Nurse Midwife Shares Memories After 35 Incredible Years Supporting Mothers

Carol Carr

APP Champion:  Carol Carr, CNM, retired, UW Health West Clinic, UW Health 20 S. Park Clinic, UW Health Union Corners

Carol Carr, who retired from UW Health in September 2021, says she attributes her career success to truly listening to her patients and being present in their care. She retired after a 35-year career of nurse midwifery, 31 of those years at UW Health. She has been an RN for 42 years. The definition of the word midwife is, ‘with woman.’

“So, to me, whether it’s in the office simply listening to a woman talk at a prenatal visit or during the labor process, I’ve learned to just be attentive, listen and be present and patient. Sometimes that can be hard. But it’s always best to just step back, look at the entire situation. Listen. Truly listen,” she says.

Her love of nursing came at a very young age. Carol grew up in Wales, Wis., one of seven children. “My mom certainly embraced having children. She and my dad were both only children. My oldest brother is 21 years older than my youngest brother. I was in the middle of the seven, so I was around babies while growing up, often caring for my siblings. My mom was a nurse and so were some of my cousins and great aunts. The desire to become a nurse came very naturally to me. I knew I wanted to be a nurse since I was 5 years old!”

Carol attended Marquette University in Milwaukee and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing there, enjoying her liberal arts classes as much as her nursing classes. She initially thought she wanted to be a pediatric nurse. “I was lucky to have one of my early student nurse rotations at Family Hospital in Milwaukee, where they embraced family-centered care and were one of the first hospitals in Wisconsin to have certified nurse midwives attend births. After this experience, I knew I wanted to be a nurse midwife.”

A certified nurse midwife (CNM) is a registered nurse (RN) who has a master’s or doctorate degree in nursing. They have also received certification from the American Midwifery Certification Board.

While at Marquette University, she met a woman who went to England for midwifery training. At the time, she says, it was hard to get into the graduate nurse midwifery programs in the U.S., so she decided to go to England. “I was fortunate to live in England for 16 months, where I completed my initial midwifery training. This was in the early 80s. I made such lovely friends while living there. I lived in the northern part of England,” Carol says. “At that time, home visits to new moms and families were part of postpartum care. It was such an incredible experience and I still talk to families I met there.”

When she returned to the U.S., Carol earned her master’s degree from the  University of Illinois Chicago. Her early midwifery clinicals were at Cook County Hospital. She then returned to Milwaukee to do her final clinical at Family Hospital.

After finishing the master’s program and becoming a certified nurse midwife, Carol moved to Hyden, Ky., for her first job. Carol says going to Kentucky was a dream of hers since she was a girl and read a book about a woman who was teaching in the hills of Kentucky. “The hospital where I worked was named after Mary Breckinridge, a pioneer nurse midwife who brought modern nursing to the rural environment. In the 20s and 30s, she helped decrease maternal morbidity in the hills of Kentucky. She was an inspiration.”

When Carol got engaged and married, she made her way back to Wisconsin. At the time, there was only one nurse midwife at UW Health. “We established ourselves at UW Health and soon expanded, developing a solid patient base. Today, we have nine certified nurse midwives working in five clinics and assisting in 500–600 births per year.”

UW Health nurse midwives are members of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and work in collaboration with OB-GYN doctors and residents. They also work with the Maternal-Fetal Medicine doctors at the Center of Prenatal Care. “Our OB-GYN department has grown to be large, dynamic and comprehensive in prenatal care. We co-manage and provide care for women with high-risk medical conditions.”

Carol says a woman may choose to come to a midwife for many reasons. Sometimes it’s a personal connection or word-of-mouth — women talk to other women, hear good things and want to see us. She says many women also like that all UW Health midwifery staff are female and they can meet many of the nurses at their clinic visits. “We spend a lot of time with them in prenatal visits and during the labor process. We meet them in triage. The biggest difference is we are there through their labor, not just the birth.”

“Many women choose nurse midwifery care as they hope to avoid interventions such as induction, epidural or C-section. Our group practice C-section rate is less than 10 percent.”

When asked what inspires her about midwifery, Carol says she has really enjoyed having many colleagues and friends come to UW Health for their nurse midwifery care. “I’ve also had the pleasure of attending the births of my nephew and niece. It’s inspiring to work with midwifery and medical students. It’s always so incredible to experience their first births with them.”

As a nurse midwife, Carol says she has the pleasure of being a part of a woman’s incredible journey of mothering and parenting. “It brings me to tears. I recall one young woman — I was at her first birth and unfortunately, her husband was not present as he was detained in immigration in Chicago. She had church friends who were with her as she labored. Her husband was with her for her next three births, and I was able to be her midwife at all four of her births. I still keep in touch with her.”

Sadly, it’s not uncommon for a woman to experience a miscarriage. Carol has been present at the births of rainbow babies. A rainbow baby is a name for a healthy baby born after losing a baby due to miscarriage, infant loss or stillbirth. “It is a privilege to attend these births as it’s a true gift and brings intense joy and healing for these families.”

When Carol reflects on her long career in midwifery, she recalls a memorable moment at one of the first births she was a part of when she was a nursing student. It was a young woman having her first baby. “The physical strength this woman had in the act of giving birth was incredible to watch. Then as that baby was put in her arms, she transformed into this loving, beautiful mom. It was amazing. I knew very early in my nursing education that I wanted to be a midwife. There is a Norwegian proverb that I hold close to my heart, “The greatest joy is to become a mother, the second is to be a midwife.”

Carol has three children with her husband, John. Their oldest, George, is 27, and they have twins, Jack and Katie, who are 21. Carol says she looks forward to becoming a grandparent and spending time with family in her retirement. “Once you hit 60, you start thinking of retirement. My son and his wife are expecting their first baby, a boy, at the end of October.”

Now that she will have more time, she says she may consider working with friends who are involved in maternal healthcare in other countries, including Belize, Africa and Guatemala.

“Retiring is a big change. It’s hard to leave but we’re looking forward to spending time with family and hoping to travel. As I reflect on my career, it’s funny — my initial school/work/places I lived were in two-to-four-year stints, and then we moved to Madison, had children and suddenly, it’s been 31 years! It’s been a wonderful place to practice, to see midwifery grow. I’m very happy to have spent most of my career here.”