In June, midwives were making news all around the world in person and in print. Maternity care researcher Judith Lothian presented at the International Congress of Midwives conference in Prague, an enormous international gathering of thousands of midwives from all the corners of the globe that occurs every three years. Dr. Lothian shares her impressions of the Congress gathering today. Additionally, the journal, The Lancet released its Series on Midwifery, long awaited and recognizing that if normal, safe birth is to be supported, midwifery care is the key to achieving that goal. Dr Lothian summarizes this important series and shares what it means for women and their babies. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility
In the US, where midwives attend around 10% of births and around 1% of women have planned out of hospital births, most women and many health care providers know little, if anything, about midwifery. Several decades ago, I began to write about midwifery and out of hospital birth as a way of promoting, protecting and supporting normal birth. More recently, I’ve done research on women’s and midwives’ experiences of home birth. I’ve also spent a great deal of time with midwives, with my daughters during the births of my grandchildren, at two historic Home Birth Summits, at Normal Birth conferences and, in the last 2 years working with the American College of Nurse Midwives on their Normal Birth Initiative. I count many midwives among my most respected and cherished friends.
I’ve wanted to spread the good news about midwifery and women and babies for a very long time, but the last month has me wanting to ring bells, light candles, and shout from the rooftops to celebrate the tremendous accomplishments of midwives and midwifery, the courage of midwives, and the commitment of midwifery to women and children here in the United States and across the globe.
In early June I attended the International Congress of Midwives in Prague. Thirty eight hundred midwives (and a smaller group of nurses, sociologists, epidemiologists, birth advocates and researchers) came together as they do every three years to share what they know, learn what they don’t know, and recommit themselves to women and babies around the world. Midwives from 85 countries, most often in the traditional dress of their country, paraded into the opening ceremony. The video and pictures from this event can’t begin to capture what it was like to be there, but it does give you a taste of the excitement and the pride. It was truly amazing.
The number of sessions was mind boggling. In each time slot there were multiple sessions on normal birth. It was difficult to choose and impossible to get to even a small percentage of what was offered. I am sharing some of the standouts for me.
Lisa Kane Low, from the University of Michigan, and a champion of midwifery and evidence based maternity care, was a plenary speaker. Her talk on access to care highlighted the importance of meeting women where they are and putting their needs, not ours, first. Toyin Saraki is the newly appointed ICM Global Goodwill Ambassador. The former First Lady of Nigeria, she is the founder and director of the Wellbeing Foundation Africa. The work of the foundation has reduced maternal mortality in Nigeria by 20%.
Ms. Saraki shared a Nigerian saying with us: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. I can’t stop thinking about that, and its implications for our work. Cecily Begley, the Chair of Nursing and Midwifery at Trinity College Dublin, participated in a plenary panel, Education: The Bridge to Midwifery and Women’s Autonomy. Professor Begley talked about “communities of change” and she described education and research as necessary in crossing the bridge to change. Ray DeVries and Saras Vedam participated in a symposium on ethics related to birth place. Both Ray and Saras contributed to the Journal of Clinical Ethics Fall 2013 special issue on place of birth. The audience participation was lively.
The ethical issues related to pushing women to unassisted births when there is no real choice related to planned, assisted out of hospital birth and the ethical issues of hospitals and providers stonewalling efforts to make transfer seamless, safe, and without recrimination were discussed. Dr. Marianne Nieuwenhuijze from the Netherlands, presented her excellent work on shared decision making. Tanya Tanner from ACNM, Ellie Daniels from National Association of Certified Professional Midwives, and I presented the collaborative work of ACNM, MANA and NACPM developing a consensus statement on normal, physiologic birth, and more specifically, our work developing a consumer statement based on the consensus statement, Normal, Healthy Childbirth for Women and Families: What You Need to Know.
It was wonderful meeting midwives from Australia, Canada, Ghana, the UK, and Ireland. The challenges are not exactly the same as ours in the US, but we are all fighting uphill battles in support of normal birth.
