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San Clemente Journal

THE MIDWIFE An Ancient Medical Practice Outperforming Modern Medicine

Feb 01, 2003 08:38PM ● By Don Kindred
by Helen Chade Mahshi

    When women gather to share their labor and delivery experiences, it’s uncommon to find women as satisfied with their birthing experiences as are Sonia Parisi and Becky Donnini of San Clemente. In fact, their experiences sound so wonderful, they’re enviable. Both women attribute their fabulous outcomes to the fact that they were delivered by a midwife/doula support team, rather than an OB/Gyn.

     The Certified Nurse Midwives that delivered Parisi and Donnini’s babies are BJ Snell and Lisa Sherwood of Beach Cities Midwifery (pronounced mid-whiffery) and Women’s Health Care, on Camino de los Mares in San Clemente. A Doula named Cindy, from the group “Birth Wisdom” served as a birth attendant for each woman.

     Though the Mid-wife and Doula make an excellent team during the labor and birthing process, they provide different, although sometimes overlapping services. The Mid-wife is state-licensed and is specifically trained to handle the pre-natal care, birth and post-natal care. The Doula is a birth attendant who is trained to attend to the physical and emotional needs of the mother during the labor and birthing process.

     Midwifery, which means “to be with woman at birth”, is an ancient art. The book, “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant does a beautiful job of paying homage to the Midwife, and accurately describes the birthing experience in ancient times.

     The Certified Nurse Midwife incorporates a philosophy of care that focuses on the needs of the woman, offers a variety of options and minimizes unnecessary medical intervention. “Western medicine is a disease oriented model,” Snell and Sherwood agreed. “A medical doctor’s training is not to help with the labor process, but to be prepared for complications.” 

     “Controlled midwifery is a natural birthing process that needs to be supported. Our primary goal is to build a trusting relationship with our mothers-to-be. By building trust, we help lower the stress levels during the labor process. Stress hormones impact labor, and slow it down. By lowering the stress levels, the birth experience is more successful,” said BJ.

     All standard medical and obstetrical procedures are accessible to Lisa and BJ. “Our philosophy is to use things (medical and technological intervention) as needed, but not routinely use things that don’t need to be used,” BJ revealed.

     These birthing partners deliver in a hospital setting only, as do 97% of Midwives nationwide, so if a medical emergency does arise, medical back up is available. Snell and Sherwood handle prenatal visits at their office in San Clemente, and deliver at South Coast Hospital in Laguna Beach.

     Generally, Midwives assist only in low-risk pregnancies and births. Many insurance companies look at evidence-based healthcare to determine their healthcare coverage. Data compiled from numerous public health sources statistically demonstrate that Midwives have more successful outcomes in delivering low-risk patients than do OB/Gyns. Therefore, insurance coverage is generally granted for a Certified Nurse Midwife.

     Typically, a pregnant woman whose care has been monitored by an OB/Gyn will labor in the hospital, with an IV attached, and receive constant fetal monitoring. She cannot eat or drink anything and the labor and delivery nurses that are coaching her in her most intimate moments are usually strangers to her. Additionally, her OB/Gyn probably won’t show up until the last hour or so if it is a low-risk birth. In contrast, BJ and Lisa will be with their patient from the moment she arrives at the hospital until the birth is completed. 
Beach Cities Midwifery and Women’s Health Center has commanded the highest compliments from mothers. It seems amazing that a Midwife—not a medical doctor— produces more satisfied mothers. Perhaps it’s because the Midwife has elevated the birthing experience to that of an artist. She has taken the time to get to know her patient so well, she has become almost one with her. The patient is generally so relaxed; she empowers her body to do what needs to be done.

     Sonia Parisi, a registered nurse for 13 years, delivered her first baby Alexa with a traditional OB/Gyn in La Jolla, California. Certified Nurse Midwife BJ Snell delivered her second child, Dominic. “My first labor with Alexa in a traditional hospital setting took 26 hours. I began to push prematurely, and the doctor was beginning to suggest a cesarean. I had a natural birth, but it wasn’t my happiest experience,” Parisi reminisced. “By contrast, my labor with Dominic was quick—just 5 hours. Cindy, the Doula, gave me a low back massage while I was in labor and BJ provided a birth ball. I was able to eat, drink and walk around between contractions. It was a very calm and joyful experience. Pregnancy and the birthing process is not a medical condition, it’s a natural condition. I was able to deliver without medical intervention: no painkillers, no inductions, no IV’s. It was one of the best experiences of my life! I was able to really trust Lisa and BJ because they were emotionally invested in our whole family,” Sonia said.

     Becky Donnini, an attorney, had all her pre-natal appointments with a well-known OB/Gyn group in Orange County until her seventh month of pregnancy. “Then, we ran into conflict because my husband and I were studying the Bradley method of childbirth, which is a natural form of childbirth,” said Becky. “My OB/Gyn was not supportive of this. I knew then that I had to make a change. I scoured the Internet and medical journals and studied everything I could about midwifery. I found out that mother satisfaction is much higher, and that the incidences of episiotomies, and cesareans needed goes way down. All the statistics were in their favor, so in my seventh month, I switched my care to Beach Cities Midwifery and Women’s Health Care.”

     “When I called Cindy, the Doula, at 2am to tell her that labor had started, she came to our home, and drove my husband and I in her car,” Becky continued. “I stood up through most of my labor. She physically supported me and always had water for me to drink. Lisa and Cindy, the midwife/doula support team, kept me moving, and got me in and out of the bathtub. Cindy and Lisa could tell by my moans and my behavior what stage of labor I was in. They could tell me when to bear down, how to breathe and when to push. When Alison was born, my husband helped lift her out of my body and placed her in my arms immediately after the birth. I can’t describe to you the intense bonding I experienced with these women through my labor. I can honestly tell you I love these women,” Becky exclaimed enthusiastically.

     Donnini continues her regular, gynecological care at Beach Cites. For in addition to birthing babies, Lisa and BJ are also women’s nurse care practitioners, and provide complete gynecological services for all women from their reproductive years through menopause.

     Although both Becky and Sonia preferred to have completely natural experiences, not every mother-to-be that visits Sherwood and Snell elects to deliver without an epidural. “We are not against giving pain medication,” said Snell. “We’ll work with the patient and help her deliver in a way that’s most harmonious to her needs.”

     Even though the midwives do use a portable warm tub to relax the laboring women, “We don’t deliver in a tub,” said BJ. “There’s not enough data yet to know whether or not it’s safe to deliver in water.”

More can be learned about the art of midwifery through the website
Beach Cities Midwifery and Women’s Health Care can be reached at 661-3101.