Special Delivery: Midwife Wants Experience To Be Memorable
Article from Sunday, April 26, 2000 issue of the Redding Record Searchlight
Each smiling baby face represents a life that the Redding woman has helped bring into the world as a practicing midwife.
Leafing through the album’s pages, McNeill points out some of her most memorable deliveries.
“Here’s the biggest baby I’ve ever delivered,’ she said, motioning to the picture of a healthy 11-pound, 12-ounce boy.
“And these were our landmark twins,” she said of two other babies, each weighing about 9 pounds at birth.
As McNeill scans each picture, it becomes obvious that she truly cares for each child she’s delivered, many of whom are now adults.
“This is my extended family,” she said, beaming.
But for McNeill, 48, becoming a midwife wasn’t a lifelong ambition.
“I didn’t actually pursue being a midwife at all,” she said.
Her journey began in the early 1970s, when she met her future husband, Michael, during the first day of math class at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. They married in March 1972 and moved to Ventura County, where McNeill had spent most of her childhood.
Because she didn’t graduate from Cal Poly, McNeill decided to attend school at Ventura College, taking pre-nursing courses to see if such a career interested her.
Six weeks into the program, she found out she was pregnant with her first child.
“When the instructors found out (I was pregnant), they said I would have to quit (school) and come back later,” McNeill said.
McNeill refused, and gave birth to son Charles in the summer of 1974, six weeks before she graduated from the vocational nursing program.
After graduating, McNeill decided to stay at home with her son and forgo a career – at least for the time being.
“I actually never worked as a nurse for years,” she said. “When I had kids, I wanted to stay home with them.”
About one year after Charles was born, McNeill got her first taste of her future calling – midwifery. One of her friends was pregnant, but the friend’s husband was overseas. She asked McNeill to be her labor coach at the classes she was attending, which focused on the Bradley Method of natural childbirth.
“To go to a class that said you had options during childbirth was very new,” McNeill said. “It was not offered through the hospital. The Bradley Method teaches people to be assertive and pursue the birth experience that’s right for them.”
A few months after coaching her friend, McNeill and her husband took a Bradley childbirth class to learn the technique. McNeill then taught her own childbirth class and met another woman who changed her life.
“In the first class I taught, there was one woman who had two frightening hospital births. She wasn’t someone who said she wanted a home birth, but she was scared…and I had never heard of home births until Bradley training,” McNeill said. “I said to her jokingly, ‘Maybe you ought to have a home birth.’ She came back to class the next week and said, ‘Maybe I do.’”
With the mother’s understanding that McNeill wasn’t an experienced midwife, she assisted with the woman’s delivery.
“She said, ‘Come and let my body teach you.’ That was the most empowering thing anyone could have said,” McNeill said.
McNeill’s reputation for helping with births spread quickly in Ventura County. One woman approached McNeill in a store and asked her to attend her birth. And a couple living 40 miles away phoned McNeill, saying they had heard she was a midwife.
“I ended up helping all of these people under the assumption that I was not an experienced midwife,” McNeill said. “It just snowballed and got busier and busier. It ended up being my destiny.”
McNeill moved to Redding in 1979 and got her registered nursing license in 1986. She continued to work as a midwife and also worked as an RN at the now-defunct Family Health and Birth Center of Redding and Shasta General Hospital.
About 2 ½ years ago, McNeill started working at the Shasta Community Health Center. She recently became the manager of the women’s health department. Her husband is employed as a nurse at the state Department of Health Services, commuting to Sacramento each week.
McNeill works closely with her patients throughout their pregnancies, overseeing all medical aspects and attending each birth, either in the patient’s home or in the “birthing room” in her Chestnut Street home.
McNeill has had many clients return to her for her second and third pregnancies during the years. Lisa Taulman, 38, of Redding is one of them. Taulman gave birth to her second daughter, Claudia, earlier this year in her home. Six years ago, McNeill helped with the birth of Taulman’s first child, Danielle.
“Her bedside manner is so careful, so loving. She knows how to work with you,” Taulman said, cradling Claudia in McNeill’s family room.
As the years pass, McNeill incorporates new methods of childbirth with her patients. Water births, in which the mother labors and sometimes delivers in a large tub of warm water, are gaining popularity with McNeill’s clients. Around 95 percent of her patients use water in some aspect of their delivery, she said.
“The warmth of the water helps (with labor),” Taulman said. She used water in the births of both children. “My husband got in the tub with me…He never left my side. It was great.”
As for McNeill, she compares midwifery to being a lifeguard.
“Lifeguards at a swimming pool are trained to be keen observers. That’s what midwives do,” McNeill said. “A good one sits and watches the process of birth and gives advice.
“Midwives are put in the position to draw on all resources when they have to make a decision…and they have to make the best decision for the baby.”
Reporter Michelle Teasley can be reached at 225-8221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.