Since posting sweet baby E’s birth story, I’ve had a lot of messages and questions about using midwives, which I am MORE than happy to discuss!
Every mother-to-be has different needs, different desires, different birth plans… so please don’t think I am telling you that my way is the only way. I am just a HUGE proponent of midwives, and I think that there are a lot of misconceptions about what their care entails.
With my first pregnancy 9 years ago, I went the traditional route and had a family doctor. She was wonderful, had three daughters of her own and I was very happy with the level of care I received. Looking back, the only issue that I have, is that I chose to go with a doctor for no other reason than that’s what EVERYONE did. I have no complaints per se; at the time I thought my labour and delivery was relatively normal and uncomplicated. Only now do I wonder if things could have been even better, even more uncomplicated.
Could I have possibly received even better care, had I gone with a midwife?
Six years after the birth of my first child, I was expecting again. I was prepared to go the same route without much thought, until a friend of mine from high school mentioned how much she loved her midwife. She had just delivered her first baby and while she is admittedly far more into that whole lifestyle than I am, (all natural fibers in her clothing, vegetarian, diligently shops second hand and into camping and music that I have NEVER heard of – lol), I couldn’t help but be intrigued. My husband is also quite different from a lot of other hubbies I know. He was VERY interested in the midwife option and the possibility of a natural birth. (Yes, OH SO EASY for him to push for the natural birth when he’s not the one pushing THE BABY!) So we began reading up on it, and that research lead to us watching “The Business of Being Born”, which is a documentary that was done, strangely enough, by Ricki Lake. It followed her decision to have a home birth and was super informative.
Now here is where I chose to draw the line – I was not going to have a home birth. No way, no how. It took me MONTHS to work up the courage to tell my husband this tidbit of news. He was totally gung ho about bringing our baby boy into the world in our own comfy bed, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. We only live about ten minutes from the hospital, but my fear was that ten minutes is a LONG TIME when you are experiencing a medical emergency. When my first baby was born, the cord was around her neck and she wasn’t breathing right away… I knew what it was like to go through that moment of sheer panic before you hear your little one cry, and I couldn’t imagine being at home without a medical team nearby if anything were to go wrong. In the end, of course, I could have delivered both my second and third babies at home. They came FLYING out with no time for drugs, no tearing or stitches and no problems whatsoever, but I obviously didn’t know it would be so simple, and I wasn’t comfortable taking any chances.
“The Business of Being Born” really did nothing more than urge me to THINK about why I make the choices that I do concerning my labour and deliveries. Doctors are for sick people, end of story. Pregnancy is not an illness, but at some point in history it began to be treated like one. A healthy, pregnant woman who is not experiencing complications is not a patient. I realized that I didn’t necessarily have to spend my appointments sitting in a sterile office with white walls and metal chairs. The more I researched the midwife option, the more excited I became. These were woman who were there for ME. Their offices were warm and friendly, and the exam rooms had couches and beds instead of paper covered tables and stirrups!
An exam room in a typical midwifery clinic:
An exam room in a typical doctor’s office:
In Ontario where I live, midwifery care is covered by OHIP (our healthcare system) and doesn’t cost us a dime. A registered midwife has graduated from a four year university program and is there to help you make the important decisions that come along with pre and post-natal care. They encourage you to be an active participant in these choices, which I think is great. The appointments all happen at the same frequency as with a doctor – once a month until the third trimester, then every other week until the final month, and then weekly. The exams are just the same as with a physician. We discussed my progress, how I was feeling, any concerns I may have, and each visit we dove further into the details of my birth plan and allowed it to evolve as necessary. I was weighed, had my urine checked my belly measured. We listened to the baby’s heart beat on the doppler and then usually took a few minutes just to chat and have a visit! The midwives themselves ranged in age, anywhere from 22 to 60, and from all backgrounds and walks of life. They are some of the warmest, friendliest, most caring women I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, and I consider myself very lucky to have had the experiences that I did with them!
Below are some of the many reasons I chose to go with a midwife for my second and third pregnancies:
– My midwife was on call, and was available to me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Try finding a doctor that provides that level of service! If I ever had a question or concern, I would call the midwifery office and they would immediately page my midwife. Their policy is to have her return your call within ten minutes of being paged. If it was during hours that the offices were closed such as evenings or overnights and weekends, I would call an answering service where someone would take down my name and number and again I would hear from my midwife within ten minutes. If there was anything of real concern, she would then immediately come to my home or arrange to meet me at the hospital, it was absolutely brilliant.
– Each mom-to-be is assigned a “team” of midwives, usually two of them. This beauty in this is that if when you go into labour one of your midwives is attending another birth, you are still guaranteed to have at least one of your team members present. There are always two midwives present at a birth – one to focus on you, and one to focus on your baby. During my pregnancy my appointments were split between my two midwives. For the delivery of my son, I had my secondary midwife present along with a backup. When my little Ella was born earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to have my primary midwife available – although she didn’t make it to the hospital in time for the birth! I felt secure in knowing that no matter what, one of my two care givers would be there for me when it was Go Time. With a physician, you often end up dealing with a rotation of 8 or 10 doctors, and might possibly deliver your baby with someone you’ve never met! The midwife experience is so much more personal, which I love.
– The appointments were booked in 45 – 60 minute increments, not 15 like at my doctor’s office. The waiting room had comfy leather chairs and was painted a soft yellow. All the waiting moms would share stories and become friends. The individual appointment rooms were carpeted and warm. They had a couch, futon or bed with a pillow. There were photos and Christmas cards all over the walls, sent in by families and past “patients”. This may not seem important, but it meant something to me. It encapsulated what pregnancy should be! It’s not an illness, and it should not be treated as one. It’s a joyous, incredible journey and achievement that should be celebrated and shared and ENJOYED, not feared.
