What exactly is a midwife?

Many times a midwife is at the birth to monitor and support and ends up being able to witness a woman’s power and the process, but are not doing anything special to the mother and baby. We are there to intervene and give assistance when necessary, but do not take away from the physiological experience of the mother, baby, and family at the time of birth.

How long have you been practicing and how many births have you attended?

I was licensed and began practicing in 2016. I started my midwifery training in 2014. About two years ago, I added up all of the births that I have attended and that sum came to 300. I haven’t attended many births in the past two years, due to having my own babies, so I would say I have attended about 350 births total.

What is the role of a midwife during labor?

The medical role of a midwife during labor is to provide medical care for the mother and baby and ensure everything is normal. I assess risk and I will transition mothers to a higher level of care if things are abnormal. If everything is progressing as normal, my role is support and empower the woman and to witness her power and strength. A woman’s power is not valued as much as it should be and I take the time to honor the mother and make sure she knows that what she is doing is a big deal!

Mary Yanagawa, Owner of Valor Midwifery Services
Photographer: ArtShaped Photography and Birth Services

What led you to become a midwife?

I learned a lot about prenatal and postnatal care when I had terrible birth experiences with my first couple of children. I personally was unaware of all of my options when it came to prenatal care and giving birth. I have experienced a stillbirth and I was very vocal about it. I wrote Facebook posts in the middle of the night, sometimes posting at one or two o’clock in the morning when I couldn’t sleep. I would post and never look back. People would read my posts and comment, but that time in my life was so dark that I couldn’t bear reading the comments. It was the power of being able to share and know that thousands of people are reading it that brought light to my life. People appreciate when you talk. Talking makes you feel human.

I began as a Certified Childbirth Educator/Doula for friends and attended my first birth that was not my own in 2009. I was introduced to a path that I didn’t realize was calling me. Midwifery is my calling. I advocate for women and educate them so that they are aware of all of their options. Birth does not have to be a traumatic experience. Birth should be a beautiful experience. Postpartum depression is common, but it does not have to be normal. My goal is to normalize birth, normalize postpartum challenges, and empower women.

I am a Certified Direct Entry Midwife in the State and Alaska and a Certified Professional Midwife from the North American Registry of Midwives. I began practicing at a busy birth center but have since started my own small practice, Valor Midwifery Services, where I am a skilled and professional independent midwifery practitioner. I knew that I did not want to go to nursing school and had no desire to practice in a hospital, which is what led me to pursue the direct-entry professional midwifery path. The program I attended was designed to provide both didactic coursework and community based apprenticeship with approved preceptors. I completed my training locally in the MatSu Valley and Anchorage.

What advice would you give to an expecting mother on how to find or choose a midwife?

I always tell expecting mothers to interview midwives. Do not pick the one your friend recommended or the first one that you meet. Meet with a few midwives and choose which one is your favorite. Your person is out there, you just have to search. Do not settle. Choosing a midwife is more important that choosing a wedding dress. You wouldn’t just buy the first dress you tried on, would you?

What are the benefits of having a midwife?

I didn’t even know what a midwife was with my first three children. I went to my mother-in-law’s OBGYN and thats just how that went; I didn’t know any better. I had poor experiences with my first three babies and I realized that there had to be a better way!

With a midwife, there is a personal relationship created and nurtured. The first appointment with a midwife is typically upwards of two hours. Throughout the pregnancy, I see mothers every 3-4 weeks for one hour visits. We talk about everything at these appointments from education to prenatal supplements and nutrition, physical activity, mental health, and everything in-between. The relationship that is formed between a mother and her midwife is something that is incomparable to any other relationship formed between a healthcare provider and a patient. Women crave a relationship built on trust. As a mother, you rely on your provider to give you strength during labor.

How does prenatal care differ with a midwife?

Prenatal appointments occur every 3-4 weeks throughout the first and second trimester. For the third trimester, I meet with my clients every other week until 36 weeks and then we meet weekly until birth. The care I provide as a midwife is very personalized. As a midwife, I know my clients birth history, personal health history, and a lot about their personal lives. I work seven days a week. I will call my clients on the weekends to discuss their lab work results and discuss appropriate supplementation. I don’t wait until Monday to call them and give them this information because its pertinent. Many midwives, including myself, don’t accept high numbers of clientele because the care is so personalized that it’s impossible to keep up with an abundance of patients.

What are some common misconceptions about midwifery and how would you address those?

Some of the misconceptions I have heard are, midwifes aren’t trained and you didn’t even graduate college. I have two degrees and I am not stupid. Midwifery training is extremely hard. The emotional aspect of this profession is hard. You have to be an empath because you are always giving, giving, giving everything you have and everything you are to your clients.

I hear a lot of the time that it’s dangerous, which is false. Statistically speaking, Alaska has fantastic birth outcomes with midwives. In 2015, 5.7% of our total births in Alaska took place at home or in a birthing center with zero maternal or fetal deaths. We have the highest percentage of out of hospital deliveries as compared to the national average of 1.5% for out of hospital births1.

What is the best part of what you do?

I witness a woman’s power. I have the honor of empowering a mother to do hard things and watch her conquer the world during this experience and it’s so beautiful.

I am an advocate for natural births. Not everyone can have a physiological birth and thats okay, but if you have the ability to have a physiological birth then do. If we can achieve more physiological births, then we will have a better society and better people.

“To change the world, we must first change the way babies are being born.” ~Dr. Michel Odent

Where do your births take place?

I mostly do home-births but I have privileges to practice at a couple of different birthing centers in the area if someone had a house where they did not want to delivery a baby. I do not have hospital privileges in Alaska as they do not allow CDM’s in the hospital, only Certified Nurse Midwives (CNM) can work in a hospital setting.

Can patients bill their insurance?

Absolutely! I would say probably 95% of my clients have insurance. Many of my clients have Medicaid, which covers everything. Alaska Medicaid is a great resource for many women.

For more information, visit their website at: https://www.valormidwifery.com

1. Homebirth Study One-page Fact Sheet. Midwives Alliance of North America. https://mana.org/healthcare-policy/homebirth-study-fact-sheet. Published 2021. Accessed February 19, 2021.


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