Meet Patty. Seamstress. Mom of eight. Midwife.
Talking with Patty Kartchner about childbirth is like speaking with a poet. Every phrase she chooses illustrates her respect and wonder for the process—her belief that it is a privilege to support laboring women.
“Watching new life being created, watching the light in her eyes as she anticipates meeting this new baby who is the future of our world…What better job is there?” Patty says. “What a sacred position to be the first person to touch her baby and to hand them to her.”
Patty is a certified nurse midwife at Vancouver Clinic and has spent her career helping women navigate pregnancy and birth. However, in the beginning it was she who was the patient.
Love and marriage
Patty grew up in Ithaca, New York, and married her childhood sweetheart while they were both still in college. She and her husband knew they wanted a large family and it wasn’t long before they welcomed their first daughter. Their first son was born 12 months later. A physician cared for Patty during those pregnancies because it never occurred to her to seek out a midwife. She mostly pictured them as old ladies who burned incense in the corner during labor. But during Patty’s third pregnancy a friend told her how much she loved midwifery care and Patty decided to check it out. She started seeing a midwife and never looked back.
“I loved that personal care and how they were with me during my labor,” Patty says. “I took better care of myself at home because I knew I was the one responsible for my pregnancy.”
Patty delivered four more children and she and her husband adopted another, bringing their brood up to eight.
Back to school
Patty stayed at home to raise her kids but kept a side gig going as a doula and childbirth educator. She enjoyed teaching women about what to expect in labor and providing the emotional support they needed during birth. When her youngest two children were in elementary school Patty decided to go back to school herself. She wanted to expand her skills and help with the physical part of birth.
Enrolling in nursing school and earning a master’s from Oregon Health & Science University, then starting a career with a demanding schedule wasn’t easy, but she had her whole family’s support. Her kids understood when she slept through a birthday party after a 24-hour call. Her husband naturally took over more household duties. Patty graduated in 2009 and joined a small midwifery practice in Vancouver, which was later acquired by Vancouver Clinic.
Today Patty primarily works onsite at Vancouver’s two hospitals, with only occasional in-clinic appointments. This allows her to spend the majority of her time helping women in active labor. It’s a dream position for Patty because she gets to focus on providing the labor and delivery support skills that midwives are known for.
Patty loves being able to encourage moms in labor by reminding them how to breathe or reassuring them that their baby is safe. She’s found that letting women know that they’re okay, that their labor is normal, and that they’re making progress often gives them the energy they need to keep going. She also enjoys coaching support people—showing where to massage or apply pressure—so they can better help.
Overseeing hundreds of deliveries has taught her to watch and listen closely, taking in verbal and non-verbal cues about what each mom needs. Most of all she trusts what her patients say. If a mother says it’s time to push, she gets ready to catch.
“Her body and brain are the ones having this baby,” she says. “All my skills are on the outside of the experience. I’m intervening only when there is a problem. I have to trust her, so that I can be in her circle, not her in my circle.”
Wisdom to share
Patty says that being a mom of so many kids herself allows her to provide patients with insights from not just her medical training, but from her life experiences. Her own births occurred at home, in hospitals, by C-section, and with and without epidurals. She knows what she can and cannot change for women.
“I can’t predict what her body or baby will do, but I can affect the journey,” she says. “I can help her be involved in her labor enough that she knows that it’s unfolding the way it was going to unfold and help her to accept that and be at peace with it.”
Patty recognizes that women remember the details of their births for decades—who wiped their brow, who was late bringing ice chips. Her goal, she says, is to help women be able to look back on their experience with joy.
“I love what I do,” she says. “I Iove taking care of women. Being invited into this private part of their life is a privilege.”