Zoe Gutterman’s job is never done. As a midwife at Unity Public Health Care and at Howard University Labor and Delivery Unit, the 30 year old spends her days assisting women give birth and giving them reproductive healthcare advice. A native of Ann Arbor, Mich., she migrated to Washington in 2010 with a group of camp buddies — including her now-husband, Marc Friend.
Why did you decide to become a midwife?
In college, I was really interested in sexual health and reproductive health. I thought that birth would be something I would be interested in. So, I went my senior year and shadowed a midwife in Ann Arbor, where I’m from, and saw a birth. My life was changed. It was the most magical thing I had ever seen. And I knew that I needed to do that. And I never had a moment of clarity like that before.
How long have you been a midwife?
Almost two years. I’m new. I’m a baby midwife.
How many birth would you say you’ve assisted with?
As a student midwife, I was at around 40 births. Then, I did a fellowship for midwifery at George Washington University and I did 120 births at that fellowship. Now, I catch babies at Howard as part of my current job.
What’s the most challenging part?
I see patients who come in with assorted diagnoses. You’re never just a person who is pregnant. It is hard to cover all of that within a 15-minute visit.
Then, here in D.C., we’re in the middle of maternal mortality health crisis. D.C. has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country — it’s twice the national average. It’s 41 for every 100,000. A year ago, D.C. closed two of its labor and maternity wards, making the problem probably even worse. The only place you can have a baby in D.C. right now is in Northwest D.C.
How do you bring your Judaism into your midwifery?
I was raised, like many Reform Jews, with social justice as a core and central value. And I think before I knew what I wanted to do, I knew wanted to do something helpful and give back and put things in a positive direction. I think that’s why I’m interested in midwifery at a very, very basic level.
What do you do outside of work?
I’m the chair of the D.C. affiliate of the American College for Nurse-Midwives, so that takes up a chunk of my time. I also moved to D.C. with a bunch of friends from summer camp [Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute, in Wisconsin], so that’s my core friend group in D.C. I like camping and running, and [my husband and I] just renovated our house, so that’s been a lot of our spare time recently.
You moved here with your camp friends?
Yeah. Like 30 of us moved here at once.
You’re not all living in the same place are you?
Not in the same house. We all moved to D.C. all at the same time, basically. Which was a little crazy. And for a little while, a bunch of them, like five of them, all lived together. But never me.
How have your friends reacted to your unique job?
I don’t think it’s that unique. I hope they like it. I’m a good party-talking person because there’s no way to get a group of people more amped up than to talk about IUDs in a very social situation. So that’s very fun. It’s a good party trick.
Do you ever face any stigma for your job?
I’d say less stigma and more just lack of knowledge about what midwifery is and what my job looks like. Often when people think of midwifery, they think of homebirth in the woods with deer standing next you. Most of us are in hospitals. n
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