For 10 years, Sheila Watson, a tall woman with light eyes and laughter in her voice, has been helping South Florida women bring their babies into the world only a few feet away from their home nurseries.
A lot of women Id come in contact with had horrible experiences [with childbirth], said Watson, founder of Spirit of Life Traditional Midwifery in Perrine. Mine was totally different.
After birthing her second child at home with a midwife in the 80s, Watson joined a midwifery study group in New Jersey, apprenticed with a midwife in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia for five years, became a certified professional midwife in 1996, and received a Florida license in 2001.
The number of midwives has grown slightly in Florida over the past five years. In 2006, 1,173 live births in Florida were attended by midwives, according to the Florida Vital Statistics Annual Reports. By 2010, the number was slightly higher, at 1,335 births.
Birth centers are busy, most midwives have students, and its difficult to staff birth centers because most midwives open their own practice, said Char Lynn Daughtry, a licensed midwife in Clearwater who is chair of the Florida Department of Healths Council of Licensed Midwifery.
One reason behind the surge is an emphasis on reducing the number of births by C-sections. In 2011, Florida had one of the highest C-section rates in the nation at 36.8 percent of all births, according to a report by HealthGrades. The national average was 34 percent. In 2010, the Agency for Health Care Administration noted approximately 58 percent of births at Kendall Regional and 61 percent of those at South Miami Hospital were C-sections.
Yet obstetricians and gynecologists caution that midwives cant always handle complications that can arise in the birth of a baby.
Dr. James T. Breeden, president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and of Gynecologists, warned in a recent blog post that home births dont always go as planned and women should have a certified nurse-midwife, certified midwife, or physician practicing within an integrated and regulated health system with ready access to consultation and a plan for safe and quick transportation to a hospital in case of an emergency.
A lot of celebrities and media have been promoting home births, but I think theres misplaced fear regarding hospital births, added Dr. Erin Tracy, the Massachusetts chair of the obstetricians organization. Patients are concerned about the C-section rates, but we just want a healthy outcome at the end. Patients are getting a lot of misinformation and are concerned with some things that are not standard hospital practices.
Certified midwives and certified nurse midwives are well trained, she added, but certified professional midwives, for example, may have only apprenticeship training and may not have experience with complications.
Florida law requires licensed midwives to have completed 90 credit hours in courses such as basic sciences, genetics and neonatal resuscitation. Midwives are required to undergo clinical training and pass the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM) National Certification Examination to become certified professional midwives.
When Sandra Garcia became pregnant she called her gynecologists office and was relieved to learn the doctor was no longer delivering babies.