As a retired nurse I was inspired after reading your Pew Stateline December 11, 2021 article, Rural midwives fill gaps as hospitals cut childbirth services.
The following is the first lesson we were taught as nursing students in the late 1970’s. The info from this lecture was given to us by our instructor, and is now committed to memory:
Historically before the time of the Bible only midwives delivered babies. When hospitals came to be they were staffed only by doctors who were exclusively male. As the existence of hospitals continued to grow in modern society, women of means were encouraged to give birth in these hospitals. Labor and delivery care was solely provided by doctors. The centuries old tradition of midwives was banned in hospitals.
It was an era prior to microbiology. Because of that, preventing the spread of disease wasn’t known. Simple things like the importance of hand washing, wearing clean clothing, and masks to protect themselves and patients wasn’t a protocol.
Hospitals in that era as now contained dangerous microorganisms that often infected patients, including pregnant mothers.
It was eventually learned that the cause of most postpartum hospital deaths at the time was due to perpetual childbirth fever. Perpetual childbirth fever was spread when doctors went from patient to patient after providing care, or having just done an autopsy. Hence spreading pathogens, dangerous microorganisms. All this was prior to antibiotics. Tragically due to babies then being born in hospitals perpetual childbirth fever took the lives of many new mothers in significant numbers.
Things improved with the invention of the microscope, the field of microbiology was born. With new discoveries microbiology continues to save millions upon millions of lives every year. Over time with these discoveries hospitals became safer places for the sick to be cared for and for childbirth to take place.
In the 1970’s I had not heard of any midwives practicing at hospitals in my home state of Connecticut. And here we are now in this 21st Century with nurse midwives essentially in demand, often times being the heroines of the day. We’re fortunate to have nurse midwives who provide excellent healthcare for women including labor and delivery.
I was fortunate to have the care of nurse midwives when two of our sons were born in the 1980’s. It was an extraordinary experience. Once a woman becomes pregnant it’s a total mother and baby situation. The person who provides her and her infant’s care is by far a most essential person in their lives for those nine months. Trust is an important aspect during that time, and in managing and enduring their labor and delivery. All this is important preparation for a healthy outcome of both mother and infant.
When a small community hospital eliminates delivery services for mothers and infants it should only be done if safe labor and delivery services can be put in place immediately to provide the highest level of care. This is a justified human right. Continuing to bring nurse midwives into this modern day situation at community hospitals would be a humongous improvement over shutting down delivery rooms. Riding in an ambulance on dangerous country roads as laboring women are already experiencing brutal indescribable pain, is no way to welcome a child into the world.
Cheryl Kapelner Champ of Pomfret is an activist poet and artist working with Windham United To Save Our Healthcare and our need to restore Labor and Delivery Services to Windham Hospital.