Meet Laurie Zoyiopoulos, CPM, serving mid to Northern Michigan! Laurie’s one of my favorite people on earth! I’ve known her nearly twenty years. I met her in the 1990s, though I imagine I came close to her the first time I attended a Michigan Midwives Association Meeting (MMA) in 1988! Laurie’s attended the births of 1,089 babies since 1988 and has trained several apprentices – one of whom just became a CPM herself! Laurie’s served several terms as president of the MMA, and writes regularly for “Expectations,” the MMA Newsletter. Laurie’s functioned as an incredible support to me through the many years of our professional association. Laurie’s a remarkable soul – an excellent midwife, teacher, and example, and is a rare and priceless blend of tough as a midwife needs to be, while remaining as humble and tender and sweet as you’d want a grandmother to be.
Laurie would love to meet you if you’re interested in birthing at home! She may be reached at www.faithfulguardiansmidwifery.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us now as Laurie weaves for us the tale of her journey into and through the world of homebirth midwifery. I’m especially pleased to introduce you to this beautiful woman on the week of International Midwives Day, as well as through the week prior to Mother’s Day! Laurie has certainly served as a midwifery mother to me, and for that, I’m unspeakably grateful ♥
Laurie Zoyiopoulos, CPM, mid to Northern Michigan
I was first exposed to midwifery at a La Leche League meeting. I was expecting my 2nd child and had attended monthly meetings for breastfeeding support. LLL has a policy about staying neutral about home/hospital birth, so it wasn’t until after the meeting was officially over that one of the mothers was allowed to show us the video of her homebirth. It was so intriguing to me. I’d had one very normal birth in the hospital, two and a half years earlier, and yet many of the things done as routine bothered me. I was quite certain I could give birth just fine, maybe with less anxiety, without the fetal monitor strapped around my middle and the IV in my arm.
Around the time of this LLL meeting, I read the book, Silent Knife, by Nancy Wainer Cohen and Lois J. Estner. It’s a book for someone planning a vaginal birth after a c-section, and it was the first of its kind. It had been commonly thought that once you had a c-section, you always had to have one, so this book was a new idea to me. I bought it for my sister-in-law, who’d had a c-section with her first baby. I decided to read it first – I didn’t buy many birthing books back then, and I was curious – and it changed my life! The things it mentioned, things that can affect the course of labor and birth, had been done to me during my first labor and delivery. I realized that spending the majority of my labor, once I entered the hospital, in the bed, with the monitor and IV, without food and drink, and subjected to many, many internal exams, could’ve been detrimental, and wasn’t how a laboring woman should be cared for. I remember reading about women who’d had previous c-sections having homebirths, and that completely amazed me!
After watching that homebirth video at that LLL meeting, I asked the woman who her midwife was. She told me “Patrice Bobier,” and later I got Patrice’s number from her. I called that number and found Patrice was out of town, so I had to wait to talk with her. I was excited for this next step, and felt impatient during that short wait.
Finally the day came to meet her, and I liked her right away. She took her time with us and patiently answered the list of twenty-five questions I’d brought along! I sure wish I knew what she first thought of me. We hired her and she was our midwife for that baby and for the next, our last. It’s amazing how one person can alter the course of a life! That’s what Patrice did for me. I’m forever grateful to her, and to God Who made our paths not only cross, but blend into a strong friendship. I can hardly remember what my life was like before she was in it.
After I had my third baby, it dawned on me that midwifery might be something I could do. Patrice actually needed a postpartum care aide, so she trained me, and I began seeing her clients that were near me (those 75+ miles from her). It was perfect for someone with small children – I could leave them with a sitter, and take the nursing baby with me. It wasn’t birth, so there were no 2:00 a.m. calls or the need to suddenly leave my family. I met the women I would be doing postpartum care for during their pregnancies. A few were open to me attending their births, so, even before I was an apprentice, I attended a handful of births and helped in any way I could.
And one day, while sitting with my husband, Jeff, on the couch in the living room of our old, rented farmhouse – the room where our third baby had been born the year before, I said, “I think I want to be a midwife.” I remember feeling scared to even say that sentence out loud… to even mention I thought I could do the amazing work I’d experienced and was part. I even wondered if Jeff might sort of laugh at me. How could his wife become something… someone so responsible for other lives? I wasn’t sure myself. But he didn’t laugh. We didn’t have a very in-depth conversation about it, but he didn’t laugh. And after saying it – aloud, and to another person – I began to want it, and to believe I could someday do it… someday….
