Today, on International Day of the Midwife, I want to acknowledge all of the brave women who have refused to capitulate to the criminalization of traditional midwifery practices, and who continue to stand for women’s inalienable right to give birth where, how, and with whom they choose, regardless of unjust laws.
I acknowledge all the Traditional Birth Attendants and Birth Witnesses whose foremothers, mentors and communities handed them the mantle, responsibility and essence of “Midwife” only to be told they are now prohibited by law from using that sacred word, thanks to its appropriation by governments all over the world.
Rather than discrediting midwifery as a whole, (as occurred during the rise of obstetrics 100 years ago), this new approach to denying women our reproductive freedom is far more insidious, devastating, and successful. “Midwife” is now owned by governments, and legislators, who dictate the terms of engagement on every level, packaging this shiny form of paternalism and subordination as “empowerment”.
Here in New Brunswick, Regulated Midwifery has almost successfully destroyed the vital, dynamic sisterhood community of traditional, independent birth-workers that had existed for decades (and in fact centuries, aeons) via propaganda, censorship and direct threats.
Thousands of babies have been born safely at home thanks to the support of “underground” Traditional Birth Attendants in New Brunswick.
In the past six months however, since the implementation of regulated midwifery in New Brunswick, all of 23 births have been attended by government midwives. Seven of those births occurred at home.
In other words, fewer than one out of three of all the government midwife-attended births were homebirths—which, kind of defeats the point of midwifery, one might think.
Simply from an economic standpoint, it’s difficult to fathom how the government can justify the cost of 4 additional full-time health staff for one birth per week, the majority of which occur in the hospital anyway.
If "midwifery” in this day and age simply means a slightly kinder, marginally more compassionate version of obstetrical care, why not just treat *all* women with a little bit more respect and dignity in the hospital system? That would be a heck of a lot less expensive than the posturing and virtue-signalling that exemplifies licensed midwifery.
Most tragically, women, under the regulated midwifery system, are still being pressured into dangerous and unnecessary inductions, still “risked out” of simply giving birth to their babies in their own homes on account of their age, their geographic location, their medical histories, among other examples of the medicalization of female biology that go against the mountainous evidence for protecting biologically normal birth.
And of course, regulated midwives themselves truly love women and babies. Sadly, they practice within a culture of fear and paranoia, and are constantly walking a tightrope between trying to honour women’s choices, vs. their tenuous place on the medical hierarchy, and trying to stay within a punitive and impossible scope of practice that almost inherently precludes an allowance for spontaneous physiological childbirth. I acknowledge these regulated midwives too, who are themselves victims of this broken and ever-misogynistic system.
Happy International Day of the Midwife. May I live long enough to see real true reproductive freedom for women. May there still be women practising traditional, authentic community midwifery when my daughters (and yours) are entering their birth-giving years. May we not, as a global culture, lose our humanity entirely.
(Photograph by Tall Grass Photography by Chantal R. Mercier)