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Advocates for alternatives to hospital births rally for Penn Yan midwife

Advocates from all walks of life have stepped up to support the ‘fraudulent’ midwife – who was arrested twice in less than two months for ‘impersonating’ a midwife in the Yates County area.


Earlier this month Elizabeth Catlin, 53, of Penn Yan was arrested for a second time for practicing midwifery without a state-sanctioned license. Additionally, Catlin had already been arrested on a felony charge of unauthorized practice of a profession, lodged in early December in Canandaigua.

She was accused of creating a business called Penn Yan Prenatal; setting up a fraudulent account with a medical lab; and forging requisition forms to screen blood samples she took from patients.

Catlin primarily served the Mennonite community, according to those in the Yates County area – who noted that ‘home birth’ options are few-and-far between – even if ‘legal’. The licensing process has also received a lot of criticism over the last 30 days, since Catlin’s arrest became public knowledge.

Catlin is reliable and has been depended on within the Mennonite community for years in- and around Yates.

“Sometimes hospitals are not ideal for women to give birth,” said Rebecca Lepp of Penn Yan, who spoke with the Democrat & Chronicle recently.

When Lepp and her husband, Micah, found they were pregnant with their first child, she knew home birth was the option she wanted, according to the D&C.

Catlin was her assistant.

“I knew her as a family friend, and we selected her as our birth attendant, we were very comfortable with her as an attendant and she was a really good fit,” Lepp added.

But for women like Lepp — those who would eschew hospital birth for reasons including convenience, comfort, tradition, faith or distrust of medical interventions — local options are limited.

Reports indicate that there are just four state-licensed midwives outside of New York City. There’s one in Monroe and Schuyler counties. While the others are in Madison and Delaware counties.

The state imposes significant licensing requirements on those who practice midwifery. And there are folks who see positives and negatives associated with that point.

The result is simple: A service desert.

Women who want a home brith are reliant on a whisper network of friends and family who seek out women like Catlin for in-home service. And locals also say that folks like Catlin have helped or successfully delivered dozens – if not hundreds of kids.

Lepp told the D&C that she’s now in a bind. “With Liz being out of commission, this community is really feeling the pain,” she added. “I myself am 18 weeks pregnant now, was going to use Liz and need to find someone else.”

Advocates of non-traditional birthing options say that New York is among 20 states that do not recognize the certified professional midwife credential offered by the North American Registry of Midwives — a credential held by Catlin.

That program provides for certification of “lay” or “direct-entry” midwives to provide out-of-hospital maternity care for healthy women experiencing normal pregnancies as long as they meet basic educational requirements, have clinical experience in an out-of-hospital setting and successfully pass a written exam and assessment of clinical skills, according to the D&C.

In New York, to legally practice – the midwife must be a certified nurse midwife or a certified midwife. Both credentials require a graduate degree and completion of an accredited midwifery education program, while CNMs are also registered nurses.

“New York is out of step with the rest of the country,” said Katherine Hemple, campaign manager for The Big Push. She said use of more CPMs gives women options for access to affordable, quality community-based care that can be safer for both mother and child. ‘The Big Push for Midwives’ is a national organization advocating for all states to recognize CPM’s as valid practitioners in the home brith space.

The issue, she said, is one of personal freedom and of a medical community unwilling to cede lucrative turf in the maternity health care industry.

“Maternity care in this country is highly profitable,” Hemple said. And CPMs who have more on-the-job training than some nurse midwives are better-suited to adapting to the needs and desires of those who want less clinical home deliveries, she added.

Read more from the D&C