Readers have asked why I stayed in midwifery as long as I did. Now I’ll tell you what happened after I moved from Florida to South Carolina to open a birth center. This is the final section of a three-part series about How I Got In, Why I Stayed, and now:
How I Got OutWhen I moved to South Carolina, I was very excited to begin my career as a midwife. The midwives I met in SC seemed to be much more like how midwives were supposed to be compared to the bossy, brassy woman who had trained me. They were soft and gentle. They smiled and laughed a lot. They really loved facilitating births in the most natural and beautiful way possible, and I wanted to be just like them.
The elder midwives took me under their wing, teaching me and counseling me. My first year of practice I had several births that did not go very smoothly, but there was no blame. I was a new midwife, but I was doing everything right. They were understanding and supportive. I was doing everything I was supposed to do and following all the laws. Everything was above-board, and nothing at all like the birth center in Miami.
I had moved to the Carolinas with the particular goal of opening a birth center close to Charlotte. I didn’t have any money, but I was determined to find a way to start a birth center anyway. I enlisted three other midwives to partner with me, and together we rallied the natural childbirth community of Greater Charlotte and made it happen. The birth center was beautiful. Women told me that coming to a prenatal visit felt more like coming to a spa than a medical appointment. And women were extremely happy with their birth experiences.
Once in a while, a situation would come up in birth and other midwives would ask me, “Do you have any tricks you learned in school for this?” I would tentatively tell them about what might have been done in my school in such a situation. More often than not, the reaction was, “Well, let’s try it!” They would look to me for instruction on how to do it. At first I was uncomfortable spreading these questionable practices. Some of them were illegal; others fell into a grey area, but I knew the health department would frown if we were to ask, so we never asked. But I figured if these practices were really dangerous, these earthy-birthy midwives would not be willing to try them. I had seen them work, I had seen everyone turn out ok, and I just didn’t think that they would ever hurt anyone. I thought I was helping. I really thought everything I did was OK.
When I started becoming aware of some of the statistics regarding babies dying at nonhospital births, little seeds of doubt were planted. I carefully read stories of babies who died or almost died at home births or in other birth centers, and I made sure that I didn’t make the same mistakes that the midwives in those stories made. I still believed that what we were doing was safe enough to continue doing it, but I doubted that it was as safe as most of my fellow midwives believed. As time went on, I became less and less comfortable. My doubt started looming over me. Haunting me. I kept going, but I was not happy. I started to want out. But how could I just walk out on my clients, my partners, my business? Who was I, if I wasn’t a midwife?
I wrote very briefly in my paper about how my leaving the birth center came about. For legal reasons and reasons of others’ privacy, I won’t be able to go into more detail at this time. Suffice it to say, by the time I managed to get myself kicked out of the birth center, I was a very conflicted person. I wasn’t convinced that my birth center was practicing dangerously. I thought we pretty much had it right. But I couldn’t shake the fear that maybe I was wrong about that, and maybe our luck would run out.
When I found out about the first baby’s death in April 2013, it was only through rumors. I never heard many details. I thought about it a lot and imagined how it might have happened. I hoped that maybe it was unavoidable regardless of where the baby had been born. When the second death occurred in fall of 2013, it made big news. The birth center was shut down temporarily. I read some details in the news and heard other details via rumor. Many months later, lawsuit paperwork arrived in my mailbox, an error because my name was still left on some paperwork. I read every word. It was then that I knew. I knew that what I had been doing all along was not OK. I knew that my birth center was part of a beautiful lie.
It took me a little longer to completely give up wanting to stay in midwifery. I thought, maybe if I practice really, really carefully, and transport to the hospital the moment I see a problem, maybe I can pull this off safely. But eventually it all became clear: the only true way out of this was to throw gasoline all over the lies and light them ablaze for all the world to see.