Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ina May Gaskin, US Midwife, founder of “The Farm” receives “Right Livelihood Award” for 2011

By Carol Downer


Everyone in the “natural childbirth” movement celebrates this award. The Swedish charity is giving formal recognition to the fact that birthing women in the U.S., their babies and their families face an urgent threat to their safety and their ability to have home birth or birth center without the social isolation and medical interference that comes with hospital birth.

The “natural childbirth movement” has been seeking to restore access to midwives and home birth for over a half-century, but its struggles and accomplishments are usually not publicized beyond its immediate circles, except for an occasional newspaper article that as a thinly disguised promotion of hospital birth which contains alarming quotes about the dangers of home birth.

Almost 40 years ago, Gaskin founded the Farm Midwifery Center, an intentional community in Tennessee, to take childbirth out of the firm grasp of the medical profession who have medicalized this normal physiological function. She joined a small but growing number of parents that were seeking “natural childbirth” and lay midwives that were risking arrest (or were actually arrested) for assisting women who gave birth at home.

At the time Gaskin founded The Farm, virtually all births in the U.S. took place in hospitals where birthing women were kept in isolation from their families, drugged and cut. With the invention of the fetal heart monitor, in which an electrode is placed in the fetus’ scalp, cesarean rates rose from 5% to 15% in most hospitals, because in its experimental stages, no one yet knew the significance of every blip on the screen, and so a cesarean was performed whenever anything unusual was seen, because no doctor wanted to risk a malpractice suit for ignoring an unusual blip that might indicate a serious complication.

Due to Gaskins’ and others’ pioneering work, today most states offer some form of licensure for midwives and highly motivated and well-situated parents are able to seek out and obtain the services of a midwife for their home, or birth center birth.

Sadly, the rate progress of the natural childbirth movement has been outspaced by that of the medical profession. Today, physicians (with the assistance of hospital certified nurse midwives which they control) routinely use drugs and surgery in a hospital setting. Over a third of babies are now delivered by cesarean section in the United States.

Perhaps the awarding of this well-deserved honor will highlight the need for all of us who see a U.S. woman’s right to have a un-interfered-with natural birth in a home or birth center setting as foundational to all other women’s rights, including other sexual and reproductive rights such as access to birth control and abortion.

Read Seven Stories Press Release

Read about leading Organizations for Midwives
- Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA)
- Midwifery Education and Accreditation Council (MEAC)
- North American Registry of Midwives (NARM)
- The Big Push for Midwives

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