I'll admit, my perception of midwives is just a little skewed. I envision a crunchy, slightly batty woman, with long frizzy gray hair tied up in a bun with a penchant for long, flowing skirts and gauzy scarves. Instead of listening to the baby's heartbeat and checking the protein content of your pee, she'd tsk-tsk about your eating habits and apply herbs to your belly. And don't even think about asking for so much as a Motrin during labor or admitting your baby's going to sleep in a crib.
Wow, was I wrong. We just ended National Midwifery Week last week, and I found out some things I didn't know about midwives.
1. They're highly educated: More than 80 percent of certified nurse-midwives and certified midwives (the standards are identical, but certified midwives are not generally nurses) have master's degrees, and any midwife calling herself either a CNM or CM must have been certified by the American Midwifery Certification Board; they also take continuing education throughout their careers.
2. Most work within the medical establishment: Ninety-six percent of midwife-attended births happen in the hospital, and most have relationships with doctors so that if something goes wrong and the "big guns" have to be called in, higher-level help is available. Most, if not all, of the care you'll need during a healthy, normal pregnancy can be handled by a midwife. They also have the authority to write prescriptions in all 50 states.
3. Their work stretches beyond childbirth: They are recognized as primary care providers in all 50 states. Most report that primary care services such as annual exams make up a majority of their work, and more than half consider all aspects of reproductive care as their main job. They can see you for nearly anything you'd see an OB/GYN for.
4. More mothers-to-be are seeking their help: The number of births attended by a CNM or CM peaked at 316,811 in 2006 and held steady for 2007, the last year for which figures are available. American Indian or Alaska Native women are most likely to see a midwife for childbirth services; Asian or Pacific Islander women are the least likely.
5. They take an alternative approach to women's health, but leave the patchouli-scented crunchitude out of it. Instead, their philosophy is to treat puberty, pregnancy, birth, and menopause "as normal life events rather than possible medical emergencies." I like that, a lot. Also? They stay with a woman during the whole birth process. I have no idea how they manage that; do they only take clients with due dates spaced at least two weeks apart? But I love the idea of the health care professional that's been with you your whole pregnancy being there to help you get the baby out, versus an OB swooping in at the last minute to "catch" the baby.
I have an OB/GYN that I love, but if he skips town/starts pissing me off, I think I have been converted to try and find a midwife ... and I am all done with babies, even.
Did you see a midwife during pregnancy and birth? Would you?
Image via eyeliam/Flickr