Photo by Becca Sabot
Director of Nurse-Midwife Service
Hennepin County Medical Center
“Listen to women.” That, says O’Reilly, is the essence of her work in nurse-midwifery. Not home births (a misconception, as most certified nurse-midwives in the U.S. practice in hospitals), and not drug-free-only births (though the hope is for as little intervention as possible).
“The emphasis is looking at birth as a normal physiological process that women have been doing forever,” she says. “We overuse many routine interventions that do not promote normal birth and for which evidence has shown no improvement in maternal or fetal outcomes. Bringing the focus back to the natural birth process is better for both mom and baby.
“You have to believe in that to support normal birth.”
Hennepin County Medical Center has believed in it since 1971, when they became the first hospital in Minnesota to employ nurse-midwives. They are still the only hospital in the entire nation with a dedicated nurse-midwife unit—nine beds across from Labor & Delivery. “It has allowed us to keep interventions low,” O’Reilly says. And it has allowed for such advancements as the first hospital water birth in the metro area, and the first vaginal birth after cesarean in the state. It also allowed for the quick embrace of the preference of many immigrant Hmong women to squat while giving birth. “They came to us because we listened to them,” O’Reilly says.
Recently, a Somali family welcomed a new baby in her unit. In some Somali families, O’Reilly says, “It is important that the husband is the first person to speak into the baby’s ear. The nurse-midwife prefaced the birth with: ‘No one is speaking until the father has said the prayer.’”
What happened next was exactly what the sign on the door of the midwife unit says should happen: Pay attention with your heart. Allow yourself to be amazed.