I’ve stewed for some time on the term “lay midwife”.  In fact, I think it’s been several years.  I heard the term used countless times at the Capitol by legislators (and a few docs) in reference to any midwife other than a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM).  I have also heard midwife supporters and midwives themselves using this term when defining the different types of midwives, albeit much less often.  There are now several distinctions, I admit, but I take issue with this particular one.

An internet search on lay person, or layperson, brings up the following:

  • “someone who is not a clergyman or a professional person”
  • “a person who is a non-expert in a given field of knowledge”

Given these definitions, I feel that the term “lay midwife” is inaccurate, at best.  I suppose it is possible that someone could call themselves a midwife when he/she really has no training/experience, just as someone could call themselves a __________(insert any profession you choose) without the training/experience ~ the only difference is you wouldn’t then refer to this person as a lay doctor or lay lawyer….you would call them a fraud and prosecute them.  So why then is lay put before midwife?  This makes no sense.  If we’re being completely, totally literal then perhaps I could see the confusion.  Midwife literally means “with woman”, so I guess if you want to be really technical, any person who is “with woman” could be construed as a midwife and therefore, possibly, be called a lay midwife.

Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe I have no idea what a midwife is or what she does, but considering I’ve spent two pregnancies in the company of midwives, I take a midwifery course, I am friends with a couple midwives, and I aspire to be one, I think I have a fairly realistic grasp on this.  Midwives work hard to learn about normal pregnancy and birth, complications, how to spot those complications, what complications are serious enough for transport, and so on.   They are not idiots.  They do not go to school for x amount of time and then say, “Okay, I’m done learning.  I know everything I need to know about pregnancy, labor and birth.”  In fact, most of them continue to read new research, refine the skills they have, learn new skills and attend workshops/conferences.  Midwives are THE experts in normal birth, and they are the only persons who train specifically for out-of-hospital birth.  By normal I mean: minimal (if any) intervention, drug free, spontaneous, vaginal.  This is the direct opposite of defining a lay person.

In fact, both Certified Nurse Midwives and Doctors can legally attend home births (CNMs must have doctor backup though) in all 50 states….with no requirement on having previously seen/attended a home birth!  That’s right!  They can come attend you and have no idea about what happens at a home birth but have the nerve to call the professionals who DO have training and experience in this setting “lay”.