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The Miracle of Birth

A South County childbirth expert reflects on her career

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Throughout human history women have helped other women navigate labor and birth. Midwifes are noted in historical texts of Ancient Egypt, the Old Testament, the Roman Empire and from the 2nd Century Greek Physician Soranus of Ephesus who stated in his work, Gynecology, that “a suitable person will be literate, with her wits about her, possessed of a good memory, loving work, respectable and generally not unduly handicapped as regards her senses [i.e., sight, smell, hearing], sound of limb, robust, and, according to some people, endowed with long slim fingers and short nails at her fingertips.” A 16th Century book on Midwifery also quotes that “A Midwife should have a hawk’s eye, a lady’s hand, a lions heart.” While the word midwife conjures up archaic images, it’s a practice that still happens today, and it’s gaining in popularity.

Lori Kelley is a modern midwife, and she exemplifies all of the above. She loves and is passionate about what she does. “I’m the luckiest person in the world” she says, “I still cry after every birth. It’s such a big deal. I want to let women have the best experience they possibly can.” Holding both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nursing from Rhode Island College, she spent 12 years as a labor and delivery nurse at Women and Infant’s Hospital in Providence, and is the only Certified Nurse Midwife in southern Rhode Island. She credits an incredibly supportive husband with her success: “My third child was born a month before I graduated from nursing school,” she says. “And then when I decided to pursue a midwife certification at URI, I had four children and we were in the midst of building a house. He had to pick up a lot of the slack while I was studying.”

Midwives were required to be licensed by New York in 1716. It wasn’t until 1752 that the first general hospital in America was formed in Philadelphia. Licenses for prospective doctors weren’t considered in New York until 1760 and the first medical school was chartered in Philadelphia in 1765. In history, Midwives have predated doctors, which makes sense since birth came first and we, as a species, would not have survived as well without their knowledge and help.

Kelley has delivered over 1,000 babies in her career and has fond or interesting memories of all of them. “Most births are nice and normal with the average labor about 12-14 hours,” she says. “It never gets boring; every one is different. I tell my patients that this is their birth experience, not mine, and I will do whatever I can within reason to help them achieve it. I get a lot of satisfaction myself. That first cry is always amazing.” While some expectant mothers want to head to the hospital at first twinge, Kelley doesn’t advise it. “I tell them to do as much of the labor as they can at home, in familiar and comfortable surroundings and not to stay in bed. Staying in bed focuses you on the pain and makes you feel ill. Pregnancy is not an illness. I encourage laboring mothers to walk, to sit in a rocking chair, to find a distraction. The great misconception is that you will not have enough time to get to the hospital.” She only has had one baby who didn’t quite make it to the hospital. That little girl insisted on arriving on the sidewalk at Women and Infant’s.

Though she spent the last five years at Westerly Hospital, it’s going to stop delivering babies on June 1. Kelley has recently joined the staff at South County Hospital. Her goal as a midwife is to spend as much time with her patients as humanly possible. Most of the time that works out. Then there are those other moments. One day at Westerly Hospital she had five mothers in labor at the same time. Earlier, there was a time at Women and Infants when she delivered ten babies in 12 hours. Thankfully those times are rare occurrences. But she will state that if you want to be induced and drugged then she is not the right person for you. “I believe that you are much better off going into labor naturally. I will be honest, it will hurt, you will be in pain but you will have breaks in between. You know it will end and you will have a great thing at the end.” She predicts that about 80% of expectant parents now know the sex of their baby before birth. “I understand wanting to plan ahead, but I still think it is more fun when you don’t know. For those who choose not to find out ahead of time, I always let the dad announce the news to mom.”

She is thrilled with the reception she has had at South County Hospital. “Everyone has been so welcoming, I can’t say enough positive things. This is a great practice and very inclined to minimal intervention.” Midwives can see and treat women of all ages for regular GYN health and checkups and have licenses to prescribe medication if necessary. With their training they are laterally on par with nurse practioners. Kelley has regular office hours and she and the doctors of the practice rotate on delivery room du- ties. Health complications and high risk pregnancies or cesarian sections have to be referred to one of the OB/GYN physicians in the practice but ultimately they all work together as a team to the benefit of all southern Rhode Island women.

To book and appointment with Lori Kelley, CNM, or any of the Physicians at the Center for Women’s Health at South County Hosptial call 789-0661.