(This article is Part 1 of a series on Oppressive Midwifery Laws. See this previous post for foundational information about the series.)
Please welcome my friend, Jennifer, from Momma Trauma to the blog. Jenn offers support to women who have encountered birth trauma through her blog, online community, and local Sacred Circles. She works with a number of organizations in their quests to change midwifery laws and create a more just maternity care system, where women are treated with dignity and respect.
I asked Jenn if she would join me in this conversation to help us all understand the low-down on what’s happening with midwifery and birth rights in Delaware.
Before we delve into the details of the midwifery laws and their effects, it’s important to understand women’s fundamental rights as it pertains to homebirth. As is the case everywhere in the States, it is perfectly legal for women to birth their babies at home in Delaware. There are no laws on any books in the U.S. that suggest otherwise. However, some states, like Delaware, make it pretty damn challenging for women to actually make that choice because their midwifery laws restrict their access to “legal” midwives.
So, Jenn, what is the law in Delaware regarding licensure?
Delaware contends that it IS legal for non-nurse midwives to attend homebirths as we have a licensure clause just for them; they just have to license themselves first of course.
So why can’t they get licensed? For the past TEN years, regulation has been in place requiring non-nurse midwives to obtain a written collaborative agreement between themselves and a doctor with hospital privileges. This would require the non-nurse midwife to be covered under the doctor’s malpractice insurance.The malpractice insurances refuse to work with the non-nurse midwives. Therefore making it impossible for them to become licensed in the state of Delaware.
What about Certified Nurse Midwives (CNM’s) – are they able to attend homebirth?
CNMs cannot attend homebirths, at least not here in Delaware, because
1. the malpractice insurances will not cover births at home and
2. they have to be held to the same procedures, protocols and standards as the doctors they work under, which would not be a good fit for births at home of course since it’s a totally different mindset.
Does Delaware have any legal, licensed midwives for women to choose from?
Only ONE non-nurse midwife has ever been licensed by the State of Delaware in the past ten years. This particular midwife was grandfathered in prior to the regulations taking place. She is only allowed to attend the home births of Amish and Mennonite women in our community (central-southern Delaware only).
So, I’m sure women are still choosing to birth at home in spite of this, right? What has that been like?
If you DO make the informed decision to birth at home, you do not have the option of a skilled and expert attendant. You *must* go at it “alone” or “unassisted.” Delaware had two underground midwives. They both now have cease & desist orders against them and, needless to say, refuse to practice now. So no, we do not have the choice of birthing at home with an “underground” midwife. This is essentially bullying on the part of the state, plus very discriminatory when you consider that low-risk Amish and Mennonite women are allowed home births, but that’s it.
The second half of this problem is that now state investigators are showing up at the doors of our families to ask if a midwife was present at their home for their healthy, uneventful births. Most recently, a mom had a precipitous labor (intended on going to the hospital). She had an Oooops home birth. The dad called 911 and was surprised to find not only EMT at his door, but a DA, also, just in case.
This is disheartening, to say the least. These laws and the heavy handed treatment by government officials in this state are some of the most oppressive tactics I have heard of for keeping women under the thumb of the “authorities.” Regardless of one’s individual opinion of homebirth, we should all be appalled at this type of Police-state-style of harassment of women and their families. Delaware is a prime example of how midwifery laws place women and babies at risk by not offering them the ability to choose a skilled birth attendant at home.
Want to make a difference?
Please visit Jenn’s press release article, which details not only the above, but also contains action steps, including a petition, printable letter, ways to tweet the governor, and an invitation to join Delaware Birth Network and/or Delaware Families for Safe Birth.
An update on Delaware can be found here.