**I actually wrote this awhile ago and hadn’t gotten around to posting, when this week I was quoted in an article and radio piece on unlicensed midwifery. It is quite clear to me that we will need to tell our own stories, and share our own perspectives. So I was inspired to share this now, and hope it resonates with you!
In a recent article about one of the midwives currently facing state persecution, they identified this midwife as a “self-proclaimed midwife”, which of course was meant to be an insult. But instead, as Maryn and I were talking about this detail, I noted that I actually really liked that title, and I wonder if that is what I’ll start calling myself indefinitely.
I don’t like the term traditional midwife for a few reasons. I use tools and have access to knowledge that is not traditional for midwives in any culture. Traditional is also a word that is important to Native communities in the colonized US and it feels co-opty in some ways to use the term to describe what it is I do. There are also plenty of traditional practices that are actually not beneficial or worth preserving. Community midwife, I like, but people don’t really know what that means. Independent midwife is where I’ve landed in the last few years. That is, until I came across Self-Proclaimed Midwife.
Merriam Webster’s definition of self-proclaimed is “based on one’s own assertion”.
How dare a woman get an education and training (and the midwife in question is someone who goes to MANY continuing education trainings), and then ASSERT FOR HERSELF that she can now call herself a midwife? What on earth could be scarier to the capital S State that is founded on the belief that people are stupid and cannot choose things for themselves (especially women). The idea that we need the state to license any profession is that people are too dumb to choose a practitioner, and that practitioners are too stupid to know if they are good enough at what they do to actually do it. The state inserts itself to protect us all. How thoughtful of them.
Don’t believe me? Here is a quote from a document made for the Minnesota legislature about Complementary Medicine – “Licensure systems are appropriate where …the potential user of an occupational service cannot be expected to possess the knowledge needed to properly evaluate the qualifications of those offering services…”
But what I have seen as a Self-Proclaimed Midwife in my community is that I likely proclaimed my midwifehood long after I was already competent, and the families that want to hire me are actually drawn to the fact that I am a Self-Proclaimed Midwife, and that they need to rely on their own discernment about working with me or not.
Also, in a profession as stressful as midwifery, it would take a straight up lunatic to self proclaim their midwifelyness without actually having had a good amount of experience and education. I can assure you that EVEN WITH plenty of education and training, I still sometimes feel like I’m going to shit myself at births, and I wonder to myself why on earth I have chosen to do this with my life. To try facilitating prenatal appointments, let alone showing up at a birth, knowing next to nothing about midwifery, it would become pretty obvious to everyone pretty quickly that you were completely incompetent and in over your head.
To flip the tables a bit, midwives who go through the certification and licensing process, henceforth referred to as State Proclaimed Midwives, seem perhaps more bizarre than anything. Many of them aren’t confident enough to self-proclaim, and instead needed a third party to assure them of their competence before they took on the title. That would make me nervous as a mom looking for a midwife! This process of State Proclamation only works as well as that certification or licensing process, and anyone who has taken the NARM exam (to become a CPM) will tell you the bar is…..pretty low. There is no perfect solution or way to make sure only totally competent and awesome people are serving in a profession. I’m willing to bet you’ve met a bad doctor at some point in your life, or maybe just a good doctor who was having a bad day. We are talking about humans after all.
So let’s imagine for a moment that you are a pregnant woman sitting down to interview a few midwives. You’ve got yourself a lunatic pretending to be a midwife who has watched a lot of Baby Story on TLC and perhaps took a weekend doula course. You’ve got a State Proclaimed Midwife who is incapable and unwilling to go outside of her protocols, rules, and regulations even at times it might make sense (don’t push for more than 2 hours, or we will have to go to the hospital!) (I am aware the is #notallstateproclaimedmidwives but this what the state DOES ideally want from their midwives the proclaim). And you’ve got a Self-Proclaimed Midwife who answers to nobody but you, went to 50+ births in an apprenticeship, and studied enough to feel confident in all the topics from pre-conception through the postpartum. Perhaps she even went to our Indie Birth Midwifery School and spent close to 1000 hours studying all things birth.
Do we really think moms can’t make the choice that’s right for them? No FOR REALLLLLL – do we think we need the State or ANY third party to decide who is allowed to offer midwifery services? Do I think some women will make a choice that I think is dumb? Yes (like pretty much all the people that choose to birth at the hospital). Do I think some Self-Proclaimed and State-Proclaimed Midwives are bad at their jobs and make bad choices? A resounding yes. But does that mean we should give the State the sole ability to decide who gets to be a midwife? People should be allowed to make their own choices, even if they are dumb ones.
Quote from – https://www.health.state.mn.us/facilities/providers/compalt/docs/CAMstudy0198.pdf