What is a Midwife?

Submitted by Monifa Dukes, MSN, CNM on February 25, 2019

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A Unique Kind of Caregiver

The field has been around, in some form, since the beginning of human history, but there is nothing ancient about the modern role of a midwife. While the word alone may conjure up visions of home births and a certain Netflix show, the 21st century midwife offers much more than you may realize. 

baby holding a mothers hand

"With Women"

Midwife translates to “with women,” which is really a great way to describe what we do: side-by-side, lifelong care for women. We are nursing professionals with additional education and training that allows us to provide care for teenagers through post-menopausal women. We follow a nursing-based model, rather than the surgical model utilized by most physicians. Our focus is not only childbirth, but health education and primary care. 

Many are surprised to learn that we can provide hospital births, have full prescriptive authority and are considered independent practitioners in the state of Virginia. We also offer contraceptive visits, ultrasounds, procedures like biopsies and colposcopies, as well as breast exams and well-women exams. We can order labs, screenings and mammograms. If one of our patients needs surgery, we can collaborate with a partner obstetrician/gynecologist to do so, which is essentially the main difference between a midwife and physician.

For birthing services, we can see women of all ages and with most risk factors, including gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. While we do not offer home birth services at our practice, many midwives do for women of low-risk.

Our role when partnering with patients is to stress the importance of an individualized birth plan. We allow our patients to labor the way they want, because it is their birth experience. Labor pools, intermittent monitoring, dim lights, music and relaxed rules on clothing, and eating and drinking allow the hospital setting to feel more home-like. We also work to involve partners for help with various positions and the use of birthing balls. Just as a cheerleader would encourage a team, midwives encourage patients to personalize their entire birth (and health) journey. For additional support, patients can also choose to hire a doula, a woman trained in birth and post-natal support, to be present during their birth.

We believe in education that empowers women to make healthy choices about their own care. It’s important to know the options available to you so that your health can be in your hands.

Monifa Dukes, MSN, CNM, received her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va. She later earned her Master of Science in nurse midwifery from Frontier Nursing University in Hyden, Ky.  Ashley Williams, MSN, CNM,  obtained both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. Both certified nurse midwives practice at TotalCare for Women and are on the medical staff at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center.