Amy Reynolds’ decision to open a birth center in Ocala two years ago came during her time as a midwifery student in Gainesville.
Expecting mothers from as far as Citrus County drove to the Florida School of Traditional Midwifery, one of nine nationally accredited direct-entry midwife programs in the U.S.
“One of the women had her baby in the car on the way there,” Reynolds said.
The vocational school, which boasts placing all its graduates in jobs, is trying to raise money online to account for a growing pool of applicants and an expanded curriculum.
A 2013 Florida Department of Health report shows the number of licensed midwives in the state has hit its highest number in years. The report counts 134 midwives practicing in Florida, up from 94 in 2004 and doubling the number of midwives in 1998.
Midwives tend to women who prefer giving birth at home or at a birth center rather than at a hospital, Florida School executive director Diane Garrison said.
Direct-entry midwives do not attend a university. In Florida, they must pass national and state exams to work as a professional midwife outside a hospital setting, Garrison said.
She hopes additional money will enable the school, founded in 1993 and taking 50 students at a time, to double the number of applicants it can accept and to offer online options to students to drive up to five hours to get to class.
“The concept of a midwife in the American culture has begun to reemerge,” school administrator Glenn Cameron said. “If you said to your friends, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to hire a midwife,’ that’s not a completely foreign word to them now.”
Local midwives attribute growing interest in the practice to media attention, documentaries, new research and word-of-mouth.
Reynolds of the Ocala Birth Center said a draw for women is Medicaid coverage. Most of the women she sees from Marion and Citrus counties are low-income and could have their birth covered at a hospital, but choose her center instead.
Another alumna, Charlie Rae Young, said she has seen massive growth in the past few years in her own business and others.
The owner of Barefoot Birth, a home birth company in Tampa, said Hillsborough and Polk counties had one licensed midwife and a handful of doulas — unlicensed birthing assistants — in 2009. She estimates the area now has about a dozen midwives and 100 doulas.
“The nearest birth center is slammed, seeing 25 women a month, and my company is maxed out every month,” Young said.
Students at the school say a starting salary of about $41,000 and the joy of seeing newborns makes up for long, unpredictable schedules.
Andrea Reece, a 32-year-old student at the Florida School, said her passion for midwifery comes from a desire to give women more choices than medical culture offers them. Women and midwives should be able to make personalized decisions.
“It’s common in our culture that birth is dangerous and everybody that gives birth is going into a dangerous situation,” Reece said. “In reality, we live that every day of our lives.”
The Florida School’s science instructor, Lori Scott, said her time as a medical doctor informed her decision to give birth to her child with a midwife.
“In big teaching hospitals, you realize you sometimes don’t have the personal attention that a midwife can give,” Scott said.