Deaconess Women’s Clinic: Part 1

By Tine Reese

March 1, 2010
Deaconess Women's Clinic midwife Catherine Shields (right) and student midwife Tonia Baker (left).

Deaconess Women's Clinic midwife Catherine Shields (right) and student midwife Tonia Baker (left).

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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By Kathy Bentley CNM on March 1st, 2010 at 7:40 pm

She is mother, mentor, partner and the reason I moved to Spokane to practice 13 yrs ago. Catherine (and our patients) is the reason we continue and hopefully inspire the next generation of midwives in Spokane. Love you Cath and thank you Bloom for recognizing a loving and respectful hospital birth alternative.

By Julie Denlinger - Doula, Midwife student on March 2nd, 2010 at 3:17 pm

It is no secret what a phenomenal midwife I think that Catherine Shields is. She is hands down my #1 hospital provider reference when talking to someone who is going to have their baby in the hospital. I talked my twin sister into changing her health insurance just so she could be a client at the Deaconess Midwives’ office with these phenomenal midwives.

I feel that Catherine exudes the heart of a midwife (be it a homebirth or hospital midwife) in her belief in women, birth and babies. She is someone I look up to and admire deeply, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with her many times and it’s never without joy that I greet her while attending a birth as a doula. I’ve seen her incredible patience, hands-on-work for hours with a client in labor or a difficult spot and have nothing but admiration for her.

She is a forerunner for the hospital midwifery practices in Spokane and has an incredible group of CNM’s with her at Deaconess Midwives. Top favorite hospital providers – and for those of us who need good hospital providers to send people to, thank you for being the balance!

By Annie Sayers on March 3rd, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Catherine is my mother. She and I have a very close friendship and admire her in so many ways. Her genuine kind and gentle spirit is recognized not only by those of us who know her well, but by every life she touches. Countless times she has been stopped at the grocery store, mall or even gas station by one of her current or former patients. Each time I witness these encounters, or reunions, my heart says, “That’s my amazing momma.” As faces light up and emotions run high, together they recall the most precious moments they have shared. Seeing this reminds me just how much I appreciate her.

People have often said to me, “you are so much like your mom!” It’s an honor to be compared to such and extraordinary person. I love her beyond words. She was not able to “catch” my children due to my medical complications, but in a way it was best. I was able to have her as my “mom” during very stressful and worrisome times. I am every grateful to have been raised by her and influenced so strongly by her giving and lustrous heart.

Thank you, mom, for creating such a journey for yourself, from which I and so many others continue to learn.

Always your Rosie.

Thank you all for your comments and for letting other women in our community know just how special Catherine and the Deaconess Women’s Clinic are. I am busy writing my follow up article and can’t wait to share it with you later this week!


By Lois Hall on March 9th, 2010 at 8:56 pm

I worked with Catherine when I first became a labor and delivery nurse…she has always been so kind and supportive and truly determined to help women with a really memorable and beautiful childbirth experience. I am proud to know her and so happy to hear her praises sung! love you dear one!

Cathy delivered my 1st son and she was the greatest.she encouraged me to go natural and I’m so glad she did and glad to have her be there with me through the most special time of my life! I’ve had 4 boys total, and I wouldn’t have went anywhere else. Kathy Bentley as well, she was with me during the delivery of one of my boys as. Cathy Alstead and Flora Flores, your all great! The staff at DWC, the midwives and the greatest. I highly recommend.



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