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Thursday, April 8, 2010 07:47 pm

Letters to the Editor 4/8/10


Thirty years ago, Illinois Times attended the illegal home birth of Celeste Tanner, pictured here. Since then, little has changed in the legal situation regarding home birth in Illinois.


Re: “Home delivery,” March 25, by Amanda Robert — It’s so sad that after all these years most expectant parents in Illinois still don’t have the option of choosing legal, midwife-attended home birth. Decades of stats have confirmed that this is a safe, cost-effective option, and expectant parents in Oregon — and many other states — have been happily choosing this option (with insurance coverage) for many years, with consistent positive results.

In Illinois, 29 years ago, I was — very uncomfortably — a felon for attending any normal birth with a healthy mother and baby at home as a direct-entry midwife without a physician’s official approval (not available at any cost). But when I moved to Washington that year, and later to Oregon, doing the same thing was entirely legal. It still is legal here, which isn’t a surprise, considering the additional decades of positive accumulated health stats. In fact now, in both states, direct-entry midwives who are willing to go through the paperwork and extra reporting are “preferred providers” paid by insurance, though not doing so doesn’t make their practice illegal.

 I’m appalled that it’s still illegal in Illinois to simply attend home births unless one is a doctor or a nurse with a CNM degree plus a doctor’s written permission. Clearly such limitations can’t be justified for safety or health reasons, as decades of carefully collected stats have demonstrated clearly that women and babies are as safe (or safer) in the care of direct-entry midwives (certified or not) in home birth practices as those in standard hospital-centered practices under the care of doctors or CNMs. And it is clearly not in the best interests of expectant parents in Illinois to be prevented from choosing birth options that are available to their peers in many other states.

I hope Illinois will catch up to where Oregon and Washington were decades ago and make legal, midwife-attended home birth an accessible option for birthing families.

Thank you, Illinois Times, for your coverage of this subject 30 years ago and for an excellent and timely followup.

Cathryn (Cat) Feral
Myrtle Creek, Ore.


Amanda Roberts’ article on home birth [“Home delivery,” March 25] does parents a disservice. The average reader might wonder why some midwife practices are illegal, and what medical science has to say about home birth. But Roberts offers no answers; just an impression of paternalistic medicine coldly restricting mothers’ choice.

I appreciate parents’ desires to have comfortable births, and I do not object to considering home birth a right. But parents should be better informed than this. Parents should know that while research is continuing, epidemiological evidence suggests the risk of neonatal death in home births is at least double that of hospital birth. When corrected for confounding variables, the risk appears to be triple. In reality, it is likely even higher, since some confounders are nearly impossible to correct for, such as poor home birth tracking, the routing of known high-risk births to hospitals, and the tendency for home births experiencing complications to transfer to hospitals and be counted as hospital births. Reasons for this higher risk are not yet clear, but some evidence suggests it is not the direct fault of midwives, but the lack of a broad spectrum of immediately available specialized staff and equipment.

While the overwhelming majority of births can be done safely at home with qualified help, there is probably an increased risk. Whether the benefits are worth this risk is, I believe, parents’ decision. But it should be an informed decision.

Russell Tanton


I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your article on home births in Illinois [“Home delivery,” March 25]. I, too, was a practicing lay midwife in Illinois about the same time Cat was practicing. My practice was up around Peoria and Fulton counties.

I had talked with Cat several times on the phone since we both belonged to ACHI (Association for Childbirth at Home, International) so I was familiar with her.     

I sure wish Illinois would legalize midwifery so that it can be easier to get the necessary education for both parents as well as midwives and make it safer for prospective home birth parents to find a good, qualified midwife.

Thank you for putting some badly needed positive light on this subject.

Alice Trask
Sullivan, Mo.


Thank you for the wonderful
article on Cat Feral and the current state of home birth in Illinois [“Home delivery,” March 25]. And thanks for the great photo of Celeste. While I didn’t attend Celeste’s birth, I remember her and her two older brothers. I haven’t seen Celeste since she was very small. She bloomed well.

Cat was a brave pioneer. I was one of the many women she trained in the practice of safe home birth back in the ’70’s. She taught us thoroughly and well, and it was a wonderful, empowering experience. A number of women she trained chose to have their children at home, safely and with no complications. My youngest son was born at home. You wouldn’t believe the looks I get from people when I say that out loud. I remain a stalwart believer in the home birth experience.

