Pioneering Birth Choices
Diana Buckwalter CNM, FNP and Clinical Director
Meet our Clinical Director, Certified Nurse Midwife and Family Nurse Practitioner, Diana Buckwalter. Diana is a pioneer of nurse midwifery in the Denver area, and is known for her attention to women’s birth desires. She has many years of experience in facilitating the choices that women make in regard to how their babies enter the world. It is her desire to continue supporting and facilitating birth based on a woman’s personal choices. She believes that in addition to the physical care a woman receives, it is also imperative to foster a climate for rich emotional and spiritual experiences. In a world that is consistently distracting and busy, Diana believes that having a baby is a time for reflection, care, and love.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your first experiences working with women in labor and delivery.
A: I have spent almost my entire life in a hospital setting providing care to mothers and babies. The beginning of my career was in the south where many years ago there was something called “twilight sleep” and “active labor wards” and women were taken to surgical suites where they were restrained and babies were pulled out with forceps. Fathers were not allowed to be with their wives. Their babies were taken to nurseries where they were lined up in baby carts and kept strictly away from their families unless it was feeding time. Family members could look at the babies through the window. We would line the babies up in a train and travel down the halls delivering babies to mothers to feed.
Q: Wow, it is hard to imagine such an intensely different environment compared to your practice today. What other experiences in your career helped shape your desire to advocate for women's choices in birth?
A: In the 1970s Lamaze and Bradley began to be discussed among several groups of women. Hospitals began to allow fathers into the “delivery room” only if they had gone to a class and only if they wore a gown and mask and stayed away from the surgical instruments and surgical arena. This was major progress. As I continued my experience and career in women’s health I became a strong advocate for natural childbirth, breastfeeding, babywearing, and baby massage/touch. I had seen first hand the many benefits of all these activities. I had 7 children and 7 different birth experiences. I was always looking to improve the previous experience. I rebelled against the medical status quo, the forced laying in the bed, not eating or drinking and having my baby whisked away for evaluation. I encouraged all my friends to request a more natural experience.
When I became a nurse I loved helping women through this most delicate and special time of their lives but I continued to be unsettled by the medical interventions that frequently turned a low risk labor into an emergent cesarean. Women began to expect to be induced for convenience since they were told that it didn’t really matter how or when a baby was born as long as it was full term. Babies were being induced at 36 weeks, 37 weeks and consequently had problems with eating, keeping their temperatures stable and even breathing. They couldn’t breastfeed and so were started on bottles of formula. (I promise I am not a formula hater, just a hater of inducing babies that are not ready to be born).
Q: It sounds like your personal experience as a mother was so charging for your advocacy as a nurse. What did you do to grow your capacity to help low risk mothers avoid unnecessary medical intervention?
A: I became a Certified Nurse Midwife and continued to work within the constraints of the hospital with their policies, procedures and protocols. I was always trying to find a way for my mamas to have the birth they wanted while keeping the nurses and hospital staff contented with obeying their policies etc.. It was a juggling act.
After many years of hospital deliveries I was given the opportunity to build a very large beautiful birth center in the midwest. I was a bit wary of the lack of policies, procedures and protocols that had been my way of life for so long. However as women began to have their babies in the birth center without all the monitoring, without all the interferences and distractions of a typical hospital experience I began to have a sincere appreciation for the “natural” low risk unmedicated birth. Moms and dads and babies were so happy. The bonding experience was immediate for most because the baby never left the parents.
Q: Your experiences have really touched both sides of the spectrum in terms of care structure and location. After all your years in the hospital setting are you happy to be providing care and keeping moms safe in a birth center?
A: I actually love high risk obstetrics and being a medical provider. I also very much enjoy the freedom that a birth center can offer. It would be difficult to go back to the hospital and function with the rules and regulations that accompany that medical structure for low risk birthing. I am so grateful that my experience in the care of women has come full circle. It is fantastic to have the knowledge needed to identify when a pregnancy stops being low risk and other monitoring and surveillance is needed. It is a good time to be a birthing mother because the options are so much greater than they used to be.