This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email email@example.com
Midwifery: An Alternative
by Women Act to Control Healthcare (WATCH)
Women Act To Control Healthcare (WATCH) is a Chicago based women’s group composed of healthcare workers and consumers concerned about the institutional healthcare services available for women in Chicago. In the past year, we have been working around two related healthcare institutions: the presently existing Chicago Maternity Center on the near west side, and a new institution to be completed in two years, the Women’s Hospital and Maternity Center which will incorporate the present Maternity Center facilities with the ob/gyn departments of Passavant and Wesley Hospitals.
The Chicago Maternity Center is the only remaining institutional service in an urban area that delivers babies at home. WATCH first got interested in the Center when we realized that it offered a unique, personalized maternity service for all women, regardless of their ability to pay; and that with its imminent incorporation into the Northwestern medical complex, home delivery might be phased out. We found that the Maternity Center treated all women equally and with dignity. For the population that now uses the Center (45% are Black, 40% Latin, 5% White Appalachian, 5% White middle class), home delivery is a need because: (1) these women cannot afford the fees of traditional hospital care, (2) there is no hospital to meet their ob/gyn needs in their own communities (e.g. Loretto Hospital in Maywood recently closed its ob/gyn ward leaving Maywood without any services, (3) their culture has always regarded childbirth as a natural process to happen at home, or (4) it is disruptive to leave their families for a hospital stay as there is often no-one to stay home with their children. Also, having a baby at home takes away from childbirth the mistaken notion of it being a disease, and makes it a natural process; hence, women have babies, doctors don’t deliver them while women are passive and impatient. Healthcare in this way becomes a human right, as it should be, defined by the women who use the institution.
With the imminent incorporation of the Maternity Center with the Northwestern medical complex, the survival and expansion of the present Maternity Center facilities are now threatened. WATCH is taking an active role to ensure that with this consolidation women get the kind of healthcare they need. We are presently meeting with health planning groups around the city, e.g. Cook County Hospital, West Side Health Planning Organization, and Citizen’s Health Organization to get support for community obstetrical care. We have raised the following demands to the Boards of the Chicago Maternity Center and the New Women’s Hospital and Maternity Center: that home delivery continue as an option for all women; that the emergency coverage to women who have had no prenatal care continue; that the present Maternity Center located on the near west side remain; that in the new facility rich and poor women receive the same care and benefits; that the new heads of ob/gyn be supportive of home delivery; and that a patient’s committee be set up to evaluate medical care.
On another level, we have discovered that in every country where the infant mortality rate is less than ours. it is the nurse-midwife who gives the predominant care. We are researching what midwifery programs are available in the U.S., what the laws are concerning midwifery practise, where midwives are being used instead of doctors, and the direction midwifery is taking in this country. We are planning on attending the American College of Nurse-Midwives’ Convention to be held in Washington, D.C. to recruit nurse-midwives to work at the Center and to interest nurse-midwives in home delivery.
We see our work around the Chicago Maternity Center and the building of the New Women’s Hospital and Maternity Center as crucial in the larger struggle for women to control their own healthcare. Contact Laura Newman, WATCH, 2059 N. Clifton, Chicago, Illinois 60614, (Tel. 312-348-6225)