Physicians and Midwives Working Together: An Option for Mothers Seeking a Woman-Centered Birth in a Traditional Setting

4 Feb

Evidence shows that a collaborative model of care that includes physicians and midwives working together can lower interventions, the use of drugs for pain relief in labor, induction and cesarean rates and improve health outcomes for mothers and babies. Brigid Maher, a documentary filmmaker, Associate Professor of Film and Media Arts in the School of Communication at American University (Washington, D.C.) and a VBAC mother herself, wants more women to know that. In fact, in The Mama Sherpas, a full-length documentary about four physicians and nurse-midwives collaborative models of care which Maher is currently producing and directing, she seeks to educate women about birth options they may not know exist.

A Sherpa refers to a member of a Tibetan people living on the high southern slopes of the Himalayas in eastern Nepal and known for providing support for foreign trekkers and mountain climbers.

Maher’s film, scheduled to be released for festivals and broadcast in the Spring of 2015, follows the lives of several expectant mothers through the course of their pregnancies and the four different types of collaborative practices that care for them. The documentary follows expectant mothers who plan to give birth in four U.S. communities: Alexandria, Virginia; Arnold, Maryland; Springfield, Massachusetts; and the Sacramento area of California. Mothers can give birth in a hospital or a birth center.

The Mama Sherpas investigates how midwifery care, if mainstreamed into current medical practices can improve health outcomes and reduce costs. In March of 2011 the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American College of Nurse-Midwives issued a joint Collaborative Practice Statement affirming  that “quality of care is enhanced by collegial relationships characterized by mutual respect and trust, as well as professional responsibility and accountability.”

“I have two objectives for this documentary,” states Professor Maher. “The first is for general audiences who will watch the long format documentary and hopefully recognize that integrating a nurse-midwife into the prenatal experience is not and either or paradigm. You can have a collaborative experience with midwives and doctors in a hospital. What the documentary explores is what that can look like.  The second objective is for this project to be useful for care providers, NGOs and maternity care non-profits who work within a collaborative-care model or similar style of care. If for instance, a woman is going for a VBAC, what can that look like?  Following and observing a woman’s story can help women gain a better understanding of what to expect beyond a text book or a traditional info-birth video. This is where the web component- short, weekly released scenes (we have filmed) – becomes critical.”

Rather than the traditional method of releasing a trailer in advance of the completed film, Maher, Program Director of the Digital Media Skills Graduate Certificate Program at American University has chosen to begin educating women and the medical community about this collaborative model of care early on by posting weekly short scenes from what will eventually become a full-length documentary. Maher has posted scenes from the mothers they are following on vimeo.

Professor Maher has partnered with the American College of Nurse-Midwives and the Birth Options Alliance  to extend her outreach efforts. She plans to post several educational materials on the film’s website that can be used to develop a curriculum and encourage conversations to take place about the benefits of mainstreaming midwifery care into current medical practice.

To find out more about the upcoming documentary visit The Mama Sherpas  webpage  and the following social media links:


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