Today we sit down with Certified Nurse Midwife, the legendary Kathy ‘Fig’ Figurski.
How long have you been in practice?
I’ve been a Certified Nurse Midwife (C.N.M.)for twenty-four years. Prior to that, I was a Labor & Delivery nurse at Royal Oak Beaumont for ten years. In 1994, a group of nurses thought Beaumont needed midwives and wrote a proposal, spearheaded by Oakland Macomb OBGYN C.N.M., Louanne Case, and it was accepted! After working out the details, Midwifery was born at Royal Oak Beaumont!!
Louanne was the first midwife there, with me starting a few months later. A few years later, I was granted privileges at Troy Beaumont and became the first midwife there, along with Marybeth Hodapp. Louanne and I joined forces in 2001 when I joined her at Oakland Macomb OBGYN with Drs. Stark and McBride.
If you hadn’t been a midwife, what would you have done? What did you want to do as a kid
I really wanted to be a veterinarian. Back in my day, most girls were told we could be a nurse, a teacher, or a secretary. I told the guidance counselor in high school I wanted to be a vet, and she said, “That takes 8 years! When are you going to get married and have your babies?” She said “be a nurse”, I said OK and, fortunately, I loved it! I still love animals and have always had a dog. Maybe when I retire, I will volunteer at the humane society or the zoo.
You could write the history of Beaumont Labor and Delivery! Do you know how many babies you’ve helped deliver?
As of this interview, I have facilitated in over 2,000 deliveries.
I know! 😉 And I still love it as much as I did when I first started. It’s exciting, because several of the babies I delivered now come to me for GYN care as adults! I have a few families that I have delivered all of their babies. We rotate hospital coverage between all of the midwives, so it’s not very often that that happens.
When you started, it was just you and LouAnne, and you currently have eight midwives in the practice with you. How is it working in a larger group now?
The major advantage of a bigger group is the beautiful work/life balance we have, providing free time to enjoy our families, our hobbies or pursuing advanced degrees. Two, soon to be three, of the midwives in our practice have their doctorates! A special shout out to Heather, Dana and Jessica!!
Midwifery is very time and labor (literally) intensive and has a high risk of burn out. With our large group, patients get a fresh, fully present midwife each time. I was worried as we expanded that patients would not feel as connected to any one midwife. We work very closely together, and our practice is based on the midwifery model. Patients have told me that it is very easy to make a connection with any one of us very quickly. That makes me happy
You are not only a provider, but you are a patient, a survivor, and an advocate.
Yes. I am a survivor of breast cancer. I was 45 years old when I was diagnosed. Back then that was very young. I found a lump doing a self breast exam, and I had a mammogram that same day, and a biopsy a week or two later, which was positive. The hardest part of any diagnosis is waiting between diagnosis and plan. Once I got the plan, I knew what I had to do, and I did it. I had lots of support, I continued to work. Some of my older patients will remember me in a wig, then with my weird super curly post chemo hair….it was 6 months of treatment- lumpectomy, chemo, and radiation.
Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there in my family. Thirteen months ago, my daughter, Caitlin, found a lump, while she was shaving. She was 34 years old. She came to our office that day, was examined by Dr Kennedy and then immediately taken to our Breast Center, which had just opened a few weeks earlier. She had a mammogram, and Dr. Helmer did a biopsy on the lump the same day she found it, and it came back positive. Caitlin started treatment immediately at Royal Oak Beaumont because it’s closer to home for her. She is constantly meeting people at Royal Oak who were my patients and peers when I worked there years ago. We are both BRCA negative…I think that they just haven’t discovered the gene yet for us.
This has been a really hard year for all of you.
After the diagnosis, her oncologist said, “This is going to be the worst year of your life, but then it will be over.” He was right. Honestly, it was probably the worst year of my life as well…but it has been amazing how supportive everyone has been. So many of my coworkers have gifted Caitlin blankets, hats, big dangling earrings, robes, gift card for mani/pedis, massages, dinners and much more! Not to forget, covering my shifts so I could be with her for surgeries, etc! It was AMAZING – they were loving on me and on her, picking us up at our lowest moment, and we will be eternally grateful.
How is Caitlin doing now?
She rang the bell in the cancer center a few weeks ago, signaling her final radiation treatment! Dr. Kennedy promised her champagne after the year of treatment, and here is a picture of that blessed toast! Life is good.
Oh, we love that! Having caring providers and loving friends is everything.
