More than one way to give birth

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August 30, 2010
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie
Hennepin County Medical Center is home to the state’s first Nurse-Midwife Service.

Since 1971, midwives at the hospital have been helping women have natural birth experiences.

Rita O’Reilly, director of the hospital’s Nurse Midwife Service, said HCMC practices the “true midwifery philosophy.”

“We believe in the normal birth process; keeping birth as natural as possible,” she said. “We discourage elective inductions of labor without a medical indication. We encourage families to be participants in the decision making affecting their pregnancy, labor and births.”

The hospital’s nurse midwives deliver more than 800 babies each year. The nine-bed unit’s cesarean section rate is 12.7 percent, compared to 20 percent as a whole at HCMC. The national average is 30 percent.

Midwives work with women expected to have low-risk pregnancies.

“We like to let women know they have choices in their birth experiences and there is not one way to give birth,” O’Reilly said. “They can choose to have a medicated or non-medicated birth. They can choose to deliver in bed or in a tub. We customize care to meet patients’ needs and desires for their birth experience.”

The midwives serve a diverse group of women, including many Spanish, Somali and Hmong women. About 50 percent of the patients are non-English speaking.

The hospital has worked to accommodate the needs of women from various cultural backgrounds by ensuring special dietary requests are met and birthing rituals honored.

“We have learned a lot about birth from our non-English speaking patients and the interpreters we work beside,” O’Reilly said. “It’s always to fun to surprise women with customs from their culture they don’t expect to know about. They are pleased with the little things we do such as when a midwife learns Somali words to use during their clinic visits. Women from varied cultural backgrounds labor and birth differently from one another.”

In the late 1970s, the state had an influx of Hmong refugees. The hospital responded to the needs of Hmong maternity patients by adapting caregivers’ skills to include assisting with squatting births and providing traditional meals.

“We learned through our interpreters about Hmong diet for the postpartum period and today our food service grows herbs on our roof garden to be used in theses meals,” O’Reilly said. “While family centered care has always been our focus with the Hmong population they would include the elders and possibly their shaman when decision making was required for their care.”

The midwives have also become educated about traditional birthing customs for Latino and Somali patients.

When asked about the most satisfying aspect of her work, O’Reilly said: “Helping women from all over the world and all walks of life have a birth experience where the women feel empowered by their births. Helping families achieve a positive start to beginning a new stage in their lives.”

As for the future, she hopes HCMC’s Nurse Midwife Service will be on more peoples’ radars. There are “Meet and Greet the Midwives’” events four times a year.

“The Nurse Midwife Service will celebrate our 40th anniversary next year and yet we feel at times we are the best kept secret in town,” she said. “We’d like to reach out to more families living and working in the Downtown area.”