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Hometown Heroes

The past, present, and future of midwifery comes from the trenches.

ACNM is home to thousands of midwives. In honor of our 60th anniversary, we're excited to spend the year celebrating our members, highlighting one midwife extraordinaire from each ACNM affiliate.

Every community has stories from midwives who started the first practices in the area, who know how midwifery began in their hometowns and states. Every community has scores of midwives who tirelessly pushed the profession forward through the last 60 years of lean times and golden days. Every community has rising stars who are set to advance midwifery in ways we can't even imagine yet. We've set out to identify these people with the help of all 53 of ACNM's affiliates, whom we challenged to nominate and submit their own hometown heroes for publication in Quickening.

Join us as we share stories and celebrate local legends! Look for more heroes from other affiliates coming soon. If your affiliate has not yet submitted its hero, send an e-mail to Barbra Elenbaas at [email protected] for more information.

From the ARIZONA affiliate

Mariann Shinoskie, CNM, was born in Bremerhaven, Germany, and grew up in Ohio. In 1971, she graduated from St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Dayton and worked for several years as an RN on the Navajo Reservation in northern Arizona. In 1978 she received her midwifery degree and was recruited to Tucsons El Rio Midwifery service.

Mariann co-founded Arizona's first freestanding birth center in 1982. Thirty years later, the Birth and Women 's Health Center in Tucson has served over 10,000 women and is a nationally recognized model of innovative maternity care. She is remembered lovingly by hundreds of women whose babies she ushered into the world. The Birth Center is now part of El Rio Health Center, a lovely circle of completion.

In 1991, Mariann was the student-choice commencement speaker at the University of Arizona's College of Law, where she received her JD degree. She practiced law at Chandler, Tuller, Udall, and Redhair, and later at the University of Arizona Schools of Medicine, Pharmacy, and Nursing. She continued her dedication to women's health by serving as the attorney on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Childbearing Centers.

Mariann's remarkable wit, intelligence, competency and compassion served her well in her career choices of midwifery and law. She will long be remembered for her ability to articulate (and argue) her point of view, and to laugh at herself and the absurdities of life. Mariann faced her diagnosis of Alzheimer's with grace, strength, and, yes – even humor. She passed away at her home in Tucson in 2012.

From the CONNECTICUT affiliate

The Fair Haven Community Health Center midwives deserve recognition for their outstanding work and shared vision. Kate Mitcheom, Ellen Wormser, Melissa Lonergan, and Priscilla Jencks have each been practicing with the clinic for over 17 years. Katie Hazel, Enabah Laracuente, and Oni Muhammad have come to the practice within the last few years, and they all share a deep commitment to community health and the historically underserved population that comprises their patient panel.

As a community health practice, they are unusual in that they provide complete continuity of care, following their patients from positive pregnancy test to moment of birth, and then provide them with postpartum care and birth control options after the baby is born. This model is one which they have worked hard to maintain.

There is a warmth and depth to the client-provider relationships at this practice, in part because many of the clients have been getting health care at Fair Haven for their whole lives. Ellen Wormser recently attended the birth of a baby whose parents had both been caught by Ellen when they were born over 2 decades ago. That kind of long-standing relationship with one's patients cannot be accounted for by a CPT billing code.

The midwives are dedicated to precepting midwifery students as an integral part of their service to the community and the profession. They are encouraging, present, and dedicated to creating a safe learning environment, while holding their students to high standards and pushing them to become efficient, knowledgeable, and clinically astute practitioners. They are outstanding role models, and between the 7 of them, have over a century of experience and midwifery wisdom to impart to their students.

From the GEORGIA affiliate

Judy Fielder, CNM, started her career as a womens health nurse practitioner before receiving her midwifery degree from Emory University. She has been caring for women at Northside Womens Specialists in Atlanta since 1986 where she is one of the 2 pioneering midwives. She has advocated for women and their babies at her practice, at the state level, and as an ACNM regional leader.

During her career, she has touched many families as a childbirth educator as well as breastfeeding coach. Most recently she has been instrumental in coordinating “Contemporary Strategies for Optimizing Birth,” a program to educate the Northside Hospital labor and delivery nurses on non-pharmacological labor support. Likewise, as an Emory University Adjunct faculty member, she has helped train and mentor dozens of new midwives.

