Importing Midwives and Exporting Babies: Illinois’ Little Secret Gets National Attention

Illinois midwifery and home birth have gotten a lot of national attention lately. In late August, there was a Time Magazine article on the controversies surrounding home birth in the U.S.A. In the opening paragraph, there was a description of an Illinois home birth mama who eventually jumped the border to have her baby in Missouri because the home birth situation in Illinois was so full of angst.

Late last week, the New York Times published an entire article about Illinois home birth. The title was (to us activists) exciting and provocative – “Use of Midwives Rises, Challenging the State to Respond”. This article features an Illinois student midwife who crossed the border, moving to Wisconsin to complete her education and work legally. Also in the same article, is an Illinois mama who moved to Wisconsin to follow her midwife.

Is there a pattern here??  Yes – moms and midwives crossing the border into friendlier states. It’s as if there are signs at the border pointing AWAY from our state   →  This Way To A Better Birth.

This is only half the story, however. The Coalition for Illinois Midwifery is also aware of women bringing midwives IN to Illinois. Although not clearly stated in the NYT article, some of the mamas interviewed actually imported their home birth midwives from other states. And they’re not the only ones. Over the past several years Illinois home birth mothers have brought midwives in from Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Oregon, Montana, California, and probably quite a few more.

Bringing a midwife in or taking a jaunt across the border are both viable options for women, but are they really the best options?

Comfort is an issue. Anyone who remembers the last few weeks of their pregnancy knows the last thing they want to do is take a long drive anywhere, much less in labor.

Safety is an issue. Should a woman need a higher level of care, her imported midwife is unlikely to be familiar with the local options. And for mamas who have traveled, ending up in a strange hospital, miles from their supportive network of friends and family, can negatively impact their well-being.

Pride is an issue. Can we not serve our own?

With national attention finally on the subject, we can hope that our state legislature will find it in their hearts to make sure that women who choose home birth in Illinois, have enough providers willing to serve them. Given that we have at least 30 years of evidence that nurse-midwives and physicians cannot and will not meet that demand, it is time to recognize those who will and assure that they have met national certification standards. Licensure of certified professional midwives (CPMs) is the only way.

Otherwise we’d better start building those border signs.

Ms. Catania Goes to Springfield (again)

I haven’t been to our state capitol since I was with my mom (former State Rep. Susan Catania) in the seventies and early eighties.

It is the stuff of legend – ok well, the stuff of lots of family stories anyway – as one of very few women in the legislature, she was a rarity in 1974. But an elected nursing mother was completely unheard of. When I was a nursling she took me (and later my two younger sisters) with her when the House was in session and breastfed me in the first-ever, just-installed, women’s restroom off the House floor. She brought us with her periodically for inaugurations and the like over the next ten years of her service. But, I haven’t made the trip since she left office in 1982.

The time has come to return and speak up for an important bill, HB226, The Homebirth Safety Act. It will give more mothers in Illinois the option I had when I lived in another state – to labor and give birth safely, at home, with the licensed midwives of their choice.

Illinois has a reputation of being the most hostile state in the nation to midwives – even going so far as to arrest and prosecute them. My mom sponsored the first similar legislation 30 years ago and the powerful lobbyists of the medical associations have fought it tooth and nail ever since. It’s legal to give birth alone at home in Illinois – but illegal for a trained, direct-entry midwife to assist.

So I’m going to Springfield to join the effort to dispel outdated myths and fear by offering evidence about the safety of contemporary homebirth and information about the particular strengths of this bill.

I’m heading down this Tuesday with both of my children and posting here when I can, as well as on Twitter and Facebook. There is still a spot for another grown-up in my car if you’d like to come with in real life! Or if you can’t, please just attend virtually by checking my posts!

If you’re in Illinois and you’d like to support the effort, please visit http://www.ilga.gov to look up your representative and then give them a call to ask them to do everything they can to help the bill into law. If you are out of state and you can help financially, Illinois Families for Midwifery can use as generous a donation as you can give.