Over my years in the childbirth field, I’ve seen several times when midwives have been brought up on charges of some sort after a “bad outcome” at a birth. Often the charges are “practicing medicine without a license,” but sometimes more serious criminal charges are included. One of the midwives who attended my first two homebirths and provided prenatal care for my third homebirth was one of them. My heart ached when I learned that she had been brought before the medical board after a bad outcome that was not her fault. She arrived at the client’s house, assessed the mother and baby, determined immediately that there was a problem, and transferred the mother to the hospital. I’d be willing to bet that if that mother had been planning a hospital birth she would not have gone to the hospital as soon as she did with having her midwife tell her “something is wrong, you need to go in.” (Oh, and BTW, I know what happened NOT because the midwife broke confidentiality, but because one of the nurses at the hospital blogged about what happened!)

But there have been some cases that I’ve read about with horror, and wondered how in the heck they were allowed to happen. I’ve been amazed as I’ve seen the natural childbirth community “circle the wagons” in defense of what to me seemed undefensible. Most recently a midwife is being brought up on charges of murder.

“Big names” in the natural childbirth community are rallying support for this midwife. One blogger wrote:

The reality is that if Rowan Bailey is found guilty of murder in North Carolina, then a precedent will be set that a death in a midwife attended birth was found to be WILLFUL murder of a baby.

Don’t talk to me about “But she wasn’t legal” because we all know that midwives hedge their bets on legal. They all do some small thing that is maybe crossing a line or helping someone they shouldn’t “legally” because frankly, the legal system is full of discrimination against healthy women and we all know it.

Don’t talk to me about the ramifications of fetal personhood because it’s clouding the issue here. Dwell on your thoughts of the evils of the issue after we’ve fought this case.

If you don’t send money to Rowan’s defense, if you don’t travel to show a tour de force that midwifery attendance at a birth is not willful murder, if you don’t react in some way to this case that goes beyond sitting on a couch and speculating, then don’t be surprised when it’s you and you are alone and ostracized, no matter your intentions on legal, no matter your intentions or vocation or grace.

You know, I find an odd dicotomy in all of this.

If a nurse in the hospital treats patients coldly, leaving them feel emotionally devastated, we wonder why their fellow nurses didn’t report them or stop them. When an OB consistently channels women toward cesarean who are perfectly capable of birthing vaginally we again wonder “why doesn’t someone report her? Why is he allowed to still be in practice?”

But if a person who has little to no formal medical training holds herself out as a “midwife” and a baby dies while in her care…we are expected to circle the wagons. EVERYONE PROTECT HER! NOW! DON’T DARE SAY SOMETHING NEGATIVE!

I know there are many in the natural birth community who will look in disgust at my comments. But I’m going to stick out my neck and say it.

There should be standards for what a “midwife” is. A midwife SHOULD be able to handle complications that can come up during birth, while still respecting and allowing the normal process to unfold without intervention. The consumer should know that the “midwife” she is hiring has met a certain level of competence. What if a woman wants to do birth work, but feels that this standard is violating the sanctity of birth? Well fine. Then be a “birth attendant.” But the word “midwife” should have meaning.