From left: CNMs Suzi Saunders, Cecelia Rondou & Kirsten Eckert.

Suzanne Saunders, CNM, explains the roles & services of a midwife

Have you ever wondered just what a midwife does? You may be surprised to learn that assisting pregnant women with childbirth is only part of what experienced midwives offer to their patients.

In the U.S., a certified nurse midwife (CNM) is a midwife who exceeds the International Confederation of Midwives essential competencies for a midwife. A CNM is also an advanced practice registered nurse who has completed registered nursing and midwifery education. In our practice in Santa Rosa, Calif., each of our midwives hold master’s degrees in nursing. Our in-depth training and experience offer skill sets that allow our midwives to specialize in women’s health for women of any age — from teens to post-menopausal women.

This means that not all of our patients are pregnant or postpartum. In fact, approximately only 60 percent (6 out of 10) of our patients are pregnant. While the ratio of pregnant patients to patients with other healthcare needs may vary from practice to practice, I’ll bet for many people reading this 60 percent is a surprising statistic.

What won’t surprise you is how much midwives love providing thorough, individualized care to women and their families throughout their pregnancy, birth and post-partum periods. Yes, we’re into babies and helping to deliver them safely. But there’s much more we provide to pregnant women.

We partner with expert healthcare personnel and facilities. While midwife training is centered on the belief that most pregnancies and births are normal, midwives work very closely with our physician colleagues when concerns do occur. With this team approach, we offer a “high touch” pregnancy experience, yet also “high tech” when needed. We provide birth support in the hospital, where women have many choices regarding their preferred birth companions, pain relief methods, music, foods, etc.

Our non-pregnant patients

The other 40 percent of a typical midwife’s patients come in for a variety of healthcare needs, including:

  • annual exams,
  • contraceptive consults,
  • gynecological concerns,
  • breast exams,
  • cancer screening and
  • menopause management.

Midwives are committed to educating patients on best health practices, and to providing referrals and resources to other nurse practitioners and physicians when needed.

Outside the office

Beyond the doors of our office, NCMA Women’s OB/GYN Center nurse midwives also deeply committed to projects that address local and international health concerns. Kirsten Eckert, CNM, WHNP, has trained extensively to provide immediate and compassionate care for women and children who have experienced sexual assault. Sexual Assault Response Teams (SART) are multi-disciplinary teams developed to improve services to victims of sexual assault.

The SART team provides this care to anyone, free of charge, at any time that they present for care. It is challenging work, but an area in which she can have a significant impact on identifying and prosecuting perpetrators.

Cecelia Rondou, CNM, worked for many years as a volunteer at the local pregnancy counseling center. Even when exhausted from a night delivering babies at her “day job,” Cecelia would take a morning a week to provide free, early prenatal care and support to women who “fell through the cracks” of the insurance system. Many of those patients received MediCal or other services which allowed them to access more regular prenatal care, which nearly always means better outcomes.

Suzanne Saunders training midwives Haiti

Suzanne Saunders, CNM, training midwives in Haiti.

My passion includes training midwives in countries where access to safe, compassionate care is limited. To date, I have participated in three volunteer missions to train midwives, spending 2–3 weeks every other year in the Philippines and in Haiti, fundraising and collecting supplies to provide basics like prenatal vitamins and emergency medications to women in need.

Training women to be a midwife is a very sustainable, long-lasting plan to reduce maternal mortality rates in places where limited access to care makes pregnancy and birth much more dangerous. Since I am trained in both midwifery and international public health, I have found this work extremely satisfying.

Like the headline said, we don’t just “catch babies.” When considering a midwife for your birth or other healthcare needs, be sure that you know if your midwife has achieved the CNM designation. Certified nurse midwives are able to provide support for your birth plan and many common women’s healthcare needs. Whether it’s your baby’s health or your health, midwives are here to help.


by Suzanne Saunders, CNM