When I lived in Florida, I could open up the Yellow Pages, flip to the "M" section, and find the names of local midwives. Same as if you flipped to the physician's listings if you wanted to find an obstetrician.
Try to do this in St. Louis.
Until recently, you wouldn't find any midwives listed. You wouldn't have even found a midwife category.
In states like Florida, midwives have been an integral part of maternal health care for decades. Many work alongside obstetricians in their hospital-based practices, while others operate birth centers or attend births in their client's homes. They do this legally, and even women who choose obstetric care during their pregnancies see midwifery care as a valid alternative.
Missouri women have not had these choices.
In fact, most people in Missouri have no concept of who a midwife is or what she does.
By definition, the word midwife literally means "with woman." According to The Free Dictionary, a midwife is defined as a person, usually a woman, who is trained to assist women in childbirth.
In countries such as Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands, midwives provide "the first line" of care for all normal, healthy pregnancies and are viewed as essential to the excellent perinatal outcomes these three countries enjoy.
Trained, certified midwives are highly skilled individuals who can handle low-risk pregnancy and birth with compassion and ease. Their presence within the maternity system allows obstetricians to focus on the high-risk patients who truly need their unique skills and medical training.
In states like Florida, midwives have been practicing legally since the 1970's and midwifery care is common. For an idea about the history of midwifery in Florida, click here.
Now compare this to the history of midwifery in Missouri, which can be found here.
In Missouri, midwives have been virtually invisible for many years. Sadly, many politicians believe that they have the right to decide when and how women should deliver their babies, and for decades have been making concerted efforts to criminalize midwifery and deny Missouri women access to the maternity care of their choosing.
It was only two years ago that Certified Professional Midwives (CPM's) gained the right to legally practice within the state of Missouri without fear of prosecution. Compare this to Florida, where CPM's have been attending home births and operating birth centers for decades.
And, regrettably, midwifery in Missouri is still not safe.
Missouri politicians are still on the attack, with many poised to introduce new legislation to recriminalize the profession. But these politicians have to be elected before they wield any power over our reproductive choices.
And it just so happens that the Missouri Primary Election is this Tuesday, August 3rd.
So now, we vote.
We vote for the candidates who support women, and their right to choose their maternity care providers based on their own needs and desires.
We vote for candidates who have expressed support for midwives, or even for the candidates who are simply opposing those who have vehemently opposed midwives in the past.
We vote for women everywhere, because access to quality maternity care is a fundamental right. It is NOT something that we should be made to fight for.
Women do not deserve to live in a country that ranks a shocking 40th out of the 181 countries studied recently in terms of maternal mortality ratio.
(No surprise, many of the countries with far lower rates of maternal mortality are those where midwives are a routine part of prenatal care.)
Nor do women deserve to live in a state that denies them access to the very professionals who have been shown to dramatically improve the outcomes of their births.
So even if you've never used the services of a midwife, even if you never think you will, you can still consider voting for only candidates who will support women's rights by supporting access to midwifery care. You can view this handy little chart here to learn more about the candidates' individual positions.
And yes, I acknowledge that lots of women want or need obstetricians to see them through pregnancy and birth safely. That is their choice and their right. But women also deserve both the choice and the right to make a different decision.
Until midwives are free to practice alongside doctors within both our state and national maternity systems, the fight for women's rights will never truly be over.
A vote for Missouri midwives really is a vote for women everywhere.