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Sage-Femme Midwifery: Miracles on Madison Avenue

March 19, 2013

by Lauren Halligan

In the profession that she refers to as her calling in life midwife Kelly McDermott has “caught” an impressive total of more than 1,100 babies over the past 25 years.

McDermott owns Sage-Femme Midwifery, an independent midwifery practice at 706 Madison Ave., Albany, just east of South Lake Avenue. She moved the practice two years ago from Stillwater to the Pine Hills neighborhood.

Sage-Femme offers home birth and hospital midwifery care, as well as basic primary care for women. The independent firm focuses on compassionately individualized care, achieved by listening to and getting to know their patients.

McDermott is the only full-time midwife at the practice, but she brings in other midwives to assist including part time midwife partner Carrie Gordon-Stacey. She also has a nursing staff for deliveries.

McDermott assessing Perrotto’s pregnant belly. Photo Credit:Lauren Halligan

One of McDermott’s first clients was Cheryl O’Donnell, who had two home births under the care of Sage Femme Midwifery and their “phenomenal” midwives. Her first child, born in May of 2010 was one the early babies born under Sage-Femme’s care.

“Both Kelly and Carrie’s professionalism and respect and down to earth caring is something I had never before experienced as a patient before,” said O’Donnell.

Sage-Femme, a French term, translates to “wise woman.” McDermott and her team seek to empower women through proper education, nourishment, encouragement, support, and thorough care during the child-bearing process.

“There is an aura about her,” O’Donnell said. “Kelly does not preach or judge but rather shares her wisdom and leaves decisions up to you.”

McDermott, 50, has served as a midwife and provider of women’s healthcare since 1987.  “I believe that birth can be life changing in a complexity of ways and that the opportunities for growth through this amazing life process are rich and infinite,” McDermott said.

“Kelly and Carrie are doing very powerful and important work – mothering our mothers,” said O’Donnell. “Just like mothers, they ask for no fame or gratitude but instead receive great satisfaction in giving.” Sage-Femme gave her the most important thing in life, she said, the peaceful and natural birth of her babies.

These women strive to minimize technological interventions during the child-birthing process, while ensuring that any necessary emergency equipment and medication are present at the site of a birth.

The Sage-Femme treatment begins with initial prenatal care, sometimes before conception and includes nutrition counseling, emotional support, education, health and lifestyle counseling, and planning for birth. Patients come in to the Madison Avenue office for all prenatal visits, aside from one home visit at which they plan the birthing scene. For labor and all postpartum visits, McDermott travels to the homes of the new moms and babies.

Whether it lasts two hours or two days, when the labor process begins there is always a team of two or three people present throughout, including McDermott, an assistant, and a doula, or a professional labor support person, as well as anyone the family has invited.

Nine out of 10 births that McDermott assists occur in the home setting, and about 40 percent of pregnant women choose water-birth, which occurs in in-home pools that Sage-Femme rents out for hydrotherapy.

After the baby has arrived, McDermott continues to provide care for mother and baby through lactation support and home visits.

“Both Kelly and Carrie went out of their way in the level of care they provided-from the unhurried and thorough prenatal visits, to being on call 24/7 for questions to being with the entire family for a pre-birth home visit and extensive much needed postpartum care,” O’Donnell said.

For O’Donnell, the choice to have a home birth was an easy one, knowing that “there is a large body of evidence indicating that, for low-risk pregnancies, fewer medical interventions leads to better health outcomes for mother and baby.”

McDermott recognizes that “women labor best where they are relaxed and supported,” which is why she and her team use methods such as water therapy, aromatherapy, and acupressure to facilitate relaxation. These methods, as compared to those used in hospitals, have no side effects, she said. This, along with the comfort of the home environment, minimizes the chances that either mom or baby will be in distress. “I see birth not as a sickness but a natural and spiritual part of life,” said O’Donnell.

“Birth isn’t a medical emergency. It’s not a disaster waiting to happen,” McDermott said, noting that the modern medical community is taught to treat it as such. “It’s an extension of your family life,” said McDermott, who said surgical intervention isn’t often required.

Sage-Femme Midwifery is unique in that McDermott is respected by the local medical community and has experience assisting births in the hospital setting, said O’Donnell. McDermott “goes the extra mile,” and even meets with unsupportive or naïve family members to provide education on the home-birthing process. “This is a woman who believes in a woman’s right to birth. She stands for something; a rarity in our crazy world we live in today.”

