Indigenous people, Appalachian people and people of African Descent have been an intricate part of Georgia’s maternal health care history since the beginning of time. They continue to be a part of the birthing community by answering “A Call to Midwifery”, and by responding to the requests from birthing families who desire a Midwife attendant for this most extraordinary, sacred and vulnerable part of their life, Birth!
Prior to 1921, there were over 9,000 Granny Midwives serving families in the state of Georgia! Between 1925 and 1929, the Sheppard-Town Act played a major role in the medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth in order to decrease the number of Georgia’s infant and maternal morbidity and mortality rates, and to expand the Federal Welfare Legislation.
Consequently, Granny Midwives suffered. Through promoting a perception that was referred to as “The Midwife Problem”, there was an intentional effort to eliminate Midwives who had been effectively serving their communities for centuries.
Midwives were actually, one of the most important pillars of their community. The Midwives were highly respected, but due to systemic racism and inequity of care, stemming from slavery and the Jim Crow era, Midwives were the only birth workers that many families could depend on!!! The Sheppard-Towns Act was supposedly instituted to provide “adequate” prenatal care to all of Georgia’s women regardless of race. The Act actually removed the midwives’ reliable source of care that it provided to many Georgians.
By 1944, Public Nurses, Nurse Midwives and Doctors who were collaborating with the Granny Midwives, significantly reduced the numbers of Granny Midwives down to a mere 2,000 because the Public Nurses and the Nurse Midwives were effectively replacing the Granny Midwives.
By 1975, there were only a handful of Granny Midwives serving in the homes of families, and those few, mainly served in the rural parts of Georgia. Either the Midwives were forced into retirement or they reached an age where they no longer could serve their communities. In the early 1980’s Mrs. Arilla Smiley retired from Midwifery. She was the last of Midwives who was trained and certified by the Department of Public Health. Her retirement ended the era of the Granny Midwife who during her reign, had served throughout the Civil Rights period. Little did the medical establishment know that as they were intentionally eliminating the Granny Midwives, seeds of a new era of Midwives were being planted. These were and are the Midwives of the 21st Century!
These new Midwives are carrying the torch for the freedom to exercise the right to continue serving their communities not only here in Georgia, but nationwide!!! Families are choosing to birth at home for many reasons, but mainly for the same reasons their foremothers did; and that is to be safely served at home by Midwives. Since 1993, Midwives have been at this very Capitol in order to pass a Bill to reestablish the certification or licensure of their profession and to make home birthing accessible for the low-risk mothers who choose to birth at home. Ironically, here we are, eighty or so years later, and Georgia’s Maternal Mortality rates are higher than they were when the Sheppard-Towns Act was initiated. As a matter of fact, Georgia ties neck and neck with Louisiana, ranking the Maternal Mortality rates of both states, the highest in the Nation and higher than some of the world’s developing countries. These facts are based on the statistics provided by the state of Georgia and reflect births which take place in Georgia’s hospitals.
"I got so much experience in here that I just want to explode. I want to show that I knew what I knew. I want someone to realize what I am…So I’m lettin’ out my secrets…What I know about deliverin’ babies comes from motherwit. Onnie" -Lee Logan