The more a midwife speaks to a mother and spends quality time with her, the more likely a mother is to open up and reveal more of her daily routines and habits that can affect her pregnancy and birth.  For example, the midwife will ask a mother the most basic yet critical questions like what is she eating and follow up with nutritional counseling, a topic in which the midwife owns expertise. She’ll ask her what is occurring in her life today, yesterday, expecting for tomorrow. A mother’s every day peace and stress contributes to her body’s sense of well-being and reaching the point where mother and her body believe it is time now to give birth safely and securely.

The psychology of labor is addressed during the med school L&D rotation by incorporating finding other resources for emotional and mental support.  Subsequently we have a number of practitioners in all fields lacking in bedside manner today, but in birth this aspect has an impact intangible to the practitioner but very real to the mother and her family.  The average obstetrical course of education includes fewer than three credit hours in understanding nutrition.  The focus on prenatal nutrition is only a small portion of the syllabus (do your homework choosing a careprovider!).  The home birth midwife also follows the mother into the immediate postpartum and continues home visits to see how mother and baby function as a unit.

It is the midwife who is better versed in delivering babies in various but normal birth situations.  A breech baby can be birthed safer in the hands of a midwife than a hospital attendant.  She has not let her skills fall behind because medico-legal liability has dictated a breech birth to be enough of a risk as to deem a cesarean to be the required course of action; therefore, she continues to hone both her observational and palpating skills.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), America’s leading organization promoting the benefits of clinical obstetrics in the sterile rooms of trained physicians, has found itself in a dilemma.  The technology and protocols ACOG promotes are the very ones that directly influence our birth statistics negatively.  The birth technology ACOG promotes to prevent or lower risks in birth for both mothers and their babies has not been proven to be beneficial, yet it is used profusely.  Birth in America rarely includes the intimacy of the act that culminated in procreation.  Images of an infant gently caught into its own mother’s arms are so rare that they cause the general public to question the safety of such an event. Debate for and against the licensing of midwifery – and the definition of midwifery itself – is gaining momentum, because statistics for hands off care of normal, natural childbirth are far better than those of managed birth.

In fact, Rebecca Watson of the New Mexico Department of Health has stated, “I sometimes wonder why [we bother compiling statistics on midwives], since their statistics are so much better than everyone else’s.”

While home birth is stereotyped as dangerous because of the lack of medical supervision, it is the lack of that technology and medicine that actually makes birth at home safer than birth in a hospital under today’s protocols.

Studies have shown that once a technology is introduced and mandated, it is difficult to remove it from care practice despite being proven unsafe or unnecessary.  For instance, although the rates involving an episiotomy (cutting the perineum to create a larger opening for the baby to pass through) have dropped drastically since 1980, it is still a common practice.  Ironically, episiotomy rates today are justified as integral to the higher use of vacuum-assisted deliveries or unfounded fears that a baby is stuck because it is a large baby or presenting in a less than optimal position, (posteriors, for example, where a baby faces away from the mother’s back during labor).

America is one of the few nations where birth is managed more with technology than with the hands and eyes of the care provider, but other countries will soon catch up. In a country that boasts technology superior to other developed nations and is not known for undernourishing its citizens, our mothers and babies are faring no better at birth than underdeveloped nations such as Croatia. No improvements have been made in the maternal mortality rate in America since 1982, and  America’s infant mortality rate in the past two decades also has not improved. Our birth technology has increased and the number of routine prenatal screening tests have multiplied since the early 1960s, but our maternal and fetal outcomes have gone progressively backward.

“Despite a significant improvement in the U.S. maternal mortality ratio since the early 1900s, it still represents a substantial and frustrating burden, particularly given the fact that – essentially – no progress has been made in most U.S. states since 1982. Additionally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that most cases are probably preventable.” states C.T. Lang in a 2008 obstetrics and gynecology report.  Further, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported in 1983 that the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. was 8.0 for every 100,000 live births (Monthly Vital Statistics Report).  In 1993, the rate was 12.0/100,000 live births (CDC).

Among the causal deaths that could be prevented were those that involve both underlying health issues such as poor nutrition and high blood pressure (World Health Organization) as well as those that are physician-caused including infection and hemorrhage.  Bacterium can be introduced first by the mother arriving in an environment where diseases are being treated as well as from infiltrating the natural barriers we have against infection through vaginal exams and, of course, surgical delivery. In addition, there are higher incidences of hemorrhage from forced delivery of the placenta as when a care provider intentionally pulls on an umbilical cord to tear the placenta away from the uterine wall of the mother’s womb. In all instances, normal birth evidence training of the professional birth attendant is critical.

