Sag Harbor resident Liza Tremblay with midwife Julia Chachere, who delivered Liza and Joe’s son, Leo.
By Emily J. Weitz
Childbirth is at once the most ordinary and the most extraordinary experience in life. Each woman needs to summon her strength in her own, personal way to bring a new life into the world.
As research about childbirth has grown, so too have the options for families outside of traditional hospital births, just as the doctor ordered. And the range of choices is expanding.
From home births to hospital births, from midwives to doulas to doctors, the East End community of birthing professionals is flourishing. In 2009, Southampton OB/GYN hired midwife Julia Chachere who attends to her birthing patients at Southampton Hospital. There are also several midwives who assist women in home births all over the East End. In an effort to ensure these choices are not overlooked, the Long Island Birth Network East (LIBNE) has formed as a new organization focused on making women and families aware of their options.
“You don’t have to birth one way,” says Gayle Eckey, the chapter leader for LIBNE. “You have options. It’s a matter of finding your options.”
One way LIBNE is trying to make the community aware is through film screenings, the first of which will be next week, April 25, at the Hampton Library. “Birth Story” is the story of Ina May Gaskin, a midwife in Tennessee who changed the face of birthing for many women across the country.
“There are a lot of myths about home birth,” says Eckey. “This film dispels the myth that home birth is not safe. People don’t realize that midwives have the same skills as an OB (obstetrician) does.”
Chachere, one of two midwives who work through the Southampton OB/GYN practice, agrees that there are a lot of stereotypes surrounding midwifery.
“There is an assumption that midwives only deliver at home,” says Chachere, a Sag Harbor resident, “but in fact the majority of midwife attended births take place in the hospital setting. It’s also assumed that midwives disapprove of the use of pain medication in labor. In fact there are many ways a woman may choose to work with her contractions; as midwives we see our role as supporting women in making choices that work best for them and not coming in with our own agendas.”
Through her practice, Chachere cares for women of all ages, from adolescence to post-menopause.
“Midwives have suffered from a lack of public awareness of what we do and who we are,” says Chachere. “In addition to attending deliveries, midwives offer care across a woman’s lifetime including well-woman gynecology, family planning and post-menopausal care.”
“It’s not just about birthing babies,” she says.
The key to midwifery, what Chachere said is really learned in school, is about listening to women and upholding the normalcy of the birth experience. Pregnancy is not an illness that you need to be cured from and childbirth is not something you need to detach from.
“We try to empower women to have the best possible births,” says Chachere. “We are very good at sitting on our hands and waiting, being patient and respecting the process.”
One advantage of a midwife, she believes, is the time she is able to spend with her patients.
“We have the luxury of time to listen to women and be with them throughout the birth in whatever way they need.”
Chachere’s position at Southampton OB/GYN emerged because there was a demand in the community for this option. Carole Perez, a birth professional who grew up in Sag Harbor and had her children here 30 years ago, has seen the demands of the community change.
“I’ve seen it go through cycles,” says Perez. “When I was having my babies, there were groups having babies at home. Then there was a big lull, with not so many people having home births. Now there’s a resurgence. And it’s beautiful.”
“I am so proud of this next generation of women having babies right now,” adds Perez. “They are so connected, and educated and they take care of each other.”
“I think the community is changing. It’s more aware of options and alternatives for maternity services,” she says. “People want more autonomy, a more active role in their birthing process.”
Perez was a doula before there was a word for what she did. She started attending births because she realized how empowering a role that can be for a caregiver. She also realized how intimidating the birthing process could be to a mom without someone supportive by her side. Perez had a midwife who helped her through her first birth in California, and who then flew to Long Island to be with her for her second and third babies.
“What she gave me was so valuable and important in empowering me, not only as a mom but as a human being,” says Perez. “The way she supported me, it started everything for me. When my daughter was born in Wainscott, my midwife lifted her onto me and she kissed me on the knee, and looked me straight in the eyes and said, ‘Okay, it’s time for your apprenticeship now.’ I love her with my whole heart.”
The deep connection a family can make with their midwife is formative to the family itself. Liza Tremblay, who owns Bay Burger in Sag Harbor with her husband Joe, gave birth to their son Leo at Southampton Hospital under the care of Chachere.
“I was sure from the beginning that I wanted to have as natural a pregnancy and birth experience as possible,” says Tremblay. “Joe and I knew that birth does not always go according to plan… but I ended up having a beautiful, peaceful, and drug-free birth at Southampton Hospital surrounded by an incredibly supportive team. Julia [Chachere] knitted booties while I labored and I never felt rushed or made to feel I was doing something wrong by attempting a natural, vaginal birth.”
Perez talks about the impact of the first hands that touch a new baby, and the environment in which that baby takes his or her first breath.
“For me,” she says, “this is about women birthing their families. I believe in strong families. If we create strong families, we create strong communities, strong countries, strong planet. I don’t know what is right for anyone, but I know a range of possibilities and I support women with that range of possibilities.”
Long Island Birth Network East will sponsor the screening of “Birth Story” at Hampton Library on Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton on Thursday, April 25 at 7 p.m. This event is free and open to all.