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Meet the midwives: Mayo's CNM team comprised of unique individuals with shared passion for women's health

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Outside of work, they are quilters, bodybuilders, bakers, gardeners and doctorate students. At Mayo Clinic Health System, they are certified nurse midwives, unique in personality and hobbies but with a shared passion for women’s health and a gratitude for witnessing new life and the joy it brings.

Mayo Clinic Health System nurse midwives

The Mayo Clinic Health System nurse midwives have unique hobbies and interests but a shared passion for their work in pregnancy care, delivery and women's health. From left, Kaitlin Earley, Kathy Errthum, Jennifer Meyers, Theresa Hagen, Laura Harkness, Mary Green and Sarah Monson.

Mayo’s midwife program, founded in 1999, consists of a group of nurse midwives with specialized training, education and certification. Part of the obstetrics and gynecology team, they assist with low risk pregnancies and provide reproductive health services such as prenatal and postpartum care, contraception, breastfeeding assistance, menopause care and sexual health care.

Currently, seven women serve as nurse midwives at Mayo in La Crosse, each with a dedication to providing accurate information, personalized care and empowering their patients.

“Traditionally in health care, women have been really disenfranchised. For example, medications and diseases and procedures historically in the past have been studied on young men, whereas women really have completely unique biology and psyche,” says Jennifer Meyers, certified nurse midwife (CNM). “And I think that there’s a lot of room for improvement in helping all patients, but especially women and people who identify as women in helping them feel more powerful to make their own health care choices and their own choices about their families. I think that we have a unique opportunity to make contact, not just at birth and pregnancy, not just at a scary, terrifying time in their life, but a really amazing time when they can shine.”

The midwives don’t just provide education and resources, but help patients make informed decisions for themselves, Meyers says. Kathy Errthum, CNM, says part of their role is making sure women and non binary people “feel that they are safe and that their bodies are respected.”

“I think it’s really important to give patients choices about what we do for them, and not just telling them what they need but listening to what they tell us that they need and respecting that,” Errthum says. “And making sure that their physical exams and their birth experiences don’t feel traumatic and that they feel really respected and honored in the bodies they come in.”

Sarah Monson, CMN, says learning from each other and women of all generations is important in understanding and promoting women’s health, and Meyers says sharing experiences can be be beneficial in forging a connection.

I think anything we can do to be relatable to our patients is going to help them connect with us and trust us,” Meyers says. “You have to learn how much information to share to help make them connect with us and yet to not make the visit be about us. For example, if I have a patient who is struggling horribly with postpartum anxiety, I might share with them that I’ve experienced that myself. ... It makes them feel much more comfortable with us and therefore more likely to share information with us that might be more uncomfortable with a stranger.”

While the midwives may start as strangers to patients, a special bond is often formed. The shared respect is evident even when crossing paths out and about.

“Patients are excited to see me in the grocery store or if we’re at an event together. It’s a community for sure. I think sometimes patients are very proud of that relationship,” Errthum says.

Adds Meyers, “They’re so proud of us, just like we feel proud of our patients. And I think the nature of that relationship is really special. I think because of the extra time that we have, because of our previous training as a nurse and just because of sort of our focus on the whole patient that that is really special.”

Some of the midwives expressed they thought about becoming doctors, but are thankful for the path they ultimately took.

Says Monson, “I’m really grateful for the choice I made to become a midwife.”

What made you choose this occupation?

Kaitlin Earley, midwife of 15 years: I’ve been interested in pregnancy and birth since early childhood, ever since learning how the process worked from my mother, who was a biology teacher and answered every question I had. Since then I’ve thought pregnancy and birth were just the coolest things I could imagine. Unfortunately, I never knew midwifery was an option until I was nearly finished with college with an unrelated major. As soon as I learned about modern midwives, I knew I would be one someday. It was just a matter of time. There has never been anything I have wanted to do with my life more than be a midwife.

Kathy Errthum, midwife of 14 years: I don’t remember a time of not wanting to be a midwife. When I was little bitty, I knew I wanted to be a nurse and also deliver babies. I was too young to even know what a nurse midwife was. I felt it since I can remember and I love it.

Jennifer Meyers, midwife of 14 years: I was fascinated by pregnancy and reproduction, but also really wanted to work in a job where I was able to empower women. All that was very important to me.

Theresa Hagen, midwife of 15 years: I chose this profession because I had a child at a young age and was a single mom. I had great nurses at the hospital when I delivered and I still remember them 30+ years later. They had a huge impact on my life and I wanted to do that for someone else.

