When I was 14 years old, I was having problems with my period health. My cramps were so intense I would double over in pain, and it made going to school incredibly difficult while I was on my period. My mother didn’t know how to talk about something like this, so she took me to someone she knew could talk about such a personal health concern, a midwife.
The midwife listened to the symptoms I was experiencing and together we formed a plan to help stabilize my periods. The midwife advocated for me and genuinely listened to me. That was such a pivotal moment for me and one of the reasons I choose to become a midwife; to provide a safe place for women to talk about their health needs without fear or judgment.
What is a Midwife?
When you look at the etymology of the word midwife it literally means “with woman.” Midwives are with women through all stages in their lives, whether it’s helping a young adolescent with period problems, a woman’s yearly pap smear, postpartum, or through the transition of menopause. You don’t need to bounce from one provider to another instead have one consistent person throughout your life. A midwife can help educate in-depth about period pains, infertility, pregnancy, labor and delivery, cysts and fibroids, dryness, and more.
Differences Between a Midwife and OB/GYN
While both midwives and OB/GYN providers focus on women’s health care, they differ in a few ways. Firstly, the medical training required is different. An OB/GYN is a doctor who goes through medical school, a surgical residency, and then picks OB/GYN as their focus. Midwives receive their nursing degree and spend a few years in the nursing field, then go back to school for a master’s degree in nurse-midwifery.
Another major difference is that OB/GYN providers can perform surgeries. While midwives can’t, they do have partnerships with those who can do surgeries.
The Role of a Midwife
The unique role of a midwife is to be a chameleon for our patients. Whether you are going through puberty, pregnancy, perimenopause, or menopause, a woman’s health has complex needs that a midwife can help navigate and manage.
During Puberty and Adulthood
Midwives can provide basic care starting early on. A lot of common reasons adolescents and young adults see a midwife are period pains and issues, yeast infections, ultrasounds, well-woman exams, pap smears, and other regular screenings.
Midwives also look at family history and help develop a care plan if there’s something we decide to keep an eye on. Midwives are also a great place to start if you are noticing changes and aren’t sure what is happening or where to get help.
It’s also very common for a woman to come in when she decides she wants to have a child. Midwives help create a plan, educate on pregnancy, labor and delivery, and postpartum. And when she does get pregnant, she can continue seeing her same provider.
When you find out you’re pregnant, you can either see an OB/GYN provider or a midwife based on who is best for you. There are a lot of misconceptions about a midwife’s role like a midwife only delivers at home or only promotes unmedicated birth. That’s not true at all. It doesn’t matter if you want to be completely unmedicated or if you want to be induced and have an epidural – we are there for you the whole time.
It’s also a common misconception that if you need a C-section that you can’t see a midwife. While midwives don’t perform surgeries, we work with and have partnerships with providers that do. So, if you know you’re going to have a repeat C-section, we’ll be there for you for all your health care needs during the pregnancy and we’ll be there for you in the surgery talking you through what’s happening and advocating for you the whole time.
Another aspect of a woman’s health-related to pregnancy is postpartum depression. Your hormones are on a roller coaster during pregnancy and after labor and delivery. The hormonal change can be very sharp and drastic to experience. Screening for postpartum depression begins during pregnancy, directly after delivery, and throughout the first year after birth. Those screenings are one of several tools we use to help monitor and care for new moms. We work hard to make sure when you come to see your midwife you feel safe and supported. Some things we encourage to help with postpartum depression are:
- Socializing with friends and family
- Getting outside
- Eating nutritious foods
- Staying hydrated
- Seeking behavioral health support
- Asking for help from a support system
- Breastfeeding if able
These visits postpartum are incredibly important. During pregnancy, you might see your midwife anywhere between 10 to 14 times. Postpartum, you might only see your provider a handful of times, but that is when you really need the support. That’s why keeping that relationship with the midwife is so important. If my patient needs me, I am there. We all need a little extra help sometimes. It is completely normal.
During Perimenopause and Menopause
There’s a lot of change in a woman’s body as she gets older. Perimenopause is the time during which a woman’s body transitions to menopause. This transition often starts in the 40s but can begin earlier. The focus during this stage of life is heavily on education and managing symptoms.
One common thing during this life stage is incontinence, especially around 10 to 15 years after you’ve had your last child. The ligaments and tendons that held the bladder up have been pushed down. After a simple pelvic exam, we may recommend therapy to focus on strengthening the muscles in your pelvic floor. There are also specific surgeries we can discuss.
The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. Postpartum depression, incontinence, bone loss, and all the other things unique to a woman’s health are real and natural occurrences, and we have the education and therapies to help our patients live their best lives.
If you’re interested in learning more about how a midwife may fit into your circle of care, you can set up a meet and greet, on the phone or at our MercyOne Des Moines Midwives office.
About the Author
Whitney Suckstorf, MSN, ARNP, CNM, works at MercyOne Des Moines Midwives. She grew up in a small town in Nebraska, graduating from the University of NebraskaMedical Center with her nursing degree. After completing her degree, Whitney worked for several years as a nurse in a variety of roles including medical/surgical, pediatrics, labor and delivery, and NICU. She earned her master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati in Nurse-Midwifery. Whitney believes in providing a safe, compassionate atmosphere for her patients regardless of their age or stage in life.
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This article is part of a series of sponsored articles by MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center