarian Association of Midwives has been provided me with about three fourths of this money so far, and some savings have helped me with the rest. But by now, my savings have come to complete depletion and on top of it, my mate’s employer is visibly heading towards bankrupcy, leaving us with a very severe financial crisis. I have come to realize that I will not be able to complete the remaining 9 months without more financial support.

I know that in today’s economically instable times it’s almost impossible to get any large-scale funding for any non-profit project, not to mention an individual, lone, desperate Don Quijote-quest such as mine. Thus, following my country’s „tradition” of late, I have decided to try the impossible once again. I have set my mind to the task of organizing 100 private individuals who would support this project with 5 US dollars every month for 9 months (which is, by a nice coincidence, exactly the time of a pregnancy!). This would make it possible for me to stay and complete the program. This would make it possible for me to go home afterwards and help make some long-term changes for the better in Hungarian families’ lives. This would help my country to „carry the pregnancy to term” and birth its first out-of-hospital trained midwife.

My plan is bold, but not unprecedented. In 2001, when our only midwife’s license was suspended for half a year because of practicing homebirth, together with that of a genuinely talented and gentle pediatrician, Gyorgy Buki, whose „crime” was doing newborn exams on infants born at home, several hundred of the families whom these two professionals served, got organized in what they called the „Birth Fund” and kept them from complete financial devastation by raising a scholarship for them, 5 dollars at a time. They survived and keep working under the motto: „we are changing the world little one by little one”...

My journey so far has been exciting, hard and rewarding at the same time. I have always felt strongly motivated to constantly acquire new knowledge and spiritual growth, but now I’m also feeling the thrilling and sometimes overwhelming responsibility for my country every step of the way. So as to share my experiences with the world, I’m writing a journal with lots of pictures and birth stories and I plan to present this to my supporters in return for their trust in me.
Some of the pictures can already be seen online on my website (www.nandu.hu), with parts of the journal that is currently written in Hungarian only, but its translation is among my most important plans. I’m also writing some short updates in English (see below).

If your situation allows you to help me accomplish my mission, please do so. I believe that sometimes the impossible becomes possible if we try it very hard. And hard we have been trying to make a change in our country, with more and more visible results. All has started to happen at once during the last two and a half years. We are so close.

You can help with any or all of the following things:

·        Write or e-mail me if you feel called to be among the 100 people pulling me through the next 9 months.

·        Send a donation through PayPal or to the mailing address or bank account number below.

·        Forward this letter to all of your acquaintance who could possibly be supportive towards this project, especially to midwives or families who gave birth with midwives, or to people of Hungarian origin. If you do so, please write a personal recommendation for them so that they know it’s not junk mail.

·        If you are a midwife and/or have any midwifery-related books or supplies to donate, I would appreciate those as well. From the books, I plan to form a small library that I would keep open to other interested colleagues in Hungary. Donations of instruments would help supply my midwifery bag and that of newly trained colleagues in the future. Here is a list of books/equipment I need the most.

·        Please let me know in what form you would like me to write your name on the supporters’ list that’s to be published on my website and every other major written text related to my journey, or if you wish to remain anonymous. 

Thank you for listening to me. Sincerely,


                                                                                    Andrea Noll

El Paso, the 22th of July, 2004.

Paypal:
go to www.paypal.com and send your donation to the account nandu@nandu.hu

Bank account for wire transfer:  
MKB Bank,
Váci u.38., 1056 Budapest, Hungary, Swift code: MKKB HU HB
Account
#: 10300002-51100588-11104010

Checks:
mail to: Andrea Noll,
Vadrozsa u. 3., Leanyfalu H-2016, HUNGARY

Or buy a gift certificate at Amazon.com
for the account nandu@nandu.hu for midwifery literature!

www.nandu.hu
nandu@nandu.hu

UPDATES

NEWEST Update 12/1/2005
Here is a new page with pictures from the births we attended since my homecoming: http://holdudvar.babahaz.hu/Babamesek/Babamesek.htm
If you haven't read The story of my homecoming yet, it might be worth a try, too (see short description below).

