by Cathi Gerhard
I have been a fan of the PBS Series “Call the Midwife,” as well as the companion books by Jennifer Worth, for four years. Ever since I watched the first season and read the memoirs, I have thought about doing an article on modern midwifery for the Laurel Mountain Post. My knowledge of the profession was very limited, and frankly, I used to assume midwifery was something that had to do with hippies and swimming pool births at home.
Midwives have been around as long as human history. The Ebers Papyrus, which dates from 1900 to 1550 BCE, devotes five columns to Egyptian obstetrics and gynecology.
“The ancient Jews called her the wise woman, just as she is known in France as the sagefemme, and in Germany, the weise frau and also Hebamme or mother’s adviser, helper, or friend. The English ‘midwife’ is derived from Middle English “mit wif, or with-woman”(J.H. Aveling). The Latin term cum-mater and the Spanish and Portuguese term comadre, have the same meaning: with woman.” (midwifeinsight.com)
The insightful CTM screenplays and memoir pages opened my eyes to the realities women faced in a time which seems so far removed from my own. Now in its fourth season on PBS, the online women’s magazine Bustle .com has called the series “the most feminist and socially-conscious show you’re not watching.” Set in the East End of London during the 50s and 60s, the show’s historical backdrop is perfectly timed to explore a variety of issues important to contemporary women: motherhood, career, social standing, economics, work-life balance, and the shifting cultural views of the post WWII era that defined our modern age.
Thanks to the power of Facebook, I was able to reach out to a high school classmate and certified nurse midwife, Karen Lint-Nguyen, to find out more about the profession.
Have you seen or read Call the Midwife?
I have watched “Call the Midwife” off and on–I love the promotion of Midwifery as an honorable profession. I have read so many books written about Midwives, and I love it when I see documentaries on birth in the US and our fractured health care system. Midwifery has certainly evolved since the time period of Call the Midwife…
What is a midwife?
My definition of a Midwife is a professional who is a safe keeper of normal birth and other common life events for women (i.e. Birth, Lactation, and Menopause). Midwife literally means “with woman.” In the USA there are several paths to become a midwife. The American College of Nurse Midwives is governing body, if you will, of Certified Nurse Midwives (like me) or Certified Midwives. Most are nurses first, and then continue onto graduate or post graduate education in Midwifery. CM’s have college degrees in other disciplines and then complete a Master’s in midwifery. The North American registry of Midwives certifies the “traditional” home birth midwife, and no college is necessary. They complete an internship, and then sit for an exam to become CPM’s (certified professional midwives). All types of Midwives deliver babies. Since I am a CNM, I can best speak to my type of Midwifery. Nurse Midwives care for females throughout their lifetime. I can provide gynecology care, care during pregnancy and birth, some primary care issues, and lactation support.
How did you get into this job?
I attended IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) after high school, knowing that I wanted to be a Nurse. During my experiences in college in Nursing, and from becoming a mother myself throughout those four years, sparked my interest in Maternity nursing. I worked in HIV nursing, Neonatal ICU, and Labor and Delivery and found a deep passion for caring for women in labor. I had considered moving to Philadelphia to go to U Penn to study midwifery in 1995, but moved to VA instead. Within a year of my move to VA, Shenandoah University was developing a program for CNM’s. I applied and was accepted into its first class. Midwifery school was hard (like a Residency) and is a real test for the Midwife’s family. I figured that I could make a big difference in the community by passionately helping women with their healthcare needs. Being a nurse makes a difference, but being someone’s Midwife takes it to a whole new level. You become part of their growing family and a rooted member of the community.
I have been a CNM for 16 years now, and it has been such an amazing ride. The lifestyle is hard, since babies come when they want and not on any Monday through Friday schedule. But, if I have to wake up at 3 AM and go to work, I feel privileged that it is to welcome a baby into this world. It is sacred, and I do not underestimate the importance of being there for the birthing family.
How many babies have you delivered?
I have delivered over 2500 babies, and actually, I stopped counting since I can deliver anywhere from 10-18 babies a month. I have training in home birth, but I deliver in the hospital setting. I LOVE that women have some options and hope that this expands throughout my lifetime. We need to look at countries like the Netherlands and Sweden in order to improve our outcomes and promote healthy birth choices.
Is midwifery more than just delivering babies?
Midwifery is certainly more than just delivering babies. I love my yearly visits with patients for their GYN care. It is so rewarding to see a Grandmother, a mother, and her daughter for their women’s healthcare needs. As I said, you become part of their family. In the next few years I’ll enjoy delivering a baby from a baby I have delivered. It will be a full circle of life event for me as a midwife. I guess if I practice long enough I could conceivable deliver the generation after that as well. WOW… what a thought!
I see patients throughout their pregnancy, and stay with them throughout their labor and birth. We provide care after their birth, and then hopefully throughout the rest of their life. I love being with a naturally laboring mother in her course of labor. I love seeing a family come together and grow. Many births still make me cry, especially when a mother is so overwhelmed with joy at her efforts of giving birth. I have patients with epidurals too. I love to support women in whatever manner they choose to labor. “With woman” doesn’t just mean only women who choose natural birth. I never had a midwife for my own births, but I had fabulous MDs who supported my wishes as well.
What is a doctor’s role in the birth process when a midwife is involved?
In my practice I work side by side with OB/GYNs. We complement each other well, and it makes the transition to high risk needs and surgery seamless when we work together. If all is going well with a labor the MD is usually in the office or at home. Most of the time they never even see the patient in her labor–unless I think she is going to need a Cesarean Section. And I never hesitate to ask them for help when the situation calls for it.
What is your favorite midwifery story?
I have one woman I have delivered seven times: I know her and her family so well now. Each time I am with her in labor is such a blessing for me. You get to be lifetime friends with women like this. I have been with mothers in good times and also bad times. My one patient had a baby who died near the end of her pregnancy for no known reason-–being with her in this delicate moment of giving birth to her little boy has left a deep impression on me about grace and the strength of women to endure so many things in their life. She will ALWAYS be so very special to me, and I hope to place a screaming baby into her arms one day!
What does the future hold for you?
I grew up in Derry, PA. I went to your typical small town USA school and loved being part of a small community. I graduated from Derry Area High School, IUP for college in Nursing, and Shenandoah University in Winchester, VA for Graduate school. I am considering working on my doctorate, but for now I am enjoying watching my children grow up and get married. I have one granddaughter that I got the joy of watching being born.
What are the biggest issues facing women today?
The biggest issues facing women is continued misogyny. Women have decreased access to many things and rights in this world. My greatest hope is that women will be respected and treated equally. My greatest issue, personally, is balancing work, family, and faith and trying to do all things well.