Brigitte Rhody-Garrison calls working in the Yates County area, “A midwife’s dream come true.”

She and three other licensed midwives began building a busy partnership in the area earlier this year, and already they are seeing enough families they expect to help bring one baby into the world every other day.

April Ward says they are doing what midwives have traditionally done — take their profession where there is a need.

The need in Yates County became urgent late last year after midwife Joyce Wade became gravely ill, and Elizabeth Catlin received a court order to stop attending births after felony charges were levied against her last fall in connection to assisting area women in childbirth without the proper New York license. Wade had woven a busy practice into the Mennonite community after leaving the clinical hospital setting herself.

Just days before her death, Wade reflected on her career and said she gladly left the security of the hospital setting to begin her own practice. “My last day at the hospital I was so full of joy, thinking no more do I have to do things to patients that they don’t want.”

Those sentiments are clearly understood by the four midwives who are now learning many of the country roads around Yates County.

Many Mennonite families voice a strong preference for delivering their babies at home, a practice that is becoming recognized as a safe and healthy way to begin a child’s life in a low risk pregnancy. With the closest hospital-based maternity units several miles away from any Yates County community, having a reliable midwife service is vital.

The midwives — Brigitte Rhody-Garrison, CNM, Jennifer Scott, CNM, April Ward, CNM, and Debora Bissonnette, CNM — have formed Community Midwives, using an arrangement that lets them work together while they each maintain their own businesses.

They all provide care for women seeking in-home births. Rhody-Garrison and Scott, who are from the Rochester and Canandaigua areas, work as a team primarily from their office at 612 Liberty St., Penn Yan. Bissonnette, from Burdett and Ward from Skaneateles, team up to work from a location on Welker Road near Dundee.

They bring a total of more than 50 years of midwife and nursing experience to Yates County to primarily serve the Mennonite community in Yates County. After working in clinical settings — either hospital or birthing center based — they each enjoy the relationships they can build through a homebirth practice.

When they held a meet-and-greet event this winter, 150 Mennonite women attended. “It was very touching,” says Rhody-Garrison.

Now, Rhody-Garrison and Scott say they are booked for the rest of this year, but they are taking on new clients on a case-by-case basis.

That event was coordinated by Yates County Public Health Director Deb Minor when scores of Mennonite families spoke up publicly about their need for midwife services in Yates County.

Since then they have begun to foster relationships that will likely span multiple generations. “You get to know the families very well, and you have a partnership with them,” says Ward.

Scott, who began her career in a hospital setting, prefers the home birth experience because, she says, “You’re seeing the making of a mother. They realize the strength they have to have to be a parent. If you can get through labor you can get through anything.”

Rhody-Garrison says, “It’s nice to work with a population that knows what a midwife is. They are all very passionate about midwifery and their right to choose.”

What’s also nice for the four of them is having the other midwives to network with and depend on for coverage.

While the four advocate for in-home birth experiences for low-risk births, they also have established trusted relationships with hospitals where women may be sent if complications arise. They also provide services in their “home” communities. Bissonnette and Ward work from September Hill midwifery which has an office in Burdett, and Rhody-Garrison and Scott each serve in their communities.

Bissonnette, who has been serving the community since 2001, expects their new partnership arrangement to grow over the next year or so, and the group is discussing the possibility of establishing a birthing center, but that’s a step that might bring other challenges, they say. Rhody-Garrison also says they will be recruiting more licensed midwives and students to commit to serving the area, which is under served. 

State legislation passed in 2016 allows midwives to have a birth center if women choose to not have their baby at home but don’t want to go to a hospital. However, the regulations are still under review for public comment.

But a small house with a clinic with a birthing room would be ideal so they can continue to serve women of all ages and those who might prefer a setting outside a hospital but not at home.

Contact Scott at 585-314-9307; Rhody-Garrison at 585-737-0773; Bissonnette and Ward at 607-546-7936.