In addition to being dedicated to caring for childbearing women and supporting better birth options, Judy is a NAMS certified menopause specialist. She continues to work full-time seeing women of all ages including mothers and daughters, providing them with phenomenal care.

From the MASSACHUSETTES affiliate

It is an honor and privilege to recognize Jo-Anna L. Rorie, CNM, for the Massachusetts Affiliate. Jo-Anna’s extensive background in midwifery, public health, diversity workforce development, and social justice advocacy and her many well-known leadership roles at the local, regional and national levels make her uniquely qualified for this honor.

While there are scores of examples supporting Jo-Anna’s extraordinary contributions, there is one at its core. In the late 1980s, Massachusetts faced an infant mortality crisis, especially in the Boston neighborhoods of North Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury. An extensive needs assessment led to a city-wide maternal and child health (MCH) agenda. Jo-Anna’s fingerprints were all over that agenda, as well as the subsequent recommendations calling for community-based perinatal initiatives that would utilize midwifery services as a critical element of care for underserved communities. And it was Jo-Anna who was the featured midwife in a provocative and pivotal Boston Globe series that highlighted the “Death Zones of Boston” – bringing the devastating statistics about racial and ethnic disparities within Boston’s infant mortality crisis into the light of day. It was also Jo-Anna who called for a “Marshall Plan” for the inner city to address the deeply rooted and vexing problems underpinning the high rates.

Taken together, these events both inspired and motivated the development and implementation of the Boston University Nurse-Midwifery Education Program (NMEP). In 1992, Jo-Anna became NMEP Director of Recruitment and Retention. She was promoted to NMEP Associate Director in 1993. During this time she was integral to the development of a culturally competent primary care curriculum for midwifery clinical practice, the first of its kind nationwide. She was also integral to the acceptance of the new model of care by Boston’s most vulnerable communities and most venerable medical institutions.

While scores of others were involved in the efforts to get midwifery education and practice embedded into the fabric of Massachusetts and Boston, without Jo-Anna’s leadership, this goal would not have been realized. Jo-Anna’s passion for midwifery and her zest to be a part of the next generation of solutions to the public health challenges has not wavered in the past 30 years. She is part of the past, the present, and the future of midwifery in Massachusetts. She is a true pioneer!

From the MISSISSIPPI affiliate

Minta Uzodinma, CNM, was the director of the Nurse-Midwifery Education Program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, a program that acted as a springboard for many midwives and played a role in the establishment of many practices. After the program closed in 1985, Minta continued to have a huge influence in midwifery and nursing in Mississippi.

She served as the Director of Public Health Nursing at the Mississippi State Department of Health and actively promoted midwives in public health practice. She also served on the Mississippi State Board of Nursing and was instrumental in developing legislation for practice and prescriptive authority for advanced practice nurses. Always active in the League of Women Voters, she vigorously promoted political involvement and action by women and worked tirelessly to educate women about voting rights and political decision-making.

In retirement, Minta has been a strong promoter of midwifery and is always eager to connect with former students and colleagues. As a Fellow of the American College of Nurse-Midwives, Minta continues to support the development and promotion of our profession and organization. The University of Mississippi School of Nursing continues to honor her annually by awarding the Minta Uzodinma Community Nurse Award to the outstanding senior nursing student who has excelled in the field of public health/community health.

Minta is an unsung hero because of the many difficulties she overcame to promote midwifery specifically and empowerment of women generally. It was a great sorrow when the midwifery program was closed by the University of Mississippi, but she maintained her dignity and the dignity of the profession throughout. She immediately moved into a position of authority in public health and used that position to open opportunities for midwives. She is uncommon in that she is such a strong proponent of nursing in general and was active in the Mississippi Nurses Association, especially in lobbying and political action to promote independent nursing practice. As an African American woman, she overcame racial discrimination to emerge as a leader for all nurses in Mississippi and an effective advocate for the civil rights of all men and women. A gentle spirit, she would never seek accolades for herself or put herself forward, and may have been overlooked for recognition in years past. Her selection as the Mississippi affiliate representative was an easy decision, as she is greatly beloved by all.

