Midwife under attack
The British press is having a field day with a story about a home birth that resulted in a girl having a paralyzed arm. The shoddy, one-sided press story is the classic tale of “money hungry midwife did disgustingly bad job and mother and/or baby is maimed”. We’ve seen it many times in North America and around the world. These stories sell newspapers. The general public sips their morning coffee and reads a titillating account of the dangers of trusting a homebirth midwife. Young women reading it do not see midwifery as a career that they would pursue and hospital birth reigns as the “default” best choice for a horrified public.
Meanwhile, on the private online midwifery discussions, some will point out that there is only one side to the story and call for calmer heads but those comments will remain largely closeted for fear that the commenter will be tarnished by the witch hunt.
The consumer message boards light up with cries of anguish from sympathetic onlookers who think they know something about the inside workings of the obstetric system.
This is the weak link in making home birth available to larger numbers of women and it must be addressed. No midwife can guarantee a smooth birth every time. Midwives are vulnerable to attack and relatively unsophisticated in the ways of running their governing bodies. Of course, no one wants to see a mother and/or baby hurt from the birth process. Reacting to such an incident by punishing the practitioner with professional capital punishment is highly destructive to women’s choices. Why do I say “capital punishment”? Because, in most Western countries, once you have been stripped of your license in one profession, it is impossible to then be accepted by any other professional body. This is why you will see decisions made in the case of physicians that seem very lacking in punishment. A doctor who has demonstrated repeated sexual misconduct, for instance, will be sent for a weekend of retraining. He goes back to work as usual. One of the most famous cases of this “professional forgiving of a doctor” involved a surgeon in N. Y. who carved his initials into a woman’s belly while doing a cesarean. His professional buddies didn’t stop him for long http://www.nytimes.com/2000/01/27/nyregion/how-doctor-got-work-after-carving-into-patient.html
Not so with midwives; for the smallest error they are delicensed even though they have served women for 30 years as in the case of Sue Rose. (Internet bio: “Health care worker for 30 years and practising, independent midwife for over 15 years based in Brighton”.) She is maligned because she did not defend herself in her midwifery hearing. I can understand her not defending herself. The results of these hearings are pretty much a foregone conclusion and every word the midwife says is twisted and turned and used against her. After a few forays into the legal trap, the smart midwife keeps her mouth shut and lets the chips fall where they may. Eventually the whole drama blows over and the jackals simmer down.
What is left in the wake of these press debacles?
-midwives afraid of their clients
-clients afraid of home birth and midwives
-deals made with insurance companies for “protection” which involve restrictions on practice
-paranoia in the natural birth movement
Now, ask yourself, “Who benefits?”
WHAT IS NEEDED?
One day, the home birth movement will reach a level of sophistication where there is a plan in place for diffusing these attacks long before they happen. It may come from a large organization like MANA, ICAN or Lamaze but we will see an instant supportive response for midwives and home birth when these press slanderings begin. There will be an understanding throughout the movement that we need to stand together in times of breakdown, just as the physicians and other professional groups have learned to do. We will wake up to the basic tenet that everyone is innocent until proven guilty IN A COURT OF LAW. . . not some professional tribunal. Most professional tribunals do not have a clue about jurisprudence and basic legal fairness. We will understand that “no comment” is a perfectly appropriate response when a professional midwife is required to maintain client confidentiality plus protect her own family. Professionals and consumers who want home birth to be available will begin saying the only decent thing when news breaks about a death or injury at a home birth: “I don’t know, I wasn’t there, I’m sure the midwife did everything she could.”
When we get to that place as a movement, we’ll see the percentage of home births skyrocket and we’ll see more young women choosing home birth midwifery as a career path. There’s a saying by Angela Davis, the American civil rights activist, that applies to the current vulnerable state of independent midwives: “if they come for me in the morning, they’ll be back for you in the afternoon.”