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Published February 27, 2013, 11:40 PM

More women opting for midwife childbirth

FARGO – Destiny Meyer followed a family tradition when she chose not to have a doctor deliver her first child. Instead, as her own mother had done when she was born, the expectant mother turned to a certified nurse midwife at Essentia Health.

By: Patrick Springer, INFORUM

FARGO – Destiny Meyer followed a family tradition when she chose not to have a doctor deliver her first child.

Instead, as her own mother had done when she was born, the expectant mother turned to a certified nurse midwife at Essentia Health.

It so happened that the midwife, Linda Carver, had delivered Meyer years before. It’s not the first time Carver has brought successive generations of the same family into the world.

“I’m now a granny midwife,” Carver said.

She’s been a certified nurse midwife for more than 25 years, and estimates she has delivered more than 2,500 babies. It’s a choice that more and more women are making.

When hired at the former Dakota Hospital in 1987, Carver was a sole practioner. Today, the nurse midwifery program at Essentia in Fargo has grown to five midwives who deliver 40 percent of the hospital’s births and work side-by-side with obstetrician-gynecologists.

A former nurse, Carver’s interest in midwifery came at a time when women began a push for a greater voice in the delivery of their health care, a movement that coincided with a resurgence of interest in midwife delivery.

Destiny Meyer’s mother, Steph Meyer-York, opted to have her second child delivered by a midwife after her first child was delivered by a physician who performed an epidural painkiller.

“After that, I wanted it to be more natural,” Meyer-York said. “So the next three were all natural,” and all delivered by midwives.

“I think you can bond a little more with a woman,” she said, adding that she didn’t mean to disparage physicians or males. “It was easier to establish a relationship. It was a really good experience. I liked it a lot.”

Nurse midwives, who handle low-risk births, spend more time with their patients, both during the pre-natal period and labor, Carver said.

Women are granted wide latitude in their choices involving labor and delivery, including whether they prefer natural childbirth.

“We really listen to how the mom wants the delivery to go,” Carver said. “We really want self-determination,” bearing patient safety in mind. “There’s a whole range of what you can do to achieve that.”

Midwives stay with the mother and provide encouragement and assistance, “almost like cheerleaders.” Family members are welcome in the birthing room, soothing music is allowed, and a Jacuzzi is available, an option Destiny Meyer chose when she gave birth to daughter Tatum four months ago.

For a midwifery program to succeed, the affiliated obstetrician-gynecologists have to support the midwives as an adjunct to their practice, Carver said.

Dr. Gregory Glasner, an obstetrician-gynecologist, as well as president and chief medical officer of Essentia’s West Region, said the midwife program complements the work of physicians.

“I think they’re complementary,” he said, noting that some physicians view midwives as competition. “We literally work side by side in the same clinic space. You realize very quickly the value they add.”

In the early 1900s, when most births occurred at home, midwives delivered many babies, Carver said. But physicians started delivering most babies when births shifted to hospitals.

The midwife revival, which began modestly in the 1940s, got a big boost in the 1970s, and has continued, Carver said.

A study in 2011 found that midwife-attended births rose from 3 percent in 1989 to almost 8 percent in 2002 and have remained steady since. Last year, a story in The New York Times noted that several models gave births attended by midwives, and pronounced midwifery a status symbol in Manhattan.

Although Sanford Health does not have midwives in Fargo, it does in Sioux Falls, S.D., a spokesman said.

Terry Burrell, one of the five midwives at Essentia in Fargo, happens to be male, unusual in a field dominated by women.

The impetus to enter the profession came after he accompanied his wife on a doctor’s appointment in the Twin Cities “and was pretty disgusted by the way she was treated.”

The male doctor didn’t really listen and often interrupted his wife when she was speaking, he said.

A former health and physical education teacher, he switched careers, becoming an intensive care nurse and later certified nurse midwife.

“I liked the idea that you treat the person, not the disease,” he said, adding that he enjoys the educational and advocacy roles of his work.

He joined Essentia 20 years ago and now heads women’s services at the clinic, but found some women leery of a male midwife in the early days.

“The gender issue becomes less and less of an issue,” he said.

The midwife program relies heavily on word of mouth, Carver said. Sometimes, as Steph Meyer-York and her daughter Destiny attest, the word spreads from mother to daughter.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522.

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