International Day of the Midwife

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International Day of the Midwife

Amie Newman

Since tomorrow, May 5, is the International Day of the Midwife, I thought it fitting to take a moment to both acknowledge the day and why it's so important to me to link discussions about midwifery and childbirth to the broader reproductive and sexual health and rights movement in the U.S.

Since tomorrow, May 5, is the International Day of the Midwife, I thought it fitting to take a moment to both acknowledge the day and why it’s so important to me to link discussions about midwifery and childbirth to the broader reproductive and sexual health and rights movement in the U.S.

First off, if you’re interested in what’s happening around the web to celebrate this day, head over to the amazing Amy Romano’s Lamaze blog, Science & Sensibility, for a good, brief run-down of what activities are planned virtually. In fact, please do join in on what’s sure to be a fascinating discussion hosted by The Feminist Breeder, on her blog radio show, with Amy, myself and Mary Murry, a nurse-midwife at the Mayo Clinic.

This is the first year I’d heard about this day so I’m new to it myself but from the web site of the International Confederation of Midwives,

The aim of the day is to celebrate midwifery and to bring awareness of the importance of midwives’ work to as many people as possible.”

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And if that’s the case, let me just say that celebrating the day virtually is probably the best way to shed light on just exactly what midwifery is, how accessible it is or isn’t around the world, the ways in which both women and babies benefit and why it’s critical to work towards expanding access. Women are using the internet more than ever when it comes specifically to finding and using health information and we love to share that information with each other, so there has never been a more perfect time for midwives and midwifery advocates to speak up, online!

For me, I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to continue to discuss issues related to birth, on the web, with anyone who will listen (or read). Here’s my feeling: when we talk about ensuring women’s autonomy and freedom related to health, individual women’s choices should not be the issue. Honestly. Whether a woman choses to get pregnant, decides to continue the pregnancy, birth with a midwife at home, have a c-section in a hospital, have an abortion, use contraception or not. Society simply does not get a “say” in how women use our bodies and the choices we make about our own health and lives. This is not a group decision. If you do not believe that abortion is moral or you think that contraception is actually an abortifacient or that childbirth using the midwifery model of care is safe or that cesarean sections are unsafe, then do as you choose in your own life. But to actively work to remove options for women, when the best scientific evidence and most informed experts we have conclude that these health care options are not only safe but beneficial to women (not to mention newborns) on the population level, then I say step off. 

Where society does get to weigh in, is about whether the global community decides to commit to ensuring that all women have access to information about their bodies and health, and high-quality, personalized health care that does not discriminate based on ones’ sexuality, ethnicity, race, immigration status or any other excuse to block access. The midwifery model of care, like access to safe, legal abortion, has been proven to improve women’s health and lives, overall. Our best global health experts endorse the midwifery model of care for healthy pregnant women just as they do access to safe, abortion, effective contraception, regular reproductive and sexual health exams like Pap smears, extended breastfeeding and more – and yet.  We are still struggling to ensure that women around the world have access to all of these health care services.

For me, these health issues are all related. When we see that valuing womens’ health and lives isn’t about controlling womens’ bodies but about offering the health care services both expertly recommended and needed, and then simply trusting women to make the best decisions given the circumstances of ones’ life, we’ll see true progress.

The International Day of the Midwife is also a chance to acknowledge the ways in which women’s health and lives are inextricably linked to newborns’ health and lives. It’s why we must meet the targets set by the Millennium Development Goal #5 – to reduce maternal mortality rates as well as to achieve “universal access to reproductive health.”

The World Health Organization says that having a skilled birth attendant, such as a midwife, doctor or a nurse, at every birth worldwide is key to reaching these goals. The White Ribbon Alliance, a group that works to reduce maternal and newborn mortality rates worldwide says,

Every minute a woman dies due to the complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Every year 1.5 million newborns die within the first 24 hours of life. Almost always their lives could have been saved if they were cared for by a midwife supported with essential medications and equipment and linkages to emergency care, should that become necessary. Yet, in sub-Saharan Africa where there are the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, there is the lowest rate of births attended by skilled health workers.

It’s hard to say that raising awareness of the midwifery model of care, then, is not a matter of life or death. Tomorrow, on International Day of the Midwife, it’s worth it to thank a midwife, learn one new thing about what midwives do and who they are, throw something up on your Facebook page, listen in as we discuss midwifery and new media on The Feminist Breeder’s blog radio show, donate to a midwifery organization of your choosing or just spend a moment considering how easy it truly is to save womens’ and newborns’ lives by speaking up.