Demystifying midwives

Giving birth with a midwife in attendance might sound like something out of the dark ages – and there’s a reason for that. In the US, as scientific and medical knowledge grew in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, rather than following the European model and making an effort to keep midwifery education up to speed with the medical advances of the time, the country moved away from using midwives entirely.

Since then though, midwives have moved back into a certain amount of popularity. So has the model of care they bring with them, which treats birth as a natural part of life instead of as a medical condition. It definitely wouldn’t be fair to say everyone is doing it, but a fair number of people are. In 2013, midwives attended 8.2% of all births in the US. This return to prominence, and the modernization of midwifery that has come with it, means that the old-fashioned image a lot of people have of midwives is not just untrue, but potentially limiting for the pregnant women who think that way.

Midwives and medicine

You might not consider midwives and hospital births to be two peas in a pod, but even the most remote homebirths are legally and morally required to have a clear and easy connection to a hospital. This is so if anything goes wrong, women can make a quick, (hopefully) low-stress transfer to somewhere better equipped to deal with medical issues.

The logical extension of the midwifery care model, where birth itself is treated as a part of life, and not a clinical issue that needs to be medically treated, is that just like every other part of life, there can be medical issues that intrude on it that do need to be medically treated. Midwives know that. They just don’t believe that medical interventions should be routine, in the same way that the medical establishment is moving away from routinely surgically removing tonsils. If a medical reason to do so comes up, surgeons will still take tonsils out, but if there isn’t a problem, it isn’t done automatically anymore.

Midwives and moms

Midwives generally provide a lot more continuity of care than hospital births, not because midwives don’t occasionally need to take quick rests, possibly long enough for a little napping in the case of particularly long labors, but because midwives are committed to seeing births through to the end. Sometimes this means midwives end up over-booked, and new moms end up working with a different midwife than the one who’s been with her through her prenatal care, but who’s part of the same practice. This is a risk that’s probably always going to come up in situations as unpredictable as birth though, and it is very common among OB-GYNs as well. Midwives in a large practice work in 12-hour or 24-hour call shifts, for both the safety of the patient and of the midwife.

Midwives and more

Midwives don’t just sweep in to deliver babies and then disappear. They provide monitoring and prenatal care, and many – but not all – are licensed to care for newborns up to six weeks. This gives midwives the chance to keep an eye on both mom and baby through every stage of the process of birth.


Sources
  • Judith P Rooks. “The History of Midwifery.” OurBodiesOurselves. Our Bodies Ourselves, May 2014. Web.
  • Mary Brucker. “History of Midwifery in the US.” Neonatology. Parkland School of Nurse Midwifery, 2000. Web.
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