Wednesday, 2 March 2011

- History of Midwifery -

By: Meridian Craig, Apprentice Midwife, Family Birth Center

The history of midwifery is a story of service, self-sacrifice, and commitment. The midwife has been an integral part of every culture since the beginning of time. In order to grasp the true breath of historical midwifery, it is necessary to understand midwifery's past, present, and future.

The midwife has been serving her community since the beginning of time. The first documented presence of midwifery occurred in the ancient Jewish society where she was known as the “wise woman”. Biblically, the midwife appeared in Genesis 35:17 and Exodus 1:20 where she is depicted as a woman of courage, morality, and faith. However midwifery has not always had a glowing reputation. From the 1300s to the 1600s, the Roman Catholic Church purged the western world of midwives with the Inquisition, stating, “no one does more harm to the Catholic Church than do midwives.” Over nine million “witches” were murdered during this time, of whom 85% were midwives or other women healers. However, despite this massacre of midwives with the Inquisition, midwifery continued to survive and was introduced to the United States with colonial America. Sadly, the persecution against midwives was reignited in the 1900s when doctors began to see midwives as competitors in their medical turf. In the early 1900s midwives delivered half of all births, but by 1935 they were only attending 12.5% of all US births. These statistics launched a battle for the survival of midwifery, which birthed many of the modern day organizations that have fought to establish midwives legally and professionally in the United States.

Modern day midwives owe their careers to their ancestors who fought to establish the organizations that train and license them today. In 1982, the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) was established to create a safe environment for midwives to connect and find support. MANA also was the launching board for the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM), which was charged with administering a national exam to all midwives desiring to practice legally. Other organizations that proved pivotal were the Midwifery Education Accreditation Council (MEAC), which was recognized by the US Department of Education and now provides accreditation to the institutions training midwives to practice in the United States. Numerous education options have developed from these key organizations, which primarily encourage midwives to find training through apprenticeships with other experienced midwives. The United States now boasts independent practicing midwives in every state, regardless of licensing and legal requirements. Considering the number of legitimate educational routes for training in the United States today, there is a very promising future for every aspiring midwife who desires to make a difference in her community.

Midwifery has been an important part of every community since the beginning of time. The difficult past of midwifery provided lessons on which to build a strong future. The hard work of women around the world who fought to bring about legitimate ways for midwives to license and train has proved pivotal in passing on the baton of excellence to future generations of midwives. The future of midwifery is broad and exciting, thus mothers and babies everywhere can find assurance in excellent care and safe, gentle deliveries. The legacy of midwifery is that of tenacity, bravery, love, and creativity to never give up, even when faced with incredible odds. Every achievement midwives will make in the further will be to further establish a loving, caring, safe, and gentle environment for those wishing to give birth out of hospital settings.

The self-sacrifice, commitment, and love midwives have shown to their clients has changed communities all over the world. midwives work hard everyday to bring life, work with excellence, and promote a high standard of care. Thus, history will continue to be changed because midwifery is a calling, and those that take it up, change lives.
Malleus Maleficarum

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