Monday, July 13, 2009

Interview with Melissa Cheyney

Several weeks ago I posted about collaborations, transfers, and attitudes towards home birth, including the research of OSU professor and CPM Melissa Cheyney into physician's perceptions of home birth. Cheyney and co-researcher Courtney Evans have published their findings in the March 2009 issue of Anthropology News. The article, "Narratives of Risk: Speaking Across the Hospital/Homebirth Divide," is available here as a PDF. In addition, RH Reality Check featured an interview with Melissa Cheyney about her research.

I am especially interested in reading the protocol she is helping create for collaboration between OBs and home birth midwives. It's the first of its kind and will hopefully pave the way for better collaboration and communication between the two groups of birth attendants.

Some excerpts from the interview:
Newman: How can providers who are already open and amenable to working with midwives help foster a more supportive culture among colleagues, as you suggest in the proposal?

Cheyney: One of the mechanisms for maintaining distrust between midwives and obstetricians is what my colleagues and I have termed “birth story telephone.” This is very similar to the childhood game of telephone where as the story spreads from one individual to another, it grows in nature and the details change substantially. As home and hospital birth stories are told and retold, and filtered through the lens of the teller, details shift to match the preconceived worldview of the teller. For example, a non-emergent transport for a slow, uncomplicated and non-progressive labor can turn into a mother laboring at home for days with poor heart tones and a uterine infection before the midwife reluctantly brings her in. By the time the story has been passed along, mother and baby who were actually never in danger were saved from a near death experience by the hospital staff.

Conversely, hospital births where a woman feels too many interventions were used can be constructed as abusive or traumatizing to the woman after numerous retellings. These stories effectively maintain the home/hospital divide. Physicians and midwives can work to overturn that divide by refusing to participate in “telephone,” by being committed to accuracy and professionalism; sharing only the stories they have first-hand knowledge of. Midwives and physicians who have positive experiences working with one another also need to speak up regarding those positive interactions.

Newman: What are some of the stereotypes or judgements held by midwives about OBs/physicians?

Cheyney: Let me begin with this caveat, midwives often hold fewer misconceptions about obstetricians because we actually get to see hospital deliveries when we transport. We have first-hand knowledge of the model of care that we often critique. However, very few physicians ever attend a home delivery, and yet feel very comfortable critiquing that option.

That said, because midwives often hear stories of hospital births from clients who are unhappy with the experience and are now seeking an alternative, many maintain an outdated view of hospital deliveries as inhumane and impersonal. The vast majority of women, about 70% in the United States, leave the hospital feeling it was a positive experience. Only about 30% leave with regrets or frustrations about their experience and treatment. We as midwives disproportionately serve that 30%. This can prevent us from seeing the work that obstetricians are doing to humanize and individualize birth in the hospital.

Finally, while obstetricians can envision a world without midwives, midwives cannot envision a world without obstetricians. Thus, midwives have a larger incentive to work towards positive relationships with back-up physicians.


  1. She has a good point in that many stories are simply not a good accurate picture of either place.

  2. I am EAGERLY awaiting her protocol.

  3. Loved the interview, and what Melissa is doing is really fantastic. Not to take away from the important work that she is doing, but the midwives in Washington State have worked long and hard with OBs to come up with some mutual expectations regarding transports as well as forms that midwives use when bringing in a mother and/or baby. The transport guideline document can be found at MAWS Planned Out-of-Hospital Transport Guidelines, and the transport forms can be found HERE. Happy reading!

  4. Thanks for this post. I really enjoyed reading it and leaving copies of the study scattered around our LD unit. Hoping to hear some interesting conversations sparked by it. If nothing else, but for the sake of the women we serve, I hope to see collaboration become the norm as opposed to mistrust and confruntation.

    I've been trying to put together "Birth Professional" gatherings in my community. So far on LD nurses have come, but I have invited our local CPM and doulas. We watched "Orgasmic Birth" last time we got together and talked about how great it would be if we could all get to know our midwife and doulas better. I'll keep trying to get them to come. Maybe one day.


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