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Turning solitude into solidarity: Montana midwives co-op helping to improve conditions for workers and clients.

Midwives in America have a deep love for women and a reverence for the normal process of birth. Studies show that women find midwifery care to be highly satisfying. Although midwives are licensed in most states, they are often overlooked, misunderstood and even invalidated within the obstetrics field.

They serve long, tireless hours--often at low, or for no wages, depending upon the financial welfare of our clients. Midwives usually work in solo practice, take little time off and are on-call for their women clients, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

Because of these practice conditions, many midwives do not have the physical and emotional support they need and are susceptible to alienation and frustration--even fatigue and burnout over time. In Montana, the great distances that often separate midwives add to the challenges of providing support for each other.

Co-op idea takes root

In the summer of 2010, an idea took root that perhaps midwives in Montana could band together, pool resources and practice in closer proximity to each other, turning solitude into solidarity. The idea followed to create a "hospital" for midwives, where member midwives could practice alongside each other, enhancing their ability to provide the best possible care to clients.

But what business framework was best to use?

A corporation seemed ill-suited to our ideology, and we were not interested in a partnership. An Internet search led to the concept of a cooperative. It seemed to be the perfect model for this new venture!

We needed resources to help us along the path, to learn how a cooperative really works and what we would need to do to start a co-op. We connected with the Montana Cooperative Development Center, where CEO Brian Gion and the staff led us through every step in forming a cooperative. They helped us form as a Montana legal entity, answered our questions and offered to make site visits, as necessary--all free of charge.

The Montana Midwives Cooperative (MMC) owns the Community Birth Center, the largest free-standing birth center in the Northwest. It is our mission to provide affordable, holistic and loving midwifery care to women and their families throughout Montana.

"When the thought of forming a midwifery co-op was brought to my attention, I jumped at this concept wholeheartedly," says Michele Neal, the co-op vice president. "It was the perfect solution to join forces with other midwives, to build a place where we could practice together and keep our own personal style of midwifery, whether at Community Birth Center or in our own homebirth practices.

"Being members of the Montana Midwives Cooperative allows us to equally influence how we want to run the birth center and equally share the burden and benefits," Neal continues. "As individuals, we would not have been able to do this, but we could do this together as a co-op. I love my fellow midwifery co-op members and they are also included in my family."

Goal to build more birth centers

It is the co-op's goal to build more birth centers in other areas of Montana, where women have little or no access to midwives, and to benefit from the special client-centered care midwives provide.

We also hope to provide apprenticeships for those who might like to pursue a career in midwifery, adding new cooperative members as we go.

As health care costs rise, and women demand more say in how they want to deliver their babies, midwives and out-of-hospital birth are considered by many as a perfect option for pregnant women. The cooperative is the perfect model to launch us into this new era of "birthing free."

Too see a video about the Community Birth Center, please visit:

Sharise Clostio, President Montana Midwives Cooperative
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Title Annotation:CO-OP MONTH
Author:Clostio, Sharise
Publication:Rural Cooperatives
Geographic Code:1U8MT
Date:Sep 1, 2014
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