Misty Ward said she’s helped bring babies into the world under some interesting circumstances. She recalled a local doctor who chose to have her baby outside on her farm, by a bonfire, “with ducks and chickens walking through the yard.”
She remembered the birth in a “teeny tiny little camper” in Crozet with nine people inside. There was the set of twins welcomed into life by 20 family members and friends of the parents, and the surprise of the birth of a daughter when the ultrasound had appeared to show it was a boy. And who could forget the women who gave birth to daughters an hour apart at Brookhaven Women’s Health and Natural Birth Center, Ward’s business off Port Republic Road.
Neither knew the other was there until afterward, but they’d been the maid of honor for each other’s weddings. When you’re a midwife who’s worked 502 births and counting, something new always seems to be around the corner.
“I just now was reflecting recently that though I’ve been to 500 births, I cannot say I’ve seen it all,” Ward said. “But I really feel like you hit 500 births and you’re like, ‘Now I’m a really good midwife,’ because every year, every month, you see something.”
The 36-year-old Harrisonburg native who graduated from Spotswood High School and Eastern Mennonite University eclipsed the 500-birth plateau on Jan. 5, when she helped birth a son at the mother’s home. Since it opened in 2010 on, appropriately enough, Labor Day, Ward said Brookhaven staffers have had a hand in 461 births.
Fifty-five mothers have had to be taken to Sentara RMH Medical Center for a cesarean section or because they decided in the moment that they wanted an epidural to deal with the pain of childbirth. Only a couple have had to be taken to the hospital due to excessive bleeding after birth, she said, and those moms were fine after treatment.
Patient in control
Ward said her path to midwifery started in Virginia and took her to a maternity clinic in Senegal, a hospital in the Dominican Republic, and a birth center in El Paso, Texas, where few clients spoke English. She attended about 150 births during that five-year apprenticeship.
Natural child birth is most prevalent in areas with free spirits or very conservative populations, she said. Mennonites have used midwives for years, and Ward has attended the delivery of eight grandchildren of one local Mennonite woman.
She said she thinks interest in midwifery is growing because of documentaries on home births and midwives available on Netflix, because the World Health Organization recommends them, and because a recent study found more health systems should employ midwives because they’re “the gold standard” to improve outcomes in infant mortality.
Some parents prefer natural births or want to avoid drugs hospitals often use during labor. Others prefer the cost. For many, Ward said, the relationship a midwife makes with an expectant mother is the key.
“They become kind of like part of our family,” she said, “and they know that they can trust me and that we can talk about anything and they’re not just some number to me.”
Bree Egger had Ward as her midwife, then was hired as an office assistant at Brookhaven. Her first two births were in hospitals, but she didn’t feel like she had as strong a connection with her doctors or as much control as she got with midwifery.
“We wanted to be in a place where every decision that was made, we were given access to information from different resources,” she said. “We were able to get [Ward’s] opinion, but [she] also gave us access to other material and showed us where to find our own information. That informed choice was really big for us.”
Brookhaven provides patients a set price covering everything from prenatal care through six weeks after the baby arrives. Those with insurance are charged $4,500. For uninsured patients who can pay in a timely manner, the fee is discounted to $4,000.
Ward said the fee is about one-third the cost of a hospital birth. The business has grown since she opened it and assisted 40 births in the first year. It’s now plateauing at about 100.
Maya Hawthorn is the only other certified professional midwife at the clinic, though Ward said she’s about to add a third. She’s attended as many as seven births in a week, she said, and once spent two days with a mother in labor. Births often are recorded and even Skyped.
Ward said she often explains midwifery to people as “not the cookie-cutter system,” but one that considers a woman’s health and provides her options. “The women are the masters of their care,” she said. “We’re just here to guide them a little bit and support them along the way.”
Published in the Feb. 1, 2017 Daily News-Record.