Many women want choices for safe and affordable healthcare during pregnancy, and yet the options seem to be decreasing as the rate of birth by Caesarean section increases across the United States. Here in the Valley, Stonewall Jackson Hospital in Lexington, and also Bedford Memorial Hospital, will close their birthing centers. Yet, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report a rise in the number of home births, with a 5% increase between 2005 and 2006. Women who want to give birth at home are turning to midwives for assistance. In the Shenandoah Valley, some are turning to Misty Ward, a certified professional midwife.
Ward is the director of the Harrisonburg chapter of Birth Matters, a supportive community for women who want to give birth at home. She is also the founder and midwife at the Brookhaven Women’s Health and Natural Birth Center, opening this summer.
Certified professional midwives provide pre- and post- natal care, birthing assistance and support for mothers. According to Ward, home births are directed by the mother, not by the midwife. “Midwives are here as the guardians of birth,” she said. “We are not here to manage it. We are here to educate moms.”
Ward works with women who want to avoid Caesarean sections, now about one-third of all births, after a steep increase since 1996, according to a report from the CDC. These women want, instead, to have a natural birth. “I have a hard time being around the choice of a c- section.”
Ward’s passion for midwifery (pronounced mid-WIFF-ery) began as a teenager, when she took childbirth classes with her pregnant sister. Ward acted as a doula (a type of labor coach) at the birth, and as her live-in nanny. “I was supposed to be doing algebra homework, but I was reading all of her pregnancy-related books and was fascinated,” Ward says with a laugh. “In 2000, someone gave me a book called Spiritual Midwifery. It is the story of birth, untampered and raw. I went full on into midwifery.”
Ward has given birth twice — once in a hospital and once at home. She said she never considered using interventions, including pain medications. “I thought about the worst pain I could imagine and labor wasn’t it. I went into it knowing it is what I wanted to experience. Ten people (friends, family and a midwife) attended my home birth. We ate and celebrated. For me it is such a social and family event. I don’t see it as something medical. It’s a birthday. It’s a celebration.”
One of Ward’s clients, home-birth advocate Geneva Swinson was introduced to home birth in a college course called Childbirth in America. Her professor was a doula and had given birth at home.
“I instantly realized that this is what I want to be a part of. I started working as a doula,” Swinson said. Ward was Swinson’s midwife for her second birth, which occured at home.
“Some people say I have to be crazy to give birth at home and imply that it is not very safe,” Swinson says. “But I think that people are brave who go into the hospital, where around a third of women end up in surgery. People don’t understand the skill level of midwives. People think they are trained in a barn but, really, a midwife will be able to help you in other ways besides surgery” to have a safe, healthy birth.
Swinson confessed that the pain was incredible but felt empowered by the process. “My body’s own strength is creating this intensity [labor]. The muscles are at work and they know what my baby and I are trying to accomplish.”
And her husband was supportive, helping with the birth willingly. “If he was uncomfortable, that would have affected my laboring,” Swinson said. “He supports it because he knows how much it means to me. In hindsight, he can see it was a blessing. It was one of the most intimate moments that we have shared.”
Ward has hope for the future of home birth. “I wish everyone could see or experience home birth before they make a concrete decision about it. It is so peaceful and sweet. All women deserve to have a birth like I experienced at home. This is possible with the help of the midwife.”
This post was submitted by Tracey Brown.