By Seth Daniel
Last July, Catherine Walker was driving home from her job as a Certified Nurse Midwife at Boston Medical Center (BMC) when a women stopped dead in her tracks right in front of Walker’s car – staring intently through the windshield at her.
The intense stare soon turned into a big smile, and the woman in the crosswalk called out, “Hey, you were my midwife. You delivered my child. Thank you.”
The two women shared a quick laugh through that brief moment, yet it’s a moment that frequently happens for Walker, as well as Dr. Ron Iverson and Dr. Richard Long.
The three birthing giants at BMC are personally responsible for successfully ushering in thousands of babies into the city over their lengthy careers and deliver the most babies at BMC each year. Walker is approaching 2,000 births by her own hands and Iverson and Long deliver hundreds of children a year at the South End medical campus.
In all reality, they bring the city to life.
“I recently was approached by a mother and her ‘little boy,’ who was actually about a foot taller than me, and the mother was explaining that I had delivered him,” said Walker. “He was completely embarrassed when his mother explained the relationship, but it was very, very meaningful. I think that women and families remember their birth stories forever. It’s such a privilege to be part of the journey a women and a family takes when they bring a new life into the world. You can’t forget what a privilege it is. The day can be busy and you can be stressed, but then you get in the room, and it gets very quiet, and you remember.”
After becoming a Midwife at Boston University’s newly-established program in 1993, Walker began working at BMC and said she is approaching 2,000 babies.
“I’d certainly like to get to 2,000 before I hang it up,” she said with a laugh.
Iverson, who is director of obstetrics and director of labor and delivery, said after delivering so many babies in Boston over more than 20 years, one could think the process could become rote. After all, 20 years into the career of a master carpenter, building a home isn’t quite as meaningful as it was the first few times.
Not the case, though, says Iverson and the two others. In fact, there’s something about the magic of a new life that makes it fresh every single time.
“After 20 years, it never gets old because you remember the stories and how important adding a new person is to any single family,” he said, noting that he once delivered 10 babies in a 24-hour period. “The continuation of the family is huge. It’s hard not to notice that. The process is medicalized in many ways, but the process of starting a family and growing a family is a very special thing. I can remember all my kids being born, even so many years later, with great clarity and that should highlight how important this is. It just never grows old. You could see where it could. You could become tired of it or it could become mechanical after so many babies, but it just doesn’t.”
Long, who works in the family medicine unit, said he keeps a box at home and puts the “stickers” from each baby he delivers in the box. Privately, it’s something he treasures, and the stickers are common identification pieces used temporarily in the hospital when a baby is born.
“I don’t keep records, but I do have a shoebox at home with the stickers from all the babies I’ve delivered,” he said. “When somebody becomes famous, I can pull out the sticker and say, ‘Hey, I did that one.’ I’ve delivered babies all of my career as a family doctor. For me, it wasn’t the emergency room or the intensive care unit, but for some reason I really enjoyed working around babies and birthing and it’s a wonderful place to be.”
Long said the power of witnessing new human life is a job that never gets old, no matter how many times it’s happened in a career, a year or a day.
“That’s really the icing on the cake,” he said. “To be in the room attending and witnessing the event – the delivery room is a sacred space. Only a few people in the room can attest to the birth and you’re there in the room because of your job. You’re one of the only people in the world who can say you watched the moment of that new human arrival. That’s an incredible thing.”
Long said he does often get people who come up to him in the store, or on the street, or even in the hospital who remember him and want to let him know that their baby is doing well. Though they are often only in contact for a few hours or several months, a bond forms due to the power of the event.
“They come up and tell you that you delivered their baby and they think you remember them right away,” he said. “That’s not always the case and so my standard response is ‘How did we do?’ Then I ask them to remind me. That’s a wonderful compliment people remember you and feel comfortable enough to let you know. It really makes you feel like you made a difference.”
Iverson said BMC is a little different in how they structure their department, which works on a collaborative model. Whether it’s obstetrics, family medicine or a certified nurse midwife, they all work together and cross train. So, for instance, a family medicine doctor like Long is trained in being able to give birth to a baby if the patient chooses that option. A patient who is low-risk can also choose a midwife if they want, or an obstetrics doctor as well.
There is no competition or fiefdoms, and that’s probably unique to the industry – Long and Iverson said.
“The cross training is really important for all of our residents,” he said. “However, as important as the academic and clinical work is, we train them in communicating better with everyone. A lot of that has to do with respect for working with one another.”
To that end, all three providers said they couldn’t comment on their jobs without giving credit to the nurses and staff members who do “most of the work.” That, they said, cannot be understated.
Walker said that no matter what station in life a woman is at, the birthing process is always the same, and it’s something she said at BMC that she takes pride in.
“I think the thing that’s really important to me is it doesn’t matter if someone is rich or poor, educated or not educated, when it comes to giving birth, it’s the same for everyone,” she said. “I’ve taken care of women who were incarcerated at MCI Framingham and also incredibly talented women who are financial wizards and even women who lived up the street from me. It’s the same privilege to help bring in a new life and it means the same to them as well. It’s really quite a marvelous thing, the moment of birth.”