Jan’s Corner

Midwives under Fire

We’ve had a period of relative calm in the North American midwifery community since 2002. In an issue of Midwifery Today E-News from July 2001 ( http://www.midwiferytoday.com/enews/enews0329.asp ), Sandra Stine, CNM, wrote about the history of midwives under fire:

“I am thinking about Yvonne Cryns, Nan Koehler, Abby Odam, the granny midwives and every other traditional birth attendant in this country who has been crucified by the AMA or another source,” Stine stated. “Wonderful, loving, competent midwives have been jailed, lost their homes, spent thousands of dollars defending themselves, or were placed under house arrest while serving families competently. The AMA (American Medical Association) has a track record of prosecuting midwives in almost every state!”

In July of 2002, Gloria Lemay was imprisoned for contempt of court in Canada. A few months later, Mennonite midwife Freida Miller was arrested and imprisoned for contempt of court in Ohio. Thanks to easy Internet access in 2002, the stories of these imprisonments—and of the events that built up to them—were relayed around the globe. Both women were mature adults and both went to prison knowing they had widespread support in the international community. They went to prison with their heads held high and their supporters worked behind the scenes, fundraising and researching to free them. Money and well wishes flowed in from all over the world. North American midwives had entered a new era.

While in prison, Lemay learned that she would be given an award for being “the woman in Canada who had made the biggest contribution to midwifery care in the year 2002.” (Women’s Voice Award). The story of her incarceration can be found at: http://www.compleatmother.com/articles2/gloria_lemay.htm

To read more about the trial and imprisonment of Freida Miller, visit

Lemay is in great company. There are midwives in more than one country who have gone to jail for serving mothers and babies in birth and usually on trumped-up charges. These maverick women serve those who are in jail with them who are pregnant or have babies. In Russia, jailed mothers keep their babies with them. On a recent visit to Russia we heard about a midwife, a mother of six who was jailed for nine months. I heard that she just took care of the mothers and babies who were in prison. I understand that she is out now, but her homebirth practice was essentially taken away from her. So sad for the mothers and babies she served for 17 years. Gloria cannot call herself a midwife and I wonder when the province of British Columbia stole that word. Midwife was a word long before BC became a province. I wonder when the same thing will happen in the US.

One of the reasons California was so keen to get a midwifery regulation law was that several homebirth midwives were jailed there. So there is being under fire and there is really being put to the test with actual bars that try to hold you back. (Midwives can never really be held back.) Others have been persecuted into stopping their practice or getting their CNM certification so they wouldn’t be persecuted in the same way. At least they can keep doing homebirths!

Perhaps we reached a turning point in 2002 in North America. Perhaps the imprisonment of these two midwives was the end of putting North American midwives behind bars. But the persecution of midwives continues in other areas. In 2010, the hot spot seems to be Australia. Many homebirth midwives have lost their licenses on that continent and there is a coroner’s inquest scheduled to investigate the death of an infant born at home in Adelaide, Australia. But we live in an era of instant communication. Thanks to online social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as basic e-mail, we can reach out to midwives even in distant lands and support them through these archaic investigations.

— by Jan Tritten
Jan Tritten is the founder, editor-in-chief and mother of Midwifery Today magazine. She became a midwife in 1977 after the amazing homebirth of her second daughter. Her mission is to make loving midwifery care the norm for birthing women and their babies throughout the world. Meet Jan at our conferences around the world, or join her online, as she works to transform birth practices around the world.

Jan’s blog: community.midwiferytoday.com/blogs/jan/default.aspx
Jan on Twitter: twitter.com/jantritten
Midwifery Today on Facebook: facebook.com/midwiferytoday
International Alliance of Midwives on Facebook: facebook.com/IAMbirth
Originally published in Midwifery Today E News. http://www.midwiferytoday.com/enews/enews1217.asp

3 thoughts on “MIDWIVES UNDER FIRE

  1. “We need outrageous women if change is to be expected to be seen in the world. We need women who make a stand for what they believe in- and don’t back down when those who object to boisterous women remind them of their “manners” and of “etiquette” or “Netiquette”. Well screw etiquette I say, when bellies are being cut open in a quarter of all women as a perverse method of “giving birth”- when women aren’t given informed consent regarding destructive medical procedures- when women are held perversely down, flat on their backs with their legs in the air, as they are taught their places of meek medical subservience. Screw being polite, kind and nice- “acceptable” when truly, often the only thing keeping women from getting their bellies or vaginas cut open in birth is a few loud words bouncing around in their consciousness from people who cared enough about them to tell them the truth- instead of just telling them what they might want to hear.”

    What an absolutely fabulous and moving article. How true it is that well behaved women seldom make history.
    Thank you!

  2. Wow… we are so inspired by the dedication to safe, normal childbirth displayed in the actions of you and several other midwives! To advocate for birth so unapologetically is incredibly motivating to us at Midwife International. Thank you for standing up for mammas and babies around the world, we wholeheartedly appreciate all that you do.

    At Midwife International, we work to improve birth through training the next generation of midwives. To learn more about how to become a midwife with Midwife International, please visit: http://midwifeinternational.org/become-a-midwife.

    Thanks for all that you do!!!

  3. Pingback: Witch Hunt: Midwives Under Fire | Thought Crime Radio

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