Sarah Buttenwieser: Why midwife Judie Brock’s reputation preceded her

Last modified: Tuesday, August 12, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — Judie Brock was the first midwife to catch a baby at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in 1982. Her ability to assist families with the birth of their children was part of a watershed for women having babies in Northampton and across the country.

Wind the clock back as far as the late 1960’s or early 1970’s and you’d discover dads were not allowed to witness their babies’ arrivals. They were relegated to waiting rooms. The cigar wasn’t required, but to await the news at a huge remove — physically and psychically — was.

It took time for women doctors and more time for midwives to become part of the birthing process at our local hospital. Beyond the symbolic, there were other restrictions about how a woman could experience labor and birth.

Could she determine whether she stood or walked around or what position her body took? Could she have any support? Ask about medication or not? Was she taught breathing techniques?

Answers turned from some variation upon “no” to “yes” and Brock had a great deal to do with this. Her reputation was towering.

There’s a good reason her reputation preceded her. Anyone meeting Brock will tell you she’s enthusiastic and bright-eyed; more so, she’s a fierce advocate of and believer in women’s abilities to birth families. She enjoys being a health care practitioner — and does so in the holistic paradigm that sees her role as supporting health in the broadest sense.

She wants women not only to be healthy in terms of numbers (iron levels or resting pulse), she sees health as confidence in one’s abilities to parent, and knows she must help to instill that confidence and encourage families to obtain tools so they feel comfortable with their competence.

When, after a brief hiatus from childbirth in the Pioneer Valley, Brock’s connection to the launch of Cooley Dickinson Hospital’s Midwifery Practice in the “Yellow House” was announced, it really felt as if all those historic “no’s” had really turned to one giant “yes.”

It was love for women’s health and belief that women have the right to determine — and be active participants in their pregnancies and births — that culminated in this woman-centered practice. The greater community was more than ready; we were eager for this kind of approach and these services, including “centering,” which places women in groups for prenatal care.

As a group, the clients attend to basic monitoring tasks and the hive mind of the group brings questions to the midwives and the hive heart of the group brings support to one another as pregnant women navigate their physical and emotional journeys.

For three years running, Valley Advocate readers voted this the “best” childbirth center. At the end of July, Brock returned to the Green Mountain State where she lives, to work there in a less hurried, “lower tech, higher touch” birthing practice.

Those of us fortunate enough to have had her catch our babies or to participate in the broader vision informed by her perspective on pregnancy and birth and women’s health care feel resolved that Cooley Dickinson Hospital honors what’s been created and continues to provide women’s health care that believes in women’s inherent ability to birth babies as they imagine themselves being able to do.

Writer Sarah Buttonwieser lives in Northampton.