Once upon a time, I was pro-choice. I was also a homebirth midwife. I remember when I believed that choices in childbirth absolutely should be covered under the same umbrella as the rest of our reproductive freedoms: My body, my choice. At that time, there was a deep divide between the types of people who had traditionally used homebirth midwives (mainly conservative religious women) and the people who were waving a new type of anti-establishment flag (my more liberal peers). I saw the merging of these two communities into one cause supporting “womens’ empowerment” as one of my young feminist hopes come to fruition. If you look closely, you will see homebirth advocates use the term “informed consent” when what they often mean is “informed choice”. That similarity of phrasing is not an accident.
I saw Business of Being Born, I read Ina May, and Anne Frye. I put in my time as a doula, as an apprentice, I worked solo. Without any certification. In my state, you don’t need it. My community declared me a midwife, and I served the needs of it.
Then, God found me. At a birth. At a homebirth. I felt the power of life. LIFE as it saw the world for the first time. As it took its first breath, I felt the beauty of life. I also felt the delicacy, the vulnerability, and the love. I thought and thought and thought again about what being pro-choice means. And I thought harder about what my abortions meant. In that moment, holding that perfect, beautiful creation only partly outside of its mother, I felt that life is more than a choice. In the time following that moment, I became pro-life. I also became a fierce advocate for out of hospital birth.
Rallying for homebirth was SO EASY for me. Lobbying? Meeting with legislators? EASY. Why? Keep it safe, legal & accessible to EVERY woman. Does that sound familiar? It should, to people on both sides of the camp of birth and reproductive justice options. We are demanding the same things. I had been attending rallies saying these exact same things for years in regards to abortion. How about “Regulate the industry to increase safety”? Again…sound familiar? We are still saying the same things. Feeling manipulated yet? I did, though it took me a while to realize why…
I saw and heard of horrible things happening to women & babies while I was learning the practice of midwifery. I thought I would never practice like “those” midwives. I thought often that the midwives I worked with and for were better than the stories I had heard of, stories like the one belonging to Magnus. You can read his story here. I became friends with his parents, and I saw the isolation they experienced at trying to hold their providers accountable. They were ostracized from their community. From my community. My community shamed a mother and father whose baby died. My community told them the most hurtful things. My community rallied around the midwives instead of the grieving family. At what other time when a baby dies would you isolate a parent? At what other time would you abandon a person who is hurting so much? At what time would we basically tell a parent they deserve their grief because they made their choice? “In truth I tell you, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.” (MT 25:45) At what time are we called to not be compassionate?
Then a stark reality set in. Data started coming out about the safety of homebirth, not only in our country, but globally. With that information, I started questioning more. Why is it that a homebirth midwife from the States isn’t seen fit to practice in the countries that regularly use homebirth midwives? This is graphic that shows why, and the differences between what we in the United States see as acceptable qualifications compared to the rest of the developed world.
I am not anti-homebirth. I am anti-unskilled midwives parading around and taking on higher and higher risk clients and calling it a variation of normal. I am especially anti midwives using predatory practices intentionally in religious communities. They believe we are less likely to pursue legal action as we believe that ultimately God is in charge. They believe we, religious mothers and fathers, are a good group to hone their skills on.
Midwives are taking on twins, breech babies and VBACs all at home. Those are all considered high risk patients. One mother wrote about her experience of her twin home birth. This is not a variation of normal. These situations are just plain NOT low-risk. Midwives are trained in low-risk care. These stories of these babies lives & many others are outside their scope of practice. These are babies that should be here, who would be here if they received appropriate care. And these are babies whose lives were unnecessarily risked. Babies like Shridam, like Sheppard, like Gavin.
So, a little more about that safety data. MANA published their own stats recently, and in doing so confirmed what a lot of us feared. Here you can read more about how these statistics were collected, from a midwife that contributed to them during her career. Homebirth in the United States IS less safe than hospital birth, and it is less safe than home birth as practiced in other countries. Your baby is LESS likely to survive. Homebirth IS a pro-life issue because the industry has been flooded with incompetent providers. They often prey on fear and as we know, fear is not from God, but as mothers to be, we are often indeed fearful…of something.
We deserve better. Pro-life people, we are constantly decrying the OBs that perform abortions. We check their safety records, their building permits, we find fault & flaw with any thing that could possibly be there. Yet we do not apply that same rigor to choosing a homebirth midwife. The person responsible for bringing our baby safely into our healthy arms. Why? Doesn’t every baby at every stage of development deserve the same circumspection? There are midwives practicing who have had many many deaths & injuries at their hands, yet if you Google their names, nothing shows up. If you ask for referrals from your community, you will hear only the ringing endorsements.
There are absolutely GREAT midwives out there. Really, truly amazing and wonderful midwives. Every midwife should be able to be spoken of in such a way, and every midwife should be held to the standards of the very best midwives in our country. But often, it is incredibly hard to separate the good apples from the bad. So, how do we do this? First, learn what the regulations about midwifery are in your state. Here’s a good post that covers each of the states. Then work to make midwifery care in your area more transparent. We should be able to see the history of any grievances filed, any malpractice issues, any complaints lodged for any reason. Such information is currently available for every other medical provider. If we don’t have all the information, how can we truly make the best choice?
Recently I was fortunate to be involved with the #notburiedtwice campaign that was initiated by Danielle, an amazing doula I know. You can watch that here. Her overview of the reality of what homebirth IS in the USA is a must for anyone seeking to understand the greater issues involved with these topics. These babies, their families, they deserve the very best we have to give. Our midwives deserve the very best we have to give.
We fight for the lives of babies in danger in the womb at the beginning of pregnancy. Should we not also be fighting to make sure they arrive in their mothers arms safely as well?