It was my fifth childbirth. I’d had all the worst experiences you can picture in previous births, from lack of choice in my birthing plan, to additional interventions I didn’t need. One OBGYN even pushed me into inducing early to avoid having to help me on a holiday. Needless to say, it was time for a change. Local mom friends urged me to look into a midwife, who could do everything my OBGYN could except perform a C-section.
The result was life-changing. I finally had the birth I’d been envisioning, and found myself birthing my last baby holding onto my midwife for dear life, her birthing playlist going in the background, with aromatherapy and dim lights creating a much more zen environment than the harsh realities of previous births. I wish I knew five births sooner.
Midwifery reduces healthcare costs and can improve the quality of care and outcomes, especially for vulnerable patients. And yet unlike other developed countries like the UK and Germany, where midwives assist most low-risk pregnancies, midwifery is not nearly as common in the U.S. There are only 14,000 certified nurse midwives and certified midwives in the US, compared with more than 21,000 OB-GYNs. While midwives only attended 1.1% of childbirths in 1980, in 2020 they attended 12%, pointing to an increased interest in working with midwives. In other countries, 75% of births include a midwife, such as Sweden, France, or Japan.
I’m not alone in my journey through childbirth challenges, as evident through a new piece by the Guardian featuring J’Vera, who identifies as a non-binary lesbian, and a Black and Puerto Rican birthing person (pronouns: they/them). When they first went to an OBGYN, they were asked repeatedly if they were keeping the baby, and the doctor even compared artificial insemination to cheating. They knew it was time for a change.
Through a new maternity clinic called Oula, where primary practitioners are midwives, they found much better care. J’Vera told the Guardian they felt “safe and taken care of” in both heart and mind.
It’s important to note, though, that there are many skilled OBGYNs attentive to shared decision-making as well, not just midwives. But, for some, the midwives’ mission and focus on accessible, equitable, lower intervention care, is attractive. We have to be able to trust our providers if we are going to be able to give birth the way we want to, and in a respectful and safe manner, whatever their credentials.
Studies have shown that deliveries attended by midwives tend to have fewer complications and better outcomes—due to the fact that midwife training relies less on medical intervention, which leads to fewer C-sections.
To find a midwife available to help with your next birth, check out the Find a Midwifery Practice tool from the American College of Nurse-Midwives. And, as always, if you aren’t happy with your current care, speak up even if you are far along in your practice, and look into changing physicians if needed.