Midwives and midwifery clients and advocates have been working for many years to achieve meaningful regulation for midwives in Massachusetts. The current bill this radio show refers to would create a Board of Registration of Midwifery, which will license and regulate the practice of Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs), Certified Midwives (CMs), and Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs). The point of having such legislation is both to create a reasonable system of accountability AND to increase access to midwives in all settings.
There is no one type of provider or one birth setting that is best for all pregnant women, because we are all unique individuals. There are always some risks in childbirth, no matter where or with whom you give birth. For most women, pregnancy is a normal process that proceeds on its own unless interfered with, but this process can also be affected by the mother’s beliefs and feelings, and by how she is treated by the people who are with her and their beliefs about birth. Furthermore, a great deal of standard hospital and obstetric practices and interventions applied to women in labor are not based on any evidence at all. Therefore, it is only reasonable that women should have a range of proven options available to them. Passing legislation that enables credentialed midwives to practice legally and with accountability makes sense. No one is going to force any woman to have a home birth, or to have a midwife, but for those of us who would prefer to be attended by a midwife in hospital, birth center or home, such legislation would certainly increase our options.
ACOG is a professional organization accountable only to its members. It does not have evidence to support its anti-home birth stance, it is based purely on belief! See their statement at http://www.acog.org/from_home/publications/press_releases/nr02-06-08-2.cfm . It states: “ACOG believes that the safest setting for labor, delivery, and the immediate postpartum period is in the hospital, or a birthing center …” without citing a single reference to support this “belief”. So much for scientific medicine. In fact, a large collection of studies over many years and in a number of countries has consistently shown that for a woman having a normal pregnancy a planned homebirth with a trained midwife is as safe as the hospital, with far fewer interventions and less morbidity for mothers and babies. (for just one example, see http://www.cfmidwifery.org/pdf/CPM2000.pdf and see more fact sheets and resources on the CfM website).
Obstetricians and hospitals are not accountable for their outcomes. For example, while the cesarean rates have been increasing every year (now over 30%!!) in the absence of any medical justification for such high rates, no one in state or federal government offices has even been asking: Are we having better outcomes for mothers and babies with these rates of cesarean sections? In fact, research has shown that when cesarean rates rise above 10 to 15%, more babies and mothers die than are saved by the surgery. Similarly, no one has been asking about outcomes related to the huge increases in induction, use of drugs to intensify labor, and use of epidurals. In contrast, even the relatively rare instances of a midwife transferring a laboring woman to a hospital for medical care usually are scrutinized critically.
Informed consent in hospital-based maternity care in general is a joke – women are not adequately informed about the pros and cons (including the % risk) for specific interventions and for NOT doing the intervention. Hospitals and obstetricians rarely if ever inform women that there are economic incentives behind each and every “suggested” practice and intervention, ie, conflicts of interest. In contrast, most states that regulate out-of-hospital midwives require extensive disclosure documents that the client must read and sign.
A woman can find out far more information about a used car than she can find out about her obstetrician. In most states, she may be able with some difficulty to find out rates for some interventions (cesarean section, induction) and outcomes (perinatal death, maternal death) for a local hospital, but not for individual obstetricians. For rates of episiotomies and cesarean sections, research has shown enormous variation among individual providers, even within the same hospital, demonstrating the lack of evidence for the high rates of these practices. A midwife is trained to observe and monitor, but not to intervene unless there is clear justification, because her focus is on supporting the normal birth, not getting in the way. For most women choosing a midwife, especially outside the hospital, she can be pretty sure she will not be subjected to any unnecessary interventions.
Nearly 25 years ago, when intervention rates were far lower than today, I was pregnant with my first baby. My husband (a scientist, and from a medical family) and I did extensive research regarding our options and birth practices. Even then, there was plenty of evidence that unless you had a real medical reason to be in a hospital to give birth, you would be better off at home with a midwife. As a result, at 7 ½ months we switched to a home birth midwife (who happened to be one of very few CNMs with a home birth practice at that time). It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Not only did I get outstanding care and support, but my midwife competently, safely and non-intrusively addressed a minor “variation on normal”; had I been in the hospital, standard practice would almost certainly have caused a life-threatening hemorrhage. Glad I was at home with a midwife!
Disclosure: I am a founding member of and current president of Citizens for Midwifery, a national non-profit organization providing information about midwives and the Midwives Model of Care.