By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press
MERIDIAN, Idaho (AP) — Midwives and doctors are longtime rivals in the politics governing where women should give birth: Home or hospital.
But that tension, typically played out privately between pregnant women and their health care providers, was laid bare this month in the case of two Idaho midwives suspended by the state after three babies died during a 14-month period between 2010 and 2011.
The Baby Place in Meridian remains open, but its midwife owner, Coleen Goodwin, and her daughter, Jerusha Goodwin, are barred for now from practicing, in part over decisions allegedly influenced by their distrust and frayed relationships with doctors in hospitals where they felt mistreated or disrespected.
A former employee who trained at The Baby Place said hostility the Goodwins developed for doctors ultimately led to delays in emergency transports to hospitals.
Dani Kennedy told The Associated Press this antagonism caused them to make decisions against the best interests of mothers and babies, broadening the historic midwife-doctor divide to a wide gulf — with tragic consequences.
Coleen Goodwin "did hesitate to transport, and that was really upsetting to me," said Kennedy, who trained at The Baby Place between 2007 and 2010. She left to open a practice in Hawaii, in part over these concerns.
"I wanted to work in an environment where I was able to make my own decisions about the care of my clients," she said.
Kennedy was interviewed by Idaho investigators who began scrutinizing the Goodwins after one of the three mothers who lost babies lodged a complaint with the state.
The Goodwins, whose website indicates they've helped 1,400 women give birth, declined interviews, including on Monday. A receptionist who answered the phone declined to say who is providing services to women following the Goodwins' March 23 suspensions.
St. Luke's Health System spokesman Ken Dey in Boise declined to comment specifically about the Goodwins' interactions with doctors at the hospital's facilities in Meridian or Boise.
"The message we want to get across is, we're not anti-midwife," Dey said. "Women have the option to choose where they have their babies. But we want to make sure all the safety regulations are in place."
OB/GYN Associates, the Idaho business that provides doctors to St. Luke's, didn't return phone calls seeking comment.
Though more than 99 percent of U.S. women give birth in hospitals, home births are increasing, accounting for 0.72 percent of deliveries in 2009, up from 0.56 percent in 2004, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Significantly more Idaho women have a midwife-assisted birth or home birth than the national average. About 3.2 percent of the 92,000 total births between 2008 and 2011 were midwife-assisted, either at birthing centers or home birth.
Given that, remedying feuds like the one Kennedy said influenced the Goodwins' decision-making is growing more important, said Oregon State University professor Melissa Cheyney, a medical anthropologist and certified midwife.
Midwives often feel disrespected by the medical establishment, Cheyney said, while doctors' objections to out-of-hospital births may harden with every traumatic transport.
This comes on top of the already-existing divide between the two views of childbirth, with midwives emphasizing the safety of natural births in a familiar, comfortable setting, while the American Medical Association contends women are best off in a hospital, where life-saving technology is nearby if something goes awry.
"You're having this compulsory interaction between two value systems," Cheyney said. "A transport means these two systems have to come together — and work together."
The Idaho Board of Midwifery probe that preceded the Goodwins' suspensions highlights numerous instances where investigators said that didn't happen.
In August 2011, Jerusha Goodwin waited 11 minutes to call paramedics after a baby was born "limp, unresponsive and pale," investigators wrote. The mother labored for more than 48 hours, prompting the Meridian Police Department to launch an ongoing criminal negligence investigation after the baby died.