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Published on August 24, 2020

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Midwifery program celebrates 45 years of delivering woman-centered care

In 1975, Gundersen's first midwife delivered 12 babies.

Today, 15 midwives across the healthcare system help hundreds of women through pregnancy and childbirth every year.

"My partners and I are unique, but we're very united in our practice style," says certified-nurse midwife (CNM) Jennifer McGeorge. "We all want to support our patients and meet each one of them personally, wherever they are in their pregnancy journey."

It's an approach to care that La Crosse and surrounding communities have embraced, as September 2020 marks the 45th anniversary of Gundersen's certified nurse midwifery program—the longest, continuously running midwifery program in Wisconsin. The service's conception is largely credited to Jerome Gundersen, MD, who trained at a facility in Chicago where women were given childbirth options. When he came to La Crosse, he wanted to make midwifery care available to women with low-risk pregnancies.

"I feel honored that Dr. Jerome and Gundersen were able to see the importance of what midwives offer," says Carleen Poellinger, CNM.

Midwifery focuses on the health and wellness of a woman and her baby, with a CNM's scope of work including prenatal care, support during labor and delivery, preventive healthcare, family planning, preconception counseling and lactation support. A main tenet of midwifery care centers on helping women achieve a low-intervention pregnancy and birth whenever possible. As evidence, Gundersen's program in 2019 boasted a primary cesarean rate of 6.4%—more than three times lower than the national average of about 22%. It also was recently honored with a Best Practice award for its high success rates for vaginal birth after cesarean section (commonly called VBAC) by the American College of Nurse Midwives.

"We work hard to provide safe, compassionate, evidence-based care to women and families," Angela Connely, CNM, says. "We take pride in our low cesarean section rate and healthy outcomes for moms and babies … We all care deeply about women's health and value our opportunity to empower women at every encounter we have with them."

It's a role that many midwives describe as a privilege.

"I love working with women and their families," Carleen says. "I feel honored caring for someone during her pregnancy and blessed to experience birth through her eyes or the eyes of her support person."

Angela agrees:

"There is no greater joy than 'catching' a sweet baby and then handing them to their mom/parents," she says. "Labor is such an intimate, beautiful time in life and to share in that experience is so special."

Learn more about midwifery and other pregnancy-related care at Gundersen.

45 years of midwifery care

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