In many cultures around the world, midwives are revered members of the community. Working
autonomously, they are respected as important health care practitioners. Sadly, this is not the case in the United States. As the male-dominated medical profession rose in power, it systematically stamped out women being cared for by women. First they didn’t allow women access to medical schools, and then came a propaganda campaign slandering midwives and the profession—essentially wiping midwifery care off the United States map.
What they failed to realize is that women will always gravitate toward women during the intensity of the birth process. At this vulnerable time, they yearn for an intangible quality of caring that a woman provides. This is true all around the world. Also, they hadn’t understood that women are called to midwifery in much the same way as a religious calling. Hearing the call, they began to serve the rural and urban poor in inner-city slums and the mountains of Kentucky. Some of these women went to nursing school and began the Association of Certified Nurse Midwives. In order to practice legally, they gave up their autonomy and agreed to practice under the supervision of doctors. SLO’s first Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) began practicing in the early ’80s at General Hospital: Rhea Liama, Marilyn Rice, Rosanna Meyers, and Pennie Hall. At times, they caught as many as 100 babies a month!
Hearing the call, they began to support birthing women in their hippie communes or faith-based communities, risking imprisonment. In our community, some of these early rebels were Marianne Doshi, Cynthia Muther, Toni Torrey, Surja Johnson, Fawn Gilbride, and Harvest Steadman. Some of the women who heard the call spearheaded the political fight to legalize direct entry midwives or non-nurse midwives. Los Osos resident Sue O’Connor was chairwoman of the California Association of Midwives during this struggle. Finally, in 1993, the California Association of Midwives got legislation passed in California, which created a path to legalization. In 1996, a SLO County midwife, Brenda Ramler, was in the first group of women to sit for the exam and became the eighth woman licensed to practice midwifery in the state of California. These legal midwives are still fighting. They are fighting to receive reimbursement for their services from the insurance industry for their clients. Many are unable to purchase the life-saving tools of their trade, such as sutures, anti-hemorrhagic medication, or antibiotics. They can’t order life-saving tests such as blood work or prenatal ultra sounds. Because of malpractice fears, most doctors are unwilling to be connected in any professional way with them, and yet the regulations call for doctor “supervision.” Recently, Edana Hall of Holistic Midwifery Care traveled to Sacramento to attend a California Medical Board Interested Parties Workshop where all of these issues were discussed. And so the fight for recognition and autonomy goes on.
This is a women’s issue. This is a trade infringement issue. This is an individual’s rights issue. This is an American issue, the freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. This is a world health issue. The World Health Organization’s Millennium Development Goals call for 350,000 more midwives worldwide as an essential part of the solution to lowering the infant and maternal mortality rate around the globe.
Since 1991, from the Sudan to Switzerland, Haiti to Afghanistan, May 5 has been celebrated as the International Day of the Midwife. Now, for the first time in San Luis Obispo history, we will celebrate this important day. The international theme for 2012’s celebration is Midwives Save Lives. In this spirit, the Birth & Baby Resource Network has united with these providers of healthy births: Community Health Centers, French Family Birthing Center, Sierra Vista Birth Center, and General Hospital and Family Care Clinics Charitable Foundation. The goal is to create a real and virtual interactive midwifery project highlighting the midwives of our community, past and present.
Did you know that more than 40 midwives have served the women and families of this county? The midwives will gather during the Birth and Baby Fair in Mission Plaza’s amphitheater at 10:30 a.m. on May 5, where we will pay them the respect they have earned for 40 years of quality care. At the Birth and Baby Resource Network’s midwifery booth, families can register their babies’ names for the Midwifery Tree art installation, write thank-you cards, or have photos taken with their midwives. They can learn about the history of midwifery, and the skills the modern midwife has for guiding moms and babies safely through pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period—or participate in an oral history project answering the question, “How has a midwife impacted your life?” The Midwifery Tree will continue to grow throughout the day with each baby in this county born into the hands of a midwife being represented by a leaf on the tree. To get started, go to bbrn.org.
Jennifer Stover, of Labor of Love Birth Education and Doula Services, is president of the Central Coast’s Birth and Baby Resource Network. Send comments to the executive editor at email@example.com.