**This was originally published on Thursday, June 16, 2011, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**
When someone tells me something I can’t do, I am sometimes tempted to spout off that familiar line many of us have used before: “Free country, ain’t it?!” (And yes, you have to use improper grammar to give it that defiant tone.)
Well, there were days back in 2011 that I wanted to shout out that defiant line.
You see, one of my heroes had been arrested. She wasn’t dealing drugs. She wasn’t driving while impaired or embezzling money. In fact, she’s one of the most God-fearing people I know.
Her crime? She had been compassionately and skillfully helping women in North Carolina have their babies at home. She had been by their side to support them, give them excellent medical attention, help them have their babies in an environment that was the only setting used for thousands of years—their own home.
“What’s so wrong with that?” you may ask. “Grandma had all of her kids at home.” Yes, your grandparents (and maybe some of my older readers!) probably delivered their babies in the comfort of their own beds. Thank God we still live in a free enough country that women are allowed to have their babies anywhere they like without fear of prosecution.
But North Carolina has a dilemma. Homebirth is legal, but having a midwife (one who operates independently without physician supervision) on hand to assist is illegal—not for the mother but for the midwife. Had my midwife friend been assisting with a homebirth in Virginia, it would have been legal for her. Such midwifery is also legal in Tennessee and South Carolina (our other bordering states). Yet North Carolina legislators have thus far refused to legalize this practice which is legal in 28 other states.
Let me clarify that Certified Nurse Midwives are allowed to attend homebirths in North Carolina IF they have a medical doctor willing to act as backup (sometimes a tough thing to find), but Certified Professional Midwives—who are also highly trained and usually very experienced—are not allowed to deliver babies at home.
I just don’t get it.
Before you jump on the bandwagon of saying all births need to be in the hospital for the safety of the mother and the child, I suggest you study the statistical evidence for midwifery in the U.S. Then get back to me.
When I am deciding on an issue, I study the statistical evidence, but I also like to talk to those who have been there, done that. Personal testimony is valid and crucial. So when it comes to the issue of having babies at home, let’s find someone who has been on both sides of the fence.
Hmmm, whom can we find? Oh. Okay. ME.
Yep, I’m coming out of the closet. I have had three children in the hospital and two at home in the very bed my parents bought for me when I was five years old.
Am I against hospital births? Absolutely not. I had some great experiences at the hospital—terrific nurses, a doctor I absolutely adored and relatively good care. I even loved the hospital food. So I’m not against hospital births.
I am, however, for the freedom to choose my birth experience.
As I alluded to earlier, I could pick up roots and move a few miles up the road to Stuart, VA, and have that freedom. But since 1983, homebirth midwifery by CPM’s has been illegal in North Carolina.
I chose my midwife as my pregnancy/delivery/postpartum healthcare provider in 1997. She was a Certified Professional Midwife with extensive education in the field she had felt called to enter. Her experience was massive, her resume impressive.
I heard glowing reports of her skills, although I am sure there were some patients who had bad experiences with her. Lest we think such negative occurrences are limited to midwifery, let us remember that malpractice suits against hospitals and OB-GYNs are big business these days. Nobody who assists with the birth of a baby is going to be immune from what sometimes happens in this fallen world—occasional tragedy—OR what we all face as fallible humans—someone who doesn’t like us or what we do.
But I had nothing but the best experiences with my midwife. She was there in my bedroom when sweet Abigail was born in 1998, and she made it in the nick of time when Malachi made an abrupt appearance in 2004. However, it was not just the actual delivery in which she specialized.
I got prenatal care such as I never got from a standard physician’s practice. Month after month, I made trip after trip to her office where she examined me extensively each time—carefully monitoring my uterine growth, blood pressure, sugar, protein and all of the other factors that must be considered in pregnancy. When she questioned the placement of the placenta, she even sent me for a sonogram.
She made a home visit several weeks before my due date to examine the birth setting and make sure everything was in order, such as me having a birth kit readily available. When labor began, she was Johnny-on-the-spot and never left my side.
As much as I loved my OB-GYN, I labored alone for the majority of my time with my first three children. The doctor came in a time or two for a brief check before finally staying as long as necessary when the nurses said I was ready for delivery. I totally understand that in a hospital, nurses and doctors have many other patients and cannot be attached to a pregnant woman’s side. I am not complaining. But that is one of the perks of midwifery—a steady, comforting presence that is constant, which tends to make for a less stressful delivery.
Had I been a high-risk case, my midwife would have been sensible and recommended that I deliver in a hospital. Midwifes are not stupid. They do not want babies or mothers to die. In the rare case of an unforeseen complication during labor, the midwife will call for medical transport to a hospital. Statistics prove that the typical midwife’s baby/mother loss record is lower than, or comparable to, that of the average OB-GYN.
Legislation has been introduced in Raleigh several times to legalize midwifery, but thus far, no cigar. The 2011 arrest of my midwife prompted friends of midwifery—including some OB-GYNs, thank God—to speak up once again in favor of this ageless method of birthing babies.
At the time of the 2011 arrest, I empathized with my midwife’s patients who were on the verge of delivery. My Abigail—expected on March 29, 1998—was already four days overdue when my midwife was arrested on April 2 of that year. My panic was not something a pregnant woman needs to experience. Thankfully, my midwife was released on April 4, in time for Abigail’s birth two days later.
Abigail is 18 now, and little Malachi recently turned 12. As I taught him about midwifery today, he was astounded to learn that general midwifery is illegal in our state when so many other states have legalized it and are seeing great success with it. He looked down at a picture of the beautiful and caring midwife who helped me give birth to him and then at a picture of me holding him in my bed just minutes after his birth. When he looked up at me after that, his eyes were full of fiery determination.
“Mom,” he said very solemnly, “when I grow up, if midwifery is still illegal here, I WILL take it to court and change the law.” I pray things turn around before then, but if not, I do not put it past my amazing son to find a way to successfully reverse this unfair law.
I worry that physicians who oppose legalizing midwifery are primarily looking at their personal financial picture or feeling that nasty spirit of control which can overtake any of us in any profession. If they argue that it is a case of safety, I will gladly put the statistics for OB-GYN practices and midwives side-by-side and say, “Case closed.”
My first child born in a hospital suffered respiratory distress and complications, due to negligence on the part of the OB-GYN (not my regular one who was on vacation), which resulted in long hospitalization and unnecessary expenditures. My second child—hospital-born—very nearly went through the same traumatic experience. My third child—again, birthed in a hospital—would have had a surgery performed on him accidentally had I not caught the error.
My point is that bad things can happen no matter where you give birth. I do not understand these women I have read about who knowingly chose homebirth, and then when something went wrong for them, blamed the midwife and began lobbying against homebirths. Should I lobby against all hospital births and say all OB-GYN’s should not deliver babies just because things went wrong with my hospital births? How ludicrous.
Since Eve, women on the old paths have been bearing their babies in the comforts of their own homes. Yes, there were losses, but midwifery healthcare has improved by leaps and bounds since those times. Why not let women have the birth experience that they choose—whether it be in a hospital or at home with a dedicated midwife by their side?
Free country, ain’t it?
Or is it?
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