From the MISSOURI affiliate

The quote, “Well behaved women seldom make history,” is in S. Jeanne Meurer, CNMs e-mail signature, and I would say it sums up her life as a midwife in Missouri. S. Jeanne has been an amazing mentor to me as well as teacher and instructor to so many midwives.

She began the Graduate Program in Nurse-Midwifery at St. Louis University in 1972, as well as a full-scope midwifery service. She maintained a delicate balance with the large obstetric residency programs in St. Louis and had great challenges with the physician community and residency programs, which tended to view midwives as competition. She has handled all with grace, strength, and complete confidence in midwifery.

The St. Louis region is not known for its midwifery-friendly stance; until recently, we had no formal midwifery services. Now, we are beginning to grow by leaps and bounds. Our region now has a birth center founded and operated by midwives. The in-house birth center at one of the biggest hospitals in the area will soon add their third midwife. And were building a faculty practice of midwives connected to a major university. All Missouri midwives appreciate the amazing pioneering spirit of S. Jeanne and certainly have been encouraged by her.

S. Jeanne was awarded the Legend in Nursing 2014 by the March of Dimes. She has been committed to teaching throughout her career, developing the next generation of womens health care providers. She has been a tireless advocate for advanced practice nursing throughout the country and has touched the career of most APRNs working in womens health. On the national level, S. Jeanne has a long history to improve womens health. Her work with the National Perinatal Association and ACNM is a testament of her commitment.

In retirement, S. Jeanne, along with another sister in her religious community, The Franciscan Sisters of Mary, started A Womans Place, a drop-in center for women who are affected by intimate partner violence. She became an outspoken advocate and well respected source of information about domestic violence.

By Rebekah Hassler, CNM

From the NEW JERSEY affiliate

The Garden State is extremely fortunate to have a midwife such as Georgia Blair, CNM, in its community. Georgia, known locally as Gee Gee, had a home birth practice in New Jersey and currently is on the New Jersey Affiliate Committee. She participates with the A.C.N.M. Foundations Midwifery Legacy Project and is active in MANA.

Gee Gee has gotten consistent press coverage for sharing her support of expanding access to womens health care, and acted as a voice for the home birth midwives of our state when she addressed the need for birth registrar education regarding the appropriate filing of home births.

Beyond her midwifery roles, Gee Gee has served the Shrewsbury community by riding with her local ambulance squad for over 20 years, and has served as the ambulance squad vice president for 6 years. She has also served as a hospice volunteer for 4 years.

Georgia has demonstrated how to accomplish much in ones lifetime by being a constant contributor to midwifery both locally and nationally. She has done all of these things in a very unassuming fashion while creating momentum for change and growth within the midwifery community. When I think of Gee Gee, I recall the quote “Some people dream of success, while others wake up and work hard at it.”

By Trish DeTura, CNM

From the NEW MEXICO affiliate

Ellen Craig, CNM, began her midwifery career in New Mexico in January 1978. During her years at Southwest Maternity Center, the third freestanding birth center in the United States, she birthed both her daughters there, served as executive director, and campaigned in the state legislature for third party reimbursement and prescriptive privileges. Upon leaving SWMC in 1984, she joined the University of New Mexico practicing full scope midwifery. She remained there for 27 years.

Here we are in 2015, 37 years later, and Ellen continues to have a midwifery presence in New Mexico. She has worn many hats throughout her years here. Some will call her Mrs. Craig, my teacher and mentor. Others will call her Ellen, my midwife. There are those of us that call her Ellen, my friend, my midwife partner and colleague. Many know her for her stories and her listening intention. Few will forget her years on labor and delivery at UNM with her green scrubs, red converse sneakers, and pastel cardigans, teaching residents and midwifery students the art and science of midwifery.

For Ellen, midwifery encompasses caring for women throughout their lives. She introduced the treatment of pelvic floor disorders into midwifery. She developed a midwifery dedicated pessary clinic in the UNM division of urogynecolgy in 2002. This clinic provides care for women choosing non-surgical treatment for prolapse and incontinence. Since retiring from full scope practice in 2011, she continues to work in the clinic weekly.