– The morning after I delivered my baby, my midwife was at my home by 9am to conduct her first post-natal visit. No doctor is coming to your house the morning after unless you’re married to him!
– I did not see the inside of a doctor’s office for almost one full year. After the birth of your baby, your midwife comes to YOUR HOME to do post-natal checkups for the first six weeks. My first was born in January, and let me tell you – I wish I’d had such a luxury!! It was an absolute treat to have my midwives come to me. We had tea and it was such a calm, stress-free environment for both me and baby. No stripping them down to be weighed in a cold office with bright lights, just snuggles on the couch with mama and a quick check by another loving set of hands. They weigh the babies in a “stork” style sling, not on a cold metal scale. Everything about the experience was just simple and felt RIGHT.
No thank you!! Not unless I’m sick or heading into surgery!
And now, allow me to dispel a few of the MYTHS about midwifery care. I think this is SO important. I am still frustrated by some of the reactions I got when I told friends that I was using a midwife… some of them actually gasped in horror, or made ridiculous comments that made me have to bite my tongue. Things like “Oh my god! My husband would NEVER let me do that!”, or “Why would you ever do something like that? You’re crazy!”, or “No way.. I would NEVER have my baby at home!” (Um, who the hell said I was having my baby at home???)
Onto the myths:
Midwives are informally trained hippies who will burn incense and dance around you chanting while you labour.
Yah, I said it. I know a lot of people who likely have a real stereotype associated with midwifery care. Let me tell you, it’s not like that. Sure, I did notice that these are calm, peaceful, earthy women who connect with their surroundings and strive to live a natural life, but what’s wrong with that? Canadian midwives hold university degrees and are considered specialists in pregnancy and birth. They are trained professionals who are smart and incredibly dedicated to their field. The hours they work and the unimaginable lack of sleep they get is definitely worthy of respect.
You must deliver naturally, and at home.
This is simply not true. As I mentioned above, the purpose of a midwife is to assist you in making the best decisions for YOUR pregnancy, labour and delivery. They are there to help you determine what will work best for you, and while they are indeed advocates of natural, home births, they by no means insist on it. My first experience with a midwife was with my second baby, and I was unsure about EVERYTHING. I knew in my heart I wanted to deliver at the hospital, but my husband kept pushing me to do it at home and I just didn’t know what to do! Same goes for the epidural. I loved the idea of trying to deliver naturally, but it had been 6 years since I’d had a baby and I just couldn’t remember how intense the pain was, and I couldn’t commit to a plan. Luckily, they didn’t force me to. We went into my delivery with an open mind. I was going to try to avoid the drugs as long as possible, but if at some point I needed them that would be just fine. In the end it didn’t matter, little Cal made his arrival with lightening speed and I never had a chance to make that choice! But the bottom line is that as far as the midwives were concerned, I DID have a choice. As for a home birth, the midwives had many resources to help me make an educated decision. They hosted seminars and had lots of literature to ease any fear and educate me on a topic I knew very little about. In the end, I wanted to be in the hospital, and they were absolutely supportive of my choice.
If you deliver in the hospital, you must return home the same day.
Again, this is the choice of the mother. If all is well and there are no concerns, you have the option to head home just a few hours after your baby is born. I happily took advantage of this with both my midwife deliveries. I understand why some mothers – especially first time moms! – are eager to spend the night there and take advantage of the extra help as much as possible, but I just wanted to go home and sleep in my own bed. It was my choice, though, and if I’d wanted to stay the standard 24 hours that was fine too. With my son I arrived home at 6am, and with my daughter I was home by 2am. With both babies, my midwife was over to see me the following morning to go over any questions I had and help me become well established with breastfeeding.
Once you’ve chosen to go with a midwife, that’s all you will have access to, so you’d better pray nothing goes wrong.
No. NO. This could not be farther from the truth. Midwifery programs have something called “Transfer of Care”, and the midwifes are extremely diligent in watching for signs that a doctor may in fact need to take over. There are many situations in which this could happen, and as an expectant mother you actually must be approved to be under the care of a midwife. There are a series of questions regarding your medical history and current health, including past pregnancies and predispositions to various illnesses and disease. Even if you are approved, at any point in your pregnancy or labour and delivery if any concerns arise that require the care of a physician you will be transferred to one immediately.
I hope that this has given some insight into the whole midwife process. I have done it with and without, and I wish that I could go back in time and have my first baby with a midwife too! The level of care is unsurpassed, and it was the most wonderful choice I’ve ever made. (Sorry Alex, you were a great one too, but you agree I’m sure.. the midwives ROCKED!!)
Total peace & joy after delivering my first “midwife baby”, Cal:
Everyone is different, and whether you choose a home birth or a hospital, a midwife or a doctor, an epidural or au natural, all that matters is that you have the labour and delivery that YOU want. One of the best pieces of advice I can offer an expectant mama is to keep an open mind. You can have a birth plan, you can print it out on lovely paper and hand a copy to everyone you know. But you can’t control those hours in between your first contraction and the arrival of the most beautiful, perfect creature you’ve ever seen. Go with the flow allow the event to unfold as it needs to. At the end of the day, all that matters is that you and your baby are safe, and that you feel like you were heard. Be an active participant in your birth. Be informed. Be diligent. Be insistent. This is YOUR body, YOUR delivery and YOUR baby. Follow your instincts and make sure that whoever is in charge of your care is really listening, and has your best interests at heart.
Because being born is NOT a business, even though it’s often treated as one.
If you have any questions about my experiences with midwives or would like more information on the subject, please let me know in the comments!