In memory of Marsden Wagner

MarsdenWagner“The first time I met Mardy he was on a stage.

Microphone in hand, he was explaining to several hundred people why he thought it was that doctors had come to fear childbirth in general and birthing women in particular.

The reason, as I went on to hear him explain many times over the next couple of decades, was that women who are birthing under their own steam are immensely powerful. According to Mardy, the predominantly male obstetricians were terrified of this power, and thus sought to do whatever they could to subdue, contain and control it.

This section of his talks never failed to have the desired effect amongst midwives and birthworkers, and Mardy was an amazing speaker who captivated audiences both through what he was saying and by the ways in which he said it. He always took time to research the local issues and politics ahead of going to speak anywhere, which meant he was brilliantly prepared and consistently able to get to the nub of the issues.

Moreover, while many of us used our days off from speaking in foreign climes to explore the local area or sit by the pool, Mardy was generally missing in action because he had, of his own volition and usually at his own expense, arranged to meet with those who were standing in the way of local midwifery autonomy, birth choice, or both.

I learned a lot from working with Mardy; about birth, about speaking, about politics, and about the importance of knowing when to speak out and when to use more subtle approaches. More than once, when we were in committee meetings together, he used the fact that I was sewing or knitting while I listened to gently draw people’s attention to the knowledge and skill that was held in midwives’ hands and the importance of respecting these midwifery skills.

Marsden had such respect for women and midwives. He was an amazing champion, an original, an amazingly passionate and insightful man, an incredible orator and a wise friend and mentor to many. He will be so missed, but always remembered for the incredible work he did for women, babies, midwives and birthworkers everywhere.”


Wickham S (2014) In: Various (2014). In memory of Marsden Wagner: a friend to midwives. 1930-2014.  Midwifery Today 110-30-35.

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