Prenatal care key to community health, midwife tells SHWT Scholarship winners announced


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Shelley Conrad (left) and Laura Wilder, who were awarded the first Avi Livingstone Scholarships, attended a fundraiser for the Breath of Life Foundation, which sponsors the scholarships for midwives in training. Many people from SoHum’s medical and healing community came to the event at Cecil’s Bistro last Wednesday evening. This is the first of many fundraisers to help prepare more midwives for our rural region.

Virginia Graziani

Redwood Times

Physician assistant and midwife Lorraine Carolan was the guest speaker at Southern Humboldt Working Together’s general meeting last Wednesday, Feb. 2.

She introduced the winners of the first two Avi Livingstone Scholarships and described the state of midwifery and community health in Southern Humboldt. [See related story in our Feb. 1 edition.]

Scholarship recipients Shelley Conrad and Laura Wilder have already had midwifery training but will be working to obtain their California Midwife Licenses. Just taking the test costs $5,000.

Awarding these scholarships is the first step toward re-establishing community care for pregnant women, mothers, and young children in Southern Humboldt, Carolan told the group attending the meeting.

The scholarships are named for the late Avi Livingstone, the only midwife formally trained by Carolan who continued to work in SoHum after the financial troubles at Redwoods Rural Health Center and the Southern Humboldt Community Healthcare District in the late 1990s.

Livingstone was killed in a car accident about two years ago. Scholarship recipients pledge to work in SoHum after they complete their training.

Wilder and Conrad will also be leaving shortly for two months in Africa, where they will get hands-on supervised training and will work with traditional midwives.

Carolan told the SHWT group that her interest in midwifery began when she was a journalism student at Rutgers and her closest friend became pregnant. In those days there were no legal abortions, yet single mothers were stigmatized, particularly those from strict Catholic backgrounds like Carolan and her friend.

Carolan and her friend dropped out of school, and Carolan took a job in a factory to support them. Her co-workers helped her find a family to adopt the baby, a family that was wealthy enough to be sure the child got a good education, which was the birth mother’s wish.

When the baby was born, Carolan acted as the “father,” waiting outside the delivery room, listening to her friend crying. The birth mother never even saw her baby; Carolan took him directly to his new family.

”I never want to see that happen again,” Carolan told herself at the time.

After moving to Southern Humboldt approximately 40 years ago, Carolan became fascinated by midwifery after reading a book about home birth that she borrowed from the long-defunct Whitethorn library. “There used to be a sweet little library in Whitethorn,” Carolan noted; “That’s how long ago it was.”

A pregnant friend approached Carolan for help. “I hear you know all about childbirth,” her friend said, and Carolan replied, “I read a book.”

After accompanying her friend to the Garberville hospital and being present during the delivery, Carolan was seen in the alternative community as an expert on birthing, even though at that time she had no children of her own.

Along with Kate Lanigan, who was also a self-trained midwife, Carolan decided to train as a physician assistant. The profession of physician assistant grew out of the Vietnam War, when medics came back wanting to continue their work in a separate category than doctor or nurse.

The care of mothers and babies is the backbone of community health, Carolan said. “Community health begins when women are pregnant, it’s a window to self-care, with women helping women, and it saves the family and the community. Even if a woman is strung out on drugs, she wants to be healthy because every woman wants a healthy baby.”

She cited some statistics on infant mortality that demonstrate the safety of home births attended by a midwife. For planned home deliveries with a skilled attendant, the infant mortality rate is three out of every 1000 births, whereas the infant mortality rate for “normal” planned hospital deliveries is 30 per 1,000 births, the same rate as in planned home deliveries without a skilled attendant.

Furthermore the rate of maternal mortality for hospital births has increased dramatically in California, although she did not have the statistics available.

Conrad added that one of three women in California now have Caesarian births, which are supposed to be safer for the mother, but in fact the mortality rate is no better than for natural births.

Others in the room joined Carolan in her concern about the loss of peri-natal services in Southern Humboldt during the last ten years. Babies are no longer delivered at the Garberville hospital, and neither Redwoods Rural Health Center nor the Southern Humboldt Community Healthcare District provides pre-natal and post-natal care. There are no official childbirth classes in SoHum, although Wilder and Conrad are giving classes informally.

Carolyn Eldridge, a licensed midwife who was trained by Carolan, has begun seeing women for pre-natal care in Garberville one day a week. She is actually employed by Northcountry Clinic in Arcata, and an initial visit to the Arcata clinic is required before visits with Eldridge in Garberville can be scheduled.

For more information, call the Northcountry prenatal clinic at 822-1385.

In other business, Heather Equinoss of Humboldt Area Foundation, who brought her delightful four-and-a-half month old son, Silas, to the meeting, reminded the group that HAF is accepting applications for scholarships for college and trade school.

HAF’s scholarship program is not just for “stellar academic performance,” Equinoss said. HAF would like to offer something for all students, “not just the same 30 who always get scholarships.”

For more information, call Heather at HAF, 442-2993.

Harry Jasper, the SHCHD administrator, announced that SHCHD will be holding its first annual SoHum Carnival, a Brazilian-style carnival celebration, on Saturday, March 5, at the Mateel Community Center at 8 p.m.

This fundraiser will feature three bands: Club Cubano with Afro-Cuban music; SambAmor, with traditional feathered samba dancers and Brazilian rhythms; and the Humboldt Calypso Band, a 16-piece steel drum and marimba band from Humboldt State University.

Tickets will be $25 and will be available soon. Jasper said he expects the event will be sold out in advance. “It will be an all-out bash,” he promised.

SHWT’s next general meeting will be held on Wednesday, March 3, at noon. The meeting place will be announced.

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