Midwife charged with murder? An Interview with Babz Covington

(Originally published in my online newsletter October 2013)
Babz and I at "Birth Heaven Now!" Immersion in Asheville, North Carolina August 2012

Babz and I at Birth Heaven Now Immersion in Asheville, North Carolina August 2012

Thanks so much for agreeing to speak with me about a topic that is both near and dear to our hearts: the charge of murder of our dear friend and colleague Rowan Bailey, the climate in North Carolina around midwifery and the whole midwifery licensing debate nationally.
Stephanie: Tell me a little bit about your history as a community midwife, when did you begin?
Babz: In 1975 a lovely woman who has changed my life many times, Laura Pierce sent for me to come to her side at her birth. When her daughter was born it was like my hands already knew everything. There was a pregnant lady at that birth, who asked me to come to her birth in a few months and after that another lady, and then another. In between of course  there was  the influx of books, and the midwives who taught me, and the touch of the universe to let me know, this was where I belonged. The first baby I was blessed to catch is nearing forty years of age.
S: Are you still practicing?
B: I have not practiced in a few years now, in the state of North Carolina, but I have traveled to states where the laws kept other instate midwives from being able to attend a woman who fit a “high risk” category. Often that category is as simple as being a VBAC mother.
S: What do you know about Rowan’s case?
B: She is one of many midwives wrongly charged, unfortunately. The war on women takes many forms. One of them is stopping you from the right to have your baby any way you want to, with any care you prefer, and alone if that is your choice. She is not the only midwife charged for attending births, but she is the only midwife at this time charged with murder. Midwives do not murder. She is charged under a law titled Ethans Law, which was put in place to charge a madman who murdered a mother who was pregnant. She is charged so harshly to get her to take a plea to another charge. Pleading down is the American justice systems way. Hundreds of midwives have been forced to stop serving. To leave their home states and practice elsewhere, to lose their homes to attorneys fees and fines. This is a mouthy human rights woman who is being shushed. The facts of the case are not to be discussed because it is now in a court of law. Anything I can say on the subject must be prefaced with this is what I think I know, and that is not even half a step above gossip.
This is what I do know. Rowan opened a cooperative that taught people to care for their own health and got plenty of publicity for it, it is frowned upon to take responsibility for yourself nowadays. North Carolina is not a state where it is legal to have any other midwife at your birth but a nurse midwife. There are no where near enough of them to go around. I know six midwives in the state of North Carolina who have been forced by being arrested into stopping their practice. They all served their communities for decades and their communities were left no choice on their births. I know twice that number who were served cease and desist orders and forced to stop and two who left the state to serve, leaving the communities they had served without a midwife.
I know babies die at birth and doctors are not charged when that happens. Before my retirement I had attended at least a hundred births where I kept no records, or left them with the parents to guide their next midwife. I do not care what went “wrong” at this birth. Things go wrong at birth. I care that there is a woman poised to be the Nelson Mandela of midwives, to spend years in jail for the much mourned loss of a baby, as a lesson in fear of authority to the rest of us.
S: What is the state of midwifery in North Carolina?
B: You cannot be a midwife in the state of North Carolina, attend a home birth and not have broken the law. Your CPM means nothing here. My forty years of experience means nothing here. If you transport a woman in labor who needs medical attention? You are lucky if you are not going to jail. The end.
S: Is there a national Midwifery Standard?
B: There is no nationwide midwifery standard. What is legal in Arizona is illegal in Utah and so on. We all have to wiggle and work within the constraints we have or to throw them away and say, no I will not follow an unjust law. I will stand between this woman and the system bullying her into a [cesarean] section. I will stand between this woman needing a section and people who treat her as if she is a failure. I will stand for all women to make their choices about their body.
There was a midwife on the West Coast charged with homicide. She took a plea of assault so she could just go home, cost her a $100,000. There was a midwife in Raleigh who lost one child in a seventeen year practice, those are damned good stats, hundreds of babies she caught for a grateful community who supported her whole heartily. She was forced out of state, leaving her community.
There is a midwife I know who responded to a neighbors emergency call in the middle of the night, not a client, a neighbor who called. When she got there the primaries had already transported. The lone policeman asked her name, she gave it, she was arrested and eventually charged with practicing medicine without a license. She lost thousands and thousands of dollars to defending herself. Not because the mom and dad had a complaint, because the state wanted her to go away.
I know a midwife who attended a breech birth, nothing went wrong, no one was harmed, she still went to prison, because it was against the law to attend a breech where she was. No matter that she had decades of experience, no matter that it was the mothers choice not to present herself for a doctor ordered section. She went to prison. How the world still dearly loves a cage.
I know a mother who begged for midwifery help with the birth of her twins. There was none available to her in her midwifery illegal state. Her pregnancy history was fast births. Her obgyn said the only way he would attend her was a planned section at 38 weeks. She stayed home unattended, because there was no midwife available to her. She indeed had her kids in under an hour, loaded into the car to present at the hospital and bled to death on the way there. Forty five miles. She died. She died! Because there was no one at her birth to just lift out the placenta and let the uterus tamp down and control her bleeding. Babies and mothers die in childbirth. It happens every single day. Birth is as safe as life gets. And midwives go to prison. Or to another state, or to the poorhouse, because they are no longer allowed to practice their craft. You either support parents rights to their births and their children, or you don’t. The choice is always yours. The choices should always be yours.
S: These stories all sound very unjust, in the truest sense. What is the answer?
B: I believe the answer is self regulation of midwives, peer review groups in the community, information passed mother to mother, friend to friend, midwife to midwife, in loving honesty and with respect for the mother/baby unit at the forefront. There are too many differences in practice and too many different women who require midwives, to have just one standard. I believe there should be a midwife for every woman to guide her through the birth the mother has chosen as her ritual into motherhood. I believe all of the choices should be the mothers guided by who she chooses to attend her. I believe it is the midwives job to educate women in the art of birth. 
S: Finally, I know you attended to Jeannine Parvati-Baker in her final hours on earth. She is a deeply respected birthkeeper and many reading this may not know that she coined that term. She is an author and the founder of Hygiea College. Have things changed so much since she passed? What would Jeannine do or say around Rowan’s case?
B: I feel quite positive that Jeannine would be at the forefront of this support for Rowan. She had an innate knowing of birth, of the life and death of being a human. She was authentic in her midwifery, in her being with woman. Her support for laboring mothers getting exactly what they needed to have their babies is in its own way, legendary. She honored me to pass while I cared for her and the way she blessed me as midwife was as life changing as any birth i attended. She told me I was her final student, and that I was a good one. I will never forget the feel of her, of her grace and style, the touch of her hand on mine. She was the most centered person I ever loved.
Bless you Babz and may God bless Rowan and the Spirit of Jeannine and all midwives everywhere who serve women in birth. Thank you so much Babz for spending this time with me. Many blessings to you and your family.
Rowan Bailey is currently under house arrest in Asheville, North Carolina. Her case is due to go to trial in March 2015. Families for Birth Freedom is currently raising funds for Rowan so that she may heat her home, put food in her fridge and pay her rent. The rules of her house arrest are very restrictive and limit her ability to earn money, which she does when she can, taking house sitting and pet sitting jobs, but she needs more. If you can help, please do by sending a Paypal donation using the email: familiesforbirthfreedom@gmail.com. Thank you. 
Barbara ‘Babz’ Covington is a natural living advocate who believes in treading very lightly on the earth. She knows in her heart, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
Related blogs: In Defense of Midwifery by Shannon Mitchell and Independent midwives: why we can’t afford to lose them by Annalisa Barbieri


