Leaving A Legacy at GW

At the beginning of 2019, the Division of Midwifery at the George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates (GWMFA) announced a leadership transition. The founder of midwifery at GWMFA, Whitey Pinger passed the baton to Tina Johnson after nine years of visionary leadership. I have had the privilege of working with Whitney for six years, and would like to pay tribute to the legacy she leaves behind: her principle driven care, exceptional midwifery skills, and vision for improving maternal health. 

The first time I met Whitney, my clients and I arrived at GW hospitals at 5 am after laboring all night together at their home. We continued to labor on hands and knees, but my client was beginning to feel discouraged and her stamina was waning. Whitney walked in for her morning rounds around 7am. After a brief conversation to assess where my client was in labor, she pulled out a beautiful pink rose from her pocket and led my client through a brief guided imagery comparing her cervix to an unfolding rose. Then she turned to practical considerations: she handed me a disposable toothbrush, toothpaste, mouth wash, and asked me to help my client refresh. We washed her face with a warm wash cloth, brushed her teeth and hair, and reapplied deodorant and chapstick.

This small act, taking a moment to take care of normal human needs, fosters human dignity. After this initial interaction, I saw Whitney's commitment to human dignity over and over: when she encouraged women to stand up and face the sun in goddess pose during contractions rather than always looking down; when she made painstaking efforts to answer client questions accurately and honestly; the way that she always asked clients if she could touch them before any kind of exam, and many others. Her example helped shape my practice moving forward, and eventually the core values of DC Birth Doulas.

I could recount numerous moments of excellent midwifery clinical care, such as the time she supported one of my clients through a vaginal twin birth with twelve hours between baby A and baby B, massaged away the scar tissue on a rigid cervix or used an ice pack to encourage a swollen cervix, and a video (at a midwifery conference) of her supporting a vaginal breech birth. I admire her excellent skills as a midwife, but I gush about her leadership and vision, especially her commitment to shared decision making and collaborative care between providers, clients, and other birth professionals.

I was once supporting a client through a challenging OP labor, requiring frequent positions changes as we all worked to help labor progress while maintaining a reassuring fetal heart rate. Whitney joined us as we were preparing to push, and she took the time to ask me if I had any thoughts on how to approach pushing. I told her that my observation was that our client was most comfortable, and the baby's heart rate seemed most consistent, when my client was in a side-lying release (SLR) position. When I asked if we could try pushing in SLR position - not something I had ever tried before either - she said sure - with great results for our client. Whitney also took the time to verbally walk our client through her clinical observations, possible pathways forward, and then asked permission before she conducted her exams.

This was typical for Whitney and the team at GW. Centered on input and feedback from clients, while working collaboratively with knowledgable medical providers, skilled nurses, and insightful doulas, we are all able to provide clients with the best care, and outcomes, possible.

Intra-professional collaboration, thorough informed consent and shared-decision making, and principle-based skilled care are all a part of Whitney's legacy at GWMFA. We look forward to continued collaboration with Tina as the new director, and the rest of the excellent staff associated with the GW Medical Faculty Association. We hope to still catch glimpses of Whitney as she continues to teach and train with the GWMFA, and send her a big thank you for the groundwork she has laid.

Written by Sarah M Paksima, Owner DC Birth Doulas

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