The Rebirth of Midwifery

A new show on PBS reminds us there’s another way to deliver

October 9, 2012

“Call the Midwife” on PBS is raising the profile of the profession.

When Jolie Schwarz went to the hospital in 2010 to give birth, she was determined to do it naturally. Things didn’t quite go as planned.

“I was overwhelmed, and if someone’s offering to take the pain away, it’s hard to decline,” says the Bloomingdale resident, who felt she lost all control over the experience.

So when she learned she was pregnant a second time, Schwarz, now 28, looked for a way to avoid a repeat. She found it at the Family Health and Birth Center, a facility in Northeast Washington that offers midwifery care.

The profession of helping women deliver babies may sound old-fashioned. It’s even the subject of the newest period drama from the BBC. “Call the Midwife,” which debuted on PBS last week, chronicles the life of a young woman working in London in the 1950s. Women like Schwarz, however, recognize there’s still a need for midwives in today’s society.

“We are hot in D.C.,” says Dorothy Lee, a certified nurse midwife at the Family Health and Birth Center. “I don’t think everybody wants us yet, but they should. Birth should be a normal experience. Midwifery tries to keep it in the realm of normal. Doctors are there for complications.”

And doctors are never far — the center has a partnership that allows its providers to deliver babies at Washington Hospital Center. If there are risk factors associated with the pregnancy, the center recommends that women choose that route.

Having midwives alongside doctors is such a popular option at George Washington Medical Faculty Associates that the service has a wait-list. The 2-year-old program has just expanded from four midwives to six and handles 40 to 45 births per month, according to Marsha Stalcup, assistant clinical professor and senior faculty midwife. What’s driving business, Stalcup says, are the stats: Almost all women in the GW program deliver vaginally and without epidurals.

That’s the kind of delivery many women envision, and it’s the kind Schwarz had on June 30 when she gave birth at the center.

Meet Up

George Washington Medical Faculty Associates hosts a “Meet the Midwives” session tonight at 6:45 (900 23rd St. NW; Gwdocs.com/midwifery-services). Tour the Family Health and Birth Center (801 17th St. NE) every Sat. at 10 a.m. and Wed. at 12:30 p.m. More information at Communityofhopedc.org/fhbc.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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