Midwifery Awakens in the North Country

Josephina Yankovski holds baby Eli while being cared for at Carthage Area Hospital by midwife Joyce Wilder.

By: Joleene Moody

For some, the term midwife turns their mind to a time when babies were birthed at home and available doctors were few and far between. Perhaps they imagine a turn of the century midwife, rushing about here and there to offer as much comfort as possible to the birthing mother.

                The truth of the matter is that midwifery today is more common than it was twenty years ago. A midwife is a trained health professional who helps healthy women during labor, delivery and after the birth of their babies. However, women seeking a midwife during pregnancy in the north country have to dig a little deeper to find one.

                “Practicing midwifery isn’t very popular up here in the north country,” said Laurie Mousaw, a certified nurse midwife at Canton-Potsdam Hospital. “I‘m the first midwife to begin practicing here in Potsdam. Plattsburg and Watertown have a handful and there might be one in Saranac Lake, but women seeking a midwife have to do their homework to find one.”

                Despite the low number of available midwives, the number of women seeking midwifery services is rising. In Watertown, soon-to-be mothers don’t have to look very far. Joyce Wilder, CNM, owns her own midwifery practice. Ms. Wilder said she sees more women now than she did when she started twenty-two years ago.

                “I have definitely seen a change in the public’s attitude about midwives,” she said. “I think this is because women who are more educated tend to choose midwifery as an option. Unfortunately, my practice is the only practice in the area that pretty much guarantees a midwife- attended birth, as the other midwives in this area work in group practices with physicians and cover less calls then I do.”

                So why the resurgence in midwifery? It could be because more information is available online. With a simple Google search, options pop up that offer explanation as to what a midwife does and what the criteria is to work with her. It could also be because those who seek out a midwife do so because they want to be free to make their own decisions during labor.

                “My patients want to choose the position they’re going to give birth in,” Ms. Wilder said. “They don’t want someone intervening there. They also don’t want to be rushed. Midwives take more time with their patients and treat pregnancy like it’s a normal event until proven otherwise.”

                For mothers-to-be, choosing to work with a midwife requires the mother to be healthy. This is because midwives can’t perform procedures on high-risk patients when they or their baby are in distress. It’s just one of a few drawbacks for a midwife.

                “We can be present during a C-section, but the medical doctor has to do the actual procedure himself,” said Ms. Mousaw. “We also can’t provide emergency surgeries if something arises. So high-risk pregnancies are best taken care by a medical doctor. It’s important that potential patients are aware of this before they seek the care of a midwife.”

                On the positive side, women who choose to work with a midwife can decide what position they want to give birth in. Some women prefer squatting or laying on their side while others choose to deliver in a bathtub. Labors are more natural and aren’t usually artificially induced while under the care of a midwife. Many doctors will use drugs or other methods to speed up the birth if too many hours roll by. But in the case of a natural birth with a midwife, it takes as long as it takes.

                “There’s no hurry. We’re there for the duration,” Ms. Wilder said. “Women understand women, so having a midwife in the delivery room takes a lot of pressure off of the mother. We work at her speed. She has more choices and she prefers that.”

                As the idea of midwifery awakens in the north country, the number of CNM’s is slowly increasing. The Potsdam area will welcome another midwife in the coming months. The new midwife will be able to help with mothers who choose to give birth at home.