The Farm

Summertown, Tennessee, USA

Editorial Comment by Ina May Gaskin

" They came for the Communists, but I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. They came for the Jews, but I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. They came for the trade unionists, but I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. They came for the Catholics, but I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, but by that time there wasn't anyone left to speak up for me."

So said Reverend Martin Neimoller, referring to Hitler's Gestapo, who took him away to Sachsenhausen and Dachau in 1937.

Two southern California midwives and their nurse practitioner assistant have realized that Reverend Neimoller's words still have meaning in these times. The three women, who work at the only out-of-hospital birth center in Huntington Beach, California, were arrested early this year on charges of practicing medicine without a license. They still wonder why.

In mid-January of this year, Certified Nurse Midwife Lynn Amin, owner of Natural Birthing Services, was arrested at her home in Moreno Valley, California, by armed police, put in handcuffs for several hours, and taken to jail, where she was chained to a wall for at least three hours. Not yet recovered sufficiently from the surgical removal of a disc in her neck to be back at work, she spent the night in pain - cold and frightened - wondering what she had done to cause such treatment. She asked to have the cuffs removed and was refused. She got the same response when she asked for a blanket. "That's how it is," said her jailer.

Amin, like most of us, knew of other women who had faced such charges in southern California and other states for serving as midwives for women wanting home or birth center births. Sometimes. particularly in California, these women have been treated with a cruelty that has seemed specially reserved for them: there were women whose kitchen spice shelves were confiscated and whose children were terrorized during the process of arrest. Jessica Mitford wrote about some of these women in her recent book, The American Way of Birth. But up to the time of Amin's and her partners' arrests, never had these been certified nurse midwives.

In fact, Amin and her two associates, Beverley Thorpe, CNM, and Lorri Walker, RNP, had gone to great pains to work well within the legal limits imposed on their professions by California law. Trained in midwifery in her native England, where midwifery is far more accepted than in the United States (tiny England has 30,000 midwives, compared to only 3,500 certified nurse midwives in the United States), Lynn Amin worked as a midwife in Zambia for a few years before immigrating to this country. Once here, she was shocked to find out that her credentials and experience counted for little in the United States and to discover how many hurdles she would have to struggle over before being allowed to work as a legal midwife in California and most other states. Lorri Walker, the nurse practitioner who has worked for her for over seven years, has faced similar obstacles to becoming a nurse midwife, but like Amin elected to work safely within the law.

It is hard to say why the mother who lodged a complaint against Amin, Walker and Thorpe with the Board of Consumer Affairs did so‹her baby was born sound and healthy at their birth center two years ago, despite the fact that the mother arrived there late in labor with a baby that turned out to be in breech position. Because the baby arrived so quickly after the discovery of his position, there was no time to call emergency services. Paramedics, at any rate, are not trained to deal with breech deliveries. What is hard to understand is the California Board of Consumer Affairs' aggressive pursuit of the midwives and their assistant, not to mention the added pressure from the Board of Registered Nurses, the professional organization that controls the licensing of certified nurse midwives in California.

California taxpayers funded the two visits to Lorri Walker's home in the spring of 1993 by undercover officers pretending to be expectant parents. The armed officers' (their guns were concealed) mission was to entrap Ms. Walker into saying that she would attend their birth as a midwife, not as a nurse practitioner (or assistant to the midwives). After telling them repeatedly that she would be present for their birth, but that she was not yet qualified by law to serve as a midwife, she took the "pregnant" woman's blood pressure, only to be handcuffed and placed under arrest for practicing midwifery without a license. These misdemeanor charges were later dropped, only to be replaced by the more serious charges of practicing medicine without a license.

Copyright © 1994 Ina May Gaskin

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