The option of using a professional midwife for home births has been legal in Colorado since 1993, and a bill currently before the state Legislature will renew licensing for trained and registered midwives.
But who should use a midwife and why?
Local midwives agree that having a home birth with the assistance of a midwife is for a woman that is having a low-risk, healthy pregnancy. And home births with a trained and certified midwife is as safe as a hospital birth, according to a 2005 study conducted by the Public Health Agency of Canada. The study looked at more than 5,000 births in 2000, mostly in the U.S., and found that the safety of low-risk births at home was about the same as low-risk births in a hospital.
Midwife Hope Coulter of Montrose said it’s important for families to have the option of choosing a home birth with a certified midwife.
“There are risks whether you’re at home or the hospital, and it’s a matter of educating yourself about those risks,” she said.
But if you choose to have your baby at home with the help of a midwife, as Coulter did with her three children, it can be an exceptional, even transcending experience, she said. The births of Coulter’s own children were some of the “most significant events” of her life.
“My husband agrees we had such a great experience we sometimes want to get pregnant again just so we can give birth again,” she half-joked. Their kids are five, three and nine months old.
Midwives have to go through between three and four years of training, both academic and on the job, before they can be certified, said Coulter, who’s been a certified midwife for eight years.
“There’s definitely the academic component, and 100 prenatal visits and 50 births where you’re the primary midwife, and a ton of other criteria.”
Coulter believes it’s a woman’s right to have her child at home if she wants to. She states her beliefs about childbirth on her website at breathoflifemidwifery.com.
Among them: “I believe that women are strong human beings who are designed to experience birth and are fully capable of birthing naturally…that beginnings are important and that a gentle natural childbirth is best for both mothers and babies…that babies and mothers should not be separated at birth…and while giving birth is sacred and important, becoming a mother is a profound honor, a life-long calling, and a great joy.”
The joy of childbirth at home is evident in the classic tome on the subject, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin, who has been a midwife for more than 30 years and attended the births of more than 2,200 babies. In her book she writes about the “true capacity” of women’s bodies.
“The way I see it, the most trustworthy knowledge about women’s bodies combines the best of what medical science has offered over the past century or two with what women have always been able to learn about themselves before birth moved into hospitals,” she writes.
All three of Coulter’s children were delivered by fellow midwife Bill Dwelley of Montrose’s Childbirth Awareness, who has been practicing homebirth midwifery and teaching students of midwifery in Western Colorado for over 20 years. According to Dwelley, women should educate themselves as much as they can about childbirth before choosing the option that suits them: birth at home with a certified midwife, birth at a birthing center with a nurse midwife, or birth in a hospital with a medical doctor.
There are five reasons a woman should choose a trained midwife, according to the web zine pregnancy.com:
• You’re a low risk woman. This means that your midwife has been trained to ensure that you do your best to stay healthy and low risk throughout your pregnancy by guiding you in your choices towards healthy options. It also means that she is constantly watching to ensure you are within these healthy parameters, like a lifeguard, only stepping in when needed.
• You want a normal birth. Midwives tend to have much lower intervention rates, like lower cesarean and induction of labor rates. This eases the minds of many women who are hoping to avoid unneeded interventions. Your midwife is also more likely to spend time with you, helping you through labor.
• You enjoy longer prenatal care visits. This is great not only to get to know her (or him) and vice versa, and to answer your questions thoroughly and explain what is going on. This can have a very calming influence on pregnant women.
• You like midwifery style of pregnancy care better. A midwife is more likely to be your partner in your care, rather than the director. You are more likely to have her ask you to take part in your care. By trusting a woman’s body and instilling that faith, the midwife is helping support you in the natural sense of pregnancy and birth.
To find a midwife in your area and learn more about midwifery (pronounced mid-WIFF-ery) go the website of the Colorado Midwives Association at www.coloradomidwives.org.
The association’s home page quotes British social anthropologist Sheila Kitzinger on the role of midwives.
“In all cultures the midwife’s place is on the threshold of life, where intense human emotions – fear, hope, longing, triumph and incredible physical power – enable a new human being to emerge. Her (or his) vocation is unique.”
To reach Coulter, contact Breath of Life Midwifery at 252-7191 or visit her website, breathoflifemidwifery.com. Bill Dwelley of Childbirth Awareness can be reached by calling 249-5125.