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Natural Awakenings Richmond

Natural Birth Options in Richmond

May 02, 2015 07:18AM ● By Clair Norman

Natural birth options abound in Richmond and midwives and doulas are widely available. Melanie Headley, of A Brighter Birth, is a childbirth educator, doula and lactation consultant who sees a growing number of moms choosing natural birth options offered by enthusiastic local providers.

She works with a program at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) that recruits Medicaid patients for a different kind of prenatal care. CenteringPregnancy offers a series of group prenatal visits facilitated by OB/GYNs, Certified Nurse Midwives and medical residents. Programs like this help lower Caesarean section rates and enable more medical residents to receive a well-rounded view of birth options.

Natural births can take place at home, at a birthing center or in a hospital. Although there are no traditional birthing centers in Richmond, the number of home births is steadily on the rise. With natural birth, attended by a midwife and often supported by a doula, mother and baby are the key decision makers.

A certified nurse midwife holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing and an advanced degree in midwifery. She can attend hospital births and administer controlled substances. A certified professional midwife holds an advanced degree in midwifery and can attend births at home or in birthing centers, but cannot administer controlled substances. A doula, a trained non-medical birth companion and postpartum supporter, can attend births in any setting.

Certified Professional Midwife Mary Callendar, of Richmond Virginia Home Birth, describes the role of the midwife as that of birth assistant—responsible for the health and welfare of the mother and baby. A doula can be a labor and delivery coach and helps the mother advocate for herself. Often, the two work together.

Giving birth is one of life’s most natural events and often does not require much intervention. Too often, a cascade of interventions like forceps, episiotomies and Caesarean sections are employed when natural strategies may have worked better, notes Callendar. With patient education, natural options are available to all expectant mothers, regardless of socioeconomic background.

Melanie Hartman, a certified nurse midwife with The Woman’s Center at Bon Secours St. Francis Medical Center, is enthusiastic about the natural birth climate in Richmond because she encounters an amazing population of women in her practice that are not only open to, but seeking natural birth options. 

One of the biggest roadblocks to mothers choosing natural birth is the fear of pain and of the unknown. To assist with the natural pain of labor and delivery, mothers can practice helpful strategies early in pregnancy that include yoga and breathing techniques offered at childbirth classes available throughout the area.

Some women fear not having a doctor in the room. Midwives and physicians often work together very closely, and medical interventions can be introduced as a later option when necessary. A doula can help keep the mother well-informed of all options as the birth experience unfolds and advocate for her wishes.

Experience is a powerful teacher. As is the national trend, moms in Richmond often choose natural birth after experiencing or witnessing a less-informed and more traumatic birth experience. One Richmond mom decided to have her second two children with a midwife in a hospital after her first was delivered with forceps and she received an extensive episiotomy. The subsequent births are happy memories. Such is the case with the natural birth care providers in this article.

Callendar was a hospital-based doula in Richmond who decided to pursue midwifery and focus on home births after witnessing what she believed to be too many unnecessary Caesarean sections. Hartman was a labor and delivery nurse when she decided to help mothers of all backgrounds make informed choices by becoming a certified nurse midwife. Headley continues to advocate for natural birth education at VCU and in her doula practice. They are three of the many natural birth care providers in Richmond seeking to empower mothers and promote informed decision-making.

Richmond is a wonderful place to give birth naturally. Compassionate care, knowledgeable and supportive coaching and good follow-up are the key ingredients.

For more information, contact: Mary Callendar, Richmond Virginia Home Birth, [email protected]; Melanie Headley, A Brighter Birth, [email protected]; and Melanie Hartman, The Woman’s Center at Bon Secours St. Francis Medical Center, 804-423-8462. Additional natural birth resources include,,, and

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