Local pioneers celebrate 40 years of nurse midwifery in Western Mass.

  • Nurse midwife Anne Corrinet catches a baby at Baystate Franklin Medical Center. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • The first team at Pioneer Women’s Health poses for a “goofy” photo. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Anna Morrison and Al Norman pose for a photo with their second child, Josie. Josie was the first birth managed entirely by nurse midwives Liza Ramlow and Anne Corrinet. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Kate Douglas was the first woman to deliver with the midwives of Greenfield OB-GYN. She gave birth to her son, Matthew, on Aug. 27, 1981. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Anne Corrinet and Beth Grob worked together as midwives at Greenfield OB/GYN. Contributed photo

Staff Writer
Published: 1/10/2022 6:44:31 PM
Modified: 1/10/2022 6:43:39 PM

GREENFIELD — Forty years have passed since the advent of nurse midwifery in the area, but the local pioneers in the field have others to credit besides themselves.

“I am so grateful to the families who had confidence in us and who came to us for care, and who shaped our practices,” said Liza Ramlow, a longtime nurse midwife at Pioneer Women’s Health at Baystate Franklin Medical Center. “They were the pioneers. That, to me, is the most important point of noting this 40 years.”

When Anne Corrinet, also a longtime midwife at Pioneer Women’s Health, set out to establish what would become the first nurse midwifery private practice in Western Massachusetts in 1981, she was met with considerable resistance.

“As with any pioneering service or profession, you meet a lot of resistance, and oh my goodness, we met a lot of resistance,” Corrinet recalled. “It wasn’t just from the male physicians. It was also from the hospital staff, the nursing staff — they thought we were going to come in and take their jobs. That wasn’t our focus at all.”

Rather, she said, they were there to “bring a new perspective to empowering women to give birth the way they wanted to give birth.”

Corrinet and Ramlow, the first nurse midwives to join the obstetric staff at Baystate Franklin, were on committees at the hospital, helping to establish and grow the first in-hospital birth center. The first child to be born in The Birthplace at Franklin Medical Center, its name at the time, was born on Aug. 30, 1981 to a woman from Gill.

“It transpired from there,” Corrinet said, acknowledging the support they received from certain supervisors and administrators, including Dorothy Telega, then the director of obstetrical nursing at Baystate Franklin.

“It was a tough go for a while,” Corrinet said. “Eventually it caught on, and people started talking. It’s a small community and community is community — it blossomed from there.”

Once a practice was established, students were invited for internships, whether for labor and delivery experience, antepartum (before birth) experience or gynecological experience.

“We really helped promote midwives being placed all over Western Massachusetts, and many other places also,” Corrinet said.

Corrinet, who was certified as a nurse midwife in 1973, began practicing as one in 1981 when she started at Greenfield OB/GYN. Ramlow, who was certified as a nurse midwife in 1980, joined her shortly thereafter.

When Greenfield OB/GYN split into two practices in 1993, Pioneer Women’s Health was organized.

“When we first came here in 1981, I think there were four different OB practices in town,” Corrinet said. “Now there’s one: Pioneer Women’s Health.”

Pioneer Women’s Health changed ownership over the years, but ultimately became part of Baystate Health in the late 1990s.

Ramlow said there had been “wonderful midwives” working in the community before she and Corrinet joined the scene, but their education in medicine made the medical community more willing to accept midwifery as a profession.

“What we had to offer was we could take care of women and their families in what we tried to make the most comfortable in-hospital facilities,” Corrinet said. “And we could get to an operating theater if it was needed. Midwives in the community didn’t have access to those services.”

That meant that if a community midwife experienced any problems with a home birth, they had to drop the woman off at the Emergency Department, where the expectant mother would have to lie about her situation, Ramlow explained.

“She was subjected to critical talk once she got in,” she said. “We began to change that. … We need to stop being judgmental and admit that this is happening, and be available to help.

“I think one of the things that midwifery … has always focused on is acceptance of other people and their different ways of doing things,” Ramlow added.

Over the last 40 years, the attitude in the medical community toward midwifery has changed significantly, both midwives said. That shift was likely a combination of accepting that change was inevitable, and watching what the midwives could do.

“I think Anne was involved in 13 deliveries in one 24-hour period,” Ramlow said. “The numbers really increased, and the practices were searching for ways to do the work as effectively as possible. … That gave us a good chance to show what we could do.”

Corrinet said that in the evolution of the two practices — Pioneer Women’s Health and Baystate Franklin — melding together, midwives became first assistants for all caesarian sections on their patients.

“That’s still going on today,” she said. “That frees up another physician … to do other things.”

The practice, which started with just the two nurse midwives, has grown to include six nurse midwives and four physicians. Families are offered prenatal care and a wide range of choices when it comes to childbirth, including a Jacuzzi or tub for a water birth, or vaginal birth for women who have had a previous caesarian delivery.

And despite the resistance encountered by the medical community in the early years, both women are grateful to have been able to watch the practice grow into what it is today.

“I feel so lucky to have been there in the old days,” Ramlow said. “I’m lucky to have those memories.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.


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