Nurse-midwife Anne Johnson, right, with patient Linnea and newborn Annika.
Midwifery means 'with woman'
U's program one of the best in the nation
By Gayla Marty
From M, spring 2004
Chances are, if you hear the word midwife, you think of babies. And you may think it's an old-fashioned word for something that doesn't exist anymore. On the first count, you'd be only partially right. Midwives do attend births, but their broader role is attending to women's health, from puberty through menopause. On the second count, you'd be wrong. Midwifery is alive and thriving, serving a wide range of women, high-income as well as newly arrived immigrants. About 10 percent of vaginal births in the United States, (12 percent in the Twin Cities area), are attended by nurse-midwives--professionals educated in both nursing and midwifery--and the number is rising. Almost all certified nurse-midwives practicing in Minnesota were educated in the Nurse Midwifery Program in the University of Minnesota's School of Nursing, established 30 years ago. One of the best in the nation, it tied for third among midwifery programs in the 2004 edition of America's Best Graduate Schools, published by U.S. News & World Report. Anne Johnson, a nurse-midwife with University Specialists, and a member of the program's first class in 1973, recalls, "I had this wonderful [obstetrics] professor, Barbara Bishop, who instilled in me a love of birth. Thirty-one years later, birth still gives me inexplicable joy." The U's nurse-midwifery program admits about a dozen students each year to its master's degree program. Thanks to a federal grant in 2000, course work has become available largely online, so students don't have to relocate to enroll. A strong base of clinical sites in Minnesota and surrounding states allows for extensive practical training. The program draws on the strength of an outstanding faculty, including many long-term, deeply engaged members and more than 100 adjunct members, according to Melissa Avery, associate professor and director of the program. In most cases, having a certified nurse-midwife won't mean giving birth at home--most births attended by nurse-midwives occur in or connected to a hospital. Nurse-midwives specialize in the health concerns of women and make referrals to specialists as needed. The focus on women's long-term health attracts teens seeking health care and women approaching menopause, as well as an expectant mothers. "With nurse-midwives, often appointment times are longer because there's a greater emphasis on education," says Johnson. "Basically, we like to think of family planning and prenatal care as normal, healthy components of a woman's life. We're educated to care for the normal but to diagnose or screen for the deviation from normal." When Johnson was expecting a baby, she chose a nurse-midwife. When her pregnancy was diagnosed as twins, she was referred to an obstetrician, but her nurse-midwife continued to be part of her prenatal care and was there for the birth. "We [midwives] don't say goodbye to anybody," says Johnson. "We are there with them, whether it's in a supportive or a managing role. Midwife means 'with woman,' and we really are."