Jan Perrone went to her first homebirth 31 years ago. The birth took place in the home of a casual friend, and a group of mutual friends had come out to witness it. They invited Jan along. Until that birth, she had thought of being a nun, a teacher and a doctor. In college she studied to become an oceanographer. Her goal had been to find resources in the ocean that could feed the planet. She realized that day that being a midwife encompassed everything she had wanted to do with her life – blending spiritual practice, healing and education.
A number of women who witnessed the birth that day decided they wanted to pursue the study of midwifery. They convinced the male midwife who had caught that baby to return to Del Norte County weekly and teach them, if they paid his gas for the journey. They did a series of weekly study groups that summer. Jan then moved to Arcata and attended a 9-month midwifery program at the People’s School for Holistic Health and Naturopathic Medicine. At that school she also studied homeopathy, reiki and herbs.
The school was on the forefront of alternative medicine at a time when it was all quite new. Because of this, they were under close watch by the authorities. Jan recalls one time when the teacher noticed plain-clothes policemen watching them from across the street. Jan went out and confronted them in their car. She asked them, “What are you doing watching us? If you want to know what we’re doing, come in and see.” They rolled up their windows and drove away. Concerned that the school would be raided, they moved all the files to Jan’s house. She remembers at transports having to “practically throw women out of the car” at the emergency room door and race away before their license plates could be read.
Jan went on into a one-year apprenticeship with her teacher. She became office manager, teacher and clinical staff at the school. The first class she taught was pelvimetry, then Bradley childbirth preparation. As the apprentice, she would go first to the births. She says she had a natural knack for watching and knowing what was going on. It was always easy for her to figure out a woman’s dilation.
After apprenticing for one year, Jan moved up to Smith River and worked as a midwife with one of the women she had studied with. Two years after having her duaghter Jesse, she returned to Arcata. She has been attending births and teaching in Humboldt County ever since.
She credits being able to practice for so long to having the same midwifery partner for 20 years. After her partner retired, she found a wonderful midwife to work with who had been trained in Europe and had an empowering and expansive view of midwifery. Since then, she has been working with younger women, who bring a fresh perspective to practice.
Jan taught her first midwifery class in September of 1983. She expanded the series to include advanced classes in 1988. She currently teaches about 2 beginning series per year and on-going advanced classes. Jan has also trained 10 apprentices over the years. She has made sure to always have apprentices, because she believes it is critically important to be training new midwives. She strongly believes that knowledge is power. She feels that teaching is just as important as midwifery practice. This dedication shows. She is an expert at stimulating the young women of the community to think of themselves and their role in the world in new and powerful ways. She is adept at pushing people to their limits and supporting them in challenging themselves.
Always politically active, Jan became involved with CAM early in the organization’s herstory. She became the region 1 rep in 1985 and CAM chair in 1989. She was CAM certified in 1988. From very early on in her practice she joined all of her clients to CAM. She feels it very important that they know about the politics in the state, receive the CAM newsletter and stay aware of the enormous efforts it takes midwives to continue providing the care they wish to receive. The clients are our greatest support base.
Jan has also made all her students and apprentices become active in CAM. Students must be politically active in order to be considered for an apprenticeship, so all the students in the area are pushed to join and participate. By the strength of her personality alone, Jan has carried CAM region 1. The small community in Humboldt County has been the most consistently active region in recent years, with regular fundraising and public education campaigns. Jan is a shining example of the wide reaching differences one person can make, just by focusing on motivating the people around them towards change.
Jan believes strongly that there should be a midwife for every watershed. She encourages young midwives to become involved in their community on multiple levels – sitting on boards, volunteering in schools, speaking in classrooms and on the radio. In this way, we get the community around us to admire and appreciate midwives for who we are, opening up the opportunity to spread understanding of what we do. For example, Jan sat on the Board of Directors of the North Country Clinic in Arcata for 10 years. At that time, it was the only clinic in the area providing parallel care, and she felt it important that they interface with a real homebirth midwife, to normalize midwifery for them. It made a big difference in the relationship between midwives and the medical community in the area.
Jan says that whenever she is complimented on something she is doing she always brings it back to midwifery. (She thanks Elizabeth Davis for this idea.) Whatever skill is being discussed she explains how she developed it as a midwife. She explains that everything you do in your community is political: where you shop, how much garbage you generate, the words you speak. She says that her classes are the first time many students are presented with this idea that their every action has political consequences.
Jan notes that the distinguishing feature of her practice is that she goes to great lengths to allow the woman to determine the care and style of birth she wants, as long as the woman has informed choice. She has attended births far from town, and has done V-BACs since they were invented, despite medical community pressure – she believes that the woman comes first and medical compliance second.
Jan provides a powerful example for those around her of what one woman is capable of when she honors her own truth and listens to her soul. She says you cannot vibrate in love and in fear at the same time. She actively teaches young women to trust their intuitive awareness, to explore the energy they are putting out into the world and to be healers, of individuals, communities and the planet on a very deep level.
Jan received the Brazen Woman award in 2003. Now retired from midwifery (but not from teaching) after having caught over 500 babies, Jan says that she is really happy to have gotten the Brazen Woman award. She is deeply honored to be included among the incredible women who have received it in the past.
CAM celebrates the hard work and dedication of the awardee in midwifery activism. In no way should this award be construed as a determination of the midwife's skill nor as a recommendation to use her services.