|Labor of Love |
South County midwife has attended more than 400 births
ON THE JOBIn South County
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| || By Stephanie Slater |
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For centuries, women all over the world have been giving birth in the comfort of their own homes without the help of science and technology.
And for more than 15 years, Connie Mullen of Boca Raton has been assisting women in Florida and Jamaica do just that.
As a licensed midwife, certified childbirth educator and certified professional midwife, Mullen has attended more than 400 births in homes, hospitals and medical settings.
According to the World Health Organization, midwives teach, educate and empower women to take control of their own health care. They provide prenatal care, or supervision of the pregnancy, and then assist the mother to give birth. They also manage the birth and oversee the woman and her newborn in the postpartum period.
"I’m so happy I can give women the option of home birth, because it’s a choice they do have," said Mullen, who is affiliated with Zion Birthing Ministries. "We spend a lot of time with our women. They are not just our patients. Through the process we become friends."
Taking time to prepareThe process begins with a consultation that could last anywhere from a half hour to an hour, Mullen said.
"A doctor’s visit is usually 15 minutes long, but we take the time to explain the process to the woman and answer every question she might have," Mullen said. "At the time of the consultation, we do a screening, because we only except low-risk women. For example, women having twins would be better served by a hospital. Twins tend to be born early, so the monitoring and technology a hospital can provide is necessary."
Once a woman has decided to have a home birth, prenatal visits begin, Mullen said.
"We do anything and everything a doctor would do," she said. "At every visit, we check their weight, blood pressure and pulse. Once the women get further along in their pregnancy, we measure their uterus, listen to the baby’s heartbeat and discuss any symptoms she might be having."
An ‘instinctive’ processEach woman is told to attend childbirth classes during her pregnancy to educate her as to the symptoms and signs of labor. When she think she is ready, she calls Mullen, who goes to the home with her partner, Lisa Guajardo.
"We stay with women from the beginning of active labor until three to four hours postpartum," Mullen said. "During the labor, we monitor the mother and baby to see that the labor is progressing normally. We are there to provide support to the laboring mother but we tend to take a hands-off approach. Most women instinctively know how to give birth."
No pain medications are administered during home births because the woman is able to eat, drink, make use of the bathtub or shower, and be in an environment she is comfortable in, Mullen said.
"All those things act to increase the pain threshold, so drugs aren’t needed," she said. "Of all the years I’ve been attending home births, only one woman went to the hospital for pain medication, and we stayed with her until she had her baby."
Once the baby is born, Mullen said, she immediately places them on their mother’s chest, covered with warm blankets and a hat.
"We don’t separate the mom and baby," she said. "Most women decide to breast feed their babies, and will do so within the first half hour of the baby being born."
Mullen said she does a complete exam of the baby and makes sure the woman’s vital signs are normal. Before leaving, Mullen reviews care instructions with the new mom.
"We go back to the home one day after the birth, and then again three days after to do complete assessments," she said. "We also instruct women to see a pediatrician within five days of the baby’s birth." A 1997 bulletin put out by the Florida Department of Insurance requires that maternity-care coverage include the services of certified nurse-midwives, licensed midwives and the services of licensed birth centers.
‘A special time’ Mullen’s interest in home birthing formed while she was teaching an exercise class for pregnant woman. After learning more about it, Mullen attended the now defunct South Florida School of Midwifery in Kendall, and the National School of Technology in Miami.
Mullen has lived in Florida for 32 years, has been married for 17 years to her husband Jim, and has three children, Courtney, 15, Sean, 13, and Erin, 10. Sean and Erin were both delivered at home with the assistance of midwives.
"I absolutely love my job because I get to share such a special time with these women," she said. "There is nothing like watching a woman hold her baby for the first time."