By Judy Brock, CNM
Midwives have been attending women for centuries. But until the 1940s, history tells us they were generally local women with good hearts and instincts, but no formal education. Times have changed, as has the scope of the midwife's practice. Ten years ago, 3 percent of the babies in the United States were delivered by midwives. Today, that number is up to 10 percent and is on the rise. Still, misconceptions about our work persist. It's time to set the record straight
Myth 1: Midwives are only about pregnancy and babies
While most midwives do attend births and love this aspect of their work, today's midwife enjoys a much broader scope of practice than in year's past. The motto of the American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM) is "Today's Midwife: With Women, for a Lifetime." As midwives, we offer women's health care from the first pelvic exam through and beyond menopause. We offer contraceptive advice and help with decision-making, annual exams, fertility counseling and assistance, and care for women with a variety of gynecological issues.
Myth 2: Midwives only deliver babies at home
Ninety-eight percent of births attended by midwives are in hospitals, according to the ACNM. Some midwives assist women who give birth at home or at a freestanding birth center.
Myth 3: If a woman sees a midwife for her birth experience, she can't have pain medication.
While midwives are proficient in non-pharmaceutical means of pain management such as acupressure, massage, hydrotherapy, positioning and constant hands-on support, the woman who births in a hospital also has access to medication and anesthesia should this be required or desired.
Myth 4: Midwives lack formal education
Practitioners come to midwifery through several paths. Certified nurse-midwives (CNMs) are registered nurses who have successfully completed an accredited graduate education program and passed a national certifying exam. Most have Masters' degrees. They are licensed to practice in all states. Certified midwives (C's) also complete a graduate education program and pass a certification exam. Standards for education and certification in midwifery are identical for CNMs and CMs. Midwifery education involves a rigorous course consisting of theory, didactic and hands-on learning which can take from one to three years, after which the midwife must pass the certifying exam and adhere to strict requirements which vary from state to state.
Myth 5: Midwives reject medical technology and obstetricians
Most midwives practice in a collaborative relationship with an obstetrician. The majority of the time the pregnancy and birth process, as well as gynecological issues, are normal and uncomplicated. A substantial part of a midwife's training involves respect for the normal and recognizing deviations from normal which require physician consultation. In such cases the physician becomes an integral part of the team and assists in the decision-making and management. Should a Cesarean birth be needed, the physician performs the surgery with the midwife acting as support or sometimes the surgical assistant. Technology, laboratory studies and ultrasound are as available to a midwife as to a physician, should they be indicated.
Myth 6: There are no male midwives
There are! The word mid-wife, when broken down to its Germanic roots, means "with-woman." (The word "obstetric" means to "stand by"). They aren't called "mid-men" or "mid-husbands", but "midwife," just like their female counterparts. Only two percent of midwives are male, but that number is growing.
For more information, go to http://www.midwife.org
Judie Brock is a Certified Nurse Midwife at the Cooley Dickinson Center for Midwifery Care. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cooley Dickinson Hospital • 30 Locust St. (Route 9), Northampton, Mass. • (413) 582-2000