Injuries and deaths related to the physician’s care range from the off-label use of medicine such as Cytotec (also known as Misoprostol) for the inducing of labor as well as the sanctified use of surgical delivery, which gives us embolism, one of the leading causes of maternal mortality and a risk directly associated with cesareans.  Cesarean rates for delivery rose by 46 percent from 1995 to 2006.

Women around the world, the time to look again at the image of women birthing with women versus a medical obstetrical group in normal birth is now. WE can improve global maternal and newborn birth outcomes and experiences. WE know birth. WE know women’s hopes and fears.  A new generation of birth wisdom and experiences is here!

Wishing you a truly happy Mother’s Day secure in the knowledge of your body’s innate wisdom!

Learn more about the wisdom of utilizing your best resource: an Independent Childbirth member led birth education class like Dorene Vaughn’s All Natural Baby!

Visit our comments section (this post) to find some of the most awesome birth wisdom posts our readers have found on the web and to add the ones you’ve found!

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ACOG State Legislative Update Year In Review (August 2007)” begins by noting “troubling trends” in state legislation and sets the tone for the bias of this opinion from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).  There are four trends ACOG finds troubling: right to home birth bills are on the rise, more midwives not recognized by medical associations are being licensed by states, midwives appear to have a public advantage and finally that ACOG considers itself on the defensive today.

The facts ACOG provides are clear and succinct in their first two cases, but are opinion laden in the latter.  More home birth bills are being introduced and those that have been in debate for years now are finally passing.  For example, Virginia recently passed legislation protecting women’s rights to birth at home and in 2007 Missouri granted midwives licensure.  It is also true that states are granting Certified Practicing Midwife (CPM) licensure, hands-on training including non-medical skills.  This is not the same training model as the medical path for midwifery recognized by ACOG and the American College of Nurse Midwives.  ACOG does not debate the safety of home birth but rather goes into examining why midwifery and home birth are gaining groundswell support.

 ACOG tells us that midwives have learned how to “work” the legislative system and are now using the same tactics ACOG has used themselves: lobbying and propaganda.  Midwives have been so successful that they have garnered endorsement from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for a model to license Certified Practicing Midwives.  ALEC’s endorsement is powerful because it is conservative in nature and therefore, an endorsement renders the CPM licensure model credibility.  ACOG’s illogical stand is, without medical training, midwives are an unsafe choice.

However, ACOG pointedly leaves out the basis for recognizing midwifery: it is not the practice of medicine.  This is critical to understanding the process by which midwifery is recognized and can be protected as a viable option for birth care.  Connecticut is undergoing the struggle to create a definitive line on the issue of whether or not midwifery is practicing medicine.  Almost ten years ago midwife Donna Vedam found herself on trial for practicing medicine.  The courts determined she was, in fact, practicing midwifery and midwifery is not medicine.  Then in 2006 the state’s Medical Examining Board (MEB) found another case to try, midwives who made the right decision, transferring a mother whose birth was not an emergency but should have the medical care her evolving situation might call for available.  The educated decision these midwives, Joan Mershon and Mary Ellen Albini, made in transferring the mother is argued by the MEB as practicing medicine.  There is an irony as midwives finding themselves hounded for providing midwifery care are also persecuted for transferring the mother into appropriate medical care.  The outcome of the birth was a fine healthy baby and mother.  Both mother and father refuse to testify against the midwives.

 ACOG states that midwives have the public advantage of winning support through the use of the buzz words “safety” and “choice.”  Their case – that this advantage is an unfair one – is not fact based.  They argue that home birth is safe in the Netherlands only because everyone lives near a hospital.  There is no evidence in that statement at all.  It only implies that home birth is safe only when it takes place near a hospital.  Their statement is not a case and it is clear they cannot even make the effort to understand what home birth care is.  It is evident that they fear what they do not understand, what is different.  

Further, ACOG also argues that comparisons of home birth and hospital birth cannot be compared because the studies are not scientifically rigorous.  This also ignores the basis for home birth care: birth occurs naturally and organic without active management.  Therefore as each mother-baby pair is unique, they cannot be controlled.

