Let Be the Midwives

The New York Times looks at the prosecution of midwives in Indiana, where only doctors and nurses can legally assist births. I believe the same may hold true in Maryland, where we used a licensed midwife-nurse for our daughter’s birth.

Midwifery certainly predates any law governing the practice or the modern-day practice of hospital deliveries. This doctor-hospital thing is a fairly recent practice, while midwives have been birthing babies for millennia. 

My wife and I chose a midwife for several reasons, with natural birth topping the list. At the time of my daughter’s birth, Maryland had the highest caesarian rate in the country—one-third of births! The New York Times quotes Mary Helen Ayres, an Indiana midwife who broke the law by assisting births: “The medical model assumes the woman is passive and her body needs to be acted upon. Every birth is presented as a potential disaster from which every woman needs to be protected and potentially rescued”.

She’s right. At least in Maryland, there’s an assumption a woman will need a caesarian. In the hospital, women aren’t allowed to eat; they suck on ice cubes. If a woman eats, and there is a caesarian, anesthesia can cause vomiting, leading to possible asphyxiation and death. Of course, if labor is prolonged, a woman may fail to deliver because of exhaustion—after all, she’s not getting food—and so require the caesarian. My wife sipped juice, which helped replenish her strength during labor.

More: Women lay on their backs during labor, so that a baby monitor can track the baby’s vitals. The approach’s first benefit is to the hospital, not the mother. The on-back position is uncomfortable and negates the advantages of gravity, where the baby can descend. Using our experience as example, the midwife personally checks the baby’s vitals every few minutes, something a nurse wouldn’t likely do in the typical short-staffed hospital.

I expected my liberally minded mom to accept our choice of midwife over doctor and hospital and my old-fashioned grandmother to squawk. But not so. Mom questioned the midwife choice, while my grandmother embraced the idea. Her mother worked as a midwife, and my grandmother was old enough to remember many babies born at home.

Photo Credit: Erling A

Editor’s Note: These comments did not transfer with the post, originally from TypePad:

AUTHOR: Joe Wilcox
DATE: 04/04/2006 07:02:35 PM

Thanks for the comments Anna and Munir. I left something important out of our story. My daughter was born 18 days past the due date. What doctor would have waited almost three weeks? Surely, labor would have been induced. The midwife made the tough call and the right one on natural childbirth.

AUTHOR: Munir Umrani
URL: http://www.thebloggingjournalist.com
DATE: 04/04/2006 03:47:30 PM

A great post on an important service rendered by countless women down through the ages. I was brought into the world in 1951 by a midwife named Maude Eanes. Over the years, that is before she died, I frequently visited her as if she were my own grandmother. She and other midwives I knew growing up were special people.

DATE: 04/04/2006 07:50:39 AM

Whoo hoo! You said it! I had three children. All three births were with no drugs. I did have them in a hospital though – that was the compromise to my husband. The first birth, though, I didn’t choose an OB very well. He wanted to schedule a c-section because he thought the baby was going to be big. SO WHAT?! He wanted to schedule a c-section because he decided I was late. Then he wanted to induce because he decided I was late. He tried to scare me by suggesting my baby would be stillborn. It was horrible. Now mind you I KNEW when I conceived because of the timing of my husband’s business trips at the time. I was NOT late! Oh, this is getting me started all over again. What I meant to say is, “YAY YOU!” Childbirth is not a medical event! Let me have my baby and get out of my way! Babies #2 and #3 were at a hospital but with a doula and a very understanding OB who did his best to not intervene medically any more than the hospital (and nurses!!) required. I would have preferred a home birth, but my husband was just too worried for that.