The Resurgence of Midwifery

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Midwives and doulas are resurging as the preferred caregivers for pregnant moms across the world. Women are finding this experience calming, soothing and satisfying as they bring their babies into the world.

Giving birth is the most profound experience a woman will have in her lifetime. And, as all moms know, it is one we wish to have control over. Midwifery is one of the world’s oldest professions for women. It has been present across all cultures, with some of the first references in the Torah, where midwives Shifrah and Puah saved firstborn Jewish males from the Egyptian Pharaoh’s edict to kill them. Yet in the 15th and 16th centuries, midwives were burned at the stake as witches.

During the first 250 years of American colonial history, when physicians were scarce, midwives attended most births and became revered. In the 20th century, immigrants from Europe brought their midwifery tradition with them, much as midwives were brought over on slave ships from Africa.

The Big Push for Midwives is a national legislative campaign garnering attention, as women of all ages are finding this natural, caring, physiologically managed care inviting and satisfying. This organization is seeking to legalize Certified Professional Midwives, or CPMs, in all 50 states. It is in its tenth year of pushing for increased birth options for women, and more hospitals are offering birth with midwives. Expectant parents are also choosing alternative places to have their babies, such as their homes or birthing centers.

Steff Hedenkamp, communications director for the organization, gave birth to both her sons at home, attended by her midwives and doula. A doula is a birth companion who provides care and advice before, during and after a birth. “We had incredibly wonderful births and excellent maternity care provided by midwives, one of whom was both a Certified Nurse Midwife and a CPM,” she explained. “I had healthy pregnancies and knew that I wanted a supportive team to help me bring my boys into the world. I was very informed about the many aspects of my pregnancies, thanks to my midwives. I felt very accountable to my midwives and my baby, and by learning what I did from them as my pregnancies progressed, I gained an incredibly profound understanding of what birth could be and how to actively ensure my own health and that of my child.”

Certified Nurse Midwife programs are graduate level programs that are only open to licensed RNs who hold a bachelor’s degree, preferably in nursing. CNM programs grant a master’s or graduate degree and take a minimum of 24 months to complete. Following completion of an accredited program, candidates must confirm that the program is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education and pass the national qualifying exam from the AmericanMidwifery Certification Board, which is the only organization in the U.S. that issues CNM credentials. A Certified Professional Midwife’s competency is established through training, education and supervised clinical experience appropriate for midwives who practice the Midwives Model of Care predominantly in out-of-hospital settings. CPMs may train through an apprenticeship with a qualified midwife or by attending a midwifery program or school.

Midwives may not be for all women; that’s a given. Researching and deciding what is best for you should include thorough knowledge about what your hospital allows and whether your baby is healthy enough to have at home. Risks are always associated with childbirth, no matter the setting, so care midwives can provide as part of a continuum of care is something all mothers and fathers should have access to if they choose.

Ellen Longley is a young mother who chose the Midwives Model of Care. With her first child, she wanted the calming experience of her trusted doula and midwives. “I wanted a less sterile experience for me, my baby and husband,” she noted. “They allowed me to play the music I chose and used oils, soothing words, a warm bath and touch to make my birth experience amazing. I never once doubted their skill, and they explained everything about breast feeding, care of my baby boy and what to expect.”

The rebirth of this centuries-old care model will increase access to birth options for women in the United States and world. “Since licensure of the new generation of maternity care practitioners occurs at the state government level, where all local health professionals are regulated, effective advocacy for legal status and regulation of CPMs must, therefore, be implemented through state legislators and governors,” Steff confirmed. “This campaign, which unites state-level grassroots advocacy into a nationwide coalition, is the only hybrid midwife-consumer entity positioned to provide ongoing support for multiple contemporaneous advocacy efforts.”

Women have always listened to their bodies, and to be able to connect with other women as they bring a tiny human into the world is, perhaps, the most gratifying part of the experience. ■

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