Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski recently appointed Oregon State University Assistant Professor of Anthropology Melissa Cheyney to the State Board of Direct Entry Midwifery.
The Board oversees peer review, education, examinations, enforcement, public safety, legislation and rules for the practice of midwifery in the State of Oregon. It consists of seven members – six midwives and one obstetrician. Terms of office are three years.
Cheyney’s appointment was confirmed by the Oregon Senate on June 26, and she took the Oath of Office on July 14.
Cheyney, an applied medical anthropologist, is also a practicing midwife.
“I value the opportunity to translate my ongoing research on the culture and safety of midwife-attended delivery into effective policy change,” she said.
According to The Oregonian, Cheyney says it’s safe for healthy mothers with low-risk pregnancies to labor at home or in a birth center under the care of an experienced midwife.
That theory puts her at odds with the mainstream U.S. medical practice of delivering babies in hospitals. To prove it, she must collect data about every Oregon baby intentionally born outside a hospital.
“Among the most wealthy countries, the United States now ranks 31st in infant mortality. The vast majority of our nation’s births are in hospitals, and about one-third of those are by Caesarean section. The World Health Organization recommends no more than 10 to 15 percent, so our rate is two to three times higher than what is considered safe. And yet, society maintains the myth that births at home are risky,” says Cheyney in the summer issue of Terra.
Cheyney and her research assistant, Courtney Everson, must track down midwives with deeply rooted beliefs that birth shouldn’t be a medical event and persuade them to report information as a doctor would, all while reassuring them that the study won’t jeopardize their freedom to care for mothers and babies.
Recruiting midwives has been easier than Cheyney expected. The Oregon Midwifery Council, a professional organization with licensed and unlicensed members, voted to support Cheyney’s work in September. As of February, Forty-one midwives had agreed to submit data to the Midwives Alliance of North America’s statistics project, which will separate Oregon’s numbers, The Oregonian says.