Monogram Maternity

MM Lee Shepard

Lee Sheppard

St. Vincent’s new program arms moms-to-be with as much knowledge—and as many options—as possible.

Written by Rosalind Fournier


For some moms-to-be, pregnancy itself can feel so all-consuming—new, exciting, and no doubt anxiety-producing at times—that they give little thought to what will happen the day of delivery and what kind of birth experience they hope to have. 

Monogram Maternity, a new program at St. Vincent’s Birmingham and St. Vincent’s East, is working to change that. From the earliest days of a woman’s pregnancy, the goal is to begin educating women about the decisions they have and empowering them to become active members of their own birth experience. The initiative launched just last year, but already some 500 patients have participated.

One is Lee Sheppard, a first-time mom whose due date was imminent at the time of this writing. She says Monogram Maternity presented her with questions and options she hadn’t even considered. “I didn’t really know what ‘birth wishes’ would entail,” Sheppard says, “so it was nice just sitting down with somebody and talking about what to expect, what do you want, when do you want people in the room, do you want your husband to cut the umbilical cord…things like that I never ever thought of.”

Some other patients have concerns born out of complications with prior pregnancies. Meagan Limbaugh, who recently moved to Birmingham from Atlanta, came armed with plenty of questions when she first met with the nurse from Monogram Maternity. “Pain management was my biggest thing, because with my first two, the epidurals didn’t really work effectively,” Limbaugh says. “I also wanted to know about the nursery. They really encourage in-room stay for the baby, which I like, but I also wanted to know that if I needed to sleep I could bring the baby to the nursery and he or she would be okay.”

Cortney Wade

Cortney Wade

Julie Haynes, Monogram Maternity birth designer at St. Vincent’s East, says the questions range far and wide, and no request or concern is dismissed out of hand. (St. Vincent’s Birmingham has its own birth designer, Laura Wright.) “What better way to care for a patient than to ask what their needs are?” Haynes asks. “We encourage them to view this as a true collaboration, so we spend a lot of time educating them about all the options that are available that they might not have even known existed.” One of the lesser-known options, for instance, is “delayed cord clamping,” an option that’s been around for years but has recently been gaining more attention. It basically means waiting a little longer to clamp the umbilical cord after birth, which some studies have shown to be beneficial to newborns. “That’s just one example of something that more patients have been interested in hearing about,” she says.

Cortney Wade, another patient who participated in Monogram Maternity, says that like Limbaugh, she had questions about pain management. Initially planning a natural childbirth, she had a chance to see and try the different tools the hospital makes available for pain management, like birthing balls and a bar that helps a woman in labor position herself in different ways. They also discussed different ways epidurals can be delivered in case a mother changes her mind or something unexpected happens—which it did in Wade’s case, when it turned out she needed a C-Section. “Even so,” she notes, “by going through it, Monogram Maternity helped me feel confident that people were on my side, willing to talk about different avenues and think ideas through instead of just, ‘This is our rule book, this is how it’s done.’ I think that’s the most comforting part.”

Haynes says one of the best aspects of the program is that it creates seamless communication among patients, their doctors, the nursing staff, and other support services, including lactation specialists. Women are invited to meet with the Monogram Maternity team from day one, touring the hospital, asking questions, and being able to access a wide range of expertise all in one place.

Dr. William Johnson of OB/GYN Associates of Alabama, which is located at St. Vincent’s Birmingham, says he and his colleagues have welcomed the initiative as an additional way the hospital can educate and support patients. “They spend more time going through options and helping to ease the patient’s mind than we’re often able to do in a typical doctor’s visit,” he says. “They also help them fill out the form containing their birth wishes, and bring it back to us. We sign it and then it goes to the hospital so all the information is available when the patient arrives for delivery. I think it’s a very positive thing, and our patients have responded well.”

Meagan Limbaugh

Meagan Limbaugh

Dr. Crista Thomas, one of Johnson’s colleagues, emphasizes that Monogram Maternity works closely with the physicians to make sure everyone is on the same page throughout the pregnancy, delivery, and even beyond. “The Monogram Maternity team came to the physicians and really listened to our input,” Thomas explains. “Our end goal is healthy babies and healthy moms at the end of the day. So our practice encourages our patients to take part so they can have every opportunity to ask questions, know their options, and make informed decisions before they are already in the delivery room, dealing with pain and everything else. And after they’ve written out their birth wishes, Monogram Maternity always tells them they should also have a discussion with their doctor about their plans and expectations.”

Haynes adds that being able to process information and make choices well ahead of time ultimately frees the patients to really focus on and take in the birth experience when the time comes, with as few distractions as possible, “so they can marvel in the miracle of childbirth,” she says.

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