Regulating Midwives: The Debate Over Making Home Birth Safer 26:00

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A midwife examining a pregnant woman during a home visit. (AP)
A midwife examining a pregnant woman during a home visit. (AP)

For any expecting mother, the decision over where, and how, to give birth is one of the most important decisions that can be made. Do you deliver in a hospital, with the aid of doctors and nurses, or do you go for a more natural delivery at home, with the help of a midwife?

Here in Massachusetts, the number of women who opt for home births is still very small, but growing. Most of the time those births go off without a hitch. Every once in a while, though, complications come up, with sometimes deadly consequences.

Take the case of Jen Holloman. Two years ago she tried to deliver her second child at home with the help of a midwife. She was in labor for nearly 24 hours when she decided it was time to go to the hospital. Shortly after arriving, the doctor on duty told her that her child was gone - dead from complications from an infection her midwife failed to detect. As Holloman told the Boston Globe afterwards, the year after her son's death was the "longest and saddest" of her life.

Since her son's death two years ago, Holloman has become an advocate for new legislation that was the focus of a hearing Tuesday on Beacon Hill.

The plan would establish practice guidelines for midwifery, and for the first time ever establish a state body that would regulate midwives.

Supporters say the plan will help make home births safer, while opponents say it can never provide the same level of care that women can get in a hospital delivery room.

We'll be talking about midwives, and the debate over making home birth safer.


  • Erin Tracy, obstetrician gynecologist, Massachusetts General Hospital;  vice-chair, Massachusetts chapter of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
  • Rebecca Herman, certified professional midwife and a member of the board of directors for the Massachusetts Midwives Alliance
  • Gene Declercq, professor and assistant dean, School of Public Health, Boston University.

This segment aired on July 19, 2011.