As in most things, education is the key to a safe and healthy experience. Sadly, I no longer know anyone in our area who either trains or attends home births. “Women in other parts of the state don’t have many safe choices,” states your article. This is unfortunate.

I met some of the women involved in Illinois Families for Midwifery when they came to town to lobby the government; they found their way to my cafe. Their business card reads “Striving for gentle births with independent midwives.” A great thing to strive for. It’s good to know someone is carrying the torch. And I will urge my legislators to vote for Homebirth Safety Act. And best of luck to The Coalition for Illinois Midwifery. This should not be illegal.

Kate Hawkes


This letter is in response to the article that appeared in the April 1 issue of Illinois Times, “Safe passage: Getting off at the Dana-Thomas House,” by James Krohe Jr. The Dana-Thomas House Foundation would like to offer a fair perspective on the property at 227 E. Lawrence.

When the Dana-Thomas House Foundation was first offered this property, the board of directors and in particular the strategic planning committee considered how that property could be of use and determined that it would help address an ongoing safety issue at the site, namely, loading and unloading buses. The decision to purchase was, therefore, tied to the decision to demolish the existing structure on the property.

 There were several factors taken into consideration before making these decisions. First was the condition of the existing structure, second was any historic or architectural significance of the building and finally how our plans would affect the surrounding area.

 This process took time, and a lot of discussion. The Dana-Thomas House Foundation Board did not rashly decide to tear down a building and, as the song says, “put up a parking lot.” We have every intention of making the space attractive and are working towards that end. We too will be looking at the lot every day and so will our visitors and we happen to appreciate an aesthetically pleasing environment as much as anyone. Until funding is in place to complete the project, the lot will be green space.

 We thank Illinois Times for its ongoing support of the Dana-Thomas House and for the opportunity to offer our side of the story.

Regina M. Albanese, executive director
Dana-Thomas House Foundation


The budget situation notwithstanding, I think we should be giving the governor more credit for exhibiting some political courage on this [“Budget expert calls Quinn tax proposal ‘insufficient’,” March 18]. This is the first time I can remember a statewide elected official telling us something beyond “what we want to hear.” (Except for all the nonsense that came out of Blago’s mouth, but that’s a different sort of statement).

Even if the one percent proposal isn’t sufficient, passage would achieve the effect of shattering the momentum of the status quo. Sort of like how President Obama’s health care bill isn’t perfect, but it is at least a solid first step towards overhauling a broken system.

Mike Healy


The Military Times recently reported that Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) recommended U.S. commanders to rethink the alcohol ban in war zones and allow troops to drink to relieve stress. Sen. Webb’s statement comes as a shock to many in the substance abuse prevention field, especially after a recent Military Times investigation revealed an increase in prescription drug use and self-medication by deployed troops. In addition, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that National Guardsmen and reservists who deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan have high rates of alcohol problems when they return home.

Lifting the alcohol ban in combat zones is especially irresponsible when there is already a growing association between alcohol abuse and returning troops. More than 25 percent reported binge drinking after experiencing combat exposure, with almost nine percent reporting they started drinking heavily. Younger soldiers (born after 1980) were also found six times more likely to engage in binge drinking after deployment. Stress relief and alcohol should never exist in the same sentence let alone in a combat zone. Even with the present combat zone alcohol ban, an increasing number of military men and women are turning to alcohol and drugs to cope with depression, PTSD and anxiety instead of healthy alternatives.

Sen. Webb’s recommendation comes at a time when drug prevention programs have been severely reduced, limiting efforts to encourage teens in particular to find healthy ways to relieve stress instead of turning to drugs. Our troops serve with constant threats from enemies. Do not throw another enemy into that mix. Any idea that encourages and condones alcohol or other drug use instead of healthy coping options is not in their best interests.

Karel Ares, executive director
Prevention First


I have a brother who has not been able to find work due to the economy. Since he has been cut off work, my mother has helped him keep his debts paid and now she has nothing left in the retirement savings she worked so hard for. Please get our economy back on track before everyone in our country loses it all.

David Ushman


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