‘I have a bazillion kids’
Midwife who delivered thousands of Western Slope babies to retire
Local mother Elycia Verzani has a deep connection with her midwife.
“She delivered me, she delivered my nephew, all of my kids, she delivered my cousin’s kids, my aunt’s kids — we’ve kept her in the family,” said Elycia, 26.
She was speaking of Janet Grant, a midwifery legend who has delivered thousands of babies — 6,500 by her count — in Grand Junction since opening her practice Mesa Midwives in 1983.
Grant has delivered nearly two full generations of the Verzani family, tending to Elycia’s mother Miriah Verzani during her four childbirths and also to four of Miriah’s grandchildren, three of whom belong to Elycia, and to several other Verzani relatives.
“She’s meant the world to our family,” said Elycia, who is heartbroken that Grant, who retires Thursday, won’t be around at the end of her current pregnancy to deliver her fourth and final baby this winter.
The Verzanis’ story isn’t uncommon to the Western Slope, where Grant said she can hardly step into Target or walk the farmers market without being inundated by hugs and hellos from the mothers, fathers, grandparents and children she’s served as a midwife.
“I’ve gone to lots of baby showers and lots of birthdays,” Grant said. And that’s fine with her.
Her happiness with her 34-year career comes from the connections she has shared along the way, she said.
“I really like the relationships you build,” Grant said. “It keeps you open-minded, because everyone has their own story.”
She has tended to teenagers, 44-year-olds, blended families and people with all kinds of other backgrounds over the years — people from not only Grand Junction but from De Beque, Delta, Montrose, Meeker, Craig, Rifle, Parachute and elsewhere.
When she began to practice midwifery in Grand Junction in 1983, after graduating from Mesa State College with a degree in nursing, the only other midwife practicing on the Western Slope was in Aspen, Grant said.
She struggled for nine months to forge a working relationship with St. Mary’s Hospital to allow her to provide care there and collaborate with hospital doctors.
Grant’s first delivery at the hospital is still one of her most memorable, because she was able to deliver the baby of a St. Mary’s Labor and Delivery nurse who had supported Grant through the trial of getting her privileges.
The privileges came through just before the baby was due, and the birth came to symbolize a great victory for Grant.
Doctors in the area at that time weren’t very accepting of midwifery, said Dr. William Ellinwood, who worked with Grant for 23 years at Women’s Healthcare of Western Colorado, the office housing Mesa Midwives.
It initially was hard for Grant to find patients, Ellinwood said. “Now, she has just a tremendous following.”
People often go to midwives to get a more personal type of care than they would from a doctor, Ellinwood said.
Midwives tend to have more comfortable exam rooms, more attentiveness and more focus on the unique needs of patients, he said.
“They offer a very high level of medical care in a more personal and organic setting,” Ellinwood said.
That’s especially true with Grant, he said.
“She probably has more obstetrical experience than anyone in town, doctors included,” Ellinwood said.
She has particular gifts in patient care, a “sixth sense,” he said.
Grant made herself constantly available, coming in even when she wasn’t on call if one of her patients went into labor.
“That’s something that you don’t get anymore, really, in other health care environments,” he said.
Grant also took on thousands of low-income women who couldn’t easily see traditional doctors, Ellinwood said. Grant formed a relationship with a women’s health care office in Telluride, then drove down once a month to see patients there, patients who came up to Grand Junction to be with Grant when it came time to deliver.
There’s no doubt among her fans and colleagues that she will leave a hole in the Western Slope community that will be hard to fill.
“She’s the most amazing, caring, giving person anybody could ever meet,” Miriah Verzani said. “We call her our angel. She’s the reason all our kids are here and healthy.”
Miriah said when she accompanied her daughter Elycia on her first prenatal visits with Grant, the midwife focused on Elycia’s needs and wants, not on Miriah’s wishes, even though Elycia was young.
Elycia was scared when she first got pregnant, and she decided to see Grant based on advice from her mother, she said. She recommended Grant to every first-time mother she’s known.
“I trust her. I trust her opinion,” Elycia said. “She never ceases to amaze me.”
“She’ll be very missed in the birthing community,” Miriah said.
Grant herself is proud of and in awe of the community she’s created over the years, although she is excited for retirement and to put away the pager and travel abroad with her husband.
Grant never had children of her own. “I never had time,” she said, then added that because of her career, she doesn’t really think of herself as childless.
“I have a bazillion kids,” she said.
Many of those “kids,” their families and Grant’s colleagues will gather for a celebration of her life’s work from 3–8 p.m. Thursday outside Mesa Midwives, 2525 N. Eighth St. There will be a street party with food trucks, giveaways and a band.
It’s possible hundreds of the people who have been impacted by Grant will come to say thanks and show their support.
“Not many people work in the same place for so long,” Grant said, mentioning how transience is much more common now than it used to be.
Grant herself moved from Florida to Boulder as a youth before attending Mesa State and settling into the Grand Valley.
“And I’m glad that I stayed,” she said.