By John Larson
Jessie Melcher grew up with a fear around birth and delivery. The Port Orchard resident had women in her family who had Caesarean births. She heard about how traumatic her mother’s three medicalized births were. She knew about the fear and anxiety surrounding birth, “and I really wanted to end that.”
When she became pregnant with her first child in 2012, she looked for alternatives to a traditional birth. After doing much research, Melcher decided midwifery was the best option. She wanted to use the option of a water birth at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma.
She was connected with Jennifer Riffel, a midwife who practices at the hospital’s birthing center. Riffel began at CHI Franciscan Health doing labor and deliveries from 2000-03. She then went back to school in New Mexico and earned a master’s degree as a certified nurse midwife. She returned to CHI in 2011.
Melcher met Riffel eight weeks into her first pregnancy. She was impressed by the biography of Riffel she had read. “I wanted someone to hear me,” she said.“I believe if my body could do something, I can do it.”
Riffel said water birth is more calming for the mother and baby than a traditional birth. The baby was already surrounded by water in the womb, she noted. The tubs help relieve pressure.
Riffel said unlike in many nations, midwives are not commonly involved in obstetrician care. That is beginning to change. Melcher is part of a growing trend in the Puget Sound region. Since 2013 there has been a 17 percent increase in the use of midwives. In 2017, midwives across the system delivered 1,934 babies, about 22 percent of all births at CHI Franciscan hospitals.
Melcher’s advice to any woman in her first pregnancy is to talk to a midwife. “It is very beneficial to explore all of your options,” she remarked. She said a midwife helped her be more emotionally prepared for the process. “It is a piece I think that has been missing in care.”
Riffel said aspects of a traditional birth can be used if the mother chooses, such as an epidural.
Melcher has two girls and two boys. The first three children were born in the hospital, while the fourth was born in 2016 in a new building that houses the birthing center. She is thankful for the support she has received. “I wanted to change the perception of what birth in a hospital can be.”