Labor of Love: Midwife Delivers Comfort, Care to New Mothers

Health & Family

There is a need for Certified Nurse Midwives in the Muslim community as many Muslim women want the option of giving birth with the aid of a midwife. The Muslim Link features a Muslim midwife, Melissa Fleming on her journey to Islam and midwifery.

Melissa Fleming didn’t intend on becoming a midwife; she is a trained event planner. The birth of her nephew in 1996 gave her a sweet taste of the birthing process. She says, “the work of the midwives sparked in her a drive to play a role in helping families to grow and for women to feel safe and positive in their birthing experiences.”  Midwifing is a lifestyle. It is also a philosophy — the mothers are asked to trust their body’s ability to give birth. A midwife “catches” the baby as it is born, by the will of Allah, the mother, ‘births’ or ‘delivers’ her own baby.

After marriage and a baby made traveling for conferences she assisted in planning,  tough for her as a new and nursing mom, she left that career. Fleming became a doula and a Childbirth Educator. She and her husband started teaching childbirth preparation classes to couples seeking focus on the Muslim perspective of family and birth. Wanting to work to help support her growing family, she started teaching at her children's Islamic school.

The native New Yorker came to Maryland when she was 10. She became interested in the religion of Islam in High School through her Women's Studies class. She recalls watching a flim focusing on oppressed women in the world and saw images of Muslim women  dressed in black in the desert. “I thought they must really believe what they believe to wear that,” she says.

She attended Towson University where she learned more about Islam through self study and interactions. As a sophomore in college, she interned at Walt Disney World. First time away from home, she bought a Quran. “I read Surah Fatiha... and I was sold,” she says. She finally accepted Islam at 23 years old.

Her family was stunned, afraid for her; they thought she was going to be ‘one of those oppressed women’. They thought it was a phase, but now have come to terms to her Islam. “I am a better daughter as a Muslim,” says Fleming. Her mother appreciates her moral compass and was pleased when Fleming decided to attend nursing school. Due to widespread stereotypes about Islam and women’s education, she had been apprehensive of that her daughter was going to waste the mind that her parents had cultivated for so many years. “My mother is proud of the way I am raising my children and proud of the way I am using my mind as a health care provider.’”

Fleming is a Certified Nurse Midwife. “I didn't want to become a nurse; I went to nursing school to become a midwife. However, Maryland law states that you have to be a registered nurse to be a midwife, so I became a nurse and I loved it.”

Most pregnancies are healthy. It is a normal process of life. First time moms need guidance and supervision. “There is something special about trusting the process and knowing that everything will be okay,” says Fleming. Midwifery care is a great option for Muslim women because they are more likely to have a woman for their OBGYN care. “We will empower you and will not make you feel guilty or bad. We are more inclined to recognize spiritual beliefs [and] we are trained to be culturally competent,” she advises.

“Muslim women need this option,” says Eva Imran, a mother of young children. Imran thinks doctors have made C-sections routine. “A midwife doesn’t tr­eat pregnancy as an illness or an impend­ing medical disaster. A Muslim midwife int­uitively can care for a Muslimahs’ needs because of her empha­sis on the natural process of birth as related to our religi­on,” she says.

Imran believes that a Muslim midwife understands, intuitive­ly, the need for priv­acy, modesty and gen­tle encouragement ra­ther than intense ul­timatums. “Many Muslim friends expressed great frus­tration in finding an obstetrician who could provide them wi­th the birth vision they desired, instead of subjecting them to mandatory fetal tests, ultrasounds and undesired delivery methods,” stresses Imran.

A midwife will help an expecting mother learn how to reduce chances of needing a cesarean birth, avoid an episiotomy, and work with her labor. Unlike a doctor's office, she provides half an hour long appointments. Melissa Carry, a patient of Fleming, states that “From the moment I met with her, her warmth, positivity and professionalism made a strong impact on me and my husband. She helped me to feel prepared, confident and optimistic about my birth choices as I wanted to do everything as natural and safely as possible. As a result of her interactions with me, my husband and I both wanted her to be present at the birth of our child.”

The number of births that take place outside of a hospital setting spiked by 60 percent between 2004 and 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Fleming works at Special Beginnings in Arnold, Maryland which is a Birth and Women's center. “We provide pre-natal care, lactation services, and cover everything from menses to menopause,” says Fleming.

There is also intense fear around the birthing process, which makes the process so much harder, Fleming says. “Midwives specialize in unmedicated labors and we seek to make people comfortable.” Home births to water births- midwives see it all. “We will hold you, massage you, and comfort you.  We also attend to labors assisted with medication for pain management. Ultimately we want a mother to labor in the way she is most comfortable laboring, says Fleming, who is also an American College of Nurse-Midwives Public Relations Officer for the Maryland Affiliate.

Zoe Black, a recent college graduate felt very ‘in the dark’ about her reproductive and gynecological health. Fleming helped her with her many questions and reassured Black whenever she found her confused or nervous. “In her exam room I always feel respected, cared for, and important. She has been one of the best [healthcare providers] I've ever had the pleasure of receiving treatment from and I hope to continue to be seen by her for years to come,” adds Black.

Many people may have misconceptions about midwifery. Some may think of “the back country lady stereotype with stuff in a bag.” They often confuse them for doulas. Midwives are women's health care providers with advanced degrees and graduate training. “We have to pass an up to 4 hour board exam,” says Fleming.

While she loves dealing with the beauty of birth, Fleming is well aware of the risk that come with it. “We deal with normal births. If we perceive that there is something abnormal in pregnancy, delivery, or the mother is not coping well, then we are partnered with doctors and refer moms to an obstetrician. I love the doctors that I work with and I need them. I am humble enough to say to a patient “you need to see a doctor",” she adds.

There are two different types of midwives in Maryland, Certified Nurse Midwives and Certified Professional Midwives.  Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed a bill in March 2015 that licensed direct-entry midwives/Certified Professional Midwives and made it legal for them to attend to home births. The legislation sets stricter education requirements than past bills that failed, said Del. Ariana Kelly, the Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored the bill in the House. The legislation also lists procedures for midwives to follow if what looks like a low-risk birth takes a bad turn. There are 243 Certified Nurse-Midwives in the state but only six to eight do home births, according to a testimony by Shirley Devaris of Maryland's Board of Nursing at a state senate hearing last year.

“Being supported by a midwife during my pregnancy and birth was such a pleasant experience. I'd never do it another way,” says Megan Morgan, a mom who gave birth under Fleming’s care.

“Although she was not on call at the time that I was preparing to deliver, when she found out I was approaching active labor she went out of her way to come out and deliver our baby. I felt so relieved and grateful that she was there. She helped me to feel empowered when I started to doubt myself and helped me to have an amazing birth experience,” shares Carry.

“Her care made me feel like I was more than just a patient. She was very patient and helpful delivering my baby. she was the only midwife that I was never introduced to prior to me going into labor, but when I went into labor, I was introduced to her and it was like we already met before. She was calm and understanding. I went through 24 hours of labor, ...I thank God for Melissa,” says new mom Jasmine Thompson.

To reach Melissa Fleming for your special beginning visit