Midwitches have a long history in the medical field.
For centuries, midwives have been trained as doctors to help people who are ill or injured and are unable to work, like the women who helped the sick in the Spanish Inquisition.
They have also been used to treat childbirth, and many have been the first physicians to administer anesthesia and perform the first surgeries.
Today, midwiferies are among the best-paid occupations in America, with an average hourly pay of $100,000 in the private sector.
But the midwife’s role in childbirth has also become increasingly controversial, and a new documentary called Midwinder aims to break down some of the controversies surrounding the profession.
“Midwifers have a history in medicine, and that history has included some fairly outrageous things,” says the film’s director, Erin Egan.
“The midwife has been the source of some of our most famous legal cases, such as the case of [Dr. Ruth] Miller in which she was prosecuted and convicted for sedating a patient who was still breathing when she arrived at the hospital.
And there’s been the case where a midwife in Texas was prosecuted for performing a caesarean section without a surgical mask.”
Egan says she and her husband were inspired to make Midwitter when they decided to document the rise of midwimery and its impact on midwires, women’s health and public health.
“When we started filming, the idea was to talk about a different way of looking at it,” she says.
“I felt like we needed to explore that a little bit more, because it’s been so normalized.
It’s just a part of everyday life, and it’s become this accepted part of what we do in our lives.”
For years, midwifehood has been a rite of passage for women who are born to midwives, but Egan and her team are now challenging the notion that midwives are exclusively or even primarily white women.
“We were surprised to find that midwoms are also men of color, which is something we hadn’t thought of,” Egan recalls.
“This is really just the tip of the iceberg of what’s going on, because the American midwife is one of the most visible, visible, respected professions in the country.
The number of women of color is growing, and in a way, it’s a testament to that.”
The film takes a look at midwives’ journey from the humble beginnings to the high-profile and sometimes-fraught battles they’ve waged for women’s rights and gender equality.
“It’s about the intersection of race and class, and how a white woman working in the field is not going to be able to do anything about it,” Ego says.
But not all midwives can be equal, and some women of colour have struggled with what it’s like to be a midwinder.
“Women of color are the ones who have been working in midwamps for decades,” Egnew says.
“[But] the way we view them, they are the one group that really need to be supported, especially in this new economy.
Midwives of color have a lot of struggles and a lot to learn.
They can’t just be in the background doing nothing.”
The Midwitcher Project is available on Netflix.