McDermott loves what she does because it “empower[s] women to choreograph their own birthing experience.”

No stranger to the home-delivery process herself, McDermott has six kids who were all born at home with a midwife present. Her interest in the profession was sparked precisely during the birth of her firstborn son in 1984.  “I wanted every woman to have that option,” said McDermott.

The year-long service typically costs an insured, expectant mother about $8,000, whether at home or in the hospital. Uninsured families are offered other options including cash discounts. “I never want anyone to be denied the home birth option or good midwifery care because they can’t afford it,” McDermott said.

A recent change in the New York State Higher Education law “opened the door for women to choose the midwifery option in a way that was never available before,”  McDermott said.The change made home birth insurance reimbursable. It also made it possible for midwives to be completely independent in their practices. Prior to this law, midwives could only legally practice with a written agreement affiliating them with a physician.

McDermott earned a master’s degree in nurse midwifery from Stony Brook University eight years ago, before opening her own practice in 2010. She provides around-the-clock service to mothers and babies.

There is no such thing as a typical work day for McDermott.“Babies dictate my schedule,” she said, although her days often include up to seven prenatal visits, and a lot of driving. There is always the possibility a mother could go into labor, for which she must cancel all other appointments.

McDermott, an Albany resident, tries to keep her appointments within an hour driving radius of home, although she often finds herself stretching her limits for her patients.

“[McDermott] is an amazing midwife. She has such spiritual intuition, incredible knowledge, and really, I feel she has been ‘called’ to her career,” said Kelly Sittner, who had the final four of her seven children with McDermott at her Galway home. She and her daughters have kept in touch with McDermott for decades since their deliveries.

“She sat many hours with me listening to my thoughts, feelings, stories, and ideas. Then she would thoughtfully respond, sprinkling in all kinds of tidbits of wisdom and help,” said Sittner. She said that McDermott helped her learn how to properly take care of herself not just as a mother, but as a woman.

“She literally saved Molly’s life when she was born,” Sittner recalled and described when McDermott helped bring her daughter into the world 20 years ago. “Molly had come out very quickly and looked at me, shut her eyes, and seemed to decide she didn’t like this world so much! Kelly was amazing. She took charge and brought Molly from a declining heart rate back to life. It was a beautiful thing.”

It is extremely common for her to catch siblings, cousins, and friends. Her greatest form of advertisement is friends referring each other by word of mouth.

Mother of three Rhema Etzel, a close friend of the Sittner clan, who has had McDermott assist the births of all of her children, describes her as “extremely friendly, and very calming to be around” throughout the entire process. Etzel’s mother had used McDermott as her midwife as well, and suggested that her daughter might prefer the experience as well. McDermott estimates that she’s caught about 13 Etzels altogether.

McDermott performing an ultrasound in her Madison Avenue office. Photo Credit:Lauren Halligan

A patient currently in the midst of her first pregnancy, Emily Perrotto, said that Sage-Femme is “the most warm, yet professional place for midwifery” in the area, and that the staff have made her feel comfortable in this new experience. “They are so warm and reassuring about everything,” Perrotto said.

“I believe midwives are called into the profession and the women cared for [by] them are blessed to have their professional care, support, and wisdom. If every babe was brought into world in such loving and peaceful hands and support, what a great foundation to start their life journey,” said O’Donnell, forever-grateful for the care she received as a Sage-Femme client.

An overflowing office corkboard of children’s photos attests to the long term relationships McDermott builds with families even after the final six week check-up is completed and her duties are technically done.

To maintain connections, Sage-Femme coordinates monthly “Moms and Littles” groups at Tumbling Tykes in Latham, to offer a safe and fun play-date opportunity for both mother and child.

After 25 years in the business of baby-catching, McDermott has acquired a great understanding of the process. A promoter of at home and midwife-assisted birthing, “The model of care in hospital settings is not very physiologic.” McDermott said that it doesn’t honor the natural process of birth “the way nature designed.”

“Our children and how they are brought into this world determines our world’s future. Every woman deserves a midwife, deserves Sage Femme Midwifery’s level of care,” said O’Donnell. “I wish everyone could have their care so that the world would be a better place.”

More information on Sage-femme midwifery can be found at -30-



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