Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.
A midwife is a person, usually a woman, experienced at assisting women at childbirth. From Middle English, "midwif" means "to assist woman," suggesting a supportive rather than interventional role. The role of midwife dates back to some of the earliest recorded history. Many midwives were also healers, dispensing herbs and other plant medicinals. Once a highly respected position, the role of midwife fell out of favor for a time, with the advent of medical science, as midwives did not always have the benefit of the latest information. Today, trained midwives are a recognized part of the health care profession. It is said midwives are the most common birth attendants in the world.
Historical context is an important aspect of genealogy, Understanding the role of midwife and learning more about how babies were delivered in a certain time and place or within a particular culture may provide researchers with insight into another of the many challenges faced by their ancestors. Researchers may even find a practicing midwife or healer within their own family history. The book, "A Midwife's Tale," by Laura Thatcher Ulrich, is based on the diary of Martha Moore Ballard, a real life Colonial midwife. A film version of the book was presented on the PBS American Experience program.