Midwifery in America
“She was scared. She looked like a scared animal…there was fear in her eyes. It was the saddest thing. No woman should feel like an animal when she is giving birth. That is a human right,” said Sydney Logan, a student midwife at the Florida School of Traditional Midwifery in Gainesville, Florida.
This was the gut-wrenching reaction Logan had after attending her first birth at a hospital in Gainesville. The woman in labor was a black mother.
“Something in school they talk to us about is [that] black babies are dying four times the rate of white babies in the hospital,” said Logan. “This is an epidemic and this is happening. And that night on that twelve-hour rotation, I saw it. I saw why these babies are dying, why these moms are dying. It took me a really long time to come to terms with exactly what it was when I saw this mom come in.”
Logan had witnessed a staggering amount of discrimination towards this black mother in the hospital she was temporarily working at for the night. Something she had never observed in her line of work before. She is required to attend 80 individual births before she graduates. This means Logan has to shadow nurses and doctors in the delivery room or at the mother’s home to gain experience before she can be certified as a midwife in the state of Florida.
According to the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA), there are 21 states in America where practicing midwifery is either illegal or alegal. Alegal is something that is not written in the law. Therefore, it doesn’t protect the midwife or the consumer/mother.
Over time, the public’s understanding of childbirth has become medicalized, meaning birthing practices have drifted further away from traditional methods using midwives in the home and into the hospital where it is now treated as a medical emergency.
“We want people to question their health care providers,” said Logan. “There’s a lot of skepticism behind [midwifery] and that’s OK, because there’s a new wave coming and this one is evidence-based care and all-inclusive care. So we’re excited to talk about it and to be questioned about it.”
Midwifery has had many challenges throughout its existence. These challenges are parallel to the hurdles women have had to jump over to maintain equality around the world.
According to MANA, “Midwives [have] safely and effectively attended the vast majority of births in the United States until the 1930s when the place of birth was moved from home to the hospital, and midwives were replaced with physician birth attendants. The Unites Sates is unique in the developed world in criminalizing the practice of midwifery rather than fostering collaboration between midwives and physicians, and successfully integrating midwifery into the prevailing maternity care model.”
Goiy Burnett is a St. Augustine resident and mother of two. For her first childbirth, she hired a midwife to deliver her baby.
“I was raised primarily by my stepmom who grew up in the Philippines, so I spent a lot of time over there growing up. I was very fortunate to be able to be present for several births during our visits,” said Burnett. “These women had no electricity, no running water, many didn’t even have actual flooring in their homes. Just mats laid on dirt floors. They would lay out a bamboo mat, call for the village midwife and labor, often silently, with their family at home. It was awesome. I figured if they could do it, so could I!”
As for her second pregnancy, she was too high of a risk to remain under the care of a midwife. This means that her health was outside the boundaries of what a midwife is trained to handle during a pregnancy/child birth. This resulted in Burnett going to a hospital to deliver her second child.
“Having just had a traditional prenatal experience with our second [child], I can 100 percent recommend the midwife experience to anyone whose health will allow it and is interested in having a natural birth. Every appointment was like visiting a long-time friend in their home for lunch. It wasn’t the in and out ‘see you in four weeks’ experience you get with an [obstetrician],” said Burnett. “Being a new mom with a newborn in a hospital is uncomfortable at best. For the large majority of women, giving birth is a very natural process that their bodies are perfectly capable of achieving. Birth doesn’t need to be treated as a medical emergency most of the time. Really with the right support system and mindset, I think virtually anyone capable of a vaginal delivery could have an un-medicated birth.”
Historically, midwifery was the only method of delivering babies around the world for centuries. Commonly taking place in the mother’s home, midwives devote all of their time and energy to be the single source of information, check-ups, screenings and anything related to the health of the mother and unborn child.
“In Europe, it became illegal because priests were taking over and saying that midwives were dancing with the devil and that we were practicing witchcraft,” said Logan. “This was also happening in the U.S. during the Salem witch trials. A lot of those witches were actually midwives [who] were finding things like turmeric, [a natural herb that is anti-inflammatory,] and creating things that cause change. There were health benefits coming from an educated woman [and] that scared a lot of people.”
Andrea Bryk lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia and is a mother of two. She chose to have both of her children at Virginia Beach General Hospital. She had a close friend who hemorrhaged for 6 hours after she gave birth and would have died if she were not in a hospital.
“I wanted to be near a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) incase there was an unforeseen problem with the baby,” Bryk said.
She raved of her time in the hospital and didn’t want to leave after she gave birth.
“The hospital is not for everyone and that’s OK. And if it is for you, then that’s OK. But midwives and families who want a midwife to attend their birth [should] have the equal right, just as if someone would want to have their baby in a hospital and we support that 100 percent,” Logan said.
Movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp allow the spotlight to shift to female-dominated industries, such as midwifery, that are far behind in laws and regulation. With a rise in women speaking out of inequality and rallying behind each other to create change around the world, a reflection in governmental policies will soon follow.
If babies are to continue being born in the United States, midwives will continue to persevere and defend a women’s right to choose her method of delivering her baby.