“Midwives are the best experts on normal birth.”Marsden Wagner, MD
Maternal and Child Health Office
World Health Organization
Our History as Licensed Midwives in SC
Midwifery in South Carolina has a long history that it shares with the history of humankind. The word midwife means “with woman.” Midwives are honored as cornerstone members of societies worldwide for ushering in the new lives that sustain every culture.
In the 1930’s, South Carolina’s public health officials recognized the need for formal training of midwives and programs were established under the leadership of Dr. Hilla Sheriff, a native of Orangeburg and a Harvard-trained physician. At that time, there were several thousand midwives in South Carolina and their training yielded good results. They traveled over rough roads, sometimes on foot or by horse-and-buggy, to care for the families in their communities.
As the twentieth century progressed, pregnancy and birth became safer due to improved sanitation and hygiene, better nutrition, the invention of antibiotics and the new option of bearing fewer children by using birth control. An increasingly organized system of health care and advancements in our capacity to address childbearing challenges also provided distinct advantages.
By 1970, our health officials determined that times had changed. They implemented an experimental plan to turn childbirth into a medical event for everyone. This had already been done everywhere in the United States except the South. The master plan was to eliminate independent midwives and establish the mechanistic view of childbirth that prevails today.
Consequently, South Carolina midwives were called to meetings where they were informed that their services were no longer needed. It was a shock as there were citizens still desiring the personal care and conscientious service of midwives. Many appreciated the midwives’ reluctance to interfere unnecessarily in the birth process. Not all mothers wished to be institutionalized for childbirth, nor did all mothers wish to take drugs or to be separated from their newborn babies. Nevertheless, the government proceeded to be an ally in establishing such practices as normal.