In addition to the work Ellen has done for New Mexico women, she has also contributed to the midwifery community with her research and presentations on the history of Santa Fe Catholic Maternity and the founding of the ACNM. She continues to archive midwifery’s earliest years.

When I asked Ellen to help me summarize her midwifery life she wrote:

“I have loved working my entire midwifery life in New Mexico, serving wonderful, diverse, interesting women and families and working on such amazing teams of midwives. It has been wonderful to stay in the same community all these years and see the circles of life intersecting on a daily basis. The opportunities for being a pioneer in certain areas has always been an inspiration to keep on working, trying to contribute to women’s health with care and study, and passing the baton to next bright generation of midwives.”

Here’s to you, Ellen.

By Alex Schott, Chair, New Mexico Affiliate

From the NEW YORK affiliate

We honor the group of visionary midwives who founded the New York State Association of Licensed Midwives (NYSALM), which was incorporated in March 2000 and became the states ACNM affiliate in 2011. New York, like many states, has one major metropolitan area, which can seem to dominate the political arena. Our founding board realized that if we were going to be successful legislatively, we needed the energy and participation of midwives across the state, from Buffalo in the west to the end of Long Island in the east.

The planning board of 1999 included Stacy Brosnan, Nancy Campau, Beth Coleman, Susan Gerken, Ronnie Levine, Jenna Smith, Andrea Sonenberg, and Helene Thompson-Scott. NYSALM has been very successful in passing 4 bills in the state legislature with the Midwifery Modernization Act of 2010 the most recent that removed the requirement for a written practice agreement.

We also salute the midwives who worked for 10 years to pass the Midwifery Practice Act in 1992. This law established midwifery as a unique and separate profession from nursing, creating a State Board of Midwifery and licensing midwives without requiring that they be nurses or hold an RN license. Now NYSALM is determined to pass a bill to allow a midwife to be the director of a birth center, so we can expand options for women throughout New York State.

We thank all of our predecessors who worked so hard to make New York State midwifery the profession of “with women, for a lifetime.”

From the NORTH CAROLINA affiliate

Beth Korb, CNM, was born and raised in Wilmington, North Carolina and has lived and worked as a midwife in Asheville for over 34years. She is a true midwifery pioneer in North Carolina, having helped pass the state’s first Midwifery Practice Act in 1983, which has led to the exponential growth of modern midwifery in North Carolina. Beth ably led the North Carolina ACNM chapter in several capacities including chair and vice chair and continues to be an active member of the legislative committee.

Her advocacy efforts know no boundaries. Beth showed true vision when she led the group to start active lobbying efforts to remove physician supervision from the practice act. Through her efforts, the NCACNM has been financially able to employ a lobbyist for the last 6 years and maintain an effective advocacy effort for over 10 years.

Beth has served as a member of the Midwifery Joint Committee at the North Carolina Board of Nursing for 6 years, all while working full time in full-scope midwifery and teaching the essence of the midwifery model to midwifery students, residents, nurses, medical students at Mountain Area Health Education Center in Asheville.She has held clinical faculty appointments at Case Western Reserve University, East Carolina University, Frontier Nursing University, UNC Charlotte, and served as a preceptor for UNC Chapel Hill’s FNP program.

She is a tireless advocate for safe birth practitioners in Western North Carolina having delivered over 2000 infants. Her practice earned ACNM’s benchmarking best practice award for VBAC in a mid-size practice in 2009. Her practice also attained the With Women For a Lifetime Silver Commendation Practice Award in 2003. Beth wrote and obtained funding for the Mountain Area Perinatal Substance Abuse Program in 1990 that served as model program for others in the state.She is currently working with a grassroots group to start a community birth center for Asheville.

Beth has contributed to national ACNM efforts as a reader fortheContinuing Education Committee, the Bylaws Committee, and Midwives-PAC. She became a charter member of the Mary Breckenridge Club in 1995.

One of things she is most proud of is keeping her midwifery class together, by writing and editing 3 editions of The InterLocking Stitch for the University of Utah class of 1980. She recently attended the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the midwifery program with 6of her classmates.

