The United States continues to rank poorly in cesarean section rates, while other countries rate higher in maternal and infant mortality. Some women feel demoralized by their birth experiences and outcomes while under the care of obstetricians. One important way to improve statistics and increase women’s empowerment over their maternal health is to educate more midwives.
By its very definition, midwifery empowers women. Midwife means with woman. Midwifery is arguably one of the oldest professions. While not doctors, midwives meticulously study women’s reproductive systems, and can provide care from puberty to menopause. Traditionally, midwives passed their trade down to daughters, nieces or non-related apprentices. This generational passing of knowledge created a community of women supporting women that spans all cultures on almost every continent. But there is a shortage of midwives and women around the world are suffering for it.
The Role of a Midwife
A midwife oversees the health of mother and baby from the time of pregnancy, during birth, and several weeks after birth. They monitor diet, blood pressure, baby’s heart rate and growth, as well as spend extra time getting to know the mom and her partner on a familiar level. They are highly trained, certified in basic and newborn life support and fully equipped for the unpredictability of birth. A midwife knows when it is time to rest, time to move around, or time to head to the hospital.
Because they are so involved with the ins and outs of their client’s experience, they are often considered part of the family. In this way, midwives uphold a woman’s autonomy over her own body, keep their eyes open for signs of abuse, and see it as their duty to report violence against their charge.
Where Did the Midwives Go?
If midwives are so important, why do we lack enough to make a change in the statistics? In other parts of the world (mainly Scandinavian countries and Australia) midwives proliferate. During the time of slavery, African midwives and the American descendants of African slaves brought their bountiful knowledge of women’s care to the United States. European immigrants did as well. For over a century, midwives were the keepers of birth. Revered within the community, black midwives in the South delivered both black and white babies with impunity.
However, there was a movement to replace midwifery in the 1800s. Obstetrics was elevated by white men who felt that doctors, not black or foreign uneducated women should control pregnancy. Racism and an effective smear campaign, among other social factors, contributed to the large decline in America’s midwives by the the 20th century.
What Can Be Done?
For women who are at high risk during pregnancy, or when a situation requires surgery, gynecologists and obstetricians are needed to step in as medical doctors and surgeons to prevent harm and death. But physiologic pregnancy is rarely as risky as it is made to seem in media. Birth, though unpredictable, is a normal physiological event just like breathing. Your body knows how to do it without interference. Doctors and midwives working together to integrate the midwifery model of care will move the clock forward from antiquated, erroneous ideas about midwives and autonomous birth.
If you are a someone who wants to intimately support pregnant women while making a global impact on the state of women’s health, consider becoming a midwife.
Expose Profession to Girls Through Dream It, Be It
Programs like Dream It, Be It are vital to exposing young women to the art and science of midwifery. Perhaps invite a midwife to be one of the mentors or speakers during your Dream It, Be It event. This could encourage more young women to become some of the 900,000 new midwives the World Health Organization says we need by 2035. Globally, women inordinately suffer during and after childbirth. Training more midwives and making it easier for women to get access to training will mitigate many of the causes of this suffering and empower women to thrive as mothers, care givers, and entrepreneurs.
Stacey Herron is a special education assistant teacher who is rediscovering her creative side. She is also a certified doula and hopes to go back to school for nursing and midwifery. Stacey has a fish, Sasha, and loves to babysit her nieces and nephew. When not reading or working on a needlework project, you can find her playing with polish and painting her nails. Her travels include England, Scotland and Puerto Rico. She lived for a short while in Lake Tahoe, five years in Nashville, Tenn., and now resides outside of Washington, D.C.