At the tender age of 19, after exploring a variety of career options in my mind, I made the tentative decision to start on the long path to becoming a midwife. The book I checked out of the college library in an attempt to gather more information about the profession was such a compelling and fascinating read that it further cemented my plan in both my heart and my head.
The name of that book was “Immaculate Deception: A New Look at Women and Childbirth in America”, by Suzanne Arms (1975). What I read about the contrast between birth in the U.S. with it’s rules, regulations and routines as well as heavy use of technology when compared to several other European countries whose maternity care was primarily provided by midwives instead of doctors was what fueled my every step along that educational path which lasted for nine years.
Several other books by both lay and professional people with an interest in American maternity care have also made a lasting impression on me and further convinced me that my “calling” to become a midwife set me on the right path. These books also helped me to maintain a clear vision of the sort of care I wanted to provide for women, babies, and families during their childbearing experiences.
With each book I have read that has influenced me, it was not only the message of the author about the importance of a midwifery approach to birth that inspired me, it was also the author’s identity and the knowledge that they were speaking an unpopular truth which contradicted the medical profession’s approach to care that made me proud to be a midwife.
For example, Henci Goer wrote a book published in 1999 entitled: “The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth” in which she chose common interventions used on pregnant women (primarily when they were in labor) such as epidural anesthesia and continuous electronic fetal monitoring and then summarized the medical research data about that intervention. Not only is this very useful information which contradicts the way in which care is being provided, it is also written by a lay person with no formal medical training who is intelligent, motivated to learn, and able to analyze data well and eager to open people’s eyes to the misuse of technology as applied to birth.
Another pioneer author with a strong voice who has influenced my thoughts and earned my admiration because of his ability to challenge the “medicalization of birth” is Dr. Marsden Wagner. He has written two books which have even more significance because of who he is: an American Perinatologist (a subspecialty of Obstetrics) who has served as a director of Maternal and Child Health for the California State Health Department as well as director of Women’s and Children’s Health for the World Health Organization. Those two books are: “Pursuing the Birth Machine”, and “Born in the USA; How a Broken Maternity System must be Fixed to Put Women and Children First”. The titles say it all.
The final two books which I feel have heavily influenced my thinking and made me proud of my profession are “Midwifery and Childbirth in America” by Judith Rooks and “Mainstreaming Midwives: The Politics of Change” by Robbie Davis-Floyd and Christine Johnson. The first is written by a nurse-midwife and is a dense book outlining the history of midwifery in the U.S. and giving many useful and interesting statistics about all sorts of midwifery topics such as how and when birth moved from home to hospital in the first 4 decades of the 20th century.
The second is written by an anthropologist and a sociologist both of whom were very interested in the politics of women’s health care. It contains case studies of various states in which legislative issues have come up affecting the practice of midwifery and required midwives of all kinds (and there are several different kinds) to work together to make sure that the profession could remain viable. In some cases there was infighting among the various types of midwives and general disagreement about what would be best for the profession thus very little progress was made. Whereas, in other cases, in which the various midwives worked together and supported each other more progress was made on the legislative front. This is a very important message for all of us and highlights the importance of emphasizing the issues which unite all midwives rather than focusing on our differences.
While the majority of these books were published a decade or more ago, I consider them classics whose messages remain relevant today. They are also fascinating and engaging to read and go a long way toward explaining the challenges faced even today by midwives seeking to provide a more personalized type of care which should interest not only the members of my profession but also anyone who has ever had or sought out midwifery care.