  • Connie says:

    Stephanie, with all due respect you do not know the full story. You only know Rowan’s side. There are incompetent people in all occupations. This is not the case to hang your agenda on.
    It is amazing at the sympathy and support for Rowan when the entire Midwife community in Asheville turned their back to the Mom and Dad whose son, Avery died. They tried to reach out to the community they believed in but no one responded or helped them.
    Who are you for? Your own personal agenda.
    I feel very confident you will not publish this. Why? You are not for fairness and knowing all of the facts, just your own personal agenda. So sad to say you are for women and children.

    • Stephanie Dawn says:

      Connie, with all due respect, I do not know the full story. How could I? How could anyone? I do know quite a bit however, as this has been a part of my life for three years now. Rowan was in my Sacred Birth Mentor Program when this tragedy occurred. I have been praying for all involved now for many years. Here’s what I know above all else: incompetence, negligence? This will be determined in a court of law, not here on my blog. What I do know is that no murder was perpetrated. Full stop. There are many issues that this scenario raises but the one that trumps them all is the absolute crime that a midwife, any midwife, would be charged with murder.

      • Connie says:

        Unfortunately Stephanie I do know both sides of the story as little Avery is my first Grandbaby. I was there when he was delivered. All Rowan had to offer was “Some babies are meant to be Angel Babies.” Not a tear in Rowan’s eye nor I am sorry for your loss. She could not wait to leave the hospital so she could go back to the house to steal all of the records that were written regarding the pregnancy and birth.
        I am amazed at this community’s blind support of someone who is truly incompetent. I am a long time feminist and believe with all of my heart that women deserve the right to choose where and how they deliver their babies. What I am against is someone collecting money for a service they are not qualified to deliver.
        The death my Grandson trumps everything including what crime Rowan was charged with and her 10 month stay in jail or whatever the outcome will be. I would gladly do the time if I could hold Avery and watch him grow up.
        Our family has no control of what crime the DA charged Rowan with. But I do know that Karma will take care of Rowan.

