At one time the use of a midwife conjured up visions of birth-attending barbarians in a dimly lit, unsanitary room. Today, nothing could be further from the truth. Midwifery as a profession has the status it deserves as an integral and indispensable component of prenatal care and childbirth. Popular in Europe for many years, it is becoming more so in the United States.
Midwives are increasingly associated with physicians, where they can handle the majority of the prenatal care that needs to be done and up to 90 percent of the actual births. The remaining births that are of high risk are usually under the physician's care.
A woman might choose to have a child delivered by a midwife for several reasons. One of the most important is that the traditional medical community continues to treat pregnancy as an illness and the pregnant woman as a sick person. This kind of thinking is slowly being rejected, in part as the result of a U.S. Supreme Court action ruling that pregnancy is a disability and not a disease. There are several other reasons why midwives are becoming more popular:
- New changes in the law allow the licensing of midwives.
- There is, as a result of the women's movement, a sharp increase in the demand for women practitioners to assist in deliveries.
- Midwives are better trained today than ever and often go through intensive university-based classes in physiology and obstetrics.
- The role of technology in childbirth has been questioned in that it tends to be dehumanizing. Midwives are less likely to resort to such techniques, which in some cases may present more dangers to the woman and the infant than not.
- The federal government endorses the use of midwives and encourages institutions to employ them.
Perhaps the best combination is a midwife working directly with a physician so there is adequate technical backup if necessary.