Midwifery experiences a rebirth

Keepers of normal birth. That’s how Blythe Parker, the San Juan Islands’ newest licensed midwife sees her vocation. Parker opened San Juan Midwifery the day she received her first client, Dec. 10, 2020. In the middle of a pandemic.

A woman who possesses a deep passion for the profession, Parker believes the pandemic has underscored the need for, and benefits of, midwifery.

“Covid is having a pretty large impact on midwifery in general on the islands,” she explained. “People want to avoid hospitals and any potential exposure outside the home, as well as practice social distancing. Since midwives can come to the prospective mother, we can make prenatal visits in the home. ”

It wasn’t always so. After centuries of being marginalized by the traditional medical community, midwifery in the United States is experiencing a rebirth. Washington is one of more than 35 midwife friendly states in the country where the profession is licensed and legal. “And that number is growing,” Parker offered.

“Midwives have been attending births for centuries, before doctors and hospital births. I feel as though the practice is coming full circle,” she said. “People want more autonomy in the choices they make, and that’s especially true on the islands. There’s a whole new community of young people who are desiring that kind of care.”

Parker believes her interest in a more nature-friendly lifestyle started when she was quite young. She and her sister were raised on a farm in Idaho.

“My parents would probably be called hippies,” she laughed. “It was the ‘70s, we had a garden, my mother canned, and sewed our clothes. We came to appreciate the benefits of an alternative, health-based lifestyle.”

Following a passion for herbal remedies and healthy living led Parker to pursue a nursing degree and, in 2015, she began prerequisites for nursing school. In 2017, Parker had an oportunity to travel to Honduras. There, she volunteered in hospitals through an organization called Dar a luz whose main mission is to increase awareness for human rights in childbirth. In addition to teaching classes in nutrition and pain management, the experience solidified her path to midwifery, ultimately graduating Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in midwifery from The Midwives College of Utah.

Parker looks forward to providing holistic follow-up care for those who choose to have their babies off island. She understands that new moms want to get home, and how sometimes that can result in vital pre- and post- follow-up visits falling through the cracks. With the ability to conduct postpartum or prenatal visits in the mother’s home, Parker believes she can close some of those cracks.

“I want to be able to provide families with options,” she said.

Parker explained that all too often, people head to the mainland around their due date and wait.

“Obviously, birth works best when the mother-to-be is in a familiar space. Away from home, perhaps missing out on income, she finds herself in a waiting game for the baby’s arrival. That can be a stressful start for some people.

“Part of midwifery care is building trust throughout the pregnancy,” Parker continued. “Postpartum follow-up is especially important for first-time families,” she said, noting that follow-up visits are conducted on day one, three, five, seven; then two weeks and six weeks after the baby’s birth.

The islands’ newest midwife spent many formative years on San Juan, and recognizes islanders’ resilience and independence.

“That resilience is a big piece of why I’ve set up practice here. I really want to see us grow and become more sustainable,” she said. “I love being present when a family welcomes the newly born. It’s a profound experience and I feel incredibly blessed to do this work on the island I love.”

Though traveling to and from the islands for a home birth could be seen as problematic, Parker is not concerned.

“When the word goes out that there’s going to be a home birth, islanders rally. Whether by boat or plane, someone will make sure I get there,” she said with confidence.

Located in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island Midwifery can be reached at 360-298-2429 and at sjimidwife@gmail.com. Learn more at https://sanjuanislandmidwifery.com/.