Midwife-Assisted Births Double in 16 Years

June 4, 2006

I had mixed feelings about this article: According to the Associated Press, the number of women choosing midwives to deliver their babies has doubled since 1990. (Hurray!)

The article caught my eye because, I too, chose a midwife to deliver Ari, despite cautionary tales by my parents and loved ones that midwives were less qualified doctors who, in a clandestine fashion against hospitals, conducted home births.

And while this AP story did a good job explaining what private insurances cover midwife-assisted deliveries and which states mandate coverage for home births, the story’s anecdote about Heidi Teeple’s home birth generalized the experience of a midwife-assisted birth.

But choosing a midwife is about more than merely selecting a care provider or deciding between birth at a hospital or home. It represents a paradigm shift in how a woman approaches pregnancy, advocates say. Although certified nurse midwives are licensed to administer medication, they generally encourage a drug-free birth and rely primarily on natural methods of care.

At the core, it’s a rejection of the quintessential birth scene: the pregnant woman lying in a single bed, a nurse at the ready with a pain-relieving epidural shot and a hospital room full of people yelling “push!”

Actually, this pretty much sums up my own birthing experience. I had an epidural and gave birth at a hospital with my midwife and at least two other nurses yelling, “Push! You can do it, Elisa!” But here’s how my experience differed with a midwife: Like the women mentioned in the story, I too, chose a midwife because I viewed birth as a natural process and not a medical emergency. Doctors are trained in surgery and life-saving procedures, a midwife is trained in only delivering babies.

My labor was 23 hours long and Ari was lying in an angle that forced my midwife to turn him while I was having contractions. (Thus, why, after 17 hours of increasingly stronger contractions, I asked for the epidural.) I was my midwife’s only patient that Sunday. She was there for at least 11 hours with me.

I am convinced that if I had had a doctor, he or she would have had to juggle other duties, and it would have been easier to call for a c-section. A doctor — the one who did my D&C after a miscarriage — once advised me to keep my midwife for when I became pregnant again. “Doctors are good at surgery,” she explained to me.

Still, I am a fan of the medical profession because of the wonderful epidural I got from the anesthesiologist. (“I love you, doctor!” I told him while in labor.) I found the doctors rushing up and down the hospital aisles reassuring in case Ari’s heart rate dropped or something else came up that required surgery. I really felt like I had the best of both worlds.

Articles like these that paint midwives as part of homebirths or those at designated birthing centers limit women’s ability to “have it all” in labor and delivery.