Jill F. Whitfield is semi-retired from midwifery, but she’s still working.
“I just feel like the Lord really is not done with me yet,” she says.
Previously, Whitfield worked at the Midwife Group Women’s Health and Birth Center. Now, she volunteers at a free clinic around Dublin, Georgia, and also helps home birth midwifes in neighboring states. She also teaches education classes at the Center still.
Whitfield’s passion for midwifery is not only inspirational, it’s crucial for a state that has a maternal mortality rate of 46.2 deaths per 100,000 live births. That’s more than twice the number for the United States overall and on par with third-world countries.
“I’ve always felt that midwives were the ones that could do something about that,” says Whitfield of the maternal mortality rate. “Nurse midwives are nurses first. We are educated and brought up with a different mindset from nursing school. We listen—we absolutely listen—and we look at the whole woman. We don’t look just at her uterus. We look at every inch of her body and every hair on her head, and I’m not sure physicians always do that.”
As Whitfield explains, physicians are often low on time and resources, which can lead to hasty diagnoses or not getting the full picture.
“If you go back and look at the countries with the lowest maternal mortality rates, what you’ll find is they have a midwifery model of care,” says Whitfield.
Midwives have more time to learn about their patients, which helps them find any issues women may have.
“It may turn out they’re just having late pregnancy symptoms, and you’re swelling because it’s 99 degrees out, but it’s worth a look,” stresses Whitfield. “I brought up a lot of midwifery students and nursing students through the years, and you have some ladies that complain about everything all the time. Maybe they’re a first-time mom and they’re scared. I tell them: Don’t discount anything they say. Even though you’re gonna go, ‘Oh, God, here she comes again,’ you cannot discount anything she says.”
That attention to women’s bodies is what makes midwifery so crucial, and Whitfield’s dedication to her field is certainly something to be admired. – Rachael Flora
Runner-up: Cheryl Hartenbower, CNM