On the heels of the ICM, The Lancet launched its eagerly awaited Lancet Series on Midwifery. In Ireland for the summer, I was glued to my computer savoring every moment of the launch online on June 23. The lead author of each of the four major papers provided a summary and there were comments from a wide array of noted scholars, researchers, practitioners and policy makers from around the world. There were many familiar faces from the International Congress of Midwives. Toyin Saraki gave a stirring speech applauding midwifery, noting that midwifery is not a job, but a passion, a vocation. Holly Kennedy, who co-authored a paper, and is working on a follow up paper, brought congratulations from the ACNM.
“Midwifery is commonly misunderstood. The Series of four papers and five Comments we publish today sets out to correct that misunderstanding. One important conclusion is that application of the evidence presented in this Series could avert more than 80% of maternal and newborn deaths including stillbirths. Midwifery therefore has a pivotal, yet widely neglected, part to play in accelerating progress to end preventable mortality of women and children”. Horton and Astudillo go on to note that the work is based on a set of values and philosophy that are distinctive. “These values include respect, communication, community knowledge and understanding, and care tailored to a woman’s circumstances and needs. The philosophy is equally important—to optimise the normal biological, psychological, social, and cultural processes of childbirth, reducing the use of interventions to a minimum. “
The four papers include
- Midwifery and quality care: findings from a new evidence-informed framework for maternal and newborn care by Mary J Renfrew, Alison McFadden, Maria Helena Bastos, James Campbell, Andrew Amos Channon, Ngai Fen Cheung, Deborah Rachel Audebert Delage Silva, Soo Downe, Holly Powell Kennedy, Address Malata, Felicia McCormick, Laura Wick, Eugene Declercq
- The projected effect of scaling up midwifery by Caroline S E Homer, Ingrid K Friberg, Marcos Augusto Bastos Dias, Petra ten Hoope-Bender, Jane Sandall, Anna Maria Speciale, Linda A Bartlett
- Country experience with strengthening of health systems and deployment of midwives in countries with high maternal mortality by Wim Van Lerberghe, Zoe Matthews, Endang Achadi, Chiara Ancona, James Campbell, Amos Channon, Luc de Bernis, Vincent De Brouwere, Vincent Fauveau, Helga Fogstad, Marge Koblinsky, Jerker Liljestrand, Abdelhay Mechbal, Susan F Murray, Tung Rathavay, Helen Rehr, Fabienne Richard, Petra ten Hoope-Bender, Sabera Turkmani
- Improvement of maternal and newborn health through midwifery by Petra ten Hoope-Bender, Luc de Bernis, James Campbell, Soo Downe, Vincent Fauveau, Helga Fogstad, Caroline S E Homer, Holly Powell Kennedy, Zoe Matthews, Alison McFadden, Mary J Renfrew, Wim Van Lerberghe
The Lancet Series on Midwifery makes a major contribution to the literature bringing together the evidence basis for midwifery, its outcomes, and how to affect policy. We need to translate that evidence into action, into the education of the women we teach, and into our advocacy efforts on behalf of safe, healthy birth.
The Lancet Series on Midwifery can be accessed at through this link. The series includes an executive summary, commentaries, and the four major papers. You need to register on the Lancet site but everything can be accessed for free.
The time has come to recognize and celebrate the incredible work that midwives do. In the US, it is time for women to know about midwifery, and to see the connection of midwifery and normal, physiologic birth. It is time for childbirth educators to encourage women to choose midwifery care, and time to collaborate with midwives both in our communities and on organizational and governmental levels. If we want to promote safe, healthy, normal physiologic birth, we need to promote and support midwifery. Healthy low risk women need to know that if they want the safest, healthiest birth for themselves and their babies that they need to find a midwife.
About Judith Lothian
Judith Lothian, PhD, RN, LCCE, FACCE is a nurse and childbirth educator. She is an Associate Professor at the College of Nursing, Seton Hall University and the current Chairperson of the Lamaze Certification Council Governing Body. Judith is also the Associate Editor of the Journal of Perinatal Education and writes a regular column for the journal. Judith is the co-author of The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth with Confidence. Her research focus is planned home birth and her most recent publication is Being Safe: Making the Decision to Have a Planned Home Birth in the US published in the Journal of Clinical Ethics (Fall 2013).