Once barred from maternity wards, midwives are birthing more babies in hospitals today than ever before. Brought on board by busy obstetricians looking for help with routine deliveries, these specially trained registered nurses are fast becoming a regular part of the OB/GYN practice.
At Beaufort Memorial Hospital, there are now three midwives delivering babies in the birthing center. Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services introduced the first midwife, Nicole Wardlaw, to the hospital a year ago. In the past several months, two of the other three OB/GYN practices with privileges at Beaufort Memorial have hired their own midwives.
"There's always been a need for midwives, but in the past there was a lot of resistance from the old guard," said Dr. Cathy Bagley, an OB/GYN with Comprehensive Health Services. "Some doctors felt midwives were in direct competition with them."
Recognizing the benefits of having midwives on staff, physicians have had a change of heart. As advanced practice nurses, midwives can take care of most gynecological patients and low-risk pregnancies, freeing up doctors to concentrate on the complicated cases.
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While they don't have the medical qualifications to perform C-sections or other gynecological surgeries, midwives offer patients something most physicians can't: time.
"Nurse midwives don't carry the kind of workload a doctor does, so they can afford to be accommodating," Bagley said. "They have the time to listen to their patients, to make them feel comfortable and at ease."
Hilary Wilder, who was attended by an obstetrician her first pregnancy, had no qualms delivering baby No. 2 with certified nurse midwife Donna Andrews.
"It was like having a girlfriend with me," said the 24-year-old Beaufort mother, who delivered 7-pound, 11-ounce Gerald Wilder Jr. at Beaufort Memorial last month.
It was Andrew's 22nd delivery at Beaufort Memorial since she joined Coastal Obstetrics and Gynecology in July.
"As a midwife, I see patients before, during and after delivery, not just during one shift," she said. "I like that continuity."
All of the midwives who practice at Beaufort Memorial are under the supervision of board-certified obstetricians. Should any complications arise during labor, the physician is immediately called in to help.
Elizabeth Durant of Beaufort OB-GYN had her first child with a nurse midwife 25 years ago in Columbia. A registered nurse specializing in women's health, she was so taken by the experience she went on to earn her master's degree and complete her midwifery education in 2003.
"A lot of patients want to give birth with minimal medical intervention," said Durant, who has delivered more than 40 babies in her first six months at Beaufort Memorial. "They come to a midwife because our focus is on natural childbirth."