Thank you to OHSU’s “Godmother of Midwifery”

By Ariane Le Chevallier, OHSU Communications 

How lucky I am to have known someone who was so hard to say goodbye to! This month, we celebrate the retirement of Dr. Carol Howe, Associate Dean for Practice at OHSU’s School of Nursing and Director of the Nurse-Midwifery Education Program.

Dr. Howe has served OHSU for over 35 years and her remarkable contributions to midwifery and women’s health, not only at OHSU, but all across Oregon are truly inspiring.

I had a chance to sit down with Dr. Howe to talk about how she came to midwifery, to OHSU and to reflect on some of the highlights of her career.

Q: How long have you been at OHSU?

Carol Howe Retirement Party_2A: I first came to OHSU in 1974. I was here for three years and started the midwifery practice during that time. Then I moved to San Francisco while my husband was completing his residency, and I earned my doctoral degree. We came back in 1980 and I’ve been here ever since.

Q: How did you decide to pursue midwifery?

A: Well, it turned out to be sort of an accident more than anything else. I got a catalogue from Yale, which had a master’s in maternal/newborn nursing, with a note saying that graduates are eligible to be nurse-midwives. I had never heard of a nurse-midwife at that time. I applied and got in.

Q: How have you seen midwifery change over the years?

A: The biggest change has just been in name recognition. People now understand what a midwife is. When I moved to Oregon, there was one other nurse-midwife practicing and she was in Eugene. Now we have about 300 nurse-midwives statewide, and we deliver just shy of 20 percent of the babies in the state.

Q: What has your career been like?

A: My biggest accomplishment was starting the nurse-midwifery practice at OHSU, which has turned into a wonderful and robust part of the services we offer here. Also, starting the educational program and having it be so successful.

The biggest challenge is the sheer workload. The hours of a midwife are hard. It’s intense. When you’re with a patient, you are actually there. Midwife means “with woman” so you are really there. It’s a very intense time. When you are finished with a birth, you are used up emotionally and physically. It’s a hard balance to keep up.

Q: What are the benefits of having a nurse-midwife as part of your birth plan, as opposed to perhaps a physician?

A: We like to say that we are a team and there are some things that midwives are better at, some things physicians are better at. Patients benefit from having access to both. Midwives spend a great deal of time on patient education and paying attention to the whole of what’s happening to the woman, including her family and life in general, and her psychosocial needs.

The most important thing for a woman in pregnancy is to trust her provider, whether it’s a direct-entry midwife, physician, or a nurse-midwife. If she trusts her provider, a woman can just relax and let her body do the work it needs to do. 

Q: Looking back on your career, what have been some of the highlights?Carol Howe Retirement Party_1

A: Every year is a highlight. On the education side, every year when we graduate our students, it’s such an emotional time for them, but also for the faculty. I am really proud of the graduates of this program. There have been some incredible births. There have been some real challenges.

Q: How many babies you’ve delivered?
A: I don’t know! I never counted. I wish I had! It’s got to be over 1,000….I was too busy!

Q: What are you looking forward to in retirement?

A: Sleeping late. Visiting my grandchildren, maybe traveling with my husband. Beyond that, I haven’t got a whole lot of plans…I have some incredibly good friends and faculty colleagues and I’ve been watching to see how they are doing and how they are making that transition!

Q: How would you like your staff, students and faculty to remember you?

A: As a good midwife. It’s just been a great journey, one I didn’t expect. I’ve had a great time and people have had my back all the time. Everybody has somehow made this possible for me.

Thank you Dr. Howe and best wishes for a wonderful retirement. For more information (and some great photos of Dr. Howe over the years), check out her story on OHSU’s Historical Notes blog.

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