JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS
National Midwifery Week (Sep 29 – Oct 5, 2019) celebrates and recognizes midwives and midwifery-led care. The United States Air Force has a rich history of midwifery care, and midwives have had the opportunity to care for service members and their families all over the world.
The Air Force Medical Service began utilizing midwives in 1970 as a means to expand access to care. In December of 1970, the Surgeon General approved the first qualified nurse midwife at USAF Regional Hospital at Langley Air Force Base. Since then, midwives have provided care throughout the Air Force as active duty service members, government employees and civilian contractors.
Maj. Syrah Nicaisse, Capt. Brittany Hannigan, Dr. Amber Wilson and Capt. Samantha Lawson are the midwives who currently care for pregnant people and their families in the Women’s Health Clinic at Joint Base Langley-Eustis.
“Being a part of their [healthcare] team, we really become part of their family,” said Maj. Nicaisse, 633rd MDG certified nurse midwife and women’s health flight commander. “We’re there during the most intimate, vulnerable times of their lives, and they invite us in for that. It’s a privilege and an honor.”
Despite the almost 50-year history of midwives in the Air Force, many patients are surprised to have a midwife as a part of their team, and often have questions about midwives and midwifery care. Midwives are independent, licensed healthcare providers who are experts in normal, physiologic birth.
The word midwife translates to mean “with woman,” and the midwifery model of care emphasizes listening to women and sharing knowledge and decision making with women. For the midwives at JBLE, this means providing patient and family-centered care. According to Maj. Nicaisse, Women’s Health Clinic flight commander, the objective is to care for the patient as a whole and make her a part of the health care team.
“We encourage women to educate themselves and empower them to make their own decisions about health care,” said Nicaisse.
While there are many different types, all midwives provide nurturing, hands-on, person and family-centered care. Certified Nurse Midwives are educated in both nursing and midwifery, have obtained either a Master’s or Doctoral degree and they are licensed to practice in all 50 states.
The US Armed Forces utilizes Certified Nurse Midwives, and there are currently 23 active duty CNMs serving in the USAF. According to the American College of Nurse Midwives, in 2017, 94.1% of births attended by midwives occurred in hospitals, 3.2% of births occurred in freestanding birth centers, and 2.6% of births occurred in homes. In the US Armed Forces, CNMs attend births in the hospital.
Certified Nurse Midwives also provide healthcare across the lifespan, including primary care, gynecologic and family planning services, preconception care and care during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. Midwives can also provide care for healthy newborns during the first 28 days of life.
Midwives work in partnership with physicians, nurses, technicians and other members of the healthcare team to deliver high-quality, respectful and personalized care to pregnant people and their families. Midwives manage healthy, low-risk pregnancies and identify and refer women to a higher level of care when obstetrical intervention is indicated.
Pregnancy and birth is not without its challenges for both patients and their midwives. Medical complications arise, partners deploy, and pregnancies may unexpectedly end in loss. Despite the demanding hours, emotional hurdles, and the unpredictability of birth, the passion for providing quality, respectful midwifery care can outweigh the struggles of this work.
“Being a midwife is not a job. It’s a calling,” Nicaisse said. “I am just really happy. I feel like this is where I belong and what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.”
To learn more about midwives and midwifery care, visit the American College of Nurse Midwives (www.midwife.org) or the Midwives Alliance of North America (http://mana.org) websites. For more information about becoming a midwife, check out Dr. Amber Wilson’s podcast “Journey to Midwifery.”