Laura Harkness, midwife of 21 years: I went into midwifery because I can’t recall ever wanting to be anything else. As with most midwives, we feel our work is a calling. As a child I would read my mother’s book, “Birth Without Violence,” by Fréderick Leboyer, mesmerized by the content and photos. Throughout my important educational years I was quenching that thirst for knowledge regarding women and their partners becoming parents. Midwifery takes that wholistic approach of “holding sacred” those emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of a woman and her family’s milestones related to childbirth and general physical well-being.

Mary Green, midwife of 9 years: I fell in love with babies at a very young age. After volunteering on the maternity unit in high school, I discovered that I wanted to be with women in labor and birth. I had seen the ugly side of birth and wanted to help women achieve their birth dreams and to help normalize the entire birth process.

Sarah Monson, midwife of six years: I wanted to make a difference for women’s health and to help women and help empower women to be able to make healthy choices for themselves and their families.

What is the best or most rewarding part about your job?

Kaitlin: I love almost everything about this job. I love walking with women through their pregnancies and then supporting them through their births. My most favorite moment in the whole process is when new parents greet their baby at the moment of birth, either when they meet their baby as a beloved stranger they’ve been wanting to know, or as someone they’ve known forever. That is just the best moment in the world.

Kathy: Probably my favorite part about being a midwife is the relationships that we build. Sometimes our relationship is a ten minute long relationship, and sometimes it’s years and years and years. Just like Jen said, she remembers her first patients and we build on to that. And that’s my bottom line favorite part of my job. My passion in midwifery is preventative health. I work a lot with our diabetes community, volunteering during my time off. (It’s important to promote) good mental health as well as good physical health. I really work with women a lot on that, whether they’re pregnant or not pregnant or in between pregnancies or they don’t have the babies or they’re teenagers.

Jennifer: I think my favorite part of the job is building long term relationships with women and their families. There are some people that I’m still in touch with 14 years later that are now friends. Just being able to sort of get to know someone on a very intimate level —it’s really an honor.

Theresa: The most rewarding thing about my job is the relationships I get to build with women and their families. I love seeing the journey the family is on and get to develop a special bond throughout the years. I also love empowering women to live their best life.

Laura: I love developing rapport with women and their families when they are most vulnerable, whether that be her first pelvic exam, helping to catch her baby, supporting through a pregnancy loss, dealing with postpartum depression or later life care.

Mary: Watching women become mothers and witnessing them do the hardest thing they may even do and seeing them through to the other side. I not only take care of (the) mom but continue care of the baby and the rest of the family which is very rewarding.

Sarah: I think that the the the thing that I like best is helping women feel really strong at a time when they are also most vulnerable. And I also really loved the moment at the time of birth when families all fall in love with each other in a new way. There is something really beautiful about that.

What is unique about you

?

Kaitlin: I am an avid quilter and gardener. Though I am not native to Wisconsin —I grew up in western New York state — I love it here. I enjoy all four seasons and think southwest Wisconsin is the perfect mix of farming communities and culture. I also really enjoy the many opportunities to get out into nature with my dogs.

Kathy: I really, really love the outdoors. I spend quite a bit of time with on the trails. I do a lot of ultrarunning and open water swimming and biking. I have a husband and two grown daughters.

Jennifer: I have a prior master’s degree in research psychology so that has been kind of interesting to pull forward in my midwife career. As far as hobbies, I love to bake and cook. I actually homebrew as well and spend time outdoors, camping and biking. I have a little side business as a baker (Millie Mae Cakery) so that’s kind of a fun outlet for me when I’m not at work. I’m also married and have two daughters.

Theresa: My family is a military family — my husband was in the Navy, my daughter was in the Army and my son is currently serving in the Marines. I used to compete in Ironman triathlons, marathons and obstacle course competitions, but love weight training and recently competed in a bodybuilding competition. I love the outdoors, hiking, photography and reading.

Laura: I was a psychotherapist before becoming a midwife, so that compliments my current work. I love to run, do yoga and model the life I try and help my patients achieve. I am also working on my doctorate to enhance my current work and pursue academic endeavors in the future.

Mary: I have two children of my own with another baby coming in the spring. Hobbies include biking, hiking, gardening and occasional sewing. I love downhill snow skiing and boarding. I’m passionate about helping families discover how to make good nutrition simple and I light up when a family tells me their child is eating his/her veggies now.

Sarah: I am a quilter, I have two dogs and I just became a grandma this year. I’m married and have an adult daughter.

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Emily Pyrek can be reached at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

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