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June 23, 2014

Local midwife retires after more than two decades

— Roberta Ress practiced midwifery in Athens for more than two decades, delivering 1,908 babies.

“I had been a labor and delivery nurse and a NICU nurse so I always worked with mommas and babies,” said Ress, who became a certified nurse midwife in 1993 after receiving her master’s degree. 

It was during her time as a teacher that she decided to become a midwife. She would take her students to labor and delivery where there were midwives.

“I thought, ‘Hmm, I think I can do this,’” she said.

Ress practiced at Carlota OB-GYN on Market Street in Athens. She delivered her last baby — Khloe Jane Stewart — on May 29. She was 19 ½ inches long and weighed 8 pounds.

Michelle Stewart, Khloe Jane’s mother, chose to use a midwife because she always wanted to try a natural birth.

Stewart, who has three children, said when she had her first child that it “didn’t necessarily go that way.”

That’s when she started seeing Ress. Stewart’s second child and Khloe Jane were born under Ress’ care. “Those were the best deliveries,” Stewart said.

Stewart chose a midwife because she wanted to make her own birth choices and not feel pushed.

“She listened to me,” she said. “When I voiced what I wanted to try to do, she didn’t try to persuade me any other way.”

Stewart felt like choosing the midwife route gave her support she wouldn’t have had otherwise.

“It makes the delivery easier when you feel like you have the support,” she said. “I think the quality of care is better when you don’t have someone who wants to just get the delivery out of the way.”

Ress has been the only midwife in Limestone County who could deliver at Athens-Limestone Hospital.

“They told me as long as I wanted to stay, my job was secure, but when I left then that would be the end of it,” Ress said, explaining  she was told there were enough providers in the county. “The big point that I think that tends to get missed is that it’s not about the number of care providers. It’s not about the gender. It’s about the type of service being offered.”

Ress said she never wanted to tell a patient what they had to do. She would rather have them tell her what is going on so she could explain their options.

“Then, (the mother) has the choice to either listen to what I say or continue doing what she wants,” Ress said. “I think education is a really big part of it.”

Ress explained what she believes are the differences between the medical model and midwifery model of care and the way childbirth is viewed.

“With the medical model people see childbirth as a medical event or emergency,” she said. “It is not. The majority of women are healthy, young women. This is a normal, natural process of life. Your body was built to do this. It may need to be observed for differences or complications as they come up and then those are dealt with. But, don’t start out making it be an emergency until there is an emergency. It’s a normal process. It’s a part of womanhood.”

She added that once a patient crosses into the medical model of care, midwives consult with physicians when needed, such as if a woman needs a C-section or has high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.

However, patients can receive an epidural  under a certified nurse midwife’s care.

Ress has enjoyed her collaboration with Dr. Oliver Carlota, whom she has worked with for a number of years. She practiced midwifery before with his practice before retirement.

“He has always been supportive,” Ress said.

Alysha Walker is now the practicing midwife under the American the American College of Nurse-Midwives at Carlota’s office. Though Walker, also a certified nurse midwife, won’t be delivering babies at Athens-Hospital, she can carry out any other duties including prenatal care, pre-conception care, family planning, well woman care, minor illnesses and health conditions among others.

Though she believes the women in the community would like for midwives to deliver in Limestone County, Ress credits Carlota’s decision to bring Walker into his office.

“They are mid-level providers,” Carlota said. “They are more experienced in taking care of pregnant women than even a regular nurse practitioner. A lot of times they can deliver the babies.”

Ress said Carlota and his wife trusted her enough to deliver their first child.

“ … (Carlota) might have M.D. behind his name, but he still practices the midwifery model sometimes,” Ress said. “It’s not a cookbook; you have to look at each patient individually, and I think he does do that very well.”

In retirement, Ress, who is married to Tom and has two children, Sara Whittenburg and Michael Ress, plans to visit her two grandchildren as well as her newest grandchild that is on the way. She also enjoys travel, art and photography.

Ress believes Limestone County has been very good to her. She wanted to thank all her patients for trusting her and letting her take part in such a special event in their lives.

“I really liked my experience,” said Stewart of Ress’ services. “I think patients should have the choice.”

 

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