A breast-feeding consultant, a parent counselor, and a woman whose testimony consisted of clapping her hands high in the air to salute midwifery were among those who succeeded yesterday in killing a bill that would have barred all but a select group of professionals from assisting at home births.
At one point, Sen. Harry J. McGuirk (D-Baltimore), chairman of the State Senate Economic Affairs Committee, asked for a decorum during a hearing tht preceded the 8-to-0 vote against the bill. "Could you please show compassion and limit your testimony?" he asked.
A red-haired, 4-year-old boy ran across the room. A blond toddler followed, munching goldfish crackers. Their mothers would not be silenced. One said there is a swelling underground movement that could not be halted by the law. Another mother in the group of a dozen told the all-male committee
"We women, we look, like , you know, birth is something natural for us," said Karen Martin, her infant peering over her shoulder from a pack strapped across her back. "It's an emotional experience, my birth at home . . . it was the really natural birth."
Those who said they favor home birth as a way to "follow the life process" got strong support in their opposition to the bill from members of the state's nursing association, who said their association is preparing a new nurse practice act dealing with various forms of nursing.
The bill at issue would have required all mid-wives to hold nursing diplomas.
Midwives are now licensed by the state and are not required to hold nursing diplomas. McGuirk asked J. King Seeger, a representative of the State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene if the bill would not, in fact, do away with nurse midwifery.
Yes, Seeger answered. Even if the nurse midwife is qualified and even if she has training. McGuirk asked. Yes, was the anser again. Seeger did not elaborate.
This committee was the bill's last stop before it faced final consideration in the Senate. It had already passed a House committee and the full House, and the women advocates came prepared with studies, statistics and the will to be heard.
Fran Ventre, a licensed midwife, read a five-page statement to the committee. In it she said that midwives are not "the stereotype of the old crone of ancient folklore," but women who are also mothers and also college-degree holders. "We organized workshop to share experiences, skills and knowledge. Eventually, our names would spread in an underground network . . . It may not have been a sophisiticated or accepted way of entering a profession, but someone needed to do the job. So we did - with commitment, with care and with compassion for the women we are serving."
If the law had been passed, Ventre, the only licensed lay midwife in the state, would have been saved from extinction by what one senator called a "grandmother" clause, allowing all previously licensed lay midwives to continue practicing.
Ventre said that 50 to 60 deliveries are done each month by Maryland mindwives and not all the midwives have adequate training. She asked the committee to encourage laws that would train and license qualified midwives rather than outlaw them.