Deaconess Women’s Clinic: Part 1
By Tine ReeseMarch 1, 2010
In my ongoing effort to bring Bloom readers insights and expertise from our local natural birth professionals, I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to speak with Catherine Shields, one of the certified nurse midwives at the Deaconess Women’s Clinic in Spokane. It’s no secret that I had my second baby under the care of the Clinic’s midwives and so I know how passionately devoted Catherine is to the care of pregnant women and babies. To hear her speak about birth is a transformative experience—just as birth itself should be!
When we first sat down, Catherine and I began talking about the “cow sounds” both of us naturally discovered ourselves making during our own labors. It’s amazing that all women possess an innate ability to birth if they are properly prepared and supported. I quickly discovered that Catherine’s passion for her work is closely tied to her own birth experiences. “In fact,” she says “they are the reason I am who I am today.”
You could say that the story of the Deaconess Women’s Clinic begins with the birth of Catherine’s first child back in 1972. With noticeable sadness in her voice, she told the story of having her son in a hospital, knocked completely unconscious, her baby delivered with forceps. She was left with 4th-degree tears and gauze inside of her birth canal which she didn’t discover for days. It was a painful, heartbreaking and horrific experience about which she says, “I can still cry about it today.” With the lingering trauma of the birth and no professional breastfeeding support, she nearly fell apart when her mother went back home two weeks after her son was born. It was in that dark period that Catherine decided birth MUST be different for her—for all women.
Determined not to repeat the experience of her first hospital birth, Catherine prepared herself for the kind of birth she wanted and went on to have her second child in a quick, unmedicated hospital birth. Her third and fourth babies were born at home with no tears and no stitches. Unfortunately, there weren’t any nurse midwives working in hospitals when she had her babies and she knew the majority of women in our community stood little chance of receiving education about birth or the loving care they deserved from hospital staff. During her experience as a labor and delivery nurse, Catherine was a first-hand witness to the conservative culture that brought about the highly medicalized model of birth in Spokane. She said, “Nurses used to make fun of a woman who walked in with a birth plan. They would say, ‘she’s bound to end up with a c-section.’ There was a perception that people who were educated about birth would be difficult to work with.”
Catherine wanted others to experience the kind of gentle, natural birth that she knew was possible. She began to pursue midwife training with her mentor Sister Marie Ladd, the first certified nurse midwife in Spokane. Following her training, Catherine was the second midwife hired by the Deaconess Women’s Clinic when it opened in 1993. She quickly became the clinic’s visionary leader, devoted to ensuring that the midwifery model of care would grow and thrive within the hospital setting. That model of care includes:
- Time: Spending more time with prenatal patients than is typical in most medical practices, monitoring the physical, psychological, and social well-being of the mother
- Education: Providing the mother with individualized education, counseling, and prenatal care to support her wishes and needs
- Presence: Continuous hands-on assistance during labor and delivery, as well as postpartum support
When I asked her why she isn’t a homebirth midwife after having two of her own children at home, she answered, “The homebirth midwives…they are like God to me because they are on their own. They are on their own! To me, I appreciate the support that I get if I have a problem. I’ve got an in-house doctor that will come and help me get a baby out, help me repair a difficult laceration or take me to the OR and I’m just standing beside my patient while they are there to do the work that I’m not trained to do because I’m not a surgeon. And I am so grateful for that support as well as the intensive care nurses that can help get a baby out of trouble in two seconds while I’m at the perineum helping get the placenta out. You know, I had 2 babies at home. I’m totally supportive of the homebirth midwives. I give them so much credit for having the ability, the skills and THE GUTS to do that. I can’t offer my patients the homebirth environment. There’s not going to be lasagne cooking in the oven for after the birth is done, but I promise to honor what they want and do the best I can to prevent intervention.”
As I sat down to write this article, I realized that I had so much valuable information to share with you that it couldn’t possibly be contained in one article. Check back later this week to read the rest of my interview with Catherine Shields as we discuss the current practice at Deaconess Women’s Clinic and why it is different from any other hospital/OB practice in town.
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