A history of homebirth in North Carolina, minus the dead babies, of course

Got ethics?

A big shout out to Kirsti Kreutzer, Anna Van Wagoner and Maria Radonicich of “Where’s My Midwife? “a grassroots organization seeking to increase access to midwives in hospitals, free-standing birth centers and at home through education and advocacy.”

It is people like them who make my job of exposing the ignorance, stupidity and heartlessness of homebirth advocates so much easier. They have helpfully written a history of homebirth in North Carolina that leaves out the many dead babies. Supposedly Van Wagoner “loves using creativity to explore birth issues.” You can’t get much more creative than pretending that homebirth in North Carolina is safe.

To illustrate what I mean, I offer an example from their “history, ” but with the dead babies (in bold) added back. This excerpt covers a period of less than 2 years:

February 2011

A Certified Professional Midwife is arrested and charged with practicing midwifery without a license, and with providing prenatal care in a second case.

A baby was left with major brain damage after a homebirth presided over by Amy Medwin, CPM, who subsequently pleaded guilty to the charges. This isn’t the first time Medwin was arrested. According to the Charlotte News and Observer, she was arrested in the wake of another poor homebirth outcome in 1998.

March 2011

The largest rally regarding midwifery issues that has ever taken place in the United States is at the North Carolina General Assembly, when 650 people come to demonstrate their support of licensing Certified Professional Midwives. At that time, NCFOM has two bills in limbo—both of which end up languishing in Health Committee in both chambers.

You might think that this would be an opportunity for soul searching in the North Carolina homebirth community, but you’d be wrong. The North Carolina Friends of Midwives viewed this as an opportunity to promote the interests of CPMs. No one knew whether the baby would live or die, but homebirth advocates “moved on” to the really important issue, the fate of the midwife.

To my knowledge, there was never any investigation of Medwin by any midwifery organization.

May 2011

Prior to the homebirth VBA2C (vaginal birth after 2 C-sections), the mother wrote:

… I told DH that we’d be having no more babies unless I was able to plan a homebirth for the next one. I’m full-term with baby #3 and hoping to have an awesome HBA2C story in the next month! No matter how the birth turns out, I appreciate having a care provider who understands that each pregnant mother is an individual who is capable of researching and making her own decisions about “HER” body and child…

The mother got “HER” homebirth, with al midwife:

The mother began labor spontaneously at 41 1/2 weeks, labored for 24 hours and apparently delivered vaginally the day before yesterday.. The baby was born not breathing. Subsequent evaluation revealed meconium aspiration and catastrophic brain damage due to lack of oxygen. The decision was made to take the baby off life support.

August 2011

The mother is a diabetic (not gestational) who labored at home and ultimately transferred to the hospital after pushing for many hours. The baby was born by C-section, asphyxiated and brain dead, as well as suffering from overwhelming group B strep sepsis. The baby was taken off life support the next day.

December 2011

Two deaths!


The mother is a doula and had a waterbirth. The baby was a breech with a trapped head. The mother transferred to the hospital with the breech suspended from her vagina. By the time doctors could extricate the baby, she was dead.


According to the Charlotte Observer:

Just before 8 p.m. Dec. 16, police and paramedics were called to a home on Seamill Road, in a neighborhood near the Catawba River. They discovered the newborn unresponsive.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said it appeared complications had occurred after the baby’s mother participated in a water birth – a method of giving birth in a tub of warm water.

Paramedics performed CPR and then took the baby to Carolinas Medical Center, but the infant soon died.

Homicide detectives, who respond to all infant deaths, said they began investigating and determined that two women were in the home at the time of the birth. Police said they were practicing midwifery but did not have the proper license required by state law. Police arrested Mary Stewart Barhite, 43, of Charlotte, and Jacqueline Lynn Proffit, 45, of Indian Trail, on Friday. They are charged with practicing midwifery without a license – a misdemeanor.

This brings the confirmed homebirth death rate in North Carolina in 2011 to an extraordinary 12X times the expected death rate for comparable risk hospital birth.

February 2012

A direct-entry midwife and her doula are arrested and charged with practicing midwifery without a license. Charges are eventually dropped.

May 2012

I’m a police officer and just went to a call involving a family doing a home birth. There were complications so the family called 911. I was the first on scene and started doing compressions on the baby. EMS arrived a few minutes after and took over. I sat and watched, feeling helpless. I have a 9 month old at home and all I could think of was my little girl.

June 2012

A homebirth death occurred in Wilmington in late May/early June. It was the result of a shoulder dystocia at an attempted HBAC (homebirth after cearean).

July 2012

The baby boy died on July 23, 2012. The attendant was Rowan Bailey- a follower of The Matrona and Whapio Diane Bartlett, in Asheville NC. Bailey claims a holistic, non-interference approach, and she lived up to that reputation. She became annoyed at phone calls and doubts from family and the father.

After 4 days of labor, she finally admitted she did not know how to “get the baby out” at home. At the hospital they could not find the baby’s heartbeat. The stillborn baby was born that afternoon.

Summer 2012

A series of bad outcomes (dead babies) comes to the attention of the Midwifery Joint Committee (involving direct-entry midwife Rowan Bailey in July (mentioned above), and a Certified Professional Midwife and two Certified Nurse Midwives around the same time [additional deaths, not mentioned above]). A cease and desist order is filed against both Rowan and the Certified Professional Midwife.

During testimony by one of the Certified Nurse Midwives, she mentions that the obstetrician who signed her permit to practice is also providing supervision for approximately eleven other Certified Nurse Midwives serving families across the state. This obstetrician is called into a closed-door session before the Board of Medicine, immediately after which he notifies each of the eleven midwives that he will no longer serve as their supervising physician. [In the wake of finding himself responsible for the death at the hands of the midwife.]

This leaves hundreds of families planning legal, professionally assisted home births with no care and very few options. There are not enough practicing Certified Professional Midwives, whose numbers have been thinned by fear of arrest, to attend all of these births.

The MJC issues a temporary 75-day license to the Certified Nurse Midwives to cover the gap in physician supervision, but most are unable to find a doctor willing to buck the establishment [and take responsibility for the appalling number of deaths at the hand of homebirth midwives] and allow them legal status. Today, only four Certified Nurse Midwife home birth practices are left in the state.

During the time period in question, at least 8 babies died at the hands of North Carolina midwives and possibly 10 or more for a death rate than is more than 10 X higher than term hospital birth. To my knowledge, not a single one of the midwives involved in these deaths was ever investigated by any homebirth midwifery organization, either in North Carolina or nationally.

When I read alternative “histories” like this I am put in mind of a declaration by Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady:

What a heartless, wicked, brainless thing to do.

That’s why I’m grateful to to folks of “Where’s My Midwife?” I am constantly trying to highlight the lack of education, lack of training, hideous outcomes and the utter contempt for any concept of accountability on the part of homebirth midwives. They’re doing my job for me.

Now I have a question for them:

How can you be so heartless, wicked and brainless as to whitewash the unending procession of preventable deaths that occur at homebirth?

Inquiring minds want to know.