The Birth of Syracuse Midwives
By Lorna Oppedisano | Photography by Alexis Emm
When Syracuse native Linda Lovig moved with her family to Flagstaff, Ariz., she wanted to do something for her community, and decided to get certified as an EMT. One piece of her coursework was to observe a birth at the local hospital. So, one night, she went and observed.
She’d always had a calling to help people. Before having two children of her own, she’d been an interpreter for the deaf in junior high school. But after that experience at the hospital, the future Syracuse Midwives owner knew what the future held for her.
“I came home that night and said to my husband, ‘I know what I want to do for the rest of my life!’” Linda recalled.
She returned home to Central New York and earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Syracuse University. The next step was to earn a master’s in midwifery. That’s when she faced her first hurdle; none of the schools offering this degree were local. So, she had to make the difficult decision of having her children stay with her sister for a year and a half while she earned the degree at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
“My family has always been wonderfully supportive,” Linda said with a smile.
In 1990, she and her family moved back home, and she began to explore midwifery options in the Syracuse area. Not being a common practice at the time, Linda didn’t find many opportunities.
Before her schooling in Cleveland, however, she’d been in touch with Dr. Richard Aubry of SUNY Upstate Medical University. When she came home, Linda and Dr. Aubry, along with another local midwife, discussed the possibility of offering a midwifery service at Upstate.
While that plan didn’t come to fruition, Dr. Aubry did put Linda in touch with Dr. Franklin Johnson of the Syracuse Community Health Center. They worked together at the health center and then in private practice.
Once they were in private practice, Dr. Johnson obtained a Prenatal Care Assistance Program, or PCAP, contract with the county, which connected the practice with underprivileged pregnant women in need of health care.
“We did a lot of good work,” Linda said.
Then, in 2004, tragedy struck. Dr. Johnson passed away suddenly from a heart attack.
Everything just exploded, Linda remembered. At that time, a midwife couldn’t work without a practice agreement with a physician. Dr. Johnson had been that physician. The office and PCAP contract had been in his name, too.
Linda didn’t want to lose the momentum they’d developed, though. So, she got another practice agreement, borrowed money and kept a skeleton staff employed.
“Basically, we just kept going and kept answering the phones and kept seeing whoever wanted to come in, which some days was like two people,” she said.
Little by little, they kept the office running, until life changed again in 2010, when the Midwifery Modernization Act enabled midwives in the state to work without the requirement of a practice agreement. It secured the office a little more, Linda remembered.
She went back to the county and got the PCAP contract reinstated, this time in her own name.
“[Syracuse Midwives] kind of took off,” Linda said. “We were seeing all these wonderful women, and doing great work.”
In time, as midwifery evolved and became more widely sought out, Syracuse Midwives grew, until eventually many women were making the choice to visit Linda and her coworkers.
Now, Linda’s day-to-day routine starts with rounds at St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center — coincidentally, the hospital she was born in, too. Then, she sees scheduled patients at her office, where she’s surrounded by “an amazing staff of women who understand how important this work is,” she said. And, throughout the day, she goes to the hospital if any patients are in labor.
Being there for her patients during such a special time in their lives is Linda’s favorite part of what she does.
“When you’re pregnant, you just want what’s best for you and your baby and your family. It’s just natural for most women,” Linda said. “And, so, you’re a little bit more open to changing your lifestyle or listening to advice or making positive changes in your life. And we really love being a part of that.” SWM
For more on Syracuse Midwives, visit syracusemidwives.com.