By Cindy Atoji Keene
Midwife Julia Dickinson applauds the fact that midwives have become the accessory a la mode for an enlightened, natural birth experience – even for high profile celebrities and well-heeled sophisticates. At 29, she is the youngest midwife at Mount Auburn, and while she is happy that midwifery is becoming more mainstream, she said that so many people still do not understand the work that midwives do. “A lot of people have impression that midwives just do home birth but the majority deliver in hospital,” said Dickinson, who is part of The Midwives at Mount Auburn, which serves women in and around Cambridge. “A large part of my practice is also prenatal visits and well-women gynecology.”
The percentage of births assisted by a midwife has reached an all-time high in the U.S., according to the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health, which analyzed data from the CDC. Dickinson, who delivers between 50-60 babies a year, said although midwives are increasingly catering to the middle and upper class, she often works with low-resource women and those on Medicaid. “Midwives approach birth as a normal life event rather than a disease or a potential medical emergency,” said Dickinson who is a registered nurse with graduate-level training in midwifery and has passed a national certification exam. “We want more of dialogue than lecturing patients about what’s right and wrong.”
Q: What was one of your most memorable births?
A: I remember one woman who had two C-sections before, and she really wanted to have a vaginal birth. She and her husband were really dedicated to doing natural childbirth and experiencing strong, active labor with no pain medication. Her labor moved quickly and she was able to deliver to have a nice, healthy childbirth. It was nice to be a part of that.
Q: What are your busy seasons?
A: Despite all the science around medicine and birth, we don’t really know what causes labor to start; there is a certain amount of folklore around it as well. When the weather forecast predicts a storm, I start checking my pager, since that seems to put more women into labor. Other times we are twiddling our thumbs, waiting for people to come.
Q: How did you become a nurse midwife?
A: My dad is a physician and my mom is an artist, and if you breath in those two, you can get a nurse midwife. I liked to tag along with my dad to the hospital, and memorized all the bones of the body by the time I was 10. I thought I would be a doctor, but when I was 15, a camp counselor told us the story of a birth by a mom who had a midwife, and I thought, “This is what I want to do.” A lot of midwives say they have a calling.
Q: Do you have kids?
A: I do not. It’s a misconception that you have to have babies to be a good midwife – do you have to have cancer to be an oncologist? Although you do gain a different perspective when you’ve been through it yourself, it’s not about myself and my ideal pregnancy or birth, but what the clients want and need. I probably need to get married before I have children, so that’s the first thing on the list.
Q: Do you fit the stereotype of a midwife?
A: I do have a bit of hippy chick in me but many think we all have gray hair or braids and wear long flowing skirts with Birkinstock sandals. I have a totally different style. After hours, I’m the lead singer in a band called Hot Molasses. Midwives have a high rate of ‘burn out’ so I think it is important to have rewarding hobbies outside of the hospital. For some people it may be knitting or hiking – for me it happens to be singing in a rock band.