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Lifecycle WomanCare Provides Support Through Every Stage of Life

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Photos by Taproot Photography and Rachel Utain-Evans Photography

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Within hours of giving birth to her daughter, Rachel Ridgeway, along with her husband, was back in the comforts of her home, where her older son waited to meet his new baby sister. His parents were away so little that day, “he didn’t even realize we were gone,” recalls Ridgeway. Already bonded from the birth center, the family settled into life with their new bundle of joy.

The Midwifery Model

Their experience isn’t an unusual one for parents under the care of Bryn Mawr’s Lifecycle WomanCare. Established in 1978, it was built on the fundamentals of midwifery. Translating from old English and meaning literally “with woman,” midwifery dates back centuries. Today, midwives deliver most babies around the globe. “In a lot of the world, and especially in western Europe, the midwifery model of care is actually the norm,” says Carol O’Donoghue, a certified midwife-nurse at Lifecycle.

“Midwives do the work of a women’s health nurse practitioner and then also do extended training” for prenatal and birthing care, explains Lifecycle’s Heather Cates, a certified nurse-midwife., While obstetricians bring surgical skills, midwives have a particular focus on patient education and engagement “The decision making is shared, meeting people where they’re at in the process and doing our best to offer informed choices and providing support,” adds Cates.

Focused on creating a true partnership, Lifecycle is committed to both the parent and child’s wellbeing. “It’s just a much more personal level of care,” says Ridgeway, whose mother gave birth at Lifecycle, too.

That personal care is what drew Mira David to Lifecycle. After two rounds of IVF to conceive their daughter, David and her husband were seeking a different modality. “I’ve always really thought that the midwifery model was just a good fit for myself, how that model really sees the whole patient, takes a more holistic approach to pregnancy and birth, taking into account our whole journey to get pregnant,” David says.

Through the entire course of pregnancy, over a dozen midwives and nurse practitioners attend to expecting parents, from regular checkups to screenings. “It allowed me to have a sense of all the different people who could actually be there during my delivery,” says David. “I can’t even emphasize enough how caring everyone is.”

All About Education

Education is a key part of midwifery and Lifecycle. At each visit—which last almost twice as long as obstetrician appointments and occur at the same times in pregnancy—expecting parents can ask questions and learn the intricacies of each stage of pregnancy and care. Diet and nutrition, and birthing options, are also key components. “We put everything out on the table that will or could happen and then talk through the risks and benefits of each of those choices,” Cates says.

Offering everything from a childbirth seminar to mindfulness to breastfeeding to introducing older siblings to a newborn, Lifecycle prepares parents for the new joys and challenges of parenthood through classes, too. “I think we do a really good job at helping people feel comfortable going into their birth process,” says Cates. “People really come into their labor trusting their bodies.” In addition to the required course for first-time parents, David and her husband took a mindfulness in birth and parenting class, “which was a total game changer,” she says. “That really helped me formulate my own ideas around birth and just feel a sense of confidence in my body’s ability to have an unmedicated labor.” Lactation consultants are also on hand. “I really liked that everything is right there,” adds David. As with classes, most lab work is done in-house, too.

Birth and Post-Natal Care

When its time, midwives talk mothers through their early labor by phone, meaning they can remain at home until it’s closer to delivery. When both agree it’s time, a mother comes to the birth center for an evaluation and, if ready, the labor process begins. “The mind-body connection is very intuitive. You really get a sense of what your body needs and when it needs it. It allows you to listen to your body and trust the process,” says Ridgeway.

Following the birth, families are never separated, and skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby is promoted. “The first thing the baby knows when she comes out is her mom’s skin and smell,” Ridgeway says. “You get to share that experience, which helps a family come together.” Parents spend anywhere from four to 12 hours in the birthing center where the team is on hand, ensuring both mother and baby are healthy. “It’s a more home-like atmosphere,” says O’Donoghue. “There’s a real nesting feeling.”

During that time, registered nurses explain everything from changing diapers to feedings. “They will spend at least an hour going over absolutely everything that you would need to know,” adds O’Donoghue. And within a day or two of giving birth, a nurse makes a house visit to check on the family and perform screenings.

Care in the Age of COVID

That model of care remains a comforting one, even in the age of coronavirus. “Having a baby during a pandemic is super nerve wracking, but [the midwives] did a good job of normalizing the experience,” says Ridgeway. Doulas are still welcome at the birth, and one support person can also be present, a change from non-pandemic times; both must wear masks.

Lifecycle has also adopted telemedicine. Some prenatal visits are done by telehealth calls. For in-person appointments, the mother attends while other family members join in virtually, further ensuring safety. “It was comforting to be able to go to an appointment and express my concerns about not just birth, but also what would happen postpartum,” says David.

Photos by Taproot Photography and Rachel Utain-Evans Photography

Contraception, Primary and Menopausal Care

While Lifecycle helps women welcome their babies, the midwives and nurse practitioners are also there through every other stage of life. Offering women’s healthcare, adolescents as young as 12 can visit the practitioners, who provide everything from primary care and vaccinations to contraception. Members of their staff also specialize in perimenopausal, menopausal and post-menopausal care, meaning women can go through just about every stage of life with the same practitioners.

Whether providing care through the birth of a first child or annual checkups, the midwives and nurse practitioners at Lifecycle WomanCare work to develop lasting relationships. “To be able to be a part of that experience is a real honor,” says O’Donoghue.

Lifecycle WomanCare

918 County Line Road
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
(610) 525-6086
lifecyclewomancare.org 

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