Illinois lawmakers may regulate midwives in home births

By Christine Herman

A small but growing number of U.S. women are choosing to have their babies at home. In more than 30 states, including most of the Midwest, it’s legal for certified professional midwives–trained specifically in home birth–to assist them.

Illinois is not among them; but the state Senate wants to study the issue.

Carrie Vickery, vice president of the Illinois Friends of Midwives, spoke with Side Effects Public Media about the legislative proposal.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The Senate Joint Resolution that just passed describes the home birth situation in Illinois as a maternity care crisis. What does that mean?

We have a lot of women and families who are interested in having a home birth for a lot of different reasons: personal reasons, religious reasons, philosophical reasons. And because the state has chosen not to license or otherwise legalize trained home birth providers, a lot of these women don’t have a provider at all.

When they can’t find one, some of them will choose to just have a birth at home without any attendant.

And when you have birth attendants, and you can’t verify their training, then that also puts mothers and babies at risk for a bad outcome.

Because as it is, there are home birth midwives who work in Illinois–but licensing them would help that system to be regulated so that it wouldn’t be essentially an underground market?

Correct. And what we have now is an underground market.

The committee that would be formed with this resolution would provide the General Assembly a “consumer-focused, evidence-based solution” to the home birth issue. Why do you see this as an important first step toward your end goal of having Illinois license home birth midwives?

Various groups have been working on licensure for more than 40 years. What I’ve seen personally, what I have gathered from talking with people who’ve come before me is that there are various groups, usually medical societies, that persistently choose not to work with us on language that would hopefully come to a bill that would be acceptable to them, acceptable to consumers.

The hope is that this resolution would bring together the different parties who feel that they have an interest in home births and in mothers, and kind of force them to come up with legislative language, or actually just discuss what the real heart of the issue is.

Do you have a personal interest in this issue as well? Have you had a home birth yourself?

All three my births were planned with home birth midwives. My first birth actually was a transfer from home, non-emergent, to the hospital, and everybody was fine. And we did that under the suggestion guidance of our midwives.

But when I had my babies, I was actually in Missouri where they, at that time, didn’t licensed midwives either.

What would you say to someone who says, ‘Why don’t these women just have their babies in the hospital?’ Because sometimes we hear it described as: well, home birth would be safer if midwives were licensed. But then we have the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — their position is the safest place for a baby to be born in a hospital. What is your response to that?

Well, there are always going to be families to for their own personal religious reasons, their philosophical beliefs, sometimes it could be trauma-related, to not go back to a hospital.

Here in Illinois, nurse midwives are licensed as nurses to be able to attend home births. I think there are a couple of nurse midwives, three maybe, in Central Illinois, but their ability to attend home births is pretty limited by their licensing rules.

So when you have a group of people who you know will not choose to go to the hospital, I think it’s far safer to make sure that they have licensed providers than it is to just say, well, you shouldn’t do that and we’re not going to give you any access to any kind of a trained provider.

This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a news collaborative covering public health.

Follow Christine on Twitter: @CTHerman