I am not pregnant. I do not plan on being pregnant in the next several years. But I do plan on fighting for pregnant women in Alabama.

Because in Alabama, where I’ve lived my entire life, it is illegal to hire the services of a midwife or doula for the purpose of having your baby in your home without physician supervision. The idiocy goes even further. It isn’t illegal to give birth at home, only to give birth at home with the supervision and help of a midwife.

For the last several years, a movement has been rising among women who, as comedian Jim Gaffigan puts it, would rather not give birth to their babies in a “germ-infested building where sick people congregate.” 

The Alabama Birth Coalition has been urging lawmakers to “Free the Midwives” for years. But every year when the legislative session rolls around we go back to the same argument from politicians: doctors know best, so we’re going to defer to them.

Never mind that Alabama actually has a higher infant mortality rate than any state in the nation not named Mississippi (thank God for Mississippi, as we like to say around here). Just forget about the fact that Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) are allowed to assist in home births in 28 states. Ignore that tens of thousands of women give birth to healthy babies at home every year.

To make matters worse, cesarean sections have become increasingly popular in the last several years, and evidence shows that they are not always necessary. They can even sometimes be more dangerous than delivery. But they are quicker than vaginal delivery, and they bring a fatter check into the hospital. It’s a win-lose where the hospital wins and the patient loses.

CPMs are trained to make the mother the center of care and focus on the fact that pregnancy and birth are not a malady, but a natural and important part of a woman’s life. By refusing to allow women to have this level of personalized medical care, Alabama’s politicians are essentially telling women that they don’t deserve to right to decide to have the individualized and professional care of a midwife.

When it comes time for me to make a baby or two, I (maybe naively) have few worries. My mom had 6 pregnancies and 6 healthy babies. The first 5 of us she had naturally and without knowing our gender ahead of time, and only went through the hassle of induction with my baby sister, whose labor and delivery she claims was easily the most painful of all. Anyone who has ever seen me in real life knows that these hips are made for baby-making.

In the last two weeks alone, I’ve had two acquaintances give birth at home. One gave birth in California after her entire pregnancy was carefully watched by a midwife. The one in Alabama immediately went to the hospital after her freakishly quick labor caused her to give birth in her bathtub with her husband coaching her through it.

Had she had a midwife on hand she could have been prosecuted, and the midwife would have been charged with a misdemeanor. Seriously.

I am an educated, successful woman who lives less than a mile from a hospital. Why can’t I make the decision to have my baby in a safe environment with a highly-trained CPM right there to guide me through?

Alabama’s anti-midwife laws are an excellent example of the state’s propensity to make decisions for other people based on a mix of good intentions, lobbyist pressure from financially interested parties, and an adherence to outdated stereotypes. The Alabama Birth Coalition is a non-profit organization of midwives and citizens who are working to combat that trifecta of bad policy making, and every year they’ve been gaining steam. As we move closer to the elections in November, we can count on the Alabama Birth Coalition and women like me to make this a pivotal issue.

  • Christopher Shafer

    I live in Alabama, and I did not know this.

    I can’t say that I’m surprised, though.