Yesterday, people all over the world gathered to watch Freedom For Birth, a film by Toni and Alex Harmon. In Troy, NY, more than forty of us joined together to watch, consider and talk.
The movie is about childbirth as a Human Right and contains clips of many interviews with experts on birth. The film features two Hungarian women, one a jailed midwife named Agnes Gereb, the other Anna Ternovsky. Agnes was incarcerated for attending home births (as well as for malpractice in a few of the over 3,000 homebirths she attended). She is currently under house arrest. Anna brought suit against Hungary in the Europe’s highest court and she won. Freedom For a birth discusses the present state of childbirth choices worldwide and the implications of Ternovsky versus Hungary.
In the audience last night, there were people who have recently had babies at home or who are planning to soon. Currently, in NY’s Capital District, planned home birth with a licensed provider is an viable option. There are six different Planned Home Birth practices with NYS Licensed Midwives in the immediate area.
In the audience last night, there were women who had home births in the this area several years (or decades) ago. While they had wonderful care, they were attended by midwives that were not licensed, that were not recognized as midwives by the State of New York. The film brought them back to the days of their pregnancy, openly excited for the upcoming birth, and yet living clandestinely with their ‘illegal’ birth plan.
Home birth in New York has always been a legal option for families. In the first half of the 20th century, there were many licensed (or certified) providers on this area. After the 1940’s, most births took place in hospitals and only a few providers attended birth at home. Then in 1993, NY State, passed a law licensing midwives. The law clarified whom NY State considered a midwife and whom it did not.
The passing of this licensing law also made outlaws out of anyone practicing midwifery without a State issued license. While in other areas of New York, licensed midwives set up planned home birth practices in the 1990’s, here in the Capital District, the Home Birth providers were unlicensed. I believe it is this anomaly that makes people in the area believe that home birth itself is illegal. In the last few years, 2009 to the present, six NYS Licensed Midwives have opened, openly advertised and run Planned Home Birth practices. We have come a long way baby!
And we have a long way to go.
- Currently, local hospitals have surgical birth rates (C-section rates) above the already abysmal national average of 33%.
- Currently, women in this area are routinely told that they cannot eat or drink in labor.
- Currently, there are no volunteer doula practices, making this crucial service available to all women. (Yes, there are a few doulas that will donate their services but there is not a system in place for any woman to have a doula.)
- Currently, Vaginal birth after Cesarian, or VBAC, is not an option for all that might choose this, even if they are low risk. Some local hospitals simply do not allow this as a choice, essentially forcing surgery where it might not be needed or desired.
- Currently in NY’s Capital District, there is only one independent hospital based midwifery practice (Capital Region Midwifery) and one other hospital based practice with midwifery coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (Dr. Sattar’s group). There are not midwives with delivery privileges at every local hospital. And at the hospitals that do have midwivese, they may not have midwifery coverage 24/7.
- Currently, we have no Baby Friendly or Mother Friendly hospitals in our area. None. While Baby Friendly International is head quartered on Wolf Road in Albany, NY, our nearest Baby Friendly hospital is across state lines. (http://www.babyfriendlyusa.org/eng/03.html)
- Currently, while women in the area may be able to choose to birth at home or in the hospital, there are no real birth centers in the area. None. NY has only two accredited birth centers (and one coming in Western NY). Both of these free standing birth centers are more than two and a half hours south of us. (http://www.birthcenteraccreditation.org/find-accredited-birth-centers/)
So, we have a lot of work ahead of us. If we want to make birth safe, satisfying and empowering for all involved, we have a whole lot of work ahead of us.
Want to help? Join the Capital District Birth Choice Revolution!
- Keep our eye on Pregnacy Project as we grow in the next year, expanding to include many more providers and specialists that care for Pregnacy and the Primal Year. (http://pregnancyproject.org/)
- Contact BirthNet NY (http://www.birthnewyork.org/birthnet/)
- Support Baby Friendly USA (http://www.babyfriendlyusa.org/eng/contact.html)
- Work with Albany Birth Center to make a free standing birth center in the Capital District a reality. (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Albany-Birth-Center/163188313702389)
- Talk openly with your care provider about what you want and expect.
- And of course, Support your Local Midwife!
~K. Michelle Doyle
May all babies be born into loving hands