  • Aleena-Dawn McAdams says:

    While it is a shame that a baby died during childbirth, it is a risk one takes when choosing midwifery. One of my closest friends son was pronounced dead at birth because he got stuck in the birth canal. He had been pronounced dead for 7 minutes when he suddenly came to life. This was done in a hospital setting with a doctor attending. He is now 4months old. Either way if he had stayed dead or not the thing is he was dead. I believe it should be the mothers choice about who attends the birth of her child. Back in July of last year I gave birth naturally to a child with kidney issues. Because of this I had a pediatrician stand on hand. My Burth Wishes I will include a copy of here.

    Birth Wishes

    I will make very clear even though my wishes are very clear and strong I understand and will be flexible in the event that something must change for mine or my babies safety and better health.
    1. After Babies birth I do not want the cord to be cut until 1 minute after it has finished pulsating and then I want my mother to cut the cord!
    2. I wish to have the first hour of babies life to just me and my family. (Husband and Mother) The after birth exam can wait. I want the baby to be with me so that baby can crawl up to my breast right away for a feeding. If any kind of exam must be done I would like that to be done while Baby is on me!
    3. My daughter will be announcing to the world the babies name. All other family who wish to meet the baby can wait until after we have had an hour alone with baby, my daughter has met the baby and the medical exam is done!
    4. I do not wish to have a c-section under any circumstances unless babies life or mine is in imminent danger. In the event of a c-section if baby can not have skin to skin contact with me, I would like the baby to have skin to skin contact with my husband or mother. Whoever is most comfortable at the time. Baby will then be staying with my husband and mother if for any reason baby can not stay with me!
    5. Forceps and vacuum seals are not to be used! The vacuum seal may only be used if baby is so stuck that baby will not come without the extra help! I also do not wish to have an episiotomy. I would rather tear on my own. Also I would really appreciate if I could allow my body to push when I feel it is necessary. My body was made for this and I feel it will no what to do. I want to feel 100% in control of the birthing process should everything go naturally as planned.
    6. Formula is not to be used under any circumstances as a method of feeding my baby PERIOD!
    7. My baby will not be going to the nursery for any reasons unless necessary. The baby will be staying with his or her family at all times otherwise.
    8. Any procedures needing to be done to my child will be fully explained to my husband and I first. We will do anything that is necessary to optimize babies health but not before we are fully informed!
    9. When everything is all said and done I would like to see what my babies placenta actually looks like and have it explained to my husband, my mother and I.
    10. Due to an unpleasant experience I was forced to go through as a teenager in a area full of people my husband is to be the only man in the room at all times during delivery. I feel the presence of a man other then my husband will cause myself and the baby unnecessary stress to the point where the entire delivery of baby may be compromised. I have come along way in my journey to overcome my fear of men but when it comes to certain body parts I am still not comfortable with men and so it is for this reason I would appreciate it if this part of my labour could be held true regardless of the current situation at the time.
    Again as I have said before I may feel extremely strong about certain things but if my babies life or my life is in danger I will make the change and not beat myself up over it. My husband and I feel very strongly about my mother cutting the babies cord one minute after it has finished pulsating but if that is going to put my babies life at risk then we will be scraping it. In the event my child has to go to the nursery my husband or I will be going with the baby. If something happens to baby and there is need for immediate intervention then so be it I do not expect someone to explain to us how they plan to resuscitate my baby before my husband or I give our blessing. If the medical exam can not wait until after baby is 1 hour old because of circumstances beyond our control I understand and am willing to compensate. I totally feel from my baby that my mother is supposed to be the one cutting the cord. My husband is 100% okay with this and we feel this is a very spiritual aspect of disconnecting my child from the last nine months and bringing him or her into their new life with this world. After all baby and I have been one unit for quite some time and my mother has been our families biggest support! I can not see my mother cutting the cord as a safety risk to my child so if this part of the birth could be respected I will be 100% satisfied that my wishes have been met as my mother will be in the room with us throughout the entire birthing experience c-section or not!

    My birth were scrapped when the pediatrician showed up. My baby did not cry right away and even though all was fine the pediatrician decided she had to take over. The medical exam happened right away. My mother did cut her grandchilds cord however everything else was scrapped. A male other then my partner entered the room. I was not allowed to have the first hour to just me and my new family simply because the pediatrician wanted my baby to cry. My baby did cry. The layer of vernix that should have been left to be absorbed by the skin was rubbed off my child and I felt my child was disrespected because she was not looked at as a baby who had just gone through the trauma of birth but rather as a medical test subject who had kidney issues and therefore her right to be with her mother right away was waved. My daughter weighed 6.13lbs. She is healthy despite her kidney issues.if I had had a midwife I probably would have had more control over my child’s birth. I have great respect for the midwifing community. Whether they be In the states, in Canada or somewhere else in the world don’t matter. The point is they believe in letting the mother be in control of her birth environment and that is an act of heroism in itself.

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