In 1990, I began apprenticing with Patrice. The first birth I attended in that role was only my 7th, and I remember it well. It was a fast-happening daytime birth, and it had taken me a little longer than I’d wanted to find childcare. I arrived to the home, ran up the stairs, and, upon entering the room, saw a huge baby head, just delivered, with the body yet to be born. Patrice said, “Tight cord,” and I glanced over at the birth supplies, found the sterile pack, and brought it over to her. I opened it carefully. She retrieved the clamps and scissors and cut the tight umbilical cord, allowing the rest of the baby to deliver. We now know to first try the “somersault maneuver” to avoid cutting those tight cords, as cutting them puts the baby “on his own” before he’s even able to take a breath. I’ve seen, and have even done this cutting of the cord on the perineum other times since, but this was a first. Later, I felt pleased with myself for knowing what Patrice meant when she said, “tight cord.” But when I received my evaluation for that birth, Patrice had written how important it was for me to find childcare faster as she was depending on me. It struck me, even then, just as it had months earlier, sitting with Jeff on our couch, that I’d have to take this responsibility so very seriously – to find a way to be and do what I’d need to be and do – in every aspect of this journey. I’d also need to learn to take critique and instruction as a chance to learn and grow.
I trained with Patrice four and a half years, then began attending births in a supervised role in preparation for becoming a Certified Midwife through the Michigan Midwives Association. I completed that in 1996, though to this day I attend births now and then with Patrice, as she does with me. In 2008, through the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM) “Experienced Midwife” route, I became a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM).
Through the years I’ve witnessed countless amazing births… amazing in happy ways, in triumphant ways, and in ways so drenched in sorrow I felt I couldn’t go on.
I may not have been prepared for the sadness that could accompany birth. It’s a rarity, but it did come early in my training. It was birth number 8, but the sadness was revealed before the birth. A mother had reported her baby wasn’t moving when we arrived for her routine prenatal visit. She didn’t seem too worried, so I didn’t either. I was with Patrice, and there was a security in that. But try as Patrice might, she wasn’t able to find the baby’s heartbeat. An ultrasound confirmed what we were quite sure of, and a couple days later we went to the hospital for an induction. I’ve written about that birth before, so I won’t share any more of it here, but it was a harsh reality for me. I learned, so very early on, that being a midwife wasn’t all about healthy babies and joyous mothers. It forced me to face this fact straight on, and I had to decide if I had it in me to continue. I believe it’s always been God urging me on and encouraging me, and that’s been my comfort. He also provided me great support in the form of midwives who’ve become dear friends, and in my husband who’s always known this wasn’t going to be an easy endeavor.
Of all the many memorable births I’ve attended, the one that tops them all might be the first time I “delivered” a baby by myself. I’d only ever seen four other babies born, and the first birth I’d seen was born to the mother in this story, which made it all the more sweet. At the four other births, I’d made sure to synchronize my arrival with Patrice’s. I had no desire to be there without her! But for some reason, this time, I decided I’d go a little sooner. This was an Amish family, and we’d been to their home many times – for the previous baby (prenatal care, birth, postpartum care), and now for this baby’s prenatal care. The one thing that had always concerned me when going to their home was their unfriendly, free-range dog. He was a large, black dog, and their door was up a hill and around the house. I’d take dog treats with me, and toss them to him as I made my way through the yard. I love dogs in general, especially the nice, happy-to-slobber-all-over-me dogs, but I even like the jump-with-obvious-joy-at-seeing-me dogs. The unfriendly, barking, hackles raised dogs – not so much. On this evening, September 18, 1989, I headed to the birth, dog treat ready, excited to be attending another of that family’s births. It was still daylight out when I pulled into their driveway, and, as I neared their home, I saw the husband, coming around the house and half-way down the hill. I opened my door and heard him shouting, “Her water just broke! Hurry!!” I jumped from my car and ran up the hill, forgetting my dog treats, and forgetting to worry about where the beast even was. Apparently birth trumps fear of dogs! I had no bags to grab and bring in, because I had hardly any gear yet – I only had a stethoscope, a blood pressure cuff, a fetoscope, and a digital thermometer. I rushed into their kitchen and on in to the living room where she’d planned to give birth on a hide-a-bed. And sure enough, there she was, water broken, Sunday dress still on, trying not to have her baby until someone other than her husband was present. He asked, “What do you need?!” Wow, given time to ponder that million-dollar question, I wonder just what I would’ve said? A midwife! A pair of gloves! Some experience! Some confidence! But for a few moments I remember being almost amused to realize that I, the one who still wondered if she could ever be a midwife, brought some sort of weird reassurance to this couple who were older than me and about to have twice as