From the SOUTH CAROLINA affiliate

Tom Chappell, CNM, MSN is South Carolina’s hometown hero. In preparation to submit his name, comments from SC midwives expressing gratitude for what he has accomplished for midwifery in our area flowed in.

Tom served in the US Air Force Nurse Corps from 1996 to 2001. He attended the University of Alabama in Birmingham during his service, and received his MSN in Nurse-Midwifery. Tom received multiple honors while serving in the military, including the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Air Force Achievement medal, and others.

He began a midwifery service in 2001, functioning as a solo midwife at a practice in a small rural town called Manning, where he provided midwifery care and precepted midwifery students. He developed his skills to meet the needs of his community, including first assisting, Gomco circumcision, limited obstetrical ultrasound, colposcopy, and endometrial biopsy, among others.

Tom is and has been an active member of our affiliate since his arrival in South Carolina. When the chapter was struggling after the Chairperson relocated to another state, Tom quickly stepped in and assumed a leadership role. He has held every affiliate officer role, and was instrumental in guiding South Carolina toward affiliate status. He currently works on legislative issues to advance full practice authority for midwives. He has also worked with ACNM nationally, serving as a both member and chair of the ACNM Nominating Committee, a reader for ACNM’s Continuing Education Committee, and a member of the ACNM Executive Director Search Committee.

On a community level, Tom is an advocate for and protector of families seeking home birth and serves on the SC Midwifery Advisory Board, a group organized to work with licensed professional midwives. On a personal level, Tom regularly engages in faith-based trips to share his midwifery skills with families around the world. Despite his many achievements, Tom rarely acknowledges his accomplishments. This makes him an embodiment of midwifery, and a hero in South Carolina!

From the TENNESSEE affiliate

Deborah Wage, CNM, began her FNP career working in primary care and family medicine in the Nashville area. She completed service in the National Health Service Corps as a clinician and then clinic director for Cayce Clinic of United Neighborhood Health Services during the mid-1990s. During this period she also completed her post-graduate studies in midwifery at San Jose State University. In 1997, Deborah opened her own solo midwifery practice and obtained privileges at both Centennial and Baptist hospitals. In 2002, the Vanderbilt School of Nursing purchased her practice and incorporated it into the existing School of Nursing midwifery practice, and in 2004 Deborah became service director. During this period, the practice grew and expanded to 2 locations including West End. She received the Midwife of the Year award from OBGYN residents graduating from the School of Medicine in 2005.

One year later, Deborah moved to the School of Medicine to develop a division of midwifery and womens health nurse practitioners in the department of OBGYN. The success of the division has gained national recognition as a role model for the incorporation of faculty midwives into residency education.

Deborah was awarded a 3 year grant for approximately $1 million from the Tennessee State Governors Office to expand resident involvement in CenteringPregnancy. She is now serving as Director of Group Prenatal Care concentrating on research and the continued growth of the program. She is the onsite primary investigator for the associated study “Expect With Me: a Nationally Scalable Group Prenatal Care (GPC) Model” in conjunction with Yale University and United Healthcare.

Deborah has been a major contributor to several policies for Vanderbilts labor and delivery unit including the “no separation” policy to keep mothers and babies together after birth, the delayed cord cutting policy and a protocol to guide the discharge of moms and babies deemed ready to leave prior to the standard 48 hours.

She was the Tennessee Chapter Chair of the American College of Nurse Midwives from 2001 to 2003, and has been a member of the national ACNM Division of Standards and Practice and the Midwives in Medical Education Caucus.

From the WASHINGTON affiliate

After having worked as an RN both in a labor and delivery tertiary hospital setting and free standing birth center, Sally Avenson, CNM, completed her midwifery education at St. Louis University in 1980 and went on to obtain her MSN in 1982. While she has worn many hats, since 1981 Sally has run a private solo practice in Seattle where she has cared for innumerable women and their babies. She is one of the few home birth midwives in Seattle who, because of her impeccable clinical reputation, has been credentialed at multiple Seattle institutions to provide hospital birth to her clients. Sally is therefore able to offer seamless care to the women she serves, as well as the opportunity for women with twin pregnancies and VBAC to receive midwifery care.