It is. That’s actually what I love most about being a midwife. Talking to women, getting to know their families. Sharing the big moments in life. Honestly, the relationships I have developed over the years, to me, is the best part. I love what I do! When Caitlin was in high school, going through sex-ed class, she came home aghast one day after learning about GYN exams and said, “Think of what you do all day long!” (she meant getting up way too close and personal ). I said, “What? Talk to women?” LOL. Because that’s how I look at it.
Oh, I bet your kids had a lot to say about having a midwife for a mom! How does what you do at work impact your life at home?
My kids have definitely known all about women’s health and birth since they were toddlers. My FAVORITE story of how my work impacted my home life….my dog would actually wake me up to answer a page in the middle of the night. Always. 😉
What do you feel are the advantages to patients of having midwifery care?
We are a partner on the team, we facilitate the plan with everyone involved, most especially the patient. I will provide my skill and expertise, but we really empower women to direct their own care, their own births. We don’t dictate a plan to women, we work with them, give them options, and we encourage birth plans, or “birth preferences.” We provide evidence based care, keeping up with the latest practice guidelines. For example, as midwives, it has been standard practice to delay (umbilical) cord clamping and immediate postpartum skin-to-skin contact for years, and now they are universal recommendations for all OB providers.
How has midwifery changed in the United States since you started practicing?
It is much more accepted now. We were climbing an uphill battle back in the day. Midwife births are the majority for uncomplicated pregnancies, and have always been, in much of Europe. In recent data, around 8% of births in the U.S. are attended by certified nurse midwives, and that is growing. http://www.midwife.org/essential-facts-about-midwives
What do you wish people better understood about midwives?
I think there are three big myths about Midwives:
- That we’re all leftover hippies from the 60’s….(here she laughs and admits that that one might actually apply to her)
- That we, Oakland Macomb OBGYN certified nurse midwives, attend home births. We do not. We exclusively attend births in the hospital. Some nurse midwives do home births, but the majority of CNM births are attended in the hospital.
- That we don’t let you have anything for pain. Not true. We will support your choices. You can have an epidural, if you want, or other medical means of pain control. Or, you can stay up and walking, out of bed, feeling as normal as possible, walk around the unit, enjoy the jacuzzi (we have seven at Troy Beaumont now). We have rocking chairs, birth balls, and recommend slow dancing with your partner…makes sense that swaying your hips, while releasing all those love endorphins would make for a smoother labor! There are no exclusions to pain control methods just because you’re working with a midwife. Whatever you want. We just want to support you! “Your Birth, Your Way.”
What advice do you give women in anticipation of their labor/delivery?
If you trust the body to do this, it most likely will. We patiently wait while patient’s bodies progress at their own rate, so that it’s a positive experience, and we aim to avoid interventions. However, there are times when interventions are necessary, and I ask that they trust us, as we will trust them, to work toward the same goal of having a safe and healthy delivery. I also recommend patients attend birthing classes during pregnancy, to learn of their options and to be more prepared, as they are the center of the whole birthing process. One more thing…I strongly encourage them to arrange it so that immediately after birth, the first few hours are just the baby and its parents to initiate boding and breastfeeding. We call it the “Golden Hour.”
What are some interesting birth experiences you’ve had?
Well, you know that women are encouraged to choose who they want to be in the room during their birth. I have had as many as 16 people in the room supporting a birthing mother! Once, immediately after giving birth, the patient’s family/church group broke out into a loud and glorious hymn. Another time, a patient’s sorority sisters showed up after a night out on the town to cheer her on….it takes a village!
It certainly does! You’ve trained a lot of new midwives over the years. What is your advice to them?
I love teaching; nurturing the new providers, so they can nurture others. I recommend that they focus on patient-directed decision making, or making sure that patients are at the center of the process. I truly feel honored to care for women from their first exam all the way through menopause and watching their families grow. It is so important to set a positive tone for a young woman’s first GYN experience. I strive to provide a caring, non-traumatic experience, that is patient-driven, and I want to impart that to the next generation of providers. We can help empower women, laying the foundation for the rest of their lives.
Great point! Thank you for talking to us today, for being the wise and wonderful you, for all that you have given and continue to give your patients and family, students, and peers. Thank you for sharing your stories, and blessings to you, Caitlin, and the rest of the family. We’ll check back in with you when you hit your 3,000th birth.
Hah! Sounds good. It’s a date!