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Fri, Jan. 24

Column: Midwifery has long, honorable history

This past week, a particular article in the July 29 Courier got my attention: "Delivery service: Midwives provide birthing options to expectant mothers."

It ran after a workshop offered by local midwives Paula Matthew and Tracy Madler.

You might've missed the story, and perhaps the workshop, too, yet behind the newsprint is a surprisingly extensive midwifery movement right in our backyard.

Paula has been attending births for 30 years, counting more than 1,800 babies that she's helped into being. She found her calling as a young woman after she agreed to babysit during a neighbor's homebirth and wound up actually helping deliver the baby. Moved by this experience, as well as the challenges she faced having her first child, Paula's interests and concerns led her to study and eventually practice midwifery.

Tracy joined Paula's practice six years ago, after working as an emergency medical technician among other endeavors. In addition to these two accomplished midwives, a circle of other local women practice in the field, often in crucial supporting roles like doulas or midwife apprentices. Together they comprise a strong community of wise women who help bring life into the world the old-fashioned way.

These days, it often seems as if natural childbirth is becoming a lost art, with many births simply going off on schedule as routine surgical procedures. While perhaps medically necessary in some cases, we've nonetheless reached a point where 25 percent of all U.S. births in the U.S. are Cesarean section, which currently is the nation's leading surgical procedure.

Historically, midwifery dates at least to the time of ancient Greece. Midwives practice around the world, and midwifery recently gained popularity in light of rising healthcare costs and the impetus to explore natural medical options. Our community is fortunate to have a network of midwife practitioners to help people interested in alternatives to hospital births.

The term midwife means "with woman." Wikipedia notes that midwives "are experts in women's health care [who] attend the birth of the infant," "provide postpartum care," and "strive to help women have a healthy pregnancy and natural birth experience." A doula "provides physical, emotional, and informational support in prenatal care, during childbirth, and during the postpartum period."

These definitions may seem somewhat abstract, unless you've seen what these special caregivers actually do. Paula and Tracy helped during the birth of my son Arlo. From the first visit to their office, throughout the entire pregnancy, during the marathon labor, and through the birth itself, they were professional, compassionate, and supportive.

Whenever we had questions, they always took the time to answer them, and were there every step of the way with encouragement and sound advice.

I'm still in awe over the wisdom these dedicated women display, and I'm thankful for the critical role they play in promoting the community's health.

To learn more about midwifery, consider attending one of their upcoming workshops at the Prescott Public Library. You'll be amazed by the cutting-edge ideas that actually have been around for a long time.

(Randall Amster teaches peace studies and social thought at Prescott College. You can reach him through his e-mail at ramster@prescott.edu.)

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