Labor and Delivery: A Midwife's Tale
Jessica Lewis Satrape ’97 remembers the first childbirth she witnessed. The mother labored hard, breathing into her contractions for hours. A nurse listened to the baby’s heartbeat every 15 minutes or so. Meanwhile, the midwife simply sat in a rocking chair and rocked. “I remember just being amazed,” says Satrape. “I thought, really, you’re just sitting there rocking? Shouldn’t this be a big deal?”
And, of course, it was a big deal. “She pushed, and the baby came out, and it was just a beautiful, messy, hard, miraculous thing,” Satrape remembers. “I was sobbing, the parents were sobbing; it was just overwhelming and amazing.”
Fast-forward a dozen-plus years, and Satrape is that seasoned midwife, calmly standing by through labor but ready to jump in when the time comes.
Keene State didn’t have a major or a minor in women’s studies when she was a student, but Satrape took all of the women’s studies classes that were offered and majored in political science. She was a winner of the College’s prestigious Outstanding Women of New Hampshire Awards. Midway through her senior year, she hadn’t decided on a career path – until she was struck by an epiphany on Christmas day. “I thought, I’m supposed to be a midwife,” she says. “It was a really overwhelming moment.”
She talked with the nurse-midwife at her Vermont family practitioner’s office, then headed to Norwich University directly after graduation for an associate’s degree in nursing – which led her to a nursing job in labor and delivery and then to a midwifery nursing master’s program at the Medical University of South Carolina. A certified nurse-midwife, Satrape has worked for the last 10 years at Women’s Health Care, a group practice in Haverhill, Massachusetts. She delivers babies at Anna Jacques Hospital in neighboring Newburyport, Massachusetts.
“It’s not an easy lifestyle,” she says of midwifery. “And you really tend to have a very strong drive to want to care for women, to make positive change, but also see that more holistically.”
She’s drawn to helping teenagers, and many of her patients are teens in the foster care system who live in area group homes. That’s rewarding, and also challenging, she notes: “These are girls and very young women who come from really difficult backgrounds that we can’t even imagine – and now they’re pregnant.” With those patients, she provides pregnancy care and well-woman care, and also encourages them to connect with community resources and to continue their education.
Satrape tells stories that range from the funny (a teenage mother in labor letting out a loud stream of “colorful language” just as a group of pregnant women touring the birthing center walked by in the hallway) to the touching (a woman who brought her two eight-year-olds, one her daughter and the other her stepdaughter, to all her appointments and the birth itself, as a way to bind the family together).
There are also scary moments and sad moments, she says, as well as disappointments – such as when a woman needs a last-minute Caesarian section. Satrape assists with those, too, so she’s with her birthing mothers through the entire process, even when it takes an unexpected turn.
She understands complications, having gone through two high-risk pregnancies herself. Women need to feel empowered in their pregnancies, she says; they should learn as much as they can about the process and put together a plan for the birth. But they also need to remember that the goal is a healthy mother and a healthy baby – and that, in the end, “this birth experience is one to experience and not to control.” Satrape and her husband, Joshua Satrape, a senior solutions architect, now have two healthy kids – a four-year-old and a five-year-old.
It’s been a rewarding career, bringing babies into the world, and Satrape, after many years of experience, is still in awe of the miracle of it. She can even trace her work helping women back to those political science and women’s studies classes she took at Keene State. “I’m putting that interest into a practical use,” she says.