Making a difference: Mary Bernabe

Carolyn Schultz-Rathbun
For ClarkCountyToday.com

 

YACOLT — Yacolt resident Mary Bernabe figures she has delivered somewhere over 2,000 babies, including some outdoors, and some in teepees.

“People don’t do that twice,” says the 69-year-old Bernabe. “It’s just too difficult. But those were fun births.”

Fun is a word that keeps coming up when Bernabe talks about her 43 years of midwifery.

Mary Bernabe Midwife
After 43 years of midwifery, Mary Bernabe has no plans to retire. “I love what I do,” she says. “I wouldn’t change.” Photo courtesy of Ailshie Photography by Bonnie

“I thought it would be a lot of fun, and it has been,’’ Bernabe said. “I really love women. We’re kind of unique. We do so much, and we’re so creative. It’s really cool to get to know women and help them with birth. It’s really good to see families interact.”

But one thing caught her by surprise.

“I didn’t realize I’d have all these extended families. I have people (former clients) that just call me up to visit. And people I just call up to visit. I’ve been able to go to weddings (of babies I delivered). Birth second generation babies. I never expected any of that.”

The road to midwifery started for Bernabe when she had her first baby.

“It was horrendous. You were tied down, strapped down. This was 1967. It took me five and a half years to have another baby, because it really freaked me out.”

Mary Bernabe Midwife
Yacolt resident Mary Bernabe figures she has delivered somewhere over 2,000 babies. Photo courtesy of Ailshie Photography by Bonnie

Bernabe became a childbirth instructor. Then in 1976 she moved to Washington and discovered midwives. She went to the Northwestern School of Practical Midwifery in West Linn, OR, then apprenticed with another midwife for a year.

“Then I went out on my own, and it was crazy busy,’’ she said. “Everyone was afraid to do births here. Oregon was wide open. But Washington … I was the only home-birth midwife here. So I trained some other women. Five of them.”

In those days, Bernabe says, she was delivering 20-25 babies a month.

In recent years she has slowed down, doing only four to six births a month. She works with her daughter, Pita Rivera-Jones.

“It’s fun working with her. We’re on the same wavelength. We know what each other needs before the other one says anything.”

Mary Bernabe Midwife
“Women are really very good about educating themselves,” Yacolt resident Mary Bernabe says. “My feeling is women are smart enough to make up their own minds. I really believe people should be free to make their own choices.” Photo courtesy of Ailshie Photography by Bonnie

Bernabe’s client Carissa Riikonen had her first baby in the hospital with an obstetrician.

“I was induced,” Riikonen says. “They did an epidural, an episiotomy. I tore. I knew in my gut that that wasn’t how things had to go. I did a lot of reading after that. And it was kind of a natural progression.”

Riikonen had her second baby in the hospital with a midwife, then her third with Bernabe at home.

“It was awesome,’’ Rikonen said. “I didn’t realize how much fear there was around birth and how awesome it would be without fear. I was blown away. She was relaxed. Trusting. Encouraging. It was night and day different.”

Bernabe is equally passionate about home birth.

“Women are really very good about educating themselves,’’ Bernabe said. “Certain things should be in the hospital. But there are so many unnecessary C-sections. And then you’re left recovering from major surgery with this new baby, maybe with other children at home to care for. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. We’re not doing right by these women. My feeling is women are smart enough to make up their own minds. I really believe people should be free to make their own choices.”

Mary Bernabe Midwife
“It’s really cool to get to know women and help them with birth,” says Mary Bernabe. “It’s really good to see families interact.” Photo courtesy of Ailshie Photography by Bonnie

Although she delivers fewer babies these days, Bernabe stays busy. Her husband pastors Woodland’s Fuente de Vida Foursquare Church, and they still have kids at home.

“I birthed four,” she says, “and we adopted 11.”

The adopted kids have  a variety of special needs — Down Syndrome, blindness, cerebral palsy — and eight of them, ranging in age from 18 to 45, live at home.

“And they’re all so much fun,’’ she said. “They make me laugh. They keep me sane. They make me crazy. I love being a mom.”

But it hasn’t been easy to balance the round-the-clock demands of midwifery with family life.

“The one thing that bothers me about what I do is that I’ve missed a lot of things with my family,’’ Bernabe said. “I’ve missed birthdays, graduations, vacations. You’re on call all the time. Maybe I could have had a partner. But then, you get attached to people, and you don’t want to miss their births.”

Bernabe has no plans to retire, though.

“I love what I do,’’ she says. “I wouldn’t change. You meet such fun people. Bikers, hippies, very conservative straight-laced types. A few wing nuts. Oh, it’s fun!”

Mary Bernabe Midwife
“Women are really very good about educating themselves,” Yacolt resident Mary Bernabe says. “My feeling is women are smart enough to make up their own minds. I really believe people should be free to make their own choices.” Photo courtesy of Ailshie Photography by Bonnie
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