Thursday, October 21, 2010

How to Brand Midwifery

by Melissa Garvey, ACNM Writer and Editor

This week I came across an interesting post by Sam Ford about the problem many midwives and their supporters struggle with every day. How do you clearly communicate what a midwife is? It’s a loaded term with all sorts of cultural baggage and preconceptions, which typically triggers associations like home birth and no pain control.

Ford’s post didn’t grab my attention merely because of the subject matter. Many people who have come before him have astutely pointed out that the midwife brand needs a makeover. In fact, ACNM members say that limited public awareness of midwifery is the number-one barrier to practice. What impressed me is that Ford actually took a stab at evaluating why existing advocacy campaigns and PR initiatives have not made a large impact on the US public.
The biggest hurdle to overcome is that many have painted midwifery in extremes: as only for parents who completely oppose medical intervention, almost as eschewing all that modern medicine and technology has given us.
A thoughtful follow-up post at further articulates the problem:
As a culture, we tend to see only the extremes. We love a good, clear fight, even at the expense of facts. When it comes to birth, there are “the crunchies” and there are “the medicalized maniacs.”
In between these two extremes is where you’ll find the majority of modern midwives. What does that look like? It depends. Midwives serve as primary care providers, giving annual exams, reproductive health services, and family planning counseling to women of all ages. Most midwives work in hospitals. Some work in birth centers or homes. They can order medications, ultrasounds, and epidurals. They exercise those privileges when needed or when requested by the mother. Most midwives spend a longer amount of time with their patients—just like nurse practitioners tend to give longer annual exams than OBGYNs.

How do you boil that down into a brand? It’s complicated. Try choosing a picture to represent midwifery. Should the midwife be a woman or a man? Should s/he be wearing a white lab coat, scrubs, professional attire, or casual dress? Should his or her patient be a teenager, a pregnant woman, or an older woman going through menopause? Even among ACNM staff, there are wide variations of opinion on this topic.

It’s almost as if there’s too much information to shove into a brand. At ACNM, we’re pouring resources into raising public awareness of midwifery. We just launched Evidence-Based Practice: Pearls of Midwifery. Last year we released midwifery postage stamps We’re vamping up our media relations and social media efforts. But there’s still more work to be done.

In your view, what is it that defines midwifery? Do you think it’s possible to rebrand midwifery in America?


Anonymous said...

My midwife (CNM), who caught my last born in the hospital, also acts like a nurse practitioner. She can see my family just like a family physician. Another midwife I know isn't able to practice as a midwife, but is a nurse practitioner at a Walgreens. Because it was cheaper for me to go there, when I had mastitis I visited her and was given good advice. Midwives can have a wide range of jobs!

Sam Ford said...

Thanks, Melissa! Glad the piece resonated with you, and would be interested in your further take on that positioning issue. I've heard from some others doing this sort of work as well...