The World Health Organization named 2020 the Year of the Midwife to highlight how important midwives are to women’s health. Pen Bay Medical Center and Waldo County General Hospital already know. There are five full-time certified nurse-midwives at PBMC and three at WCGH.

There are an estimated 13,000 certified nurse-midwives in the U.S. and more than 2 million midwives worldwide. “Our midwives are an essential part of our team,” said Dr. Jennifer McKenna, regional director of women’s health for PBMC and WCGH. “Because of their experience and compassion, we are able to provide high quality health care to a larger number of women in our communities.”

Midwives have tended to the health care needs of women for hundreds of years and are probably best known for providing care during labor, delivery and immediately after childbirth. “But we do so much more than that,” said Katie McCormick, a certified nurse-midwife at WCGH.

“We take care of women through all stages of their lives. That includes caring for teens who are having their first gynecological exam to caring for women as they go through menopause.”

Erin Monberg, a certified nurse-midwife at PBMC, said there are other stereotypes that present an ongoing challenge for midwives, who typically go through six years of formal education before earning their license to practice midwifery. “It is a common misconception that we carry some bag of herbs and practice dark arts,” Monberg said.

“A big part of our job, from the time we start in nursing school and throughout our careers, is to educate patients and public about what we do. There are five midwives here at PBMC and we are all very focused on evidence-based health care consistent with the most recent medical literature.”

In fact, Monberg said, far from an old-fashioned view of midwifery, the certified nurse-midwives at PBMC and WCGH are innovators. “For example, right now it’s the midwives who are starting a group for opioid addicted women so they can take care of their recovery while getting prenatal care at the same time. “Midwifery represents modern health care, and it is absolutely relevant to our times.”

For patients seeing a midwife for the first time, the experience will likely prove different – and surprisingly comforting. “The first thing a patient can expect is a 60-minute appointment, which is longer than you typically have in a doctor’s office,” said McCormick. “This feature of the midwifery program gives patients the time to become comfortable with us and share information that they might not reveal in a shorter appointment.”

One key feature of the midwifery program at PBMC and WCGH — and what sets them apart — is the collaborative spirit between doctors and the midwives. Dr. Thomas O’Connor, who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology for PBMC Women’s Health, works closely with Monberg and the other midwives there. He noted that midwives train not just to meet most normal health care needs — like delivering babies and performing gynecological exams — but also to identify higher risk situations and the need to call in an OB/GYN.

“We work together really well,” Dr. O’Connor said. “It’s not unusual for a midwife to come discuss a patient’s needs, from hypertension to diabetes to an unusual ultrasound. This collaboration is a day to day thing for us.”

The collaborative spirit is especially important during labor. For hundreds of years, midwives have guided women through safe and satisfying births. PBMC and WCGH carry on that tradition. “But sometimes, rarely, a mother has to push longer than normal or there are indications of potential risk for the baby,” Monberg said. “In any of those cases, I can call in a doctor. We all want the same thing — a safe and satisfying birth for the mom.”

O’Connor said, “Our midwives really are extraordinary specialists in women’s health care, and any women who wants to consider a midwife should do so with confidence.”

The midwives at Pen Bay Medical Center and Waldo County General Hospital are accepting new patients. To make an appointment with a midwife at the Pen Bay Women’s Health Center, call at 301-8900. The center is located at 3 Glen Cove Dr., Rockport.

To make an appointment with a midwife at WCGH, call Waldo County Medical Partners Women’s Health at 505-4332. The practice is located at 16 Fahy St., Belfast.