Update 10/12/2005
Finally! The story of my homecoming, my first birth as a midwife on Hungarian soil, and the starting of our small midwifery Circle is translated into English. At the same time, it is the last chapter of my journal book on my apprentice year in El Paso. I'll keep translating the earlier chapters so that the book can be published in English soon after the Hungarian version. Enjoy!

Donors:
Jan Perrone
, California - Thank you, Jan, for your ongoing tremendous help! You are an angel!
György Haas
, Hungary
anonymous nurse-midwives
, Hungary

Update 03/22/05

Donor:
Ande Pena

As of today, I can report with joy and some pride, that since my last update, I have passed the North American Registry of Midwives' (NARM) written exam with an honorable 86%, as well as Maternidad La Luz' final exam with a first-of-class 90%, worked my last shift Saturday the 19th, caught my 50th baby the same day and finally, GRADUATED midwifery school on the 21th of March 2005.

First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who helped me get this far. My achievment is theirs as well. I'm in awe of all the love, sisterhood and support I received from all imaginable parts of the world. It gave me the deepest understanding of the truth: "Peace on Earth begins with birth." - such amazing people, such selfless devotion. Many countries, colors, shapes and sizes - one heart, one calling. THANK YOU ALL.

It is true for any kind of graduation that the ending of one learning process is just the beginning of another, and this is especially true for midwifery. After 130 times 24 hours of labor (and countless more hours of studying), I'm finally born as a midwife. But now, I need to go and serve the women of my country, and in order to do so honorably, there's much more work to do.

Hungary's law about midwifery hasn't changed yet. Nor has the situation in hospitals, nor about the freedom of choice. Things are stirring slowly, but we have yet to make our breakthrough.

Thus, we need more help. I need funds for my journey home. We need books. We need midwifery equipment. We need you to get going. Please keep helping us!

As to my current financial situation:
My tuition is PAID IN FULL (yeeah!), and I'm currently not in debt, thanks for the following people:
Chuck Sholes - USA - this amazing man not only sent funds for support, but spent hours on Ebay, bidding for midwifery equipment for me! Isn't that awesome? Thank you so much!!!
Jan Perrone -
this incredible woman of a midwife just keeps rallying people to raise funds for me and sending some more herself - amazing!
Bobbie Avery,
USA, GA
"A supporter in Brazil"
Anonymous
supporter from the UK
Katrina Florence
- USA
Anita, Russ and Baby Analuise Ridhama
- USA, CA- Thank you for the envelope addressed to "Andrea Midwife Noll"! It warmed my heart!
Emily Jassu
- USA IN
"Christina"
- USA MN
Rowan Fairgrove
- USA
Bronwyn Warner
- Australia
Zoltan Szobi
- Hungary
I still don't have the funds for March's bills ($140) and need another$170 to cover for the repair expenses of an unexpected car breakdown. And the tough part is that the cheapest flights I can find back to Hungary cost around $1500 for the three of us and I don't know how on Earth I'm going to be able to come up with that... What about 100 people with $15 each? Please...?

 
Hand-blessing ceremony on graduation

Update 01/24/05
According to the little countdown on my computer, there is 1 month, 28 days and 4 hours to my graduation, not counting the time I'm going to spend writing homework and my final paper afterwards. I have applied for the NARM written test, which is held nationwide on the 16th of February. We have started the last Quarter, with some more classes and my first on-call clients, so it's harder than ever now. Sleep deprivation has become the usual state of existence. I'm exhausted beyond telling, but finally, I see the end of the road that's actually the beginning of my "grown-up" life as a midwife. I have caught 41 babies so far and I'm becoming quite confident in my midwifery skills. A few weeks ago, I was also called upon the first time by a Hungarian lady to be her midwife in her planned homebirth that's due the 8th of July. Thus, so it seems, I have my first Hungarian client already!

