October 3, 2003

U of C midwifery practice in danger of being forced to close its doors

As members of a community of educated people, we at the University of Chicago seek options in health care. Dr. Sara Van Orman, one of the primary care providers for U of C undergraduates and director of the Student Care Center, is particularly popular because of her excellent listening skills and the respect she gives her patients. Good primary care physicians, like her, excel at listening to fundamentally healthy people who have health concerns and at determining when specialists are needed. Also, the best such doctors respect their patients' abilities to understand their own health care needs, and

will explain, for example, when antibiotics are likely to improve a problem, such as strep throat, and when antibiotics will not help, as for a flu virus or common cold. More medicine is not necessarily better medicine.

Midwives at the U of C have for many years served parents and parents-to-be in this community with particularly respectful and responsible care during healthy pregnancies and births. Birth is the only event in our culture where healthy people go to the hospital.

Pregnancy and birth are not an illness. Midwives are trained specifically to recognize and promote healthy pregnancies and healthy labors. Midwives recognize that birth can be made more dangerous, not less, with unnecessary "medicine." Therefore, midwives support and encourage laboring women to avoid medications and invasive procedures

during labor. Several procedures at the U of C Hospital are required by doctors for all laboring women: bed rest, nothing by mouth, routine IV, and continuous electronic fetal monitoring. Women who are under the care of the midwives are able to avoid these procedures, as the midwives are with these women and are able to monitor them personally. Midwives help a woman work with her body. Traditionally, there has been no animosity between the OB/GYN doctors at the U of C and the midwives. The OB/GYN physicians have recognized that midwives have a unique, safe, successful way of managing healthy labors and that they provide a service and an approach which the doctors do not provide.

In addition, the only way a woman birthing at the U of C could reasonably expect to even recognize the medical practitioner attending her birth was to birth with the U of C midwives. Midwives see the woman from the first prenatal appointment to her arrival at the hospital to the labor and delivery and again at postnatal appointments. There are three midwives, and a pregnant woman and her partner meet all of them over the course of the prenatal visits. An obstetrician at the U of C might see a woman through all of her prenatal visits, but then has only a 1 in 15 chance of being on rotation during that same woman's labor and birth, as there are about 15 OB/GYN physicians working at the hospital.

The new chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dr. Arthur Haney, has chosen to eliminate the midwifery practice at the U of C. He has ignored repeated community protest via letters, email, and a recent rally. We, members of the U of C community as staff, students, faculty, and spouses of all the above, are angry and frustrated that the university has decreed, in essence, that more medicine is better medicine. High-risk obstetrics has an important role, but most of the U of C community will not need to be served by high-risk obstetricians. We want normal, healthy pregnancies, and normal, healthy births with practitioners who listen to our needs. We want practitioners who recognize and promote maternal and fetal health. We want low-tech births, yet we want them in a high-tech hospital, where doctors can address the rare instances when problems arise. We want to have these births in our own neighborhood, with the support of the University where we work and study.

We are asking for the support of you, the undergraduates of this university. Will you become an alumni supporter of a university that fails to support the families who study and work here? Send your letters of support for the midwives to Micheal Riordan, CEO of the U of C hospital (mriordan@uchicago.edu), and Don Randel, President of the University (drandel@uchicago.edu). Tell the administration that you support the independent midwifery practice of the U of C midwives.