At-home birth: 'I didn't know that I was in danger'

At-home birth: 'I didn't know that I was in danger' »Play Video
Margarita Sheikh

EUGENE, Ore. - Eugene resident Margarita Sheikh decided when she was 34 weeks pregnant to hire a midwife in place of her doctor.

She searched the web and found one: Darby Partner. They met and talked, and Sheikh said she liked Partner and felt comfortable with her.

"I didn't go into this thinking, 'Oh, there's going to be a chance that my son's going to die,'" said Sheikh.

In the early hours of July 24, Sheikh woke up in active labor. Sheikh said Partner and Partner's assistant, Laura Tanner, had gone home the night before, when Sheikh was eight centimeters dilated.

Sheikh said three hours later, Tanner arrived at her house. That morning, Sheikh screamed to go to the hospital.

"I was screaming from my bedroom to go to the hospital, and I was like, 'I can't take it, just send me to the hospital, take me to the hospital,'" remembered Sheikh.

But Sheikh didn't go to the hospital that morning. Partner, the primary midwife, arrived after 9 a.m., and examined Sheikh. Part of the mother's cervix was covering the baby's head, so Partner pushed it back and Sheikh started pushing.

Baby Shahzad came into the world that afternoon.

"He comes out, and I'm trying to reach for him, and so they're not saying anything," said Sheikh. "Then they ask me to turn around and sit on the bed, and then I can see that he wasn't breathing. And they were trying to rub his back so they had him, like, on his belly. And they were rubbing his back and I was calling his name."

Sheikh said that's when Partner and Tanner started to panic.

She said when she delivered the baby, there were no medical tools in the room. She remembered the two argued over how to perform C.P.R. on Shahzad.

Minutes later, ambulances arrived and took Sheikh and the baby to the hospital.

"At the hospital, they just basically asked me if I wanted to be in the room with him," said Sheikh.

"I had asked, 'Well, did you guys revive him?' and they said, 'No.' And as soon as I went into the other room, that's when I saw him. And they were just cleaning off his face," said Sheikh.

Sheikh said her son had an autopsy, but the results are not complete yet. Despite that, she said she blames the women for her son's death.

KVAL News contacted both Partner and Tanner. In an email response, Partner said, "Under the advice of my attorney, I have no comment."

By phone, Tanner explained she was the assistant midwife for the birth, not the primary one, and she said she didn't personally do anything wrong. She said she was not willing to discuss the details of the case further.

Sheikh can't file a complaint against Partner or Tanner because the state has no jurisdiction over unlicensed midwives. The Oregon Health Licensing Agency had no record of a license for either Tanner or Partner.

According to Oregon law, "A license ... is required only for the purposes of reimbursement under medical assistance programs and is not required for the practice of direct entry midwifery in this state." (ORS 687.415)

"We don't regulate unlicensed midwives. They're completely unregulated in our state," said Dr. Melissa Cheyney, Chair of the Board of Direct Entry Midwifery for Oregon.

That state board is officially neutral on midwifery licenses.

"There are many, many issues involved with mandatory licensure and barriers to training, issues of paying the high cost of a license, and just the general concern that making something that was formerly legal illegal doesn't necessarily make it safer," said Cheyney.

"We've had voluntary licensure in Oregon for a while with very few instances like this, and so this is a rare sort of situation that's going to require some really close examination," said Cheyney.

Sheikh said she wants to fight for licensing requirements.

"I don't want the baby's death to be for nothing," said Sheikh. "I know babies die in hospitals and babies die with licensed midwives, because something can always happen during the birth ... I'm just looking to have things changed here in Oregon so that it doesn't happen again."

Sheikh said she draws strength from her family and friends, as well as baby Shahzad.

"I blame myself," she said. "But the thing is, I put all my trust into these women who were supposed to know things, and they didn't know it."