Tehmina Islam, 27, is the first person of color to become a licensed midwife in Wisconsin. She started Access Midwifery in January out of her home on Madison's East Side.
Her parents are from India. She was born in Texas and moved to Madison 18 years ago. Islam, one of seven independent midwives in Madison who attend home births, wants to make minority women more aware of midwifery services.
She typically does eight to 10 visits per pregnancy, including prenatal care, birth and postpartum care. The fee, generally not covered by insurance, ranges from $1,500 to $3,500.
Q: Why did you become a midwife?
A: I attended my first birth when I was 16. My childhood best friend was pregnant. Watching her in the hospital, I realized my skill set was best used with pregnant women and laboring women. I was really in shock at the disrespect she received in the hospital. She wasn't always listened to and treated with kindness. It seemed really violent to have a woman prostrate, feet in stirrups, birthing her baby on her back, working against gravity. I learned about the model midwives practice under — informed choice and informed conversations, taking time to build a relationship.
Q: How did you become a midwife?
A: I majored in international studies at UW-Madison. My last year of college, I moved to Kenya to work on a maternal health program. When I moved back to the States (in 2006), Wisconsin had just started licensing midwives. I apprenticed with midwives in Milwaukee and Madison for four years and attended the National College of Midwifery for 2 1/2 years in Chicago. Last year, I sat for my national licensure exam and passed.
Q: Why do you recommend home births?
A: Women should have the option to birth where they feel safest. I wouldn't recommend home births to everybody because not everybody feels safest at home. Studies have shown that home births and births attended by midwives have lower rates of C-sections, episiotomies, forceps deliveries and interventions in general without impacting maternal or infant mortality rates for low-risk women. Home birth is such a calm, gentle, empowering way to birth a child.
Q: How often do home births end up having to go to the hospital?
A: The midwives in the community have about a 10 to 15 percent transfer rate. Most of the time it's for non-emergent reasons — a women gets stalled out at 8 centimeters after three days of labor or has maternal exhaustion. But there are times we transfer for emergency reasons and we call 911.
Q: How and why are you reaching out to communities of color?
A: It's a bit of a tragedy that people of color have not been able to see a midwife who looks like them. I received a phone call a few weeks ago from a young African-American woman who said, "I saw your flyer and I called you because you look like I do." I've been building bridges with organizations that serve low-income people, women of color.