A bumper sticker seen around town says, "Midwives help people out."
Humorous as it sounds, it's what Barbara Rawlings and Kendra Scarlett have been doing in Boundary County for years.
"People don't understand that midwifery is an educated, experienced and viable profession," said Rawlings, a Certified Professional Midwife, whose career spans 34 years. "We are experts in normal, natural childbirth. We have a golden opportunity to work with healthy women experiencing normal pregnancies. Our clients are generally smart, well educated, motivated, healthy women."
Working from a small, blue-trimmed house on Ash Street, Rawlings and her partner of 25 years, Kendra Scarlett, have built something of a dynasty in natural home birth options for women in Boundary County. Inside, clients are greeted by a homey, cheerful atmosphere with light streaming in the windows, a collection of heart-shaped rocks and photographs of smiling babies and thank you cards taped to the door frame.
"Midwives are more than just baby catchers," stressed Rawlings. "One of the advantages to using a midwife is that there is true, personalized continuity of care. We see our clients for hour-long appointments and spend a lot time getting to know them on a personal level. We are not anti-hospital or anti-doctor. We just offer a different kind of care."
Currently, Boundary Community Hospital does not have a delivery unit or provide maternity care, nor are there any obstetricians in the county.
"If you want to have your baby here, you need to have it at home or in our birth center," said Rawlings, whose team is committed to providing safe home deliveries for healthy women with normal pregnancies.
Averaging about 25-30 deliveries per year, Rawlings and Scarlett have delivered more than 800 babies in Boundary County.
Originally from Kansas City, Rawlings birthed her own two children in a hospital, but had a difficult experience with her second child. She became a La Maze instructor in the 1970s because she wanted to help women have better births than she had.
"People started asking me to attend their births, then they wanted me to help them birth their babies at home, and it just grew from there," she said.
Since there weren't any training options to learn midwifery skills in the '70s, Rawlings gained experience and knowledge through several internships and became a "direct-entry midwife." She earned her CPM credential and has been in practice for 34 years.
Scarlett, who is originally from Pennsylvania, moved to Bonners Ferry in 1976. She birthed both her children at home, assisted by a midwife, and has always felt drawn to midwifery. She received her training from area midwives who mentored her over the years.
"We were pioneers," said Rawlings. "We were just stubborn and motivated."
The third member of the team is Jenn Brakeman, who is studying midwifery through distance education classes with Midwives College of Utah. A 1998 graduate of Bonners Ferry High School, she is receiving hands-on experience at Womancare Midwives and plans practice midwifery locally after her training. She is currently training as a lactation consultant.
While some insurance companies cover midwifery expenses Rawlings said her services cost about one-fourth of a normal hospital birth, and patients receive "four times the care" than what is given in a traditional hospital setting.
Over the last five years, Rawlings said many younger Mennonite women have come to Womancare Midwives to help with their births.
"It's been gratifying for our team to be accepted into that community," she added.
Rawlings said the crux of midwifery is to provide many pain relief techniques, sometimes using herbs or homeopathic remedies. Midwives primarily provide hands-on support, position changes, as well as physical and emotional support.
"We help women have confidence, support and encouragement," said Rawlings. "We monitor the babies and moms closely by taking vital signs and are trained to manage emergencies, but if there is a problem we take the mom to the hospital and then become her advocate. It's important that we provide continuity of care."
Rawlings, Scarlett and Brakeman see Womancare Midwives as a resource for women. They hold childbirth classes anyone can attend, have a birthing room for women who don't want to deliver at home, provide complete prenatal, labor, birth and post-partum care, as well as maintain a lending library of books on every aspect of birth, parenting, grand-parenting, even naming a baby. They also offer free consultation visits to see if birthing outside a hospital is a good fit.
"We see ourselves as being in service to our community and to the families who want a different kind of birth experience," she said. "It's not an easy path, but we are driven or maybe we are guided. It's our calling."
Womancare Midwives can be reached at 267-0936 or www.nidahomidwives.com.
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