ACOG’s final cited troubling trends is, interestingly, presented last.  It should have been first as it clearly state’s the article’s bias: ACOG is on the defensive.  ACOG is clearly feeling not only outmaneuvered, but also recognizing that they placed themselves in this position.  For example, it is ACOG who made it difficult for hospitals to provide care for women who want birth vaginally after having had a surgical delivery (cesarean) also known as a VBAC (Wagner).  Yet, their position in this paper is that women are seeking out alternatives, home birth with midwives, since their care providers cannot provide VBAC as a birth care option.

ACOG closes the article stating that their position is that legislative support for midwives is not won on merit but rather a sympathetic public and press.  Additionally, ACOG says, it finds itself in a situation where showing up in large numbers when they can give testimony makes them appear to be engaging in a “turf battle” rather than a credible alliance.  This is the plea that they make to find or create alliances with other organizations.  Make no mistake, this is not a light objective to note as some pediatric and newborn service providers have jumped onto ACOG’s wagon.  

This written public statement is clearly an opinion piece reporting facts that are driving ACOG to explore options for defeating midwifery and home birth as a legally protected option for women.  It fails to cite any merits for this position and in fact the “uninformed public” they lament could also be the informed reader’s lament for the uninformed public may not understand that denying American women access to home birth is a clear violation of every American citizen’s right to privacy and right to choose what care or actions are taken upon their bodies.

What did 2008 bring us at Independent Childbirth?  Many, many, natural, spontaneous unmedicated labor and birth over an intact perineum taking places in homes, birth centers and a few hospitals under the expert care and guidance of independent midwives and enlightened midwifery/ob practices.

The cause of rising malpractice insurance for obstetricians is NOT that birth is risky. It’s that the medical model for birth care, also known as managed birth, is dangerous. We are not a nation of women and babies who need saving from labor. According to ACOG’s greatest supporter, Dr. Amy’s latest responses on who deserves to decide who is licensed to be a midwife in America, she considers anything less than a medical model midwife ~ highly managed by an obstetrician ~ a “second class” of midwife.

Let’s consider this: the average American believes primitive homes with dirt floors are unsanitary places to give birth, a clean source of water is vital for our health for consumption and bathing, a nation ought to have good farmland for producing healthy foods organic or otherwise, a nation ought to have cutting edge physician care options and everyone has the right to a free public education to the high school level.

If we are a nation of women for whom the majority live in clean homes with clean drinking water, are able to purchase nutritious foods and supplement with container gardening if not a full garden, are educated to a high school level minimum then why does America’s infant mortality rate rank only 0.19% better than Croatia? The American government is spending millions on health care and technology aimed at the minority and lower income population to close the disparity in maternal outcomes. American health insurance companies spend millions reimbursing for ultrasounds, screenings and diagnostic tests for genetic counseling and detecting babies with anomalies while they are in utero.

Setting aside some of the possible causes for the disparities in the IMR (i.e. nations that allow for abortion, nations which use a different cut-off date for considering a death to fall under the Infant Mortality category, etc.) we still have what it takes to rank higher as a nation of healthy mothers and infants. If our government truly wishes to rest on its laurels for providing what our citizens need for whole, physical health then, yes, our country is poised for what Dr. Amy considers a “second class of midwives.”

Our country should be strong and proud to say we are a nation of healthy, low risk mothers and we have earned the right to be the first to recognize that non-intervention trained women may serve these mothers, and these non-intervention trained women are intelligent and can recognize through simple measures how to recognize the mother who must be transferred over to a next level of clinical care. That level of care can be the CNM who is the expert in navigating the halls of medical protocol and hospital policies in addition to the CNM having the board certification to enact ‘medicine.’ The next level after that should be the medical specialist who also has surgical skills.

Our front line for our nation of healthy women preparing to give birth should be the midwife who is the expert in normal birth as well as the expert regarding her community and its affect on the mothers seeking her birth expertise. She can be the dialogue bridge between the medical experts who are willing and available to provide specialized services and the woman who truly needs them.

When choosing [representatives] for your committee, please include midwives who still do 70% of the births in the world and are experts not only at ‘normal’ birth but at keeping infants normal around the birthing process. ~ MacDorman and Singh, 1998

Were it not for the 1% of women in America who continue to choose homebirth with normal birth experts, the public would never have access to experiencing normal birth and using spontaneous, vaginal birth over an intact perineum as the gold standard for which to measure all birth policy.

I sometimes wonder why [we bother compiling statistics on midwives], since their statistics are so much better than everyone else’s. ~ Rebecca Watson, New Mexico Department of Health