by Bridget Ballenger
Meet Carmen Southall-Warmhoff, a force for good in her birth community. She remembers shortly after high school wanting to be involved in delivering babies but wasn’t interested in going to medical school and becoming an obstetrician. In her heart, she knew there must be a different way but wasn’t yet sure what that path would be for her. After years of raising her three children and working as an EMT, it was time to revisit the calling to birth work.
“By this time, I had learned about midwives, but I didn’t know the different paths to get there.” A friend recommended doula work, and in 2001 she completed training and began working as a doula. She has done this important work for 23 years. In this role, she has helped many women have safe and satisfying births. “What is important to me is for a woman to be educated in her choices when it comes to birth. It doesn’t matter how she chooses to birth; I support her in what she wants. I make sure she has the information she needs to make the decision that is right for her. I enjoy loving on mommas and babies. That is my passion.”
Supplementing her work as a doula, she also earned certificates as a Childbirth Educator and Lactation Counselor. Continuing her path to becoming a midwife, she decided to attend nursing school and earn her Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) Certificate. Her intent was to continue with nursing school to become a Registered Nurse (RN) and eventually a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM). This plan would involve more schooling, more student loan debt and delayed entry into the community to start providing the care women of St. Louis need.
Then the Covid-19 Pandemic hit, and RN school was no longer an option for her. At first, it seemed like another barrier keeping her from her purpose. But she now sees how it was divine intervention leading her on the right path.
“I knew I wanted to be a midwife, but there just seemed to be so many barriers for me.” There was the cost barrier of going to school and taking out more student loads. She was employed at a birth center and was doing her doula work in St. Louis therefore she couldn’t relocate for school. So, she just kept looking for an option that would match her needs.
“In my research, I came across the Indie Birth Midwifery School (IBMS). It was the perfect solution because it removed all those barriers I was facing. Since it is an online program, I didn’t have to leave my community. Because it is flexible, I was able to continue working while going to school. The price was doable, and I wouldn’t be left with large student loans to pay off. It felt like all the puzzle pieces were finally fitting together.”
After speaking with the directors, Maryn and Margo, Carmen knew she was on the right track. “I spoke with several former students who were also women of color, and they had such positive things to say about the program that it really encouraged me to take the leap of faith. I’m so glad I did.”
Carmen says IBMS was a structured learning environment with a quality education that gave her confidence in the care she now gives women. It provided the support of peers while going through the program, where they held each other accountable. It was organized, intense learning where she knew exactly what was expected of her. The teachers were very accessible, and they communicated during weekly calls. In May of 2022, Carmen graduated from IBMS.
“I’m so proud of that Certificate that I have it framed and plan to hang it on the wall.”
She was now one step closer to getting into her community and helping the families in St. Louis. And the need there is great. Even though St. Louis is home to some of the best health care facilities in the country, black babies are dying at alarming rates. She says that women of color in St. Louis are four times more likely to die in childbirth. Studies have shown that midwifery care can improve these outcomes. Compared with physician models of care, midwifery care is associated with lower odds of poor birth outcomes for low-income women. Women who are more vulnerable benefit from the care of a midwife likely because they receive more time, counseling, and education on how to care for themselves. Carmen will now be able to get into the community and get busy being a solution to these problems.
She is currently completing an apprenticeship with a Certified Nurse Midwife who provides homebirth midwifery services to women in St. Louis. This experience gives Carmen the hands-on training to supplement her education from Indie Birth Midwifery School. “Working with my preceptor while in school allowed me to use the knowledge immediately and see how it applies in real life. Shortly after taking the hemorrhage class, we had three births where we experienced excessive bleeding, and I was able to use what I had learned.”
Carmen is also a force for good in her general community. She serves on the board of several local community organization whose purpose is to help reduce maternal and infant mortality. She is a member of the Generate Health Board taking action around priority health issues for vulnerable women and children. She is also a part of the Community Leaders Council for Flourish, an initiative to reduce infant mortality in St. Louis. Additionally, Carmen serves as a board member for the St. Louis Doula Project, whose goal is for people to have access to full-spectrum doula support.
Carmen plans to complete her apprenticeship, earn her Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) Certificate and finally realize her 35-year vision of becoming a midwife. “The letters behind my name is not what is important to me. What is important is for me to be able to help the women in my community and to be a preceptor for other women of color who want to become a midwife- becoming a CPM allows me to do that. I want to remove that barrier for another woman of color who will be coming behind me and wants a preceptor that looks like her.”
She envisions creating a birthplace in her community where women can come for full-service maternity care: Carmen as the midwife, other peers providing childbirth education, postpartum support, and lactation support- all in one place. “My goal is to provide loving care to women during the prenatal period, help her birth her baby, and then care for her in the postpartum period. I’m going to be that person who loves on the families I care for and do what is medically right for her while giving her the freedom of choice and honoring her choice.”
We have no doubt that Carmen will continue showing up and doing the work to improve maternity outcomes in her community, and we’re glad IBMS could help make this dream a reality for her.
“I am so grateful Maryn and Margo created this program. I show my gratitude by referring everyone who reaches out to me there. I’m very happy I picked IBMS. They have helped me in my effort to be a solution to the problems in my community.”
~ Find Carmen at Angelic Deliveries, LLC https://www.facebook.com/CarmensAngelicDeliveries/
~ She is a student midwife at Primrose Midwifery in St. Louis, Missouri https://www.primrosemidwifery.com/
~ To learn more about the Indie Birth Association and the Birth Sanctuary they are currently planning and looking for investors to support the cause, check out https://indiebirthsanctuary.org/
~ Written by Bridget Ballenger, a graduate of Indie Birth Midwifery school, currently traditional midwife serving in Norman, Oklahoma and graduate of the University of Oklahoma. www.bbbirth.com