VCU Health Nurse-Midwives Make Natural Childbirth Natural

Babies around Richmond just seem to come naturally. Nationwide, 27% of all babies are born by caesarian section. But only 9% of Richmond-area mothers under the care of VCU Health certified nurse-midwives (CNM) undergo C-sections.

“Babies know how to be born,” says Leslie Fehan, MS, CNM, WHNP-BC, a midwife at VCU Health. “The moms we work with see childbirth as a normal process, not a medical event.”

Most physicians agree that natural childbirth tends to be better for both baby and mom. Fehan adds, “Our moms want the freedom to choose their ideal birthing experience. We’re their partners, helping guide them through this wonderful experience, from prenatal care and education, to delivery and post-partum care.”


Highly trained professionals

The outdated image of a midwife is a maternal, bossy figure shooing the menfolk away to go boil water. The reality is that CNMs are highly trained professionals working as part of a medical team.

The six CNMs at VCU Health have completed four years of undergraduate nursing school and a master’s degree in nursing, specializing in midwifery and the requirements of a demanding certification. They work as a team with hospital obstetricians, pediatricians, nurses and lactation consultants.

“That’s the key to our hospital-based midwifery program,” says Fehan. “We can offer patients an experience that is close to a home birth – but with the security of having all the resources of a major medical center right at hand. VCU Health has the only Level I neonatal intensive care unit in the region. Everything we could possibly need is right here.”


VCU Health - Midwife Room


Hands on and eyes open

Among the skills of a CNM are the knowledge and confidence to let nature take its course. “Most women in labor just need ‘quiet vigilance,’” Fehan says. “We pay constant attention to the well-being of both the baby and the mother, listening, watching and soothing.” The gentle monitoring makes moms feel safe and confident. “We’ve spent years learning what is normal in childbirth, and how and when to intervene, if things deviate from normal, to put things back on track.”

VCU Health has created a beautiful and inviting environment for childbirth. The Labor and Delivery rooms at VCU Health are calming, spa-like places where a laboring mother can feel relaxed and comfortable, with ambient touches to put her most at ease: low lights, calming music, aromatherapy, a soothing labor tub. There are beverages to make sure mom is well hydrated, cold compresses, massage oil for touch therapy and more.

Her midwife is there every moment, keeping a watchful eye on the baby’s well-being and the mother’s comfort, providing quiet reassurance, and offering what Fehan believes is the most important skill of all: “Listening.”

“We listen closely to the mother. Being listened to validates and empowers a woman in labor. She has control. As we encourage her through the process, we are actually helping her to be a better, more confident mother. And we know so many ways to help make labor and delivery more comfortable.”

In their training, nurse-midwives become experts in pain management, including natural techniques that are often more effective and immediately helpful than medications. At VCU Health, only 13% of midwife-assisted patients need pharmacological pain intervention.


Labors of love: Clinical care and teaching

Childbirth may be natural, but prenatal education makes it a more rewarding experience. “Midwives are nurses, and nurses are educators,” says Fehan. “One of our important roles is to prepare the patient for childbirth, helping her understand what is normal and assist her in developing coping skills and confidence.” Nurse-midwives help prepare women not only for the physical aspects of childbirth, but also the emotional, social and personal changes that result from having a baby. When it comes to prenatal care, midwife patients may have individual prenatal visits or participate in Centering Pregnancy™, where small groups of women at the same stage of pregnancy meet for prenatal visits and discussions as a social support network, often creating Facebook pages to stay in touch even after their babies are born.

In her career, Fehan has delivered more than 1,200 babies. She says midwifery is a calling and a passion. “The hours can be long and challenging, but it’s worth it. To empower women during pregnancy, to guide them through the life-changing experience of giving birth naturally, to hold life in your hands … that’s a joy and a privilege, for me and for mom.”

Leslie Fehan, CNM, WHNP-BC
Lead Certified Nurse-Midwife
Associate Clinical Professor
Department Ob/Gyn
VCU Health System


VCU Health - Midwife

VCU Health certified nurse-midwives (from left to right): Melanie Hartman, Stephanie Sherrell, Ashley Mirmak, Leslie Fehan, Elizabeth Markey, and Holly McGroary.



Stony Point Women’s Health
9000 Stony Point Parkway
Richmond, VA 23235
fax: 804-560-7343


Women’s Health Nelson Clinic
400 N. 11th Street, Suite 500
P.O. Box 9804034
Richmond, VA 23298
fax: 804-828-6084

Article has been provided by VCU Health.