The fact that I have made it so far, is due to the following people:
first of all, to Jan Perrone, this wonderful person of a midwife, who by herself has raised all the funds to pay for our December bills. Thank you!!!
Other contributions came from
Bianca Brooks
Sara Wilcox
Ildikó Nagy
Emily Dorman
György Haas

As to our financial situation:
Almost no funds have come in during the month of January, so what I was trying to avoid all along, has happened: I went into debt by 300 USD. Also, I had to borrow money for the NARM exam (750 USD). The 250 USD that's missing from my tuition fee is still not paid off. It is still true that 100 people with $5-10 each could pay off a great deal of this debt and more, so PLEASE HELP!!! I need you to get all the way through!

Update 11/6/04
First, about the current situation of funds: I can gratefully report that our October bills got payed, thanks to the generosity of the following people:
Rachel Ottley,
Sara Wilcox,
Jayne Maartensz,
Renae Head,
György Haas
a friend in Rockaway Beach, Missouri,
as well as my dear Mom and my gentle and loving Dad who is a retired teacher and struggling himself, bless his heart.
THANK YOU all for your sacrifice!

As to funds still needed:
The $250 for the tuition is still pending.
I have started saving for my NARM exam, which is planned for February and will cost $750. I have $300 so far, most of it sent by my Dad.
(NARM = North American Registry of Midwives; the exam is the comprehensive final exam that gives one the qualification of
Certified Professional Midwife or CPM.)
I also need money for my November bills, coming in towards the end of the month. They will sum up to cca. $180.
It would also be nice to be able to buy some small presents for my children for Christmas…
PLEASE continue helping me, because I couldn’t have made it this far without you and can’t go on without your continued support.

As to my studies and the situation of Hungarian midwifery:
I’m progressing well in my midwifery skills. As of today, I have caught 31 babies and I’ll start serving my first on-call clients these days. There are 5 months of clinical practice left (that’s the toughest part because of the 24-hour shifts), and of course, a lot of homework besides.
     My country had a wonderful midwifery conference the 26-28. of October. The international advisory board called the Senate, (made up of the Best of the Best in the midwifery field from all around the world), had its first formal meeting to the great inspiration of everyone present. Most of the feedback I heard so far was that the foreign professionals had a very pleasant time in Hungary and my own crew is full of new energy and inspiration to proceed with things that got started in these days. Because I couldn’t attend the events myself, I was worried like a mama hen behind the fence, with my “chicks” running loose, but everything worked out just fine, hats off to the people who pulled the load for me, too. Everyone did an awesome job, thank you!!!
     On the personal note: my love, Zoltan, father to my children, came over for a 10-day visit at the end of October, which was also very… oh, I can’t even tell how wonderful it was after 8 months. I had my week of holiday from school during this time and we went traveling around some and also had some well-deserved time to rest.

 Update 10/10/2004:
Our situation is getting really desperate now. I have a $60 childcare bill coming on the 20th and another 250 is missing from my tuition fees and I have no idea where to get that money from within 10 days. :o( PLEASE HELP
!!!

Update 9/18/2004:
My end-of-quarter exam came out best-of-class again! Yeeah! :o)

Update 9/10/2004:
As of today, I’m still hanging in here! Not quite out of the financial crisis: October is nearing and I don’t have sufficient funds for those bills yet,
but I can proudly report that I have made it through the last two months, thanks to the help of the following people:
Kriszta Liesting-Bognar (The Netherlands)
Carolynn Prior
(Canada),
Hope Nesmith (Australia),
Claudia Scholtz (USA),
György Haas (Hungary),
Ilona Mohacsi (Hungary)
I will be forever grateful for their support!
It’s exam time, so please keep your fingers crossed for me and keep sending those sweet e-mails of friendship and support with the donations: they are truly life-saving!