Sunday, January 28, 2007


What is a "medwife"? First of all, it is a term of insult, generally directed by one midwife toward another. It is a term coined by some women specifically to demean the professional and personal skills of other women. It is meant to denote a midwife who uses medical procedures or heeds traditional medical injunctions.

How does it operate as an insult? It is supposed be perjorative because it associates midwives (inherently good) with doctors (inherently bad), the old false dichotomy of nature vs. technology. That, in itself, is ironic, since almost all of midwifery is derived from medicine (or at least all the components of midwifery that can and do save the lives of women and babies). It is also meant to condemn midwives who "betray" the ideals of traditional midwifery, although how working to keep women and babies healthy and alive could be a betrayal is not explained.

Who uses the term "medwife"? It is almost always employed by a midwife (or lay person) against another midwife who has more education and experience. In other words, someone who has minimal education and experience hurls the insult at a midwife whose clinical skills have grown and developed as a direct result of increased education or direct experience of complications and emergencies.

It is rather extraordinary when you think about it. In virtually any other field or profession, increased education and experience is valued. It is assumed that the education and experience results in wisdom and improved skills. Only in midwifery, is education and experience regarded as a bad thing. Not surprisingly, midwives with more education, and especially those with more experience, often give up the fantasies of "natural" birth that animate so many direct entry midwives. That is the betrayal.

The use of the term "medwife" tells us alot about the values of women who use the term. They value theory over practice, ignorance over education, and the fantasies of inexperience over the wisdom of experience.


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