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Nursing Alumna Is Passionate about Midwifery

Wendy Dotson

By Julia Duncan
Wendy Dotson, CNM, MSN, recently broke new ground. In September 1999, Dotson and another woman became the first certified nurse-midwives to participate in deliveries at Loudoun Hospital Center in Leesburg, Virginia. Dotson, B.S. Nursing '94, earned her master's degree in nursing and certificate in nurse-midwifery in 1998 from the State University of New York­Stonybrook. She and nurse-midwife Margie Brandquist joined obstetrician-gynecologist Chauncey Stokes III in February 1999 to form Women's Healthcare Associates of Loudoun. The practice offers prenatal and delivery services, as well as other women's health care, with emphasis on wellness, education, and empowerment.

Before she came to George Mason, Dotson had several years' experience as a midwife, having attended birth-center and home births in Texas and Massachusetts. In order to practice in Virginia, however, she was required to earn a nursing degree because so-called "lay" or "direct-entry" midwives cannot currently be certified to practice in the state. "My George Mason education was high quality and hard earned, of which I am proud and grateful," she says. "A George Mason nursing degree is justifiably well respected in our field."

While at George Mason, Dotson advocated for midwifery by lecturing on normal birth for classes in nursing, biology, and sociology. "I am passionate about midwifery," she says, "which is still a 'recovering' profession after almost disappearing in the United States in the first part of this century." Dotson is active in speaking to groups and promoting the innovations of midwives and has written articles for journals such as Midwifery Today.

Certified nurse-midwives (CNMs) are registered nurses with at least two years of experience in labor and delivery, followed by at least two years of postgraduate training, including the study of midwifery. They are certified by passing a national board exam and are held to rigorous standards of practice and continuing education. Their credentials also must be approved by local hospitals before they are allowed to manage hospital deliveries. About a dozen hospitals and birthing centers in Northern Virginia currently permit CNMs to attend births.

Dotson is enthusiastic about Loudoun's new openness to midwife-assisted deliveries. "Midwives have a lot to offer in any birth setting. It is part of my mission to bring some of the wonderful features of midwifery from my home-birth practice to women who choose to give birth in the hospital," she says.

According to the American College of Nurse-Midwives, about 115 state-licensed CNMs practice in Virginia, and the profession is growing. In 1989, 3 percent of all U.S. births were assisted by midwives; in 1996, the figure had increased to 6 percent. Virginia nurse-midwives attended 3,036 births in 1996, or 3.4 percent of the state's total 90,155 births.

Recent studies have shown that CNMs have better overall birth outcomes than doctors. Midwives, in general, spend more time with women during prenatal visits, and they emphasize emotional support, as well as counseling, education, and health promotion. Many CNMs also spend an entire labor and delivery providing direct coaching and care, in contrast to physicians, whose attention is sometimes more episodic.

"My mission," says Dotson, "is to offer safe, respectful midwifery care, which promotes personal and family health and growth, and communicates love."

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