When talking to Stephanie Welsh, a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) practicing with Mansfield OB/Gyn, I learned that she came to the profession from a place of reverence towards the power of a woman’s body, with a passion for social justice, and a bright clinical mind. One thing that struck me about Stephanie was her evident passion for women and their rights, their bodily integrity, their ability to choose what is right for them and for her, as a midwife, to be readily and genuinely able to support their choice, whatever that might be. You may be interested in getting to know her a little bit more… so here is a snapshot into her mind and passion for midwifery. Enjoy!
How did she get into midwifery? While she grew up with a mother who was a labor and delivery nurse, Stephanie did not become interested in midwifery until after she became a successful photojournalist. It was at this point, while working on a project on female genital circumcision in Kenya that she started bearing witness to birthing women and the inherent power and magic they hold as they bring about another human being into their shared space. After spending numerous hours shadowing both ob/gyns and midwives, and realizing that what she was most inclined towards was a midwifery path, she decided to embark on this journey to start serving women and their families. She chose to become a CNM, rather than a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM), because she wanted the flexibility to be able to attend women in all birthing settings. She had also started her inquiry into her future career from an initial interest in pursuing an OB/Gyn track, which was later abandoned when she realized that as midwife, she would be able to spend a lot more quality time with her clients without being rushed, and be able to bear witness to their stories, their struggles, their elation, just like she had as a photojournalist.
In her opinion, what makes for a good midwife? When answering this question, Stephanie talked about the ability to actively and compassionately listen to women, not only because it is important to listen to their healthcare needs, but also because it is important to take women seriously. It is important for protecting women’s rights and for respecting their bodily integrity. She also talked about the importance of having an excellent clinical mind. “What’s great about the profession,” Stephanie says, ”is that it combines the essential human element of taking care of women, labor, and birth, with this ability to handle individual healthcare needs, and to practice excellent clinical judgment.” These were qualities she was attracted to, when choosing the midwives that cared for her own health and wellbeing before, during, and after her own pregnancies.
What does she love the most about her work as a midwife? Stephanie said that being a midwife feels a lot like when she was a photojournalist. She feels very fortunate to be allowed into people’s lives. They tell her their stories and invite her to bear witness to both their most wonderful and most terrible moments of their lives. “It’s a gift, to be present in people’s most critical moments of their life” she says.
What does she feel is most challenging about her work as a midwife? In her experience, it’s very difficult to balance work and family in this profession. It’s a challenge to keep balance and boundaries. “But,” she says, “if you’re not well rested and happy, then your work suffers.”
If she could change anything about the maternity care system, what would it be? Stephanie pondered this question for a while, because she felt that there are so many things that she would ideally change, if she could. She is very passionate about preventing violence against women, and adequately caring for women who have experienced various forms of violence in the U.S., as well as abroad. She wishes more could be done in this regards. Additionally, she feels that the current liability system, in the U.S., takes too much of a driver seat in our current maternity care system, too often dictating how care is delivered, subtly changing how people practice, insidiously replacing intuition and skill with fear and defensive interventions, and adding tremendous costs to obstetrical care. If she could, she would lead efforts towards tort reform.
How does she feel about Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC)? She very strongly supports VBAC and believes that based on the evidence currently available, VBAC is a very safe route for most women, and “trial of labor after cesarean” (TOLAC) is an important choice for any woman who desires it. Unfortunately, the hospital in which she currently assists women with their deliveries, does not offer the option of TOLAC, and therefore whenever she encounters a woman who is a good candidate for VBAC and is interested in TOLAC, she will readily refer her to other practitioners and facilities where her choice is supported.
What is her stance on doula support for laboring women? Stephanie believes that laboring women can benefit greatly from having a support person with whom they connect. She talked about how there is clear evidence in support of doula care. It is clearly shown in studies that women who have a support person use less medication, have more vaginal deliveries, and are happier about their births. She says that while women can receive this support from people other than a doula, doulas fill a critical area of need that partners or other figures may not always be able to fill.
What is her stance on home birth? Stephanie was fortunate to live in Florida where home birth is alive and well. She shadowed and trained with midwives in all settings, including home birth. She recalled a vivid memory of one birth she attended, where while the mother was laboring in the tub, the toddler was bicycling around the house: regular life was going on around her, and everything was just so “normal” and peaceful! She supports women who prefer home birth as an option, and regularly refers them to home birth midwives in the area. While she believes that home birth is a safe option for low-risk women, she also acknowledges that many more families would likely opt for a home birth if there were a stronger and more established network between home birth providers and hospital facilities, in case of emergencies. She also said that her practice tries to provide elements of home birth that families value, in the hospital setting, so that more women, even those with more complex medical situations, can take advantage of that home-like environment.
I hope you enjoyed getting to know Stephanie Welsh, CNM: I certainly did! Who else are you curious to learn more about? Are there any other midwives, chiropractors, naturopaths, massage therapists, mental health counselors, yoga instructors, childbirth educators, ob/gyn docs you’d like to recommend for an interview? If so, email me the names and I’ll take care of the rest!