Delivering a baby gives Elaine Diegmann an indescribable thrill that she’s experienced nearly 5,000 times. But bringing her two grandsons into the world was the ultimate.
“They were the most wonderful experiences of my life,” says Diegmann of delivering her daughter Michele’s two sons, now ages 11 and 9. “I can’t explain what I was feeling. Both times, though I was able to control my emotions and do what I needed to do, it was an emotional high. It’s the most wonderful feeling to see a healthy baby crying.”
Diegmann has been a practicing midwife in New Jersey for 34 years. She is also professor and director of nurse midwifery education at Rutgers School of Nursing and a recognized leader among the country’s 11,000 midwives – 3 percent are male – who are typically licensed nurses specializing in prenatal and postnatal care, childbirth and a variety of women’s wellness issues across the life span.
“The Affordable Care Act has put an emphasis on wellness care and cost effectiveness,” says Diegmann about the recent trend toward more U.S. deliveries by midwives. “The midwife is that practitioner. Now is the time to work toward making the midwife the primary care giver in the U.S.”
Interest in midwifery remains strong throughout New Jersey. Twenty-nine students at various stages are enrolled in the nurse midwifery program at Rutgers – the state's only midwife education program – and all student clinical rotation slots at area hospitals are regularly filled. Currently, approximately 350 certified midwives practice in New Jersey, where about 6.5 per cent of pregnancies become midwife cases.
Most U.S. midwives consult or collaborate with obstetricians and gynecologists when complications arise – in approximately 12 per cent of all labor and deliveries – that are beyond the scope of midwifery practice. During the last several years, Diegmann has seen the relationship between midwives and physicians strengthen. She is particularly pleased that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently reaffirmed its earlier endorsement of care by midwives who are certified by the American Midwifery Certification Board or meet the standards of the International Confederation of Midwives.
“As we collaborate and build relationships with physicians, the midwife population will grow even more,” Diegmann says.Reflecting her commitment to improving services to mothers and their babies, Diegmann recently received the Lester Z. Lieberman Humanism in Healthcare Award from The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, a professional honor she values greatly.
“It means a lot to me,” says Diegmann, a fellow of the American College of Nurse-Midwives and a member of the Master Educators’ Guild at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS). “It’s important because it recognizes my caring for women over a lifetime.”
Diegmann is prominent in northern New Jersey, where she started three midwife faculty practices – Newark’s University Hospital (1978-96), Jersey City Medical Center and Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, where midwives attend approximately 900 births per year.
An Edison resident and a wife of 54 years, Diegmann spends significant time in local area hospital classes educating parents-to-be about what to expect during pregnancies and birth and after their babies arrive. Classes are one way expectant mothers learn about the role of the midwife, often leading them to seek midwifery care. Other women who become Diegmann’s patients are familiar with midwifery culture through shared family stories about the “granny” midwife who participated in their own family's births. Still others are attracted because of midwives’ holistic approach to care and because they are less likely than obstetricians to recommend inducing labor if mother and child are in no danger, Diegmann says.
Diegmann has been recognized often for expertise in soft tissue repair after birth; shoulder dystocia (when the baby’s shoulder is blocked from entering the birth canal); and the Ritgen maneuver (to control the movement of the baby’s head during delivery). She frequently lectures to medical students and residents and professional organizations here and throughout the country.
Diegmann was drawn to a career caring for women since her first clinical rotation as a student at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. “I knew it as soon as I saw my first birth,” she says.
She worked first as a labor and delivery nurse at St. Peter’s Hospital in New Brunswick. When a former mentor established a midwife program in 1975 at the then College of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (CMDNJ), which has evolved into RBHS, Diegmann enrolled as a member of its first graduating class.
After practicing privately as a midwife in West New York, Diegmann returned to CMDNJ to teach midwifery in 1978, becoming head of the midwife program, then housed at the School of Health Related Professions, in 1990. The program transferred to the School of Nursing in 2006.
Diegmann has treasured every career moment, so much so that she influenced her daughter, Michele, into considering nursing while contemplating a career change. Today, Michele is a labor and delivery nurse at Newark Beth Israel.
“I’m doing what I love to do,” Diegmann says. “Very, very few people are fortunate enough to love their jobs as I do. I’m very lucky.”