Most births are uncomplicated. So in rural areas where hospitals are shutting down, women want to give birth at home. Now, states across the country are legalizing and regulating midwifery so they can. This is the story of one rural state, one midwife, and one brand-new mama.
When the West was first being settled, women didn’t have the option to go to the hospital to give birth. Today that still can be the case as hospitals in rural towns are shutting down. So some women are reverting back to the way pioneers to the West gave birth: with the aid of a midwife.
We’re currently in the middle of a wave of legalizing and regulating midwives, which allows women the option to give birth at home. Thirty-five states have already legalized midwifery and that includes all of the Mountain West except Nevada.
For me, this isn’t a familiar idea at all. I wasn’t born anywhere near a farm. My mom gave birth to me and my older brother in New York City. I wondered about the difference between giving birth in an urban versus a rural setting.
So I called my mom up.
“We lived very close to a hospital,” my mom Bozena says. “It was like a block away, maybe 500 to 600 meters, so you couldn’t take a cab or car or whatever. You had to walk,” she said. “It was the middle of the night. I think it was Monday and I decided we had to go. So we went to the hospital, Dad and I.”
“And you walked to the hospital?” I ask. I’m thinking of pregnant women in the West who have long drives to get to the nearest hospital.
“Yeah, I walked to the hospital with Dad and they made all those tests and said that the opening is too small and it’s happening too slowly and, because I don’t want to use any medications to speed it up, that I have to go home and wait.”
So my mom walked back home and, when she felt more contractions, she walked to the hospital again. My mom kept on saying she felt alone when she was pregnant with my brother. He was her first kid and she had no immediate family in the United States so she was depending on doctors and hospitals.
I don’t think I ever realized before how much women depend on hospitals during labor, especially for their first kid.
That’s a real problem where I now live in northern Wyoming. In the past ten years, hundreds of hospitals have been closing in rural areas like this one and the maternity wing is usually one of the first units to go. So in areas where hospitals are shutting down, home births attended by a midwife can provide another option for many women living far from hospitals.
So, for this story, I wanted to meet a woman who chooses to use a midwife at home, instead of an obstetrician at a hospital. And when she invited me to her birth, I got to see firsthand how much difference it makes for this intimate moment to happen at home.
Midwife Melanie Lennon’s retreat
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