At 2pm today, I walked into the Public Health and Human Services subcommittee hearing, exhausted. I had spent Sunday baking brownies, making copies of handouts, and packing up everything I needed to host a “Meet & Greet” in the Rotunda at the state capitol. Sunday night was long one, with 5 of us piled into a Jackson hotel room, one very fussy baby, and my thoughts racing. Monday morning came around too soon – up and out the door for 2 radio interviews. Admittedly, kind of exciting, but stress inducing none the less. ( I mean, how can a regular mom like me who can’t even complete an entire grocery list in one trip, represent the feelings of the 500 supporters of Mississippi Friends of Midwives and also convince the radio listeners that they support HB207.) Then, off to the capitol to serve snacks and refreshments to the folks passing through the rotunda……The next few hours were a blur……talking to people, chasing 1 year old Caprie and wondering what on earth a state congressional hearing is like.
So, I plopped down in the seat in Room 103 unsure what I would say or if I even had the energy to form a sentence. This was my first time attending a hearing. It was even my first time speaking to a representative in person. I am not a lobbyist or activist. But, this bill is important to me, so I renegotiated my duties and have squeezed this in to my list of responsibilities. Of the 16 members of the subcommittee, only 3 were present for the hearing today.
Thankfully, there were at least 10 other women there today who did the same thing. They spent up to 8 hours in the car to drive there and back, they found babysitters, they rearranged their budget to find gas money, they took time off work, they made this a priority. Several women spoke in support of the bill: consumers, midwives, student midwives. They spoke honestly and from their heart - the passion shined through. The main message was what we have been saying all along.
• Women give birth at home and hire direct entry midwives, the women of MS deserve a system that will allow them to verify the competency of a midwife and file a grievance against incompetent midwives.
• MS needs direct entry midwives , but we need to define what a direct entry midwife is exactly, and it makes sense to use the NARM (North American Registry of Midwives) recommended CPM (Certified Professional Midwife). We didn’t want this law to eliminate the midwives currently practicing, but we do want to move forward to improving our standards.
• Currently practicing midwives are vulnerable to prosecution under our current legal situation. In other states similar to our, midwives have been arrested and jailed.
• By having a law that defines a direct entry midwife, our state will be more protected against opposing forces introducing a law to restrict births to hospital only.
After we got those points across, the Department of Health (DOH) spoke. First, they recognized that direct entry midwives and home birthing families have a place in MS and the DOH wants that practice to continue. Everyone in the room seemed to agree with that. Next, what they said made me nervous. She went on to explain that the DOH currently regulates 17 professions and it is a very expensive and intensive process to do. She said, there would have to be OB oversight and they simply don’t have the money to do this. Well, this was news to me, because how I had understood the bill, a volunteer board made of midwives, consumers and a Dr. would handle all that. The bill was written specifically so that it would not cost money or need oversight – It was to be a self regulated by the Midwives Board. The DOH held strong that if it is under their wing, they are required to oversee it – and that means OBs regulating home birth. I don’t think any one in the room wanted that . Certainly not me, and not the legislators or the DOH.
Then, Rep. Omeria Scott started brainstorming a bit. How can we accomplish all these goals at no cost and keep the DOH out of it? After some back and forth questioning, she proposed that we simplify. She suggested that the state require all midwives obtain a CPM credential. Those CPM are required to “Register” with the DOH (a Registration, not a License). And, since almost all currently practicing midwives are not CPMs, give them until 2015 to become a CPM. That’s it.
Well, HELL YEA, Of course thats what we want. That is what we wanted all along, all that other hoopla was in there because we thought we needed that to get the bill passed.
I walked out the door, ecstatic. Thrilled with the amended bill. If passed, this bill would improve the midwifery care in our state, it would establish a career path for women to become midwives, it would protect us from incompetent midwives using our state as a safe-haven and it would provide a little protection against a bill to make direct entry midwives illegal. (see note at the end).
So , now what? Honestly, my husband is wondering when I am going to get back to my regular work – keeping the laundry clean, the fridge full, homework completed and dinner on the table. My 6 year old wants her full time mommy back. And Caprie doesn’t want to spend 6 hours in the car again. Family, you are going to have to wait a little longer. I am going to give this all I have got. I don’t think I will be able to do it again anytime soon, so I must capitalize on the momentum we have to keep going. I can't do it alone. I can't do it with the dozen or so women that are fully engaged. We need more people or all is lost.
Here is the Reality. This amended bill needs to heard and voted on by the full Public Health and Human Services committee no later than Tuesday, Feb 1st. That is a house rule. Then, there are more steps (each with deadlines). If passed by the Committee, it will go to the floor of the House for a vote. Then, it moves to the Senate where it goes to Subcommittee, then Committee, then the floor of the Senate. This all happens by the end of March – 10 weeks.
I learned today that calls and emails are great. (Rep. Coleman told me before the meeting, “I don’t know how I feel about this bill, but I got a lot of emails about it, so I am going to hear what you have to say.”) And, it is important to have media coverage (The Legislators pay attention to what is in the media, the morning radio piece was even referenced in the hearing). But, it is CRITICAL that people show up in Jackson when there is a vote (like today). A friend of mine, had her 3 children in the car for 6 hours today and didn’t speak at the hearing, but her presence in the room meant a lot to those Representatives.
We need you!!!! My next post will explain EXACLTY how you can help.
Note: During the hearing the Representatives insisted that they would NEVER let home birth be eliminated from our state, they would always protect midwives and home birth. There was an immediate uproar, “YOU voted to outlaw homebirth last year in this very committee.” 2010 HB695 passed through the subcommittee, committee and to the house floor where it was voted in by a very large margin. They apologized for that. : )