As a new father during the 1960’s, Richard Jennings followed a path few men traveled. He became full time care-giver to his two sons, enrolled in nursing school, and pursued his fascination with pregnancy and birth. His uncommon choices led to a surprising and amazing 30-year career as a midwife providing intimate care to thousands of women seeking natural childbirth.
“I wasn’t sure how a male midwife would be received by female patients,” recalls Jennings, Director of the Gouverneur-Bellevue Midwifery Practice and the Bellevue Birth Center on Manhattan's Lower East Side. “Now it matters little. Ultimately, midwifery is about supporting excellent health outcomes for both mother and infant, no matter who is assisting in the delivery.”
He spent two years as a Labor & Delivery and Post Partum nurse at Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia, where the positive reactions from patients encouraged him to enter the Midwifery Program at Yale University. The field remains an unusual career choice for men. Less than 1% of midwives -- between 80 -100 nationally -- are men. And Jennings is one of only two male midwifes in New York City.
Jennings learned that his calling had genetic roots – his grandmother had been a midwife in Irish neighborhoods in Philadelphia and his great-grandmother had served as one in Ireland. But the midwife profession practiced by them has come a long way from the days of home visits by women with no formal training.
There are about 150 midwives at 9 HHC hospitals who offer natural childbirth within the traditional hospital maternity units so if there are complications medical intervention is immediately available. HHC midwives provide prenatal care to expecting mothers, attend the birth of infants, and provide postpartum care to the mother and her infant. They also provide primary care services such as annual gynecological exams, family planning counseling and menopause care.
"We teach women to stay healthy," said Jennings. "When we empower women to take good care of themselves, then they are more likely to be able to take good care of their baby. Our goal is to put a smile on the mother's face at every visit."
The Gouverneur-Bellevue Midwifery Program has had birth outcomes that set it apart from the national averages: while the number of C-sections has risen steadily in the U.S. to over 30%, the Gouverneur-Bellevue Midwifery practice has stayed below 10%. The percentage of infants born with a low birth weight rate is under 5% compared to the national average of 8.2%.
"Patients who deliver with Richard Jennings or one of the other midwives he directs experience a seamless transition from prenatal care to postpartum and pediatric care and our statistics show it,” said William Bateman, MD, Medical Director at Gouverneur.
Richard is very involved in professional and political midwifery events, networking and public speaking. His life’s passion and goal is to let the world know about midwifery, the Bellevue Birth Center and the benefits of natural childbirth.