In a community where many children are born in the home, several women have spoken out in support of a Penn Yan woman who faces felony charges of practicing midwifery without proper New York state licensure.

State Police in Canandaigua charged Elizabeth J. Catlin of Penn Yan for the Unauthorized Practice of Profession Nov. 14.

State Police Inv. Mark E. Eifert is investigating with a representative of the New York State Education Department Office of Professional Discipline. In reporting the arrest, they say Catlin, who is a Certified Professional Midwife, has exploited people in the community because she has not completed specific state education requirements.

But the 14 women who have sent letters to the editor objecting to the charges against Catlin say they are not exploited, and they want to continue under her care for future pregnancies.

“Liz was always clear to us about her status,” said Rebecca Lepp Monday afternoon. She said Catlin’s business card even uses the title, “birth attendant.”

“Women should be free to choose who we want at a birth. There’s no law saying you have to have someone with a license there,” Lepp added.

“In 31 states she would be perfectly fine,” said Patty Stoltzfus, who added, “In my opinion, she is very capable. I love the care I received.”

“So my teenager can choose to have an abortion without my knowledge and consent, but I can’t invite the woman of my choice to assist at my child’s birth?” asks Amy Miller.

Catlin declined to comment on her status and the charges, but she said she is “overwhelmed with the love and support,” shown by her friends and clients.

Eifert says the investigation continues and he’s unable to comment. The SED investigator based in Rochester referred questions to the department’s public relations office in Albany, which in turn directed all inquiries to the State Police. 

Having an experienced and trained individual by their side in the home is important to families who prefer the in-home birth experience, and who don’t have transportation to a hospital that offers maternity care. Residents of Yates County who want to deliver a baby in a hospital must travel to Canandaigua, Rochester, Newark, Elmira or Ithaca. That’s not practical for many in the Mennonite community who have spoken out in support of Catlin.

One woman who lives in Stanley, near enough to Canandaigua to use the hospital based service there, says she won’t even consider it. She has had four children, all with Catlin by her side, in her home, and she plans to have more. “We’d appreciate an in-home birth,” she said, adding, “My mom had 10 children, all in her home.”

A woman who lives on Guyanoga Road who has had two children with Catlin’s assistance, said she and her husband are planning to have more children. “And we want her to be there. We are very happy with her,” she said. Asked what plans she might make if Catlin is not able to assist, she said, “I wouldn’t know where to turn.”

Along with the family tradition and transportation issues, at least one woman noted the cost of paying for a licensed nurse midwife. The closest one she located is in Watkins Glen, and the cost for an in-home birth is more than double what her family paid Catlin.

According to information on the New York State Education Department website, the education requirements for licensure as a nurse midwife in New York State include completion of a master’s or higher degree program in midwifery or a related field.

Thirty-two states, including New York, regulate non-nurse midwifery, also called direct-entry or lay midwifery. Six states explicitly ban the practice and 13 others neither ban nor regulate it.

 

Next week, The Chronicle-Express will look at the issue from a public health and medical provider perspective.