NEW YORK NURSE: September 2010
by Randi Hoffman
Marlene Charles, a midwife at North Central Bronx Hospital, likes to talk about her grandmother’s work as a midwife in Haiti, riding a donkey to the homes of laboring women. “She made it sound really interesting,” said Charles. “I didn’t grow up in Haiti, but her optimism was inspiring. I wanted to do the same thing. It makes me feel close to her.
“She would ride the donkey to their homes, cook and clean for them, deliver the baby and stay on for a week or two. She was trained by the nuns. There are still lay midwives in Haiti doing similar things. There’s not much of a medical system there, and, now, after the earthquake, it’s even worse. It’s sad.”
Charles, who lives in Queens, is the mother of two little girls and a six-week-old son. She is currently on maternity leave, and will be returning to work at the end of September. She began her nursing career working as a labor and delivery nurse at Mt. Sinai from 1998 to 2003. She then trained as a midwife and went to work at North Central Bronx Hospital.
“North Central is clinic-based,” she explained. “Women in the neighborhood know about us, and come to us for care. Midwives have been running the clinic for 20-25 years. It’s really a great group of 15 full-time midwives.”
Charles said North Central Bronx has one of the lowest C-section rates in New York State. “We offer a lot of labor support, and we do offer pain management. We are very pro-VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarian).”
The midwives at North Central Bronx are now in the process of organizing with NYSNA. “Last April, we realized there were a lot of changes going on and no union representation,” Charles said. “The medical director took much of the running of the midwifery clinic away from the midwifery director. We called Lisa Ruiz at NYSNA, and she is great. She gave us the sense that we could have a voice.
“We’re having a problem right now. We belong to the New York Medical Alliance (NYMA), and there is a budget crunch. North Central Bronx has a new director, who is more supportive of doctors than of midwifery care. Four midwifery positions are being eliminated. They’re also eliminating per diems. We’re working very short-staffed.”
Charles said there used to be two midwives working the night shift and two on the day shift. Now there is only one midwife on duty during the day. “We provided 24-hour midwifery coverage,” she said, adding that that clinic is also open five days a week for routine appointments and drop-ins.
“We took a vote to unionize in April of 2009, and it passed almost unanimously. We’ve been at the table, but we don’t have a contract yet. It’s not about salary. We’re not looking for money,” Charles said. “We’re looking to keep the midwifery positions we have. We want a union because we’re in a precarious position. We’re vulnerable. I’m happy that NYSNA supports us.”