We were on the Wisconsin Farm. I’d been the midwife up there for a couple of years. I’d gotten pregnant with our son Keif, and we stayed up there. When PBS did the special program about the South Bronx, “The Bronx Is Burning,” Plenty asked us about going to the South Bronx. “Would you be interested?” It all sounded like a huge adventure. Everything was good then. It was spring. We started changing directions from there.
My intent was always to be a midwife/clinic lady in the Bronx and set up the ambulance service. When I got to the Bronx I went to the head of the Maternal Child Health Section of greater New York City, saying we were going to set up an ambulance service and I was going to deliver babies. She about fell on the floor. “You don’t really mean you are a midwife?” I wasn’t a licensed nurse-midwife. The reason she about fell on the floor is because it was actually a felony for me to deliver babies in New York. She used the word “felony” and tried to convince me I couldn’t be a midwife. When I left her office, she said, “Well okay. I think what I’ll do is take the notes from this conversation and put them under: Carol Nelson wants to be a midwife.” There was an educational and organizational divide there. This is still an issue today with the nurse midwives, midwife education, and direct entry midwives.
As it turned out, I was delivering babies in New York City. We also had quite a few babies born on the New York Farm. The State didn’t want me delivering babies up there. That was a political stance on the part of the State of New York.
They told me, “You couldn’t” and I did. On top of that, I went ahead and turned in birth certificates with my name on them. I didn’t think of it as a revolutionary act — I was just having a hard time grasping the concept of midwifery not being legal. That was hard to believe. I turned in those birth certificates. Looking back on it, I didn’t have to be so bold — probably could have gone for quite a bit longer if I hadn’t rubbed their noses in it.
They sent me a letter saying I can’t sign birth certificates any more, that I am not legal as a signer on a birth certificate. I called them up and said, “Okay. How about if I get a doctor to sign?” They were like, “Well, alright.” We then found a doctor who said, “I’ll sign those birth certificates for you. That’s crazy they are not giving these kids birth certificates.”
In the meantime, I’m delivering babies. We were working at the local hospitals and volunteering our services. Finally the person from the ambulance licensing department got together with the head of the health department and they said, “If Carol does not quit delivering babies we are not ever going to license this ambulance service.” That was the politics of what happened. I could not be a midwife in New York City. I had delivered twenty-some babies in that year.
So I quit delivering babies and the ambulance service was licensed.
James Mejia and I went out almost everyday doing something to get things set up for the ambulance service. One of the first things required was a “certificate of need.” We had to get letters from all of the hospitals, health clinics and medical professionals, as well as the local government. The letters were supposed to say there was a need for an ambulance service in the area. We needed to get letters from city ambulance services and the city’s Emergency Medical Services and those letters said nobody else would go into that area. We had to get letters from health professionals and social workers. I mean everybody. They’d say, “Here; you’ve got to do this.” We’d get those letters and go back and they would say, “okay, now you’ve got to do this” — whatever the next thing was. We continued on. We started in early January 1978, and every day for ten months we were out there moving it along. The Plenty Ambulance Service was finally licensed in October of 1978.