Jessie Melcher of Port Orchard grew up fearing labor and delivery in part because she recalls her own mother’s traumatic medicalized birthing stories.
“So, when I became pregnant with my first child, I was determined to avoid the same experience and overcome that fear,” Melcher said. “After extensive research online, I decided midwifery was the best option for me because it offered customized, one-on-one care specific to the mother and baby.”
Her waterbirth at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma with the assistance of midwife Jennifer Riffel went well. And she had three more babies at the same hospital, with the same midwife, the same way — all waterbirths.
“All my births were different regardless of them all being waterbirths, and my midwife cared for me in different ways each time,” Melcher explained. “They also prepared me for postpartum too; a huge piece I believe is often overlooked during pregnancy.”
St. Joseph Medical Center recently opened a state-of-the-art Midwifery Birth Center that offers care through pregnancy and childbirth including comfortable rooms, prenatal group programs, pelvic physical therapy programs, breastfeeding support and more. Melcher had her fourth baby in the new center and said it was an elevated experience.
“Choosing care for your pregnancy and delivery should be one of the most intentional decisions you make for yourself and your family,” Melcher said. “I feel the midwifery team at St. Joseph is pioneering a new way of viewing birth and it matches my desire to change the perspective of pregnancy, labor and birth. Regardless of how you wish to give birth, you need an advocate, you need to be educated, and supported.”
Q&A with Midwife Jennifer Riffel
What do midwives bring to the table that is different or enhances an experience with an OB/GYN?
Certified Nurse Midwives (CNM’s) are advanced nurse practitioners, meaning that we earn an advanced degree, a special certification, and training to practice midwifery. As CNM’s we provide health care and wellness care to women, which may include family planning, gynecological checkups, and prenatal care. Although our approach is somewhat different, CNMs offer similar care to that of an OB/GYN doctor in many ways. Most notably, our approach to birth is holistic and ensures that mothers understand it’s a natural experience in which they are completely in charge of. Our ultimate goal is to empower mothers in their birth experience.
What is the role of a midwife?
The role of a Certified Nurse Midwife is to work in partnership with women to provide women’s gynecological health, prenatal, and postnatal care. At the Midwifery Birth Center at St. Joseph, we also care for newborns up to 24 months old. In regard to a woman’s birth experience, CNMs support the mother and child by providing preventative measures, promoting natural birth, detecting complications in mother and child, accessing medical care or other appropriate assistance and carrying out emergency measures.
Why do you think moms are opting for midwives more in the South Sound area?
We are starting to see a shift nationally and in the South Sound because women are becoming more informed about delivery options. Typically, women in the U.S. give birth in a standard hospital setting, but as women learn about their delivery options, they often choose an alternative that they feel is a better fit for them. Midwifery is one of the delivery options available.
Can you tell us why it was important for St. Joseph’s to open the midwife program a couple of years ago?
Midwives have been at St. Joseph Medical Center for 35 years; however, the Family Birth Center at St. Joseph was opened in 2016. St. Joseph’s has always been known to support women and their birth options, so the Midwifery Birth Center was an extension of providing options for delivery. Many of our midwifery patients would usually be pursuing a birth in a hospital setting, but midwifery offers an alternative focused on empowering them in their birth experience.
Do you have some stats you can share that sheds light on the local program and its increasing popularity among parents?
We have noticed that since 2013 there has been a 17 percent increase in the use of midwives in the Puget Sound. In 2017, midwives across the system delivered 1,934 babies, about 22 percent of all births at CHI Franciscan hospitals.
What else do you want to tell us?
At the Midwifery Birth Center at St. Joseph, 100 percent of mothers initiated breastfeeding. This is important because breastfeeding makes for healthier babies and reduces many maternal and infant illnesses. Babies who are breastfed have reduced risks of ear and respiratory infections, asthma, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), diabetes, and obesity. Breastfeeding also offers long- term health benefits to mothers, reducing the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and breast and ovarian cancers later in life. Waterbirth is also becoming more popular at the Family Birth Center, in fact about 32 percent of women choose waterbirth for delivery.