• Midwives deliver nearly 70 percent of births at South Peninsula Hospital in last fiscal year
By Hannah Heimbuch
When Eliana Cope started her way into the world almost six months ago, a lot of people were waiting to meet her. Her family of course, especially parents Carla and Daniel Cope, but also four of Homer’s certified nurse midwives. The Copes had gotten to know them all as they planned for the birth of their first child.
As an expectant mom goes through her pre-natal care at Homer Medical’s West Wing Midwives practice, she visits with all of the midwives so that, when the time comes, whoever is on call on the big day arrives with a familiar face, and knowledge of the birth plan.
“You end up knowing all of us,” said nurse-midwife Sonja Martin-Young. “I think it makes for a really close connection.”
Of the 118 births at Homer’s South Peninsula Hospital in fiscal year 2013, 82 of them — or 69.5 percent — were delivered by certified nurse midwife. This percentage is leagues above the American statistic, which, according to the most recent numbers from the American College of Nurse-Midwives, shows 7.8 percent of all U.S. births being attended by CNM.
Homer is unique in that way compared to both the country and often the rest of the state, said CNM Mary Lou Kelsey of the West Wing Midwives, in that midwives have long had an established presence in Homer. That fact, coupled with Homer’s natural distance from larger healthcare services, has established midwife-assisted birth as a common route at the end of the road.
“Certainly the majority of births in the United States are done by physicians,” Kelsey said. “I’ve practiced here for about 32 years. It is a unique place in that in the community hospital we’ve always done the majority of births.”
Kelsey was the nurse-midwife on call when Cope went into labor last July. She planned on delivering at the hospital with a midwife, which seemed to her the way to go in Homer.
“There’s this really established midwife practice, and then also a really highly educated doctor,” Cope said, speaking of Homer Medical’s OB-GYN Dr. Hillary Seger. “It seems like they work together very well. And I don’t know how common that is.”
It felt like the best of both worlds, she said, having a midwife that fit into her birth plan, and the resources of a hospital birth.
“Which in our case was really good, because I had to have a C-section,” Cope said. Having a midwife there through her pregnancy, labor, the decision to move to a C-section and even after, she said, provided a system of support she could lean on.
“For me it was very comforting,” Cope said. “There was a lot of dialogue. Even though you’re in this situation where you’re not really in control, I had a say, and my voice mattered. And that was really important.”
Even when it became apparent that they would need to do a C-section, Cope said, Kelsey had prepared her for that possibility, so she had time to process it, and stayed with her throughout the procedure.
Because of just these types of situations, while their delivery rate at the hospital is close to 70 percent, Kelsey said, they are involved with the care of about 80 percent of delivering moms.
“I think Homer has pretty currently wonderful family centered care here,” she said. “The local services are good, I think we should be proud of that.”
Other midwife practices in Homer include Amy Huffman’s Rite of Passage Midwifery. Huffman offers home birth support across the Kenai Peninsula, and assists moms who choose a water birth. She is able to provide options for moms that want to give birth outside of the hospital setting.
“There’s also some direct entry midwives who do home births that come down from Soldotna,” Kelsey said.
Martin-Young has been practicing in Homer since 2002, and thinks Homer’s unique model has a lot to do with what was available to local moms as the community was developing.
“As the practice built more over time, the women in the community just began to associate, when we deliver, we go to the midwives,” she said.
While Homer may naturally have limited options because of its size and distance from Anchorage, she said she’s proud of the great care she and her fellow nurse-midwives can provide here.
“Our model allows for the midwife to spend a lot of time with each of our patients,” Martin-Young said. “So if they have questions or if they need a little bit more attention from us for some reason we have the ability to provide that for them. And we’re available to them 24-7.”
Martin-Young was a teenager when she started to really feel a drive to go into a field that would support women’s empowerment.
“I started recognizing that delivery seems to be a place, when you talk to women, where they really don’t feel empowered,” she said. “They feel as if their power is sort of taken away from them.”
She wanted to be a part of changing that — through both supporting women’s reproductive rights as well as providing patient-centered care through the birth process.
“We actually gain power from delivery,” Martin-Young said. “We realize that our minds and bodies and spirits are capable of way more than sometimes what we give ourselves credit for. And that has been really important to me.”
The practice is able to support a wide variety of parents’ choices regarding birth, Kelsey said, bringing in the support of their nurse-midwife practice in combination with the medical resources South Peninsula Hospital offers.
Dr. Seger’s move to Homer last year added to that tremendously, she said.
“We’re very excited about that because then of course that allows us her expertise in helping our clients that have more high risk pregnancies,” Kelsey said. “And she can be a primary surgeon in our cases that need a C-section. That’s been wonderful to have her here.”
In the past, Homer’s general surgeons have also assisted with C-sections, another trend that is somewhat unique compared to operations in larger cities.
“It’s been a good approach over the years,” Kelsey said of the partnerships that have arisen between Homer’s midwives and other medical professionals. “Our family docs are wonderful, they back us up both for our mothers and our newborns.”
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