Barbara Norton, CNM, WHCNP, MSN, CNS

What exactly is a midwife?

Midwife means with woman. A midwife is a person with training that shepherds women through pregnancy and birth safely.

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

I began practicing as a midwife in 1994, so about 27 years. I have attended about 1,300 births.

What is the role of a midwife during labor?

The role of a midwife in labor is to be a guide. We are not in control or in charge. We are there to help a woman navigate the birthing process safely.

As a midwife it’s not about me, it’s about them. If a woman looks at her partner after giving birth and says I couldn’t have done it without you, then I have succeeded. If they say that to me, then I have been too intrusive, because the truth is that they could have done it without me. Their partner is the person to provide the most support during this experience and my role is to support their relationship.

What led you to become a midwife?

I had taken a job as a labor and delivery nurse with a doctor in rural California around 1986. This couple came in and was having their first baby. The obstetrician I was working with practiced more like a midwife. The baby was born and the doctor told the mother to reach down and pull the baby up to her chest. At that moment I began to cry; I was sobbing. I had never seen a birth so beautiful. In retrospect, it was such as small thing, but I had never witnessed such a beautiful moment and I realized at that moment how beautiful birth could be. This physician that I worked for employed many midwives and I had the opportunity to work with many of them and I was so inspired.

I am a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) and own Geneva Woods Birth Center, also known as The Nest. The birth center is 19 years old and in 2022 will be 20 years old! We are the first nationally accredited birth center in Anchorage and are the only practice in the state of Alaska that is an out of hospital practice with nurse-midwives only. Most other practices in the state are Certified Direct-Entry Midwives which have different educational backgrounds than Certified Nurse Midwives. We have four CNM’s at Geneva Woods Birth Center, a Physical Therapist that specializes in the pelvic floor, and next month we will have a female Sex Therapist joining our team. We offer family-centered midwifery care, as well as lactation support, gynecological and well-women services, and menopausal care. As we continue to provide midwifery and women’s care, we are expanding our focus to sexual health and menopausal care.

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

The first thing an expecting mother needs to do is decide what type of birth she wants. Does she want a home birth? Does she want to deliver at a birth center or a hospital? If she wants to deliver at a hospital, does she want intervention such as an epidural?

Do your homework. Read about your options and about the outcomes, safeties, other women’s stories, and see what fits with your values and desires. It’s also important to include your partner when choosing your route of care.

What are the benefits of having a midwife?

A midwife is able to provide more personalized care. The initial prenatal visit usually is about an hour and a half and each returning visit is forty-five minutes. The model of care with a midwife emphasizes shared decision making and a trusting relationship. I must trust my clients and they must trust me.

Midwives can also do all well-woman care as well as see men. We do some family practice because we have such a broad scope of practice. Mostly we focus on prenatal and postnatal care.

How does prenatal care differ with a midwife?

We create a relationship with our clientele. Everything is discussed, explained, and offered. We share the decision making. The midwifery model of care is more of a partnership than the traditional medical model. We have an amazing group of physicians that are there to support us 24/7. This allows for us to accept more higher-risk clientele because of collaborative care. I have delivered twins over the years and preterm deliveries down to 34 weeks gestation with the support of physicians. As a CNM in a birthing center, I straddle the line between hospital births and home births.

Our practitioners do a home visit 24 hours after birth and a breastfeeding visit within the first week of delivery. Some women are here daily for the first 10 days for breastfeeding support. We are willing to provide support to women in any way possible during the postpartum period because we know that being a mother is challenging.

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

In Alaska, the most common misconception is that we are all one type of midwife and many are unaware of the differences in training among midwives. Sometimes women come to Geneva Woods Birth Center and are halfway through their pregnancy before they realize that we could go to the hospital with them for their delivery if they desire.

What is the best part of what you do?

The best part of my profession is the connection I have created with families. I began practicing in 1994 and some of my first clients that I helped through pregnancies and deliveries are still my clients and I am now helping them navigate menopause. The connections I have made with women and their families feel like a friendship. I have been with women through divorces, new marriages, new babies, and everything in between. It’s wonderful for me to know my clienteles history. As midwives, we care and it’s the caring that we do so well.

Where do your births take place?

Most of my births take place at Geneva Woods Birth Center. I would say about 70% of births happen here in The Nest and about 30% at the hospital. The midwives at our practice have hospital privileges at both Providence Alaska Medical Center and Alaska Regional Medical Center. Providence Alaska Medical Center is preferred because it is closer in proximity.

Can patients bill insurance?

We accept all insurance. We are in network with all insurance companies and I cannot think of any that we are not in contract with.

For more information visit Geneva Woods Birthing Centers website at


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here