By LISA STRUBE-KILGORE
UW News Lab
Tucked away in the heart of Maple Leaf is a little house that’s home to big dreams. At Midwife Seattle, Cindie Brown and Amanda Deardorff are challenging the traditional image of midwifery to include a broader spectrum of women’s health care.
Most locals not actively seeking a midwife have probably only noticed the little gray house at 8927 Roosevelt Way N.E. as being the north edge of the Snappy Dragon parking lot. It looks less like a medical clinic than a private home, and that’s by design. When I visited I caught myself hesitating at the front door, wanting to knock instead of walking in. Inside, the waiting room looks like most of my friends’ living rooms: shelves of toys open to little hands, comfortable couches, and nature-inspired art on the walls. Tension doesn’t stand a chance in the face of herbal tea and ABC blocks.
Midwife Seattle is growing: The afternoon I was there, Cindie and Amanda were scheduled to interview a potential third midwife to join the practice. “My take on it is that there’s actually a lot of demand, it’s just there’s not a lot of education about what midwives do,” said Cindie. “I actually think a lot of women would want the kind of care that we’re giving if they knew what we did and what our educational background was. So the demand is there, it’s just there’s a gap between what is actually communicated and what people’s impressions are.”
She’s not wrong. I freely admitted I knew next to nothing about midwifery (any vague notions I might have had related to giving birth in a yurt while chewing on willow bark don’t count), and asked for a primer. It turns out that the gap between impression and reality is pretty wide. “We’re nurse practitioners,” said Cindie, “so we come from a more traditional kind of nursing background, but we love complementary medicine. I think that we offer people a holistic approach with many options.”
Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners (ARNPs) are often primary care providers, and because of this high level of training, both women can provide services beyond what is normally thought of as midwifery care. They have prescriptive privileges, for one thing, and can provide basic health services without the need for physician oversight. This blend of clinical expertise and holistic inclination leads to a “best of both worlds” blend for their patients.
“For example, if someone has a urinary tract infection, we can say well, we can treat this with antibiotics,” said Cindie, “but we also know that these herbs may clear this, and what would you think about trying that?” The decision is always the patient’s – what her preference is, and what she feels comfortable with.
Amanda continued: “We also offer annual exams, and if people establish care with us as women’s health patients, they can come in for things like sinus infections or other things that might be going on.”
Both women are passionate about women’s health care, but Amanda in particular said she feels called to do this work. “Since I was a little, little kid, I wanted to be around moms,” she said. “Help the moms and be with the women.” While working as a doula in Romania (her parents were missionaries), she had something of an epiphany. “I feel like I’m much more of an artistic-minded person, not someone who is called into the sciences, but I felt like I was called to do something that was a challenge for me, and it was a worthy challenge because I cared for these women so much,” she said.
“For me, it’s like the call to care for women who don’t otherwise have someone who would respect them and love them and care for them,” Amanda added. Though her experiences abroad left her with a special interest in international women’s issues, she said that “it doesn’t matter where I am, I love caring for women through pregnancy and protecting that space for them.”
That’s also why she’s so proud of Midwife Seattle’s work in women’s health care. “I feel like birth has become more, in this area, kind of validated as a unique and powerful experience, and I don’t think women’s health care has yet,” said Amanda. “I think that bringing women into a place where they can kind of say what they need and have a really open and frank conversation about their sexuality and about who they are as women with another woman and be respected for that, I think is really important, and I don’t think that that happens enough.”
I noted that pregnancy care, from preconception to postpartum, takes about a year, but that women are women for the rest of their lives. “Exactly!” said Amanda. “There’s a lot of women who aren’t going to have kids, and what about them?”
Cindie agreed. “There are teenagers that are getting their first pelvic, and what a privilege to get to do that in a gentle way, and with a conversation!” she said. After a thoughtful pause, she went on: “I think gentle is just such an important word in describing what our style is, because so much of birth and women’s health care is just so kind of mechanical – women don’t feel like they have choices, and they’re just sort of pushed with fear into the next stage.”
“I think part of the value of what we’re doing is we’re not telling people what they have to do, we’re giving them options, and we’re helping them to find their own voice,” she continued. “It’s not that there’s one way to do it.”
I couldn’t leave without asking them to tell me about their recent promotion, which may be the epitome of targeted marketing: come in for a women’s health exam, get free Theo’s chocolate. I couldn’t even get the question out before the chuckles overtook us all. “I always say that ‘buy one Pap smear, get one free’ is not going to motivate people, so we had to think of something else!” Amanda said with a laugh. It was a clever way to address a serious issue.
When budgets are tight, people cut preventative care, and women tend to put their health care last in any case. The women of Midwife Seattle want to change that, and if delicious chocolate is the weapon that works, they won’t hesitate to use it. It’s all for the greater good, after all. “Being a small business, we want to be about something bigger,” Cindie said.
If you’re interested in learning more about obstetrical care at Midwife Seattle, you can stop by any Wednesday night for their weekly open house, which lasts about an hour and addresses many of the pertinent things you might not consider (the logistics of home and hospital births, for example) while offering a chance to get to know the midwives. You’re also invited to stop by to take a look around and make an appointment. The chocolate may be gone, but what’s going on inside that little gray house is still pretty sweet.
Lisa Strube-Kilgore is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.Tweet