Friday, May 4, 2007

State’s midwives finally get their day

Wisconsin State Journal
Lampert Smith: State’s midwives finally get their day
Jane Crawford Peterson has delivered 1,300 babies, all of them beautiful, but her last one was special.

Not only did baby Phillip, who arrived Thursday, make a nice, even number, he was the first one delivered in a home by a midwife licensed by the state of Wisconsin.

Today marks the end of 25 years of hard labor on the part of midwives who have been working to have their profession, and home births, recognized by the state of Wisconsin. The law that goes into effect today legalizes home birth and licenses midwives such as Peterson who do not hold nursing degrees.

Peterson, who lives near Iola and has been helping bring babies into the world for 27 years, is the proud holder of Wisconsin’s license No. 1. She received her license a few weeks in advance of today’s law enactment.

Today, Regulation and Licensing Secretary Celia Jackson and about 200 midwives are expected to gather at Ebling Library Health Sciences Learning Center at UW Hospital to celebrate; Gov. Jim Doyle has declared May 5 “International Midwives’ Day” in Wisconsin.

The law had an unusual birth, as it was sponsored by conservative Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, yet also championed by liberals such as Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton.

“We had old hippies, young hippies, Amish, Mennonites and religious conservatives,” Peterson said. “People who never stand together on the same coin were standing together on this.”

The law brings Wisconsin in line with 24 other states that recognize and license lay midwives who attend home births. It is good news for mothers and babies, for the uninsured and for groups such as the Amish who typically give birth outside hospitals. In 2005, about 1,100 Wisconsin babies were born outside a hospital; that number will undoubtedly grow under the new law.

The move should also help certified nurse midwives, nurses who hold master’s degrees and can already deliver babies under the auspices of a hospital or physician. The law frees them from having to have a written agreement with a health care authority, allows them to mentor and train lay midwives and recognizes home birth.

“What’s elegant about the law is that it pulls together the sisterhood of midwives,” said Ingrid Andersson, a certified nurse midwife who practices in Madison.

Andersson said Southwest Wisconsin Technical College in Fennimore is launching a new program to train and certify midwives. The law also allows practicing midwives, such as Amish midwives, to become licensed by training with licensed midwives, then sitting for the state exam.

Anyone who wants to know why midwives are an important part of the health-care system should stop by the Ebling Library and take a look at two exhibits.

One tracks the history of midwives in Wisconsin, beginning with a group of stern-looking German ladies from a century ago and ending with the hippie midwives who brought the profession back in the 1970s after it was essentially outlawed in 1953. The Wisconsin exhibit was put together by UW-Madison history of medicine undergraduate Kala Kluender.

The other, which features lovely black and white stills from the 1952 film, “All My Babies,” follows the footsteps of Mary Coley, a Georgia midwife who attended the poor families of rural Georgia. Her capable hands caught hundreds of babies who were born healthy thanks to her advice on nutrition and hygiene.

Micaela Sullivan-Fowler, the library’s curator, said the midwives who attended the exhibits’ opening loved both exhibits.

“It was the most extraordinary moment of affirmation,” she said. “There were tears, there was much hugging, they were happy that their place in history has been affirmed.”

Many of Wisconsin’s midwives will return to today’s celebration.

So in the words of Iola midwife Peterson, “we’re hoping for no babies” tonight.

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