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Nurse midwife offers alternative for expectant mothers

Stephanie Johnson says, in her experience, expectant mothers don't generally hear very positive things about the process of giving birth. She'd like to change that for women in the Hudson area.

Johnson is a certified nurse midwife and the director of the KinniSide Women's Health Care Center in River Falls. She is also on staff at Hudson Hospital. Among her satisfied clients are Crystal and Tony Howard of Hudson. Johnson delivered their fourth son, Eli, earlier this year, and Crystal said the experience was the best she'd ever had as a mother. She gives a lot of the credit for her own positive birth experience to Johnson as her midwife.

Johnson said that midwives have been around "since Genesis." The term midwife means "with woman."

"And that's what it is about -- being there for the woman throughout the experience and supporting her in any way possible."

For Johnson, that support begins long before the birth with the first pre-natal visit. Her pre-natal sessions with mothers generally last around an hour, giving the expectant mother plenty of time to ask questions, talk about her experience and her concerns and to get to know Johnson.

The typical pre-natal appointment with an obstetrician is usually less than a half hour, some as short as 10-20 minutes. Johnson said it isn't that doctors don't want to spend more time with their patients but the current medical system doesn't allow for much more than that.

"An expectant mother has all kinds of questions about what is happening to her and to her baby, and they want to know they are being heard by someone. Listening is the biggest part of my job. By listening to a woman, she feels empowered to go through her pregnancy in a healthy manner."

As a nurse midwife Johnson can perform all the usual tests and examinations that are required for good pre-natal care. She has 17 years of experience in the field. Prior to becoming a midwife, she was an obstetric nurse. "It was there that I realized I wanted to find a way to be there for mothers through the whole process, not just at the delivery. There is nothing better than working with a woman before she becomes pregnant, then through her pregnancy and being able to follow up afterward," said Johnson.

Johnson advises her clients about nutrition and exercise that will help them deal with the aches and pains of pregnancy and instructs them in the use of things like meditation and aromatherapy.

Johnson works with families with low-risk pregnancies and does consult with physicians when necessary. Some of her clients have begun their pregnancy under a physician's care but have made the switch to her. Transferring to the care of a midwife isn't difficult, and more women are doing it all the time.

"There is kind of a theme with them. They are getting good care under the traditional setting, but they feel like there should be more. They want more, and as a midwife I know what they mean. Pregnant women are highly motivated to do whatever is needed grow a healthy baby."

Johnson will only deliver babies in a hospital setting. She does not do home births. While she recognizes that as an option for some women, she likes the idea of having "the technology close by if it is needed. We keep it behind the curtain, but it's there if we need it."

Johnson said she also likes having the backup provided by the staff at a hospital and is especially complimentary to the nurses and staff at Hudson Hospital. "They are amazing there and do everything they can to provide a very homelike atmosphere there. They get it."

Johnson said it is a misconception that midwives are "against" pain drugs during childbirth. "As a nurse midwife I can prescribe all the usual drugs used by doctors. But when a woman and her partner are well prepared and know what other options there are, a lot find they don't need it. It's about surrendering to labor, kind of letting your guard down and finding the rhythm they need to get through it. And when its over -- well, they can say, 'I did it, my body worked for me and I did it!' It empowers a woman. You're not just delivering a new baby, you're delivering a new mother too."

Mom delivers

When Crystal Howard went into labor around 2:30 a.m., the first call she made was to Johnson, who met her at Hudson Hospital an hour later. Johnson was with the Howards throughout the night and delivered son Eli around 10:30 a.m. the next day.

In her prior three deliveries, Howard had to be induced and used pain medication to get through the labor. "It was a great feeling to do this one without any medical intervention but completely on my own," said Howard. And she believes she recovered faster from this birth because of the way she did it.

Howard said the relationship she was able to form with Johnson prior to the delivery was an important part of the overall successful experience she and her husband had with this, their final experience with childbirth.

"Her availability to us, the longer visits with her and her one-on-one attention made all the difference. When I called with a question, I didn't just talk to a triage nurse, but to somebody who knew me and who I knew. It kept me relaxed and focused. It just seemed so natural," said Howard.

She also said Johnson's coaching was a big help to her husband as well. "She helped me help me. And I think it took some pressure off of him to have her there with us and coaching us both through it."

Johnson also provides follow-up care after delivery through a free weekly group called "Babymoon," the new mother's equivalent to a newlywed's honeymoon. Topics include breastfeeding, infant massage, parenting and sibling tips and postpartum mood changes.

For more information about Johnson, midwives and about other health services offered for women at KinniSide, call (715) 426-0200 or go online at KinniSide Women's Health Center is located at 1343 N. Main St. in River Falls.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

(715) 808-8604