In addition to running her own practice for over 30 years, Sally has been on the faculty as a lecturer for the University of Washington and has acted as a clinical preceptor mentoring countless midwifery students in Washington State. Sally is an expert and intuitive clinician who has devoted and organized her life around serving women and their families.She consistently remains current on evidence-based practices and epitomizes the term of being “with women” and providing high-touch, low-tech care.

For all these reasons Sally Avenson is our Washington States Unsung Midwifery Hero!

From the WASHINGTON, DC affiliate

In 1983, thanks to the efforts of a coalition of consumers, unions, ARNPs, and nurses, the DC City Council passed a bill which required hospitals to grant clinical privileges to ARNPs and other non-MDs, over the opposition of the hospital associations and medical societies. The first midwife to test the new law was Rene Smit, CNM, a midwife from South Africa who had recently arrived in the United States. Rene's application for hospital privileges at Washington Hospital Center put physicians into an uproar. The OBGYN department at the hospital held a yea or nay vote on the issue, for which 97 physicians showed up. The nay voted won that round. This anti-midwife vote was the most attended OBGYN department meeting in Washington Hospital Center history. Rene and her lawyer turned to the bills original sponsor, DC councilwoman Polly Shackelton, who applied political pressure that eventually persuaded Washington Hospital Center to comply – and Rene got her privileges!

Rene Smit established a private practice for in-hospital births at Washington Hospital Center, and held her privileges there for 22 years. During her tenure, she introduced a VBAC delivery option and mentored medical students, residents, and midwifery students at the hospital. She began the ACTG trial, the first National Institutes of Health-sponsored HIV trial with pregnant women and newborns, and ran it for 10 years. She also worked on the Risk Retention Act of 1986, a bill supported by ACNM during an insurance crisis in the 1980s which would permit ACNM to offer a “captive” insurance alternative. Rene joined ACNMs executive director to testify before the US Congress in favor of the bill, which became law in 1986.

Born in Swaziland and raised in South Africa, Rene obtained her psychiatric NP and midwifery degrees in South Africa. She earned her US midwifery certificate at the Booth Maternity Program in Philadelphia. She currently works in private practice in Maryland with Annapolis OBGYN Associates. Thanks to Rene Smit's pioneering efforts, today midwives are established at hospitals throughout the DC area.

From the WISCONSIN affiliate

The Wisconsin Affiliate chose to highlight Karen Lups, CNM.

"Thanks! Any retrospective of my 35 years as a midwife has to start with that word. I am ever so grateful to all the people who came before me, the people I met along the way, and the ones yet to come. The women and families, of course, but also the midwives, student midwives, nurses, and physicians who get to be friends as we work through situations from happy to sad to rolling-on-the-floor-laughing.

"Both of my grandmothers were midwives: Emma Toudouze (1891-1992) in Texas, and Antonia Lupa (1877-1952) in Massachusetts.

"I was inspired by the natural childbirth movement of the 1960s and 70s, including Ina May Gaskin and Spiritual Midwifery and my Wisconsinite friend, Ginnie Priest, who had a home birth practice. At the University of Minnesota from 1978 to 1980, I learned non-interventive philosophy and techniques with my 8 fellow students and professors, including Kathleen Dineen, Irene Matousek, Karin Hengslaben, and Sharon Rising.

"After an experience-rich midwifery internship at the LA county Women’s Hospital, I returned to Wisconsin. My first job was at Family Hospital, a leader in home-like hospital births directed by Jean Downie. Later I worked with Cheri Jaeger at Shafi Medical Center, Teen Pregnancy Service and, finally, 26 years at Sixteenth Street Community Health Center. Always a supporter of home birth practice and midwives, I served on the first MANA board from 1982-84 and got to meet midwives from all over North America.

"My current practice at Sixteenth Street Community Health Center is the best ever! Partners Shauna Leinbach, Ann Krigbaum, Alex Alberda, Lisa Espinosa, Barb Torres, Kate Brethauer, Ann Ledbetter, and Tracy Herrmann continue to stimulate change in our hospital and provide excellent care to our clients. We also support each other through the inevitable life events and laugh often.

"Happy 60th Anniversary, ACNM!"


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