Liz Koch is their Education Coordinator. As with any medical condition, please consult a doctor or trained professional for treatment of specific illnesses. This column contains opinion and is not meant as medical advice.

Midwives are part of the human experience. Through human history and in every part of the globe, women have sought out midwives to attend them through the journey of birth.

The English word midwife literally means “with women.” Today, in much of the world, professional midwives are responsible for attending women in labor and birth. Statistics show that in countries with the best pregnancy outcomes, midwives are the primary providers of care to pregnant women.

Up until the early part of the 20th century, midwives as well as physicians practiced without specific education, standards or regulations. Midwives’ wisdom and knowledge came through experience, traditionally handed down from woman to woman.

But as medicine gained legitimacy and power toward the end of the 19th century, it called for the abolition of midwifery and home birth in favor of obstetrics in a hospital setting.

Midwives in the United States at the turn of the 20th century attended almost half of all births but by 1935 the number had decreased to 12.5 percent. According to Nancy Sullivan, founder of, in the early years of the 20th midwives were effectively stamped out and women were convinced that they were safer in the hands of doctors and hospitals.

Hospital birth for upper class women was the latest invention. Birth became a medical procedure requiring a program of routine interventions including anesthesia, episiotomy, and forceps delivery. Intervention became the assumed style of birthing.

But with the ’60s came a rebirth of awareness. Women’s liberation broadened to include how women wanted to experience birth. Rather than having their babies “delivered,” women of the ’60’s wanted to know birth on an intimate level.

In 1975, the publication of Ina May Gaskin’s book, “Spiritual Midwifery,” spread the word that childbirth could be an experience of growth, empowerment, and joy.

By the early 80’s, world renown physicians like Dr Frederick Leboyer author of “Birth Without Violence,” began to recognize natural birth, not as a culturally radical idea but a healthy opportunity. Naturally birthed babies born without drugs in homes or homelike settings tended by midwive were alert and happy.

According to Dr. David Chamberlain, chairman of the Santa Barbara graduate program on pre-natal psychology newborn babies have been trying for centuries to convince us they are, like the rest of us, sensing, feeling, and thinking human beings.

Santa Cruz County, with its long history of consciousness-raising, proved fertile ground for the emergence of midwifery and traditional natural birth.

In 1972, local accupuncturist and midwife Raven Lang wrote “The Birth Book. Outraged at her own birth experience she became passionately involved in the ’60s with pregnancy and birth.

Lang — who founded the Santa Cruz Birth Center, the first birth center in North America, and the Institute of Feminine Arts, the first North American school of midwifery. was at the forefront of a group of Santa Cruz — women were devoted to offering women a different way of giving birth.

On another front, public health nurses in the 1920s acquired additional training in midwifery to provide maternity services to poor women. The Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) in the mountains of Kentucky and the Maternity Center Association in the medically underserved neighborhoods of New York City called themselves nurse-midwives.

Based on a British model, Mary Breckenridge established a demonstration project of complete family health care in a remote rural area in 1925.

By the 1950s, nurse-midwives were well-established in several medical institutions, and nurse-midwifery education was becoming standardized, moving into institutions of higher learning.

By 1985 California licensed midwives and certified nurse-midwives, working with obstetricians, were delivering babies in our local hospitals.

Liz Koch is the Way of Life Health Educator. You can contact her at

Editor’s note: Way of Life offers a free lecture series twice a month on natural remedies to health challenges and alternative approaches to health.

Liz Koch is their Education Coordinator. As with any medical condition, please consult a doctor or trained professional for treatment of specific illnesses. This column contains opinion and is not meant as medical advice.