JACKSON — Jolie Herndon, a Jackson woman who will soon give birth with a midwife’s help, thinks a legislative proposal to create a registry of midwives will make it safer for mothers and babies who choose home births.
“What I think it’s going to do is protect the women of Mississippi. Right now, there’s really no standards of care for midwives. You can call someone claiming to be a midwife and you don’t know how much training they’ve had,” said Herndon, 32.
The bill, which passed the House last week and is now headed to the Senate, allows practicing midwives to be included in a registry after they’ve taken an exam given by the North American Registry of Midwives, an international certification agency.
Under the bill, the law states a midwife has to be registered with NARM by July 1, 2015, to practice midwifery in the Mississippi, but there’s no penalty for noncompliance. The bill includes exemptions for those who deliver babies for relatives and church groups, such as the Amish.
The proposal has spawned what appears to be a territorial fight between midwives and the medical community.
House Public Health Committee Chairman Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said the registry could be a tool for pregnant women who want to deliver their babies at home by informing them which midwives have taken and passed the exam.
But Rep. Sidney Bondurant, a Republican who is an obstetrician/gynecologist who no longer delivers babies, said midwifery isn’t included in the definition of the practice of medicine. He said the registry, however, implies the state approves of midwifery.
There are three types of midwives — certified professional midwives, certified nurse midwives and those known as traditional or “granny” midwives, who do not have credentials.
Bondurant said the bill encourages home births. Such births have higher neonatal mortality rates, said Bondurant, citing an article in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control last year released a report showing a 5 percent increase in home births from 2004 to 2005 and remained steady in 2006.
The Mississippi Nurses Association is fighting the bill, said Ricki Garrett, the organization’s executive director. She said her group first sought legislation last year after a baby delivered by midwife died in a hot tub on the Gulf Coast.
“Our concern is that this bill by regulating them to some extent gives them some credibility which they really shouldn’t have,” Garrett said.
Renata Hillman, a certified professional midwife who has delivered babies for 26 years, said skilled midwives are seeking the bill.
“We’re as frustrated by the incompetent midwives as the nurse’s association is,” said Hillman, who will deliver Herndon’s baby girl in March. “The medical world has a lot of money and a lot of power. That’s what disturbs them. They’re doing something we’re doing non-medically and it takes the power and the money out of their pocket.”
The Mississippi Department of Health discontinued general midwifery permits in the mid-1980s. There is currently no midwifery law so anyone can call themselves a midwife in Mississippi.
The bill also has the support of consumers and advocates. Katherine Prown, campaign manager for The Big Push for Midwives, said she’s been working with local midwives on the legislation.
“It’s a very good bill. It’s definitely much better than last year’s bill, which would have made it illegal for anyone who was not a nurse midwife to deliver babies in Mississippi,” Prown said. “The whole purpose is to acknowledge that midwifery is a modern health care profession and recognize midwives in the state that are providing this care.”
Senate Public Health Committee Chairman Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said last week he was waiting to see how the House handled the bill before he commented.
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