many children as I had. It was uncanny, but very, very real, and I had no time to feel awkward or unprepared. I said, “I need to wash my hands!” and, since they didn’t have running water, he brought me a metal bowl filled with warm water and a bar of soap. I washed and rinsed in the same bowl of water, and turned to the mother who was propped against the cushions of the couch, trying to breathe through her contractions while telling me she thought she needed to push. I told her I should check her, though I’d never checked anyone before! But I knew it isn’t always okay to push, and I was hoping to buy a little more time for Patrice to get there – she was still about twenty minutes away. I had no gloves, and we had no disposable underpads (those were the days before clients ordered their own birth kits), so, towels and baby blankets had to do. I did an internal exam, and found a wrinkly baby head just inside – no skill needed for that assessment! I said a quick and silent prayer – something like, “Lord, please don’t let me mess up!” and she gave a push and the head began to crown. I supported her the way I’d seen Patrice do it, and the head was born and rotated. I checked for the umbilical cord (something we always did in those days) and found none there – sweet relief! And, then, with her next push, the baby was born! I handed her up to her mother, and onto her best Sunday dress – I still remember it was gray. The baby girl cried right away, and we covered her and dried her with a receiving blanket. I was stunned! I’d delivered a baby! And everyone seemed fine and happy! And I made a mess, but I didn’t care! I’d delivered my first baby!
Patrice and her help arrived right when I thought they would – thankfully, before the placenta. I was so glad to see them. All of a sudden I thought I might cry. I was hugged and I felt shaky and the tears were threatening, but I pulled it together. I helped them piece together the times needed for the chart, then I cleaned up the mess while they looked mama and baby over. It was the most amazing thing that had ever happened to me, apart from giving birth myself.
The assistant who came with Patrice boldly asked the couple if she could take a couple of pictures of the baby and me, and they happily agreed, and they even got into a few of the pictures. They knew I’d want to remember this very precious birth in the years to come. It was the birth that cinched it for me. As frightened and unprepared as I’d felt, I also felt a peace about this being my profession someday. I felt utterly taken with the whole thing, knowing that, with more knowledge and training and experience and skills, I’d master the fear that threatened to freeze me and make me useless. But what the years have taught me is that fear has a necessary place in birth. It keeps complacency at a distance, and partners perfectly with respect. It means you know you’re never done learning or perfecting skills and, like a detective, you’re always keenly aware of the facts and the situation. That fear is still present at each and every birth, but it’s taken a backseat and isn’t in charge. It grooms the intuition, and is needed by every midwife. It was there at Jennifer Ann’s birth, birth number 5, and it was there the other night, at birth number 1,089.
My practice has really grown and changed through the years, a growth that’s paralleled the growth of my children and my “empty nest.” When I was a little younger, I remember thinking midwifery would be a great profession to grow old with – a chance to be busy with something meaningful at a time many start to feel less useful. Being grayer and wiser will likely be an asset also – something to be okay about (though probably never something to look forward to)!
My practice is a rural one, with approximately one-quarter of my clientele Amish or Mennonite. It’s funny how many people assume I mostly care for the Amish – they’re surprised to find that “regular” people chose to deliver babies without doctors and hospitals, at home, in their own beds, or in the water. It isn’t often for financial reasons, either, since many folks have insurance to cover hospital births – sometimes even at 100% – while insurance doesn’t always cover homebirths. I do bill insurance companies, though, and they often cover the care provided.
I truly love being a community midwife, and I long for the day when there will be enough midwives to keep each one busy within her own thirty-mile radius. I feel it’s crucial we pass on what we know to the next generation of midwives, and that we never again allow our profession to nearly die out. The next generation needs to perfect the craft without watering it down. But this will be a challenge, because we’re no longer only barely visible to the medical world. We’re known, and not all are happy about it. It’s a daunting task to find doctors who are helpful, but we need to keep striving and communicating and doing what’s best for the women and babies – because that’s what this is really all about! Providing women and their families quality, individual care – care that gives women courage and confidence, even as it discerns and protects. And let’s not forget the babies. They may really be why I do what I do. They deserve a safe and gentle entry, to be met with warmth and soft words and their mother’s skin and milk. This profession… this calling… what it sometimes, or often, takes… it’s the babies that make it all worthwhile.
All photos provided by Laurie Zoyiopoulos
Thank you so much for the gift of your time!
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Kim Woodard Osterholzer, Colorado Springs Homebirth Midwife and Author
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