Mercy Hospital becomes center for midwife births

Midwife births are up in Western New York

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Denielle Cox of Elma knew how she wanted to give birth. “I wanted a more natural option. I didn’t want to be pushed into things that I didn’t want to do,” she told News 4.

Meaghan Pariseau, from Amherst, wants her second child’s birth to be different from her first when an epidural for pain numbed her lower body for more than four hours.

“I want to feel as though I am able to be present and after the baby is born I am able to move around and experience things,” said Pariseau.

Both women and many like them are finding their way to Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo which has grown its midwife staff to 11 – the largest outside of New York City.

“Women like less interventions, less number of C-sections and midwives seem to promote that sort of approach,” said Aimee Gomlak, Vice President for Women Services for Catholic Health, which operates Mercy Hospital.

Mercy’s births have jumped from 2,400 last year to 2,600 expected this year; about half are delivered by midwives.

In western New York, midwife births went up 19 percent between 2010 and 2013 and in Erie County alone, midwife births jumped 42 percent.

Sharon Nisengard has been a midwife for 14 years. She’s best, she says, at calming a jittery mom. “I feel like I’m really meant to be a midwife,” she said. “I have an ease about myself. I calm the situation down. I can really help a mom. My goal is to help a mom trust her body. This is what it is meant to do.”

Midwives pride themselves on taking more time and working with a mom toward a successful delivery.

“You are meant to have babies, trust in your body, trust in the process, have patience. Everybody helps a woman get through those really hard times. Satisfaction can be really high,” Nisengard continued.

New York State has about 1,200 licensed midwives, up 20 percent from 2010 when a new state law boosted the status of midwives so they can provide maternity care and deliver babies without a doctor’s supervision.

To be licensed, midwives must complete graduate studies and pass an exam. Thirty are licensed in Erie County.

While midwives aren’t required to be supervised by a physician, they regularly work with them.

At Mercy, the physicians support the midwives, Gomlak says. “Our midwives and our physicians work so closely together which is why it is such a success at Mercy Hospital.”

“Those midwives know that those physicians are going to back them up and they know that those physicians are there to let them do the things that they do best,” she added.

Mercy first turned to midwives about seven years ago as a way to give around the clock coverage to births and deliveries since the hospital does not have residents who staff other area hospitals.

They soon discovered that the patients really liked being attended to by the midwives.

Click to explore midwives stats across NYS
Click to explore midwives stats across NYS

Kristine Sabatino, a midwife for 14 years, says there are a lot of misconceptions about midwives. “I think people don’t understand that we are fully educated licensed independent practitioners who are experts in normal health childbirth,” she said. “We are our own specialty and obstetrics is its own specialty and we complement each other just perfectly when we work together.”

Midwives primarily care for healthy women with normal deliveries.

They see fewer births by cesarean section which must be done by physicians; but midwives can assist. For those deliveries that are not normal, Sabatino says, “We’re experts in screening for complications at all times.”

A midwife’s primary role is to help the mom. The term midwife means “with woman,” said Nisengard. “It’s supporting a woman with whatever her needs are, making informed choices, giving pros and cons to everything and keeping a woman updated and if she chooses to have pain medication, not to make her feel bad about that.”

Their approach is low-tech unless complications arise.

During a recent office visit Meaghan Pariseau’s face broke into a wide smile as she heard her baby’s heartbeat. “Listen to the heartbeat,” Nisengard told her as she moved a Doppler fetal monitor on Pariseau’s belly as the familiar ‘thump thump’ of her baby’s heart filled the air.

That same Doppler fetal monitor will be used every half hour during labor in October to track Pariseau’s progress. “We don’t need to monitor you all of the time as long as everything is healthy and normal,” Nisengard explained.

Historically, midwives delivered babies at home. Today, most work in hospitals, according to the New York State Association of Licensed Midwives. The hospital option is what attracted Denielle and Jeff Cox to the midwife practice at Mercy Hospital.

Denielle also liked visiting the Mercy midwife offices on Louisiana Street in the Old First Ward because she knew she would have all of the time she needed to answer questions and prepare for the birth.

“A lot can go wrong pretty quickly so it’s important to be in the hospital where at least you have the services if you need them if there’s an emergency,” said Jeff Cox, Denielle’s husband.

On August 11, Denielle Cox gave birth to the couple’s third child, 7 lbs, 10 ounce Kristie. Just like she planned she was attended by a midwife and took no drugs.

“Although in the moment I am always wishing for drugs but afterwards, I am glad I didn’t,” she said.

“You can get up sooner. It doesn’t have to get out of your system,” Nisengard said. She also helped her with the birth of the Cox’s second child, Kevin, 21 months ago. “His delivery was probably my easiest,” she said.

To help her deal with contractions, Denielle opted to use the hospital’s birthing tub.

“They were really good about not hooking me up to IVs and stuff. I wanted to stay in the tub. They let me do that. I almost gave birth in the tube because he also came quick but they dragged me out just in time. It was really good and uncomplicated. I was very happy with the experience,” Cox said.

There are licensed midwives throughout Western New York. The American College of Nurse-Midwives lists 19 locations within 50 miles of Buffalo.

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