In 2010, the Wyoming Legislature passed a bill providing for a state licensing board for midwives. It took a long time for the voices of families across Wyoming to be heard.
In 1991, the Wyoming Board of Medicine sued me, Pat Schwaiger, for the practice of medicine in Sheridan County. Truth was I didn’t use any medicine in my practice, and there was no midwifery license to be had. Instead, the law included an exemption for midwives, stating that we could indeed deliver babies. Nevertheless, the local obstetricians had filed their complaint, and despite the fact that there had been no bad outcomes, the Medical Board presented me with a Consent Decree. This was a written agreement indicating that I would stop delivering babies immediately. I refused to sign.
That’s when they took me to court for practicing medicine.
The investigation lasted two years, during which time my phone was tapped (verified by my attorney), and a lien was put on my family’s home by the Medical Board (which we discovered later, as we tried to sell it). Unbelievable, I know. But this really happened. The trial lasted ten hours. The courtroom was packed with outraged parents and their home born children. The judge decided that, because of the exemption, I could continue delivering babies. But I could not continue providing prenatal care.
Of course, prenatal care is essential in providing midwifery services. Home birth is only for low-risk mothers, and how would the midwife determine whether there were risks, if she was prohibited from giving prenatal care? Nobody will ever convince me that this injunction was based on a concern for the safety of the pregnant women or the babies. It was a turf battle, plain and simple.
I promptly moved my practice across state lines, into Montana, where I already held a license. Many of the Wyoming families chose to drive that distance, in order to have a midwife-attended delivery. Countless women traveled for two hours or more, while in labor, because of this absurd court ruling. My case set precedent for the other midwives in Wyoming, and over the years, most of them quit or moved away or quietly practiced “underground”. Other Wyoming couples chose to have their babies at home in unattended births.
Year after year, home birth families presented their case to the Legislature. The Legislature always said ‘no’. But in 2010, Wyoming finally caught up with the 24 other states who license midwives. And now, midwifery is returning to the “Equality State”. Babies can be safely and legally born at home there again. Midwives from neighboring states are coming into Wyoming to fill the void. Young women who live in Wyoming are signing up to apprentice. This is as it should be.
And now it’s 2014. Today I am no longer an outlaw midwife. Instead, I serve as Chairperson for the Wyoming State Board of Midwifery. Poetic justice, no doubt.