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Meet Julia Bower Wheat

by Erika Thuesen

As a young girl in California, Julia Bower poured through her family’s National Geographic magazines and dreamed of traveling to exotic places. Intent on a career furthering public health in developing countries, Julia pursued degrees in nursing and Latin American studies in places like Stanford, UT Austin and Johns Hopkins, garnering kudos along the way. In the course of her nurse training, she happened to assist a midwife and fell in love with the hands-on, one-on-one aspect of helping women give birth. “If you love birth,” smiles Julia, “there’s not anything that can substitute.”

Since then, Julia has assisted in more than 750 births, first as a labor and delivery nurse, then as a certified nurse midwife. “It's fun to help each woman find her journey,” says Julia. She describes a family who shared the birth of the fourth sibling, all together in a Jacuzzi. “The mother had birthed each of the other children in a hospital, and sensing that this was to be her last child, she wanted to make it a family affair. The thirteen-year-old daughter and ten- and six-year-old sons each played a role in welcoming their new sister, and were excited and thrilled by the experience. “They didn’t even apply the word ‘gross’ once to what they witnessed,” Julia remembers.

Julia points out that that sense of normalcy and magic is what’s so often missing in our culture’s mainstream birth experience. “Fear can make the pain unbearable,” says Julia. “Home birth normalizes the event. The woman can walk around, shower, do dishes, whatever feels comfortable during labor, rather than lie on a bed attached to monitors and focusing on every twinge.” That said, she’s quick to point out that no midwife will ever hesitate to get a woman to the hospital if needed. "This view of birth as a healthy, uncomplicated part of a woman’s life can be found the world over, from rural Mexico to urban Europe. Its chiefly in North America that we take a hospital stay - an arrangement that started out as a way to more conveniently train doctors - as a matter of course."

In what she calls the great irony of her life, Julia’s own two sons were born in hospitals. “I start contracting too early and can’t stop.” Micah, now an active kindergartner, and Nicholas, a cheerful toddler, were both born too early for the home births their mom envisioned. In fact, Nicholas came into the world three months early, born during a winter holiday trip to visit family in California. By the time he was healthy enough to leave the hospital and head home, it was May.

After several years as a sought-after Austin midwife, Julia is taking a break from midwifery to focus on her own family. “Its just so different with two sons,” she says, her eyes following wee Nicholas as he explores the familiar terrain of the family living room. She grins at his triumphs and scoops him up when he stumbles. The warmly hued, terra cotta room reflects Julia's admitted passion for Latin culture and offers a nod to the exotic travel now shelved to remain local and raise her sons. Photos of her boys, as well as Micah’s artwork, mingle with artfully placed teapots and plants. She reminisces about the three years she taught kindergarten in Mexico, and muses that perhaps she’d like to practice midwifery in San Miguel de Allende one day. Ever practical, she points out that her boys could learn Spanish, but the spark in her eye at the prospect of travel and adventure recalls her early dreams of seeing the world.

In a recent afternoon conversation, Julia shared her thoughts on birthing and life with AustinMama.

Who inspired you growing up, and why?  

My parents. They were very encouraging and supportive, though it took them a long time to understand why I wanted to be a midwife rather than an OB

You are face to face with your ten-year-old self. You have one thing to say to her about her future, what do you say?

Follow your interests and loves. There are so many people who live their lives being goal oriented, and not enjoying the process. Live in the present and enjoy what you’re doing right now; it will lead to something meaningful.

What is the biggest challenge you see mothers faced with today?

Balancing it all without going totally insane. A lot of women are exhausted, losing themselves in the deal. So many of us live without extended family close by, and a lot of the self-nurturing is gone. Its important to have a support network of friends.

What do you see as your biggest challenge in being the kind of person you want to be?

I’d like to be more centered and grounded, less overwhelmed. I feel like I need a spiritual foundation that I haven’t had up to now. I’d like to be able to surrender the need for control, to do what I can and let go, feeling at peace with it.

What makes you most happy about what you give back to the world?

I’m really happy if I can help a woman birth well and find her power. I went into midwifery as a feminist: I love when I can work with a woman and she really gets that sense of power and surrender.

What makes you most happy about the way you parent?

I’ve got great kids. They’re fun, easy going, very curious, sweet, sensitive. We’re trying to raise boys who can be emotionally articulate.

How do you balance motherhood and art?

The art is the intuitive side of midwifery, the intuitive part of mothering. That is really important. I try to encourage it in the mothers I work with.

Which two notable people would you like to see handcuffed to each other for a day?

George Bush and a strong, intelligent woman, like Maya Angelou.

What do you wish you could automatically grant, like a fairy godmother, to mothers during trying times?

Self respect.

Thanks Julia!

The Countess Galleria / Sarah Higdon




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