what’s so great about a midwife?

Planning a home birth

So here’s an interesting question: If the research indicates that most women with low-risk pregnancies can give birth without assistance (which it does), and if I believe that birth is a natural function of my body (which I do), and given that I’ve given birth without difficulty several times already—why employ a midwife at all? Why not just give birth on my own, unassisted?

I have friends who prefer unassisted childbirth (also called UC or freebirth), and who are very happy with their freebirth experiences. Bring Birth Home features several unassisted birth stories, and Cherylyn at Mamas and Babies has been exploring the idea of freebirth, too.

I’m not opposed to the idea, but I happen to really like having a midwife present at my home births.

Like all aspects of labor and birth, I think choosing an attendant (or no attendant) is a personal decision for each birthing woman to make, and requires research and careful consideration. There is no one right way to give birth, and my reasons for choosing a midwife might not resonate with others. That’s okay. We don’t all have to make the same choices.

(I also want to point out that these are some of the reasons I choose to have a midwife present, as opposed to having no attendant present. My reasons for choosing a midwife instead of a medical doctor are very different, and have to do with differing models of care, and the differing intervention levels and safety records of midwives and doctors.)

So what do I love about my midwife?

She is really, really good labor support.

Hot compresses, cold compresses, massage—she has tons of experience with all sorts of physical comfort and support measures during labor. Even when I don’t need those comfort measures, I appreciate her emotional support—her keeping calm, her knowing when to offer an encouraging word. Do I technically need these things for a healthy birth? No, but I appreciate them. Could we do them ourselves? Maybe, but I’m okay with taking advantage of her experience here.

Sometimes she has suggestions for comfort measures that I just wouldn’t think of. During my last two labors, I enjoyed foot massages, involving acupressure and all-around wonderfulness. Asking for a foot massage would never, ever have occurred to me, but oh my, were those lovely when offered.

She provides support not only to me, but to my husband as well.

Her presence helps put my husband at ease. He and I are both educated about labor and birth, and we both trust that my body was built in part for this purpose—but I can tell instinctively what’s going on with my body and my labor, and he can’t. Our midwife’s demeanor reassures him that whatever I’m doing is normal. And I can be more relaxed knowing that he’s not worrying.

She also takes care of all the practical aspects of birth that we’re not focused on, like the cleanup. And she checks in to remind us of all the postpartum care techniques that we might otherwise overlook.

It’s not about “just in case.”

Emergencies in labor and birth are rare. Complications in labor are uncommon. I’ve never experienced anything other than a normal, uncomplicated birth, but if I did experience a complication—say, a cord wrapped around the baby’s body in a tricky way, or perhaps a tear that required sutures—I prefer having someone present who could address those concerns in the comfort of our own home, rather than having to leave to seek medical attention.

Still, I don’t ask my midwife to attend my births because I think something might “go wrong.” Yes, I understand that complications are possible, though rare for women who begin labor healthy. Yes, my midwife brings equipment and supplies and expertise that allow her to address most labor complications at home. Yes, her training and experience mean that she might spot complications more quickly than I would on my own. Yes, in the case of a true emergency, my midwife knows how to help us transfer to a hospital quickly and smoothly.

But in truth, during labor, I don’t imagine complications. When I call her, I’m thinking most of all about how I’d like her supportive presence.

What about you? What did you love about your birth attendant, or about not having anyone attend your birth?

For more on midwives and birth, check out the birth resources page.


  1. says

    I was in that small percentage of labors that seemed trouble-free and then turned out not to be (I started hemorrhaging after labor). Laboring at home was not as safe as I wished it was, and I think having the midwife there tipped it over into the safe zone. She coordinated my transfer, provided details to the OB at the hospital, and stayed to hold my hand. She was also able to judge when to get worried. As much as I could have researched about hemorrhage, and probably diagnosed it (or my husband could have), having her there, with experiences of “normal” births, made it clearer when I needed to leave our home.

    • Melissa Camara Wilkins says

      I was glad your midwife was there, too. I told her so right afterwards. :)

      I am sure that you would have realized a transfer was necessary (and you DID realize transfer was necessary), but it sounds like having professional help with the details made it faster, easier, smoother, safer.

  2. says

    Honestly, I think I’m the type of woman who could totally go for an unassisted childbirth. I really like to pretty much be alone when I labor, though I do appreciate a bit of support from my husband. But I’ve done pretty well during my last two homebirths with just hanging out in the shower by myself.

    That said, having our midwife with us is very reassuring to me. And I guess, for me, it feels like the most “responsible” thing. She’s fine with being “hands off”, pretty much follows my lead with whatever I’m needing. But I’m more comfortable knowing that someone is there to help if there is something unexpected.

    • Melissa Camara Wilkins says

      I know that for some people, that extra presence is intrusive. For me, it’s helpful. I don’t know if that has to do mostly with personality, or mindset, or confidence level? Regardless, I’m glad I have access to what works best for me–and it sounds like you do, too. That’s what I wish for each of us. :)