“I wish you would go to a real doctor.” We were standing in the kitchen. My mom had only found out I was pregnant a few days prior, and she was already haranguing me about my choices.
When I had Big Girl, I had a midwife. I also had a mental block, and an 8 pound, 5 ounce baby with a giant head. So while my labor was pain-free, my birth experience was not what anyone would wish for. I was sore and bruised for weeks. I was anemic after tearing and losing quite a bit of blood. I looked like hell. I know my mother, remembering what I had gone through, was blaming my midwife.
This time, she had more to worry about. I had a midwife—someone new– but I also had a high risk pregnancy, and my mother was afraid that I would literally die because a doctor wouldn’t be the one catching the baby. She didn’t understand that my midwife, who I absolutely adore, was working hand-in-hand with several doctors the entire time making sure I had the best care possible. In fact, she made my pregnancy, labor, and delivery even better than it could have been if a doctor delivered Little Girl.
My midwife let me deliver at 41 weeks. Big Girl was a 41-weeker, too, so while she carefully monitoring me and the baby, she was prepared to let my body do what it was supposed to do. (Although I must admit that she told me on Friday, the day before I delivered, that if I wasn’t in labor by Monday she was going to induce.) Meanwhile, my high-risk specialist had been pushing for induction at 37 weeks. To this day I truly believe that my midwife’s simple trust in me and the process helped me avoid a C-section and a small baby since Little Girl was only 7 pounds, 3 ounces when she was born. She also fought to get me into a birthing room, and helped me have a delivery that I look back on with nothing but pride.
Still, my mom, like most other people, didn’t know what a midwife does—or even what a midwife actually is. If she had maybe she would have been a little more confident about my choices.
Do you know what a midwife does? Here are five facts that I wish everyone knew about midwifery.
1) A certified midwife (CNM) goes through a rigorous training program, which includes a hands-on internship.
A CNM is an advanced practice nurse. She must first attain a nursing license, which is a B.A. or a B.S. in nursing, and then undergo what is essentially a master’s program in midwifery. Once she completes the program, she must take a national certifying examination administered by the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB) to become a CNM. The program is unique because CNM candidates spend time interning—much like a doctor would—with other CNMs.
2) Midwives can—and do—spend more time with their patients.
“We do what doctors can’t,” says Jane Crawford Peterson, CPM/LM, who runs a midwifery practice called In the Beginning based in Iola, Wis. “We spend long periods of time at prenatal visits, which means we can hold a woman’s entire story. Our prenatal visits are often scheduled for an hour, so we talk not only about how the baby is doing, but what the woman does throughout the day. We can understand her goals for her birth. It’s not just about taking blood pressure. Clinical signs can be ascertained in 15 minutes. We’re focusing on more than just physical health.”
I know one of the things I loved about having a midwife was—unlike my friends who labored with a random labor nurse they had just met—she was prepared to stay with me the entire time I was in labor. I like to be alone during labor, so she went off to sleep for a bit, but she was the one who checked my progress. And she was there the entire time I was pushing. She was also the one who delivered my baby. Plus I knew there wouldn’t be any bait and switch nonsense going on. The person who gave me my prenatal care was the person who delivered my babies, unlike many of my friends who had to take whichever doctor happened to be on call when they went into labor.
3) Midwives have a lower rate of Cesarean sections.
It may be because doctors don’t think C-sections are a big deal—a recent study found that “sixty-five percent of midwives considered the rates of cesarean section in their hospitals to be too high compared with 34 percent of obstetricians.” Or maybe it’s because doctors induce labor far more often than midwives, or that they are more likely to prescribe epidurals. Whatever the reason, fewer women cared for by midwives have C-sections.
4) Midwives respect and work with doctors—and most doctors respect them, too.
“I have 18 physicians who I routinely consult with. I stand firmly in liking the fact that I hold hands with physicians so that smooth transitions can occur in the event that something unexpected pops up during the pregnancy or birth,” says Crawford Peterson. (And as crunchy-granola as I am, I wouldn’t work with a midwife who didn’t have this type of arrangement.)
5) Midwives can do everything a doctor can except prescribing medicine and ultrasounds and doing operations.
When I ripped giving birth to my first, my midwife was the one who sutured me up. She was there for all my prenatal exams. She looked at my lab work. She did my postpartum followups. I felt taken care of, respected, and heard. It was a wonderful thing. Plus, since she works directly with a group of wonderful doctors I knew that, in the event of an emergency, I was in great hands no matter what.
It is for these reasons that I would tell anyone: No, midwives aren’t doctors. Sometimes they’re better than doctors! Maybe you should give one a try?