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October 9, 2013


In Defense of Midwifery

By Shannon Mitchell

Today I had a conversation that left me cold.

We all know the story of the midwives, the ones who have been arrested, who are being investigated, who had a bad outcome and now the state has noticed or the parents are upset. It happens. It’s inevitable. All midwives will eventually face this moment in some form.

This conversation today was different. I had to openly discard my humanity and step out of the thought box that allows me to feel protected.

It goes beyond “it could never happen to me”. It goes beyond, “there must have been more to the story.” It goes beyond “well, what was really going on in that situation. And I know that it goes beyond our good intentions that we meant to send money or we don’t have enough to help or even why should I help someone I distrust.

The reality is that if Rowan Bailey is found guilty of murder in North Carolina, then a precedent will be set that a death in a midwife attended birth was found to be WILLFUL murder of a baby.

Don’t talk to me about “But she wasn’t legal” because we all know that midwives hedge their bets on legal. They all do some small thing that is maybe crossing a line or helping someone they shouldn’t “legally” because frankly, the legal system is full of discrimination against healthy women and we all know it.

Don’t talk to me about the ramifications of fetal personhood because it’s clouding the issue here. Dwell on your thoughts of the evils of the issue after we’ve fought this case.

If you don’t send money to Rowan’s defense, if you don’t travel to show a tour de force that midwifery attendance at a birth is not willful murder, if you don’t react in some way to this case that goes beyond sitting on a couch and speculating, then don’t be surprised when it’s you and you are alone and ostracized, no matter your intentions on legal, no matter your intentions or vocation or grace.

Because one day it will be and you had better hope that as you are looking into that mourning woman’s grieving and confused eyes and try to help her to comprehend her loss that there isn’t some DA behind her who is willing to call you a murderer.

Rowan may indeed be guilty of any number of things in this life. Her life, her intentions, her training, her abilities will all be drawn into question.
That doesn’t make her guilty of murder.

Murder is premeditation, it’s intent to kill, it’s intentional destruction of human life and that is NOT what happened here.

Get off your collective asses, get your ostrich heads out of your sandbox where you feel protected and realize the ramifications of this on all midwives.

And do something to help.

And if after reading this, you still don’t think it applies to YOU or you can’t overcome your vicious distrust of the “what really happened”…I want you to stand in front of your child, your husband or your grandchild or the kids at your church or your mother or your father. Pick any person you respect and admire and slowly say the words out loud “They are charging me with deliberately murdering a baby”. Let that roll off your tongue. Let it seep into your soul. And realize that this is what they are doing to another human being.

If you are a midwife, you have lost the right to be apathetic.



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14 Comments Post a comment
  1. jill
    Oct 9 2013

    You damn straight.

  2. Oct 9 2013

    Shannon, thanks for this important post. I’m always reminded of the words by Angela Davis, “If they come for you in the morning, they’ll be back for me in the afternoon.” We’re all in this together. If one midwife is being bullied, all midwives are being bullied. The bright light of overblown charges is that, of course, they will be reduced. The tragic thing is that it’s akin to taking a baseball bat to a butterfly.

    Please everyone, no matter how small, donate as a show of solidarity.

  3. Kelli
    Oct 9 2013

    Thank you so very much for writing this. God bless you and Rowan.

  4. babz
    Oct 9 2013

    it cannot be mentioned enough that the only legal home birth midwives in nc are nurse midwives. she wouldnt be legal here no matter what hoops she decided to jump through .

  5. babz
    Oct 9 2013
  6. Oct 9 2013

    Shannon, thank you so much for saying so well what I have been trying to say for a while. As midwives, we are literally killing our own profession by not standing shoulder to shoulder with our fellow midwives. I understand the human nature to create space between ourselves and other women who have met legal consequences. We have to make up reasons as to why it couldn’t be us sitting in jail. We have to hear “the story” so we can pick out what we would never have done ourselves. The sad, sad truth is that midwives are being persecuted across this country and across the globe. And the charges are getting higher and higher. Now Rowan faces life in prison for simply attending a birth. If we do not stand shoulder to shoulder with her, it WILL be us. I absolutely cried from the depths of my soul when you said that we should stand in front of someone we love and respect and let the words roll off our tongue. I can tell you from experience that the WORST thing I have ever had to do in my entire life was call my own parents from jail and tell them I had been charged with 2 felonies for attending a birth as a LICENSED midwife. There was no judgment from them but saying those words to your own parents is not a punishment I would wish on anyone. Please, I beg of each person who reads this to seek out these women. Support them. Love them. Put yourself in their shoes. Allow yourself to think of the possibility that it COULD and very likely might be YOU at some point in your career. Treat these fellow midwives as you would wish to be treated if it were you. And please, please, please donate to Rowan. She is such a kind and gentle soul who has a very, very great need right now. Anything helps. If you can only afford $5, donate $5!

  7. Oct 10 2013

    Can we start a thunderclap? It’s a way of getting the word out quickly for a just cause using twitter…I would be willing to set it up…

    • Shanon
      Oct 10 2013

      I imagine someone could but I am not sure how!

  8. Oct 10 2013

    Such a powerful call to action you’ve made here in this post and rightly so, Shannon. I don’t know the story, but what I do know is that no midwife I’ve ever met, skilled, unskilled, registered, unregistered, ‘legal’ or not ‘legal’ sets out to deliberately harm a woman and/or her infant. I’ve seen situations in the ‘best of hands’ in tertiary referral hospitals where mistakes have been made (or not) and sadly, babies have died. There have never been any ramifications for those doctors involved in those situations. Midwives who work in out of hospital environments are being persecuted across the globe – Agnes Gereb is a well known example. I’ve donated, because I think that charging this women with murder is setting a dangerous precedent for out of hospital birth and midwives generally. My ethics also support the idea that everyone charged with a serious crime deserves to be represented by skilled defence lawyers. Thank you for writing your post to inform us of this serious situation.

  9. Oct 11 2013

    Will speak up and put my $$$ where my values are. 2 births w awesome midwives in copperstown ny 1997 and 2003. On my path to serve my soul and become a midwife myself.

  10. Alison
    Nov 3 2013

    I live on West Coast and am just hearing about this today. I don’t have a ton of money to give, but i want to make regular contributions. How can I do that? it says it’s closed, but there must be some way to keep funding this woman? I want to spread the word also. Can anyone tell me what is happening now, and how to contribute?

    • Rowan
      Nov 4 2013

      Thank you so much everyone. Alison, there is a new campaign headed up by Families for Birth Freedom and families I have served.
      This one is a short campaign and we are going to continue doing some. Folks who have a desire to contribute regular amounts can do so by paypal to appreciate all of the support and action. xoxo

  11. Angelina
    Dec 12 2013

    I want to help, but I would really like some details. I understand that midwives should stand together and I support my sisters in their efforts. However, I do want details as I would not feel comfortable if there were a real basis of negligence.


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