Monday, February 21, 2011

Blurry Lines

Focus ubt
Focus by Tomasz Sienicki

A few months ago, I read the collection of midwife stories, Sisters on a Journey: Portraits of American Midwives by Penfield Chester. I mentioned it in a previous post. I wanted to go into a little more detail about the lessons I learned from this book, most specifically about the various roles that are all part of midwifery.

Midwife as Childbirth Educator

Ideally, the role of a midwife is not just to provide medical care that is less technological than the medical model, while still being the "birth expert." The role of a midwife is to foster independence in the woman. This is evidenced by the practice of showing the woman how to dip her own urine strips and read the results herself. The midwifery practice I went to for my first couple of appointments when pregnant with my son, before we moved here, used this method. Midwifery is supposed to be about teaching the woman how to take responsibility for her own health. A good midwife will help prepare her clients for childbirth. In some respects, a midwife is a childbirth educator.

As I have read blogs by midwives discussing unassisted birth, I find it interesting that some midwives feel that having a midwife teach a UCer how to perform assessments on herself makes it not "unassisted" anymore. But where is the line between "childbirth education" and "midwifery"? If a UC mom takes a childbirth class, that wouldn't be considered "having a midwife." What if a childbirth educator taught women how to do their own prenatal and birth health care?

Midwife as Doula

Midwifery care is holistic--midwives treat the entire patient, body and mind. They believe that a woman's emotions can have a direct impact on her body's processes, and works to help her feel emotionally supported during pregnancy and birth. A good midwife is skilled in natural pain relief techniques and helps her clients use them during labor. A doula's role is said to be "mothering the mother," but isn't this also what midwives do? A midwife is also a doula.

When I wrote my post on Doulas and Hombirth, I realized that line between midwife and doula becomes blurry when you consider the possibility of a doula attending a UC. How is a doula-attended planned UC different from a planned homebirth with an unlicensed midwife? On paper, they are virtually the same thing.

Midwife as Healthcare Provider

The other role of a midwife is to observe the mother and baby for signs of problems and treat them if treatment is in her scope of practice or refer to another healthcare provider. This part of a midwife's role is similar to a physician, though her perspective on how to go about providing this healthcare is usually different than that of an obstetrician (though I would think a family practice physician might have a more midwife-like approach). And because midwives practice low intervention care and treat low-risk patients, the healthcare provider part of her role is a small part, though a very important one.

The professions of "childbirth educator" and "doula" are both relatively new because their roles were performed by midwives and their partners or apprentices before birth moved to the hospital and began being attended by physicians. The majority of physicians view the practice of medicine as dealing only with the body, not the mind, and those who are specialists like OB/GYNs are only concerned with the specific parts of the body they specialize in. Women have invented our own systems for filling the holes left in our healthcare by modern medicine, and have created the childbirth educator and the doula--and thus, the "team" of physician, childbirth educator, and doula together does all the jobs of midwifery.

Me, a Midwife?

I have recently been seriously considering the possibility of becoming a midwife someday. I have been considering the pros and cons of various paths to midwifery--ideally, I'd like to train as a midwife in another country, but I'm not sure that would work for my family. It won't happen until our own family is complete, and I feel that I won't know it is time for that until it happens. I want to be a midwife, but as I've said before, I'm quite intimidated by it. I realize, though, that what I am doing now allows women to have all aspects of their maternity care needs address (just not all by one person), so I am already helping women have care that is as close to midwifery care as they can get without actually having a midwife--to some extent, I might consider that being "part of midwifery."


  1. I want to be a midwife too! But like you I'll have to wait until my family is complete-so not for a good long while. Interesting post-especially the idea that doulas and CBE's are ad hoc things women have done in the absence of midwifery care when birth moved the hospital.

  2. If you do decide to become a midwife, I was surprised at how many programs are at-home learning, and then you need to attend births with a preceptor midwife. I don't know if you are considering becoming a CNM or CPM/CM, but UW and Frontier both have distance learning CNM programs, and there are several CPM/CM distance learning programs. And as you know, several area homebirth midwives practice in Yakima but do not live could offer to assist them with their Yakima births, which would be nice as you wouldn't have to travel as far. Thoughts for your consideration...