The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News December 1, 2006

Students Aspire to Midwifery

This semester, Ashley Taylor has written about various aspects of Oberlin’s scientific realm and the people involved in it. This week, she discusses birth and the social aspects of the birth process and interviews two Oberlin students interested in careers in this field.  

A pregnant mother can choose whether to give birth in a hospital or a birthing center, and whether to call on the guidance of a doctor or midwife.  Certified Nurse Midwives are registered nurses who have also attended a Certified Nurse Midwife training program and passed a midwifery certification exam.

College junior and biology major Rachel Leibson has known since the age of 14 that midwifery was her calling.  For many years, she has been working with a midwife in her hometown and has attended numerous births.

Midwives are not doctors, explained Leibson, and they are trained to deal only with low-risk births. High-risk births are deferred to doctors, who are trained to deal with emergency situations. 

The stereotype of a midwife as a woman who comes to the home with a big black bag to deliver the baby is less accurate than ever, assured Leibson. It is illegal for midwives and doctors to perform home births in many states because their insurance does not apply to these births. Currently, midwives work in both hospitals and birth centers. 

A birth center, as defined by the American Association of Birth Centers, is a place and organization dedicated to childbirth, where mothers go for pre- and post-natal care as well as the birth itself. There may be both midwives and obstetricians practicing at a birthing center. The AABC emphasizes that birth centers are meant to be places where a mother and her family will feel relaxed and comfortable.  

Leibson pointed out what she sees as the benefits for a mother to have a midwife, referring specifically to a midwife’s distinct perspective on birth as a healthy process for a woman to undergo. Doctors, she said, see birth as an emergency situation, like a disease that needs to be treated. They more often intervene with drugs, forceps or C-section than do midwives, who tend to be more flexible in what they accept as normal.

Leibson said that “in general, midwives believe that birth is a healthy process that calls for support but that does not require intervention in the [way] that doctors perceive it.”

This opinion is echoed by senior biology major Helen Travis, who taught the Women’s Health ExCo last year and attended the Seattle Midwifery School last Winter Term.  She described doctors as “trained to recognize problems,” who “sort of panic when labor does not conform to norms.” 

Travis agreed that doctors are more likely to intervene in the birth, often with more negative than positive results in the end.

She shares Leibson’s respect for midwifery. Travis approves of the lower cost of attendance by a midwife compared to “astronomical” hospital costs. 

Unlike Liebson, Travis wants to become an MD and is considering becoming an obstetrician. She wants to be a doctor in order to bring this philosophy out of the midwifery circle and into the hospital circle.   

This is not to say that hospitals and medical technologies are not good resources for emergency situations — just that birth in and of itself is not an emergency. 

“Women have been giving birth for a million years,” said Travis. “It’s what we’re made for.”


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