In the triage room, her presence imbued calm, strength, and confidence in the mother’s innate ability to labor and birth. The words she chose and the tone in which she uttered them clearly reflected this sense of peace: this was not a race. It was a journey: the first one ever for the mother, yet she stood on the heels of so many women before her who were cared for by Suzanne. While as the mother’s doula I had the opportunity to stay until after the baby was born, Suzanne’s shift ended shortly after my client was admitted and another obstetrician colleague came in to carry on the torch. I later had another opportunity to meet Suzanne and I was struck by our conversation about language and the importance of word choice when it comes to the care of laboring families. I was smitten! I had been wanting to do this interview for quite some time now, and am so glad to have had the opportunity to talk not only with Suzanne, but also with her current partner and co-founder of With Women Wellness: Michelle Killingsworth, who is also a fabulous midwife dedicated to the holistic well being of women.
Together, they have been courageously and competently bringing about a new type of care to women and their families (including a number of hospital water births!), while also creating community. Through their Facebook page, the morning family yoga sessions, the invitation to doulas and other birth workers to chime in on how they could use their lovely space in East Hartford, the involvement of a professional counselor with their practice: they are essentially building a village dedicated to the holistic well being of women and their families.
It is my honor to introduce them to you through this interview. Read on and learn more about their perspectives and insights!
Why did you become a midwife?
Michelle: After working in Labor & Delivery and a GYN office for many years, I developed a strong desire to support women in their healthcare and birth choices and to help women achieve optimal health. The best way for me to do that, was to become a midwife!
Suzanne: I was hooked from the first birth I witnessed, but didn’t actually know it yet and didn’t know it for many years. I was 18, working as a tech in an Emergency room when I watched an 18yo walk in and delivered five minutes later. She had just told her mother about the pregnancy the day before and had hid the whole thing, never getting prenatal care. She didn’t want to bond with the baby and seemed so ashamed, disconnected and disempowered by the experience. It was at that moment that I realized the power of birth and motherhood, how it can build someone up and also tear them down. I reflect often on that moment when I am working with pregnant moms, about how important it is that we assist and encourage their empowerment.
What do you find most rewarding about midwifery practice?
Michelle: When a woman tells me that her birth made her feel empowered!
Suzanne: That moment after a women delivers, has baby on her chest and I look her in the eyes and say “look at what you just did, you are awesome!”
What do you find most challenging about being a midwife?
Michelle: It’s hard to make any set plans – babies come when they want to!
Suzanne: Boundaries! Midwifery is my life, it is part of who I am as a person, its not just a job. It is so hard to not take work home with me.
What made you decide to open up your own practice?
Michelle: We had a strong desire to provide true midwifery services to women – time intensive, evidence based care.
Suzanne: I wanted patients to feel that they were listened to, that they weren’t part of a cog wheel, that they are a person with real questions and needed accurate answers. I feel so often “normal, healthy” pregnancies are ignored by modern healthcare, but these are patients who need support, education and attention in order to stay normal and healthy.
What’s been surprising about having your own practice so far?
Michelle: I have been so pleasantly surprised by the number of people who are excited for our practice and want to support it!
Suzanne: All the support from previous patients, new patients, physician colleagues, nurses and the hospital.
If you could change anything about the U.S. maternity care system, what would it be?
Suzanne: Oh boy this is a loaded questions with so many answers! Maternity care in the US is so backwards. The primary place I would start is to stop treating all women as they are diseased and high risk. The main way to achieve this would be to adapt a system similar to New Zealand’s, to have all women start prenatal care with a midwife and then risk-out to an OBGYN if and when they become high risk.
What are your thoughts about doula support?
Michelle: You can never have too much labor support! Some people think you do not need a doula if you have a midwife, but having both a doula and a midwife is the perfect scenario.
Suzanne: Agreed! A well-informed doula can be a powerful tool.
What is your stance on home birth?
Michelle: I believe home birth is a safe and reasonable choice for the low risk pregnancy with the properly trained midwife.
Suzanne: I had both of my babies at home and wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world. However, they were safe, under strict guidelines for risking out, and attended by educated/experienced midwives.
What are your thoughts about VBAC?
Michelle: C/Sections are not without their own risks. I believe the benefits of avoiding a C/section far outweigh the risks of VBAC for the right candidate.
Suzanne: My primary goal is the prevention of the 1st cesarean. In the case of a VBAC, my goal is the prevention of the second cesarean and the majority of previous cesareans are good candidates.
What do you enjoy doing on your days off?
Michelle: Spending time with my kids, family, and friends!
Suzanne: Taking in life outside of midwifery. Just spending time with my kids, husband and friends.