Free Our Midwives!

June 16, 2010

Older daughter Mirabelle holding Jadzia just minutes after a home birth.

Normally I write on this blog about human rights issues in South Asia.  But, I’m also the proud father of two gorgeous (in my opinion!) daughters who were born with the loving help of a midwife.  My youngest daughter, Jadzia, was born in late September 2009 at our home, delivered by a wonderful home birth midwife, Kate Finn.

However, unless New York passes the Midwifery Modernization Act, other expectant mothers might not be able to receive quality care from midwives in New York State as my wife and daughters received, likely resulting in increased barriers to maternal care, something documented extensively by Amnesty International.  You can take action to help pass this legislation in New York!

The only reason that Kate was able to deliver our healthy baby at home was because of an agreement between her and a medical doctor, called a written practice agreement (WPA).  While the spirit of the WPA requirement may seem like it inspires collaboration between midwives and physicians, in fact, this is not the case.

Although many doctors are willing to collaborate with midwives, they are unwilling or unable to sign these agreements. Therefore, although midwives are trained as independent health care professionals, this requirement in the law prohibits them from being able to practice independently. The WPA represents an enormous barrier to practice for midwives all over NYS.

Midwives collaborate, as necessary, with many different types of physicians (e.g., obstetricians, endocrinologists, pediatricians) with whom they have collegial relations. They very rarely have written collaborative agreements with these physicians – they simply refer their clients to see the doctors and the doctors agree to see them. This system works quite well without the requirement of a written agreement.  In fact, 15 states and Washington, DC, already authorize midwives to practice without a written agreement.

Importantly, when midwives cannot practice, women and families cannot choose the model of health care that best meets their needs, and may be denied access to quality maternal care, particularly where there is a shortage of providers in their area.  The WPA limits access to midwifery care to many women in communities across NYS, and often in underserved areas where this type of care is sorely needed. In many rural areas of the state there are no hospitals or obstetric providers to sign practice agreements. Removal of the WPA requirement would allow midwives to practice in areas where women currently have to travel very far to receive care.

We need human rights activists to step up and support the midwives efforts to become independent providers. New York State legislators need to hear that this issue is important to consumers and not just to midwives. Please take a few moments to write to our senators and let them know that you support this important legislation.  Once again, you can take action by clicking HERE.  You can read the full legislation of the Midwifery Modernization Act HERE.