On this International Day of the Midwife, I thought I’d spend a few minutes reflecting on the midwives who’ve made an impact on my life, both as a woman and as a birth worker.
First would have to be Mary Carol Akers, a Certified Nurse Midwife I’ve written about before. Over the years, I’ve heard from Mary Carol a couple of times and recently had a NetFriend attend a birth with her. I’ve heard she’s actively working on opening a birth center. How wonderful she’s still making an impact all these years later.
Mary Carol with Aimee, 2 days after her car birth.
Mary Carol was my midwife as well as my partner Zack’s (when he was Sarah) back in 1985-1986. She was so loving towards us, non-judgmental and treated us as intelligent women when so many did not. Mary Carol was a midwife I could bring my natural birth questions to and she never rolled her eyes or was condescending towards me, but would answer honestly and truthfully, giving me more information instead of creating a wall of disdain.
I remember specifically telling her I didn’t want to be a CNM because I didn’t want to waste my time with nursing school, that I didn’t want to sit with geriatric patients, taking their vitals and listening to a hundred hearts that had nothing to do with listening to newborn hearts. She, in her calm and gentle style, said to me that in listening to a hundred geriatric hearts, I would learn what normal sounded like, that I would learn the variety of normal and that was extremely relevant to listening to newborns. She said when you’ve listened to a thousand hearts, when you hear The One that is out of synch, you know it immediately. Over the years, I’ve applied that piece of wisdom, acknowledging that if I’d have felt thousands of clavicles, it would have, indeed, helped me as a midwife to know what a normal clavicle felt like. While I didn’t miss any broken collar bones, I still understand that feeling more could only have added to my knowledge base. The skills learned in nursing school are not for naught; they augment a midwife’s education, both with book learning and skills training. Until Mary Carol, I thought nursing school was a waste for any midwife.
Another midwife whom I adore is Suzanne Paszkowski, CNM. Suzanne and I worked together at the now-closed Special Beginnings Birth Center in Orlando, Florida. She’s still there, no longer doing births, but is a women’s nurse practitioner for an OB/GYN office. When I knew her, she was active in midwifery and I loved when I was on-call with her.
Suzanne was one of the calmest midwives I ever met. Her gentle style was amazing, even in the face of dire emergencies. She’d gone to the University of Florida for her degree (and was a die-hard Gators fan!) and then to Grady Memorial in Atlanta for her hands-on training. She told amazing tales of her time at Grady, the women the midwives attended to that no CNM would ever be expected to take care of: women with HIV/AIDS, women with multiples, women beaten by their partners… the list went on and on. I remember sitting with rapt attention as she described midwifery in the trenches, a lesson I would never get as a Licensed Midwife (which wasn’t legal then anyway in Florida). I remember thinking that if she was able to do all that, she most certainly was fine with easy-going pregnancies and births. Wasn’t she ever bored after all that excitement? Not at all, she said. Watching Suzanne at births, her quiet demeanor settling everyone’s nerves and concerns, was a joy and a privilege. I could never than her enough for teaching me how to BE STILL at births. She was/is a wonderful teacher.
The third midwife who’s made a distinct impact on me is Jennie Joseph, also in Orlando. Jennie is the most famous of the midwives who’ve touched my life and rightly so. Jennie is the creator of the JJ Way® Model of Maternity Care and owns The Birth Place. In Jennie’s words, “The goal of The JJ Way® is to eliminate racial and class disparities in perinatal health and improve birth outcomes for all. Key objectives of The JJ Way® are for pregnancies to reach a gestation of 37 weeks or greater and for newborns to have a birth weight of 5 lbs. 8 oz or greater, for women (and their families) to bond well to their babies and to start and succeed at breastfeeding.” She works and speaks tirelessly to eliminate pre-term and low birth weight babies. Amazing work.
Jennie came from England with her midwifery knowledge learned there. When she arrived in Florida, licensing had been abolished decades earlier. But, Jennie joined the others in fighting to reinstate Licensed Midwifery in Florida and she became the first modern Licensed Midwife in the state. It was a thrilling day when she finally received that piece of paper!
These three women have forever changed me as a midwife and on this auspicious day, I publicly thank them all.