The labor of legal lines
In the 60s Missouri teenagers would travel across the Mississippi River to buy beer. In Illinois, 18-year-olds could legally drink, and only a river and a state law separated them from a night of boozing.
I grew up hearing stories about liquor stores right on the other side of the bridge. While that law fizzled well before I was born, I’ve seen Illinoisans dash across the river for cash breaks on cigarettes and gasoline. In recent months some states have legalized gay marriage and others have decriminalized pot. I’m well aware that states have different rules and opinions.
I didn’t realize that applied to home birth.
Turns out, certified professional midwives can’t legally practice in Illinois. So any Illinois mother who wants to give birth outside of a hospital must either hire an unaccredited midwife or cross the river and give birth in someone else’s home.
As an unmarried 20-something, I haven’t given pregnancy and birth much thought, but I hadn’t given home birth any thought. When I started arranging these interviews, my knowledge of it stemmed from the Friends of Missouri Midwives press release and sitcom stereotypes. I thought of home births the way I thought about vegan diets — something radical, not for everyone but certainly not wrong.
I quickly learned not everyone shared my attitude.
The first thing Jeff Serafin told me was that he and his wife had college degrees. They were educated, and they most certainly weren’t hippies. They’d butted up with the home birth stimga on more than one occasion, and they weren’t interested in being portrayed as barbarians.
But they were interested in sharing the facts. So stigma or not, they were going to do this story with me.
I’m so glad they did.
LaGRANGE, Mo. — Jeff Serafin didn’t rush his wife Heather to the hospital when her water broke.
The couple didn’t drive more than 15 miles to Quincy or 30 miles to Hannibal. Heather never wore a hospital gown. Jeff didn’t pace up and down the hospital hallways. Their loved ones didn’t pile into a waiting room.
The Missouri State Supreme Court legally recognized certified professional midwives in 2008 so mothers like Heather can safely give birth at home instead of traveling to a hospital.
When Heather delivered her youngest three children, she ate food from her own kitchen. That night, she slept under her own sheets. Eventually, she nursed her newborns for the first time while in her own bed.
“This is where my life happens,” Heather said. “What a beautiful thing, to bring our children into that, instead of a sterile situation.”
Midwife Alyssa Martin’s mothers don’t travel any farther than down the hallway in their own homes. As couples like Heather and Jeff count the time between contractions, Martin travels the miles.
Those miles have steadily increased for her and other CPMs since 2008. The Missouri Department of Health recorded more than 1,420 out-of-hospital births in 2012, and certified professional midwives attended more than 1,000 of those births.
Martin says her practice has “almost doubled” in the past year, during which she helped in “about 12″ births.
As the only CPM in Northeast Missouri, Martin will travel up to 90 minutes for her clients. It’s more than 50 miles from Martin’s home in Rutledge to the Serafins’ home in LaGrange. She has clients as far south as Hannibal and as far west as Kirksville. Her eastern coverage stops at the river, because she can’t legally practice in Illinois.
Jeff said Illinois’ attitude toward home births has put several couples in dangerous situations. Martin said when midwives can’t openly practice, recommendations become based on word of mouth rather than accreditation. If something goes wrong during pre-natal care or birth, the underground midwife cannot provide crucial information to the hospital.
“The legislation is important, because it protects the family and protects the midwife,” Jeff said. “That’s something that Missouri has owned up to that Illinois hasn’t yet.”
More at whig.com.