Chasing Midwives

December 18th, 2008 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »


I’ve caught three babies, including the last one I delivered unaided. All three were midwife/birthing center deliveries.

Nearly 30 years ago, my wife and I figured that would be the future for most Americans. Drugged women in stirrups, slicing perinea, and lifting fetuses out through cesareans were the old, post-WWII fad, eh?

Well, no, and women (and couples) almost lost the only birthing center around Boston. After howls leading to a campaign to keep the one at Beverly Hospital, the board there agreed that it could stay open…at least for a bit.

I have three sons (cue the theme)  and am a big believer in midwives. That’s cost center number two above at not quite a year as he got his first hair cut. He was born in a bed in the house on that campus.

Even in 1990, they didn’t make it easy. We had belonged to the Harvard Community Health Center for 11 years, back when co-pays were as low as $2 and they actually practiced preventative medicine. Yet, for a midwife delivery, we had to drive from the very bottom of Jamaica Plain to Beverly — 40 minutes with no traffic and much longer typically.

We’d had our first in 1979 in Manhattan. The original Maternity Center, started in 1917, was in a textile-magnate’s former mansion. It was just a home birth, if you had filthy rich parents. Originally the prototype of safe, affordable birthing for working-class women, by then middle-class folk had caught on to better-than-spinal-block options.

The midwife thing still has not-so-secret conflicts. Understandably, OBs would prefer a monopoly. Even though there’s lots of data showing that here and in other countries, in birthing centers and at home, licensed midwife delivery is safer than in hospitals, many OBs and hospital types will say otherwise.

Anyone who’s gone through the midwife process can tell you why it’s better. Particularly with cost center one, we went through booty camp. There were 10 two to three-hour classes, everything from nutrition to gruesome birth movies to diapering. We met regularly with the midwives and occasionally with the backup doctor. It was blood pressure and blood content tests, belly palpation and listening and on and on. My wife had many more visits, much longer and more detailed attention, and greater health at delivery than non-midwifery women.

High-risk and even slightly elevated moms-to-be were fixed or screened out. They would not go into labor at the center with iffy medical conditions. Of course, their deliveries were safer than the slapdash results from typical hurried OBs or nurses.

We were amused early on when the backup OB told us to listen to the midwives about such matters are the real due date. He said doctors use a chart from estimated conception. The midwives listened through a tube or stethoscope and well as feeling the action. He said doctors guessed but midwives knew. My wife delivered that one a day before they had estimated and almost two weeks after the doctor’s date chart had.

With cost center two, we relatively raced to Beverly at a non-rush hour. As with the first, we were on the street about 12 hours after the birth, once the center and a drop-in doc okayed the new product. That at least is becoming more the norm for hospital deliveries too and is a damned sight better bonding than immobilizing the mom, isolating the dad and bringing the baby around for feeding every so often.

Three years later for cost center three, Beth Israel had added a birthing center (since dropped). It was only a couple of miles away. We would not have made Beverly for sure. From my wife’s first pang, it was under 40 minutes to delivery. The midwives were casually washing and chatting, while I realized the urgency and already had my gloves on. I caught him while they were still across the room.

(I have lots of delivery stories from all three. Some men can take them and say they are jealous. Others blanch and say no thanks.)

As a coda to the third birth, note that he was the only one born in a hospital, even if without doctors and in a birthing center. Moreover, Beth Israel is a teaching hospital for good and ill. In this case, the doctor who checked him out decided his heart rate was slow and ordered him into the neonatal ICU for the interns to tinker with. My wife was very unhappy not to be home with her baby…and to see him in a plastic box with needles and tubes running from his neonatal hand.

A day and change later, our HCHP doctor had a minor fit when he arrived. He pronounced him very healthy, declared he likely would be a good athlete with such a heart and sent us all home. Beware hospitals with med school professors.

I have been known to go on about birthing center vs. hospital delivery. Plus, I do have a lot of stories. Ask me about sunshine for jaundice, about meconium, about how tough an umbilical cord is…

Otherwise, I hope women get the choice in the Boston area. I know that many hospitals use the excuse that birthing centers have been hit with unreasonable insurance hikes, keeping pace with OBs and other doctors. I don’t see the solution as dumping birthing centers. Beating up on the insurance companies to make them reasonable is better for everyone concerned.

By the bye, there is a website and related Facebook page for the campaign for the center in Beverly.

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3 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing your story, and for your shout-out for the Campaign! This is a great read. 🙂

  2. Harrumpher says:

    It’s important too that not only do women and couples have the choice of midwife delivery, but that the campaign opposes the dangerous and invasive internal fetal monitoring. There’s really no comparison between my wife’s experiences and the more typical OB factory. Harrumph.

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