Medicine has transformed itself from the once personal experience of the country doctor to the now corporate world of HMO’s, PPO’s, and insurance run healthcare. However, this scenario has been discovered to be far from ideal, especially when it comes to pregnancy, pre-natal care, and the obstetrics involved in birth. In the past, midwives have provided an invaluable alternative to the hospital/nurse/doctor dynamic that leaves many women devoid of the personal attention they need and wish for at a crucial moment in their life and the life of the baby about to be born. Recent years have seen a virtual “witch hunt” in the field of midwifery in America. The greed of medical industry, regulations by insurance companies and a plethora of legal battles have stunted the growth of the profession. However, midwives have a long history of success in their field and continue to serve as an invaluable option to the increasingly impersonal experience of pre-natal and neo-natal health care.
The history of midwifery is rooted deeply in traditional medical practices as common and highly preferred. The Bible speaks of midwives in Genesis and again in Exodus with the examples of Shiphrah and Puah . The actual word midwife is used as early as 1303 and means “to be with woman”. The Middle Ages provides the oldest book on Midwifery written by Eucharius Röslin . Up until the late 1600’s, birthing was assisted strictly by midwives.
The difference between medical practice and midwifery is more clearly stated in Europe than in America. In Europe, philosophical differences in the experience of childbirth gave way to the popularity of midwives. While the medical field moved towards making the experience closer to a surgical procedure, midwives campaigned for the personal care and comfortability that the home experience could offer. Physicians focused on technical innovations such as general anesthesia, epidural anesthesia, and systemic anesthesia to lure women into a sense of security with the claim of “pain-free birth”. However, anesthetized women are more likely to experience pathology and no longer have a “normal birth” when such measures are used.
In America, the birthing practices of the Motherland accompanied the colonists. Family members and friends attended the birth for comfort and support while skilled midwives oversaw the medical aspects of the mother and newborn . The midwives were revered and held in esteem in the community.
“Before and during the Colonial period English society did not consider midwives to be part of the medical establishment or professions but saw them as performing a special social and quasi-religious function. That is, midwives did not formally train for their work, did not organize a guild to license midwives, and did not transmit skills by formal apprenticeships. Rather, midwives succeeded one another by selecting themselves, or being selected by other women to attend births”.