Down East 2013 ©
By Kathleen Fleury Photographed by Lily Piel
With 162,807 jobs, Education and Health Services support more than one-third of all occupations in the state. On the healthcare side, practitioners such as doctors, dentists, veterinarians, and nurses account for 20 percent of the total. Teachers make up the biggest share of this industry, about 25 percent of its occupations.
On a mid-December morning, Iyla comes to downtown Belfast for her annual health exam. She spends an hour talking to Ellie Daniels, a certified professional midwife, about her overall health — plus she catches Daniels up about the details of her life. Daniels has been there since the beginning of it. Literally. She delivered Iyla twenty-eight years ago in her family’s home in Warren.
This kind of lifelong relationship with clients is pretty typical for homebirth midwives, especially ones as experienced as Daniels, who has been practicing midwifery in Maine for thirty-three years. Daniels moved to rural Piscataquis County as a back-to-the-lander in the early seventies. She gave birth to her first child, unattended, at her home and has since delivered more than one thousand babies at homes across midcoast and central Maine.
Daniels owns Belfast’s Morningstar Midwifery with fellow midwife Donna Broderick, also her life partner. The women are two of thirty certified homebirth midwives in Maine, a community bolstered by Birthwise Midwifery School in Bridgton, one of only ten accredited midwifery schools in the country.
“I think we’re at 15 percent or better,” says Daniels, referring to the percentage of babies born at home in midcoast Maine.
“It’s a very high satisfaction event to have a homebirth. Word of mouth is really strong. We’ve gone through a tipping point in midcoast culture: having a homebirth is just a normal option here.”
It’s also a cheaper option. Part of a healthcare industry flagged with ever-rising costs and stagnating health outcomes, Daniels and Broderick are able to have close, enduring relationships with their clients and provide them with quality maternity care at a relatively low cost. According to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the average hospital birth with no complications costs more than ten thousand dollars — not including all the prenatal doctor visits. A homebirth in Maine costs anywhere from $2,500 to $3,500, with all pre- and post-natal care visits included.
Daniels and Broderick also take creative payments for their services. “There’s nothing that gets done to this building or our house that isn’t traded,” says Daniels. “All our organic meat in our freezer. . . . ”
“Yoga lessons, Spanish lessons,” chimes in Broderick. “Because there’s a real face-to-face relationship with the people we work with, we’re the first bill they’re paying. We provide a service with a lot of integrity behind it and we get paid with a lot of integrity.”
Thanks to the advocacy of midwives like Daniels across the country, policy makers are starting to pay attention. Chellie Pingree, Maine’s first district congresswoman, introduced HR 1054 in March of 2011, a bill to get midwifery care added to the list of approved providers for Medicaid.
“We see ourselves as primary care providers,” says Daniels. “But we provide a very different style of care that tends to be lower tech, higher touch.”
“A lot of people tell us, ‘You’ve ruined other healthcare providers for us,’ ” adds Broderick. “People come to us because we’re so accessible. Then we help connect them with other allopathic care providers. We’re bridge people.”
Daniels and Broderick are not only a bridge to other healthcare providers, they are also a bridge in the community, connecting like-minded mothers and families together and facilitating relationships among their clients that last for a lifetime.
“Being a midwife, it’s more than a profession,” says Daniels. “It’s a life choice.”