When Leslie Gibson became a Certified Nurse Midwife seven years ago, she had already helped to deliver hundreds of babies while working as a labor and delivery nurse. She had cared for many fragile infants as a critical care nurse.
Gibson had another bonified credential as an expert in childbirth that is not listed on her resume: she had given birth to five children of her own.
Her own motherhood reinforced Gibson's medical-education knowledge about pregnancy and delivery. Her overarching approach to pregnancy, and the philosophy behind how she treats her patients, is that pregnancy is not a disease; giving birth is not a frightful and secretive undertaking.
"My primary mission is to guide women through this very natural process," said Gibson, one of three Certified Nurse Midwives at SCL Health St. Mary's Maternal-Fetal Medicine & OB/GYN Clinics.
Midwifery is not an easy profession. There are the around-the-clock hours dictated by when a baby decides to make an appearance. In preparation, there are the nine-months of screening tests, check-ups, and overseeing all aspects of a mother's and developing baby's health during pregnancy. For midwives, that means multiple appointments that last at least 30 minutes each.
It makes for a busy lifestyle for any midwifery practitioner, much less one with five of her own children. In Gibson's case, that includes one child who suffered a life-threatening illness at the outset of Gibson's midwife career.
"I am asked all the time, 'how do you do it?'," Gibson said. "I don't know how to answer that. It has to do with loving what I do."
Gibson said she always knew she wanted to be a nurse when she was growing up in western Colorado where her great-grandparents had homesteaded. She and her high school-sweetheart husband, who also has deep roots in western Colorado, had their first child when Gibson was 18. That didn't divert her from her nursing dream.
She earned her RN degree from Regis University in Denver in 1998, graduating Cum Laude while also caring for toddlers. She went on to work in Intensive Care Units, including a neonatal unit, and in labor and delivery departments in the Denver area and in Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction and Montrose. She also found time to teach and to mentor other nurses as well as serving as a Spanish translator for healthcare services and being certified as a sexual assault nurse examiner.
Nine years ago, with her youngest child in grade school, Gibson started her midwife training at the University of Cincinnati. She was certified in 2012. She joined the ranks of about three dozen Certified Nurse Midwives practicing in Colorado.
Months after she graduated, Gibson's middle child showed signs of illness. He would come home from school exhausted. He was losing weight. All her training, and her sixth sense as a mother, told her that something was seriously wrong. She took her son to more than half a dozen physicians, including several specialists, who couldn't find a problem. Ultimately, she took him to the Mayo Clinic where a tumor was discovered near the pituitary gland in his brain.
For Gibson, that began a six-month hiatus from her new career and a journey supporting her son through chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Her son Benjamin is now a nursing student at Colorado Mesa University. He is working towards a degree as a Nurse Practitioner, a post-masters accomplishment his mother achieved three years ago.
Gibson already considered herself a fighter before she battled for her own child's life. She said she has always fought against adversity, and fought for causes she believes in.
"Because of my training, it made me fight harder for my son. I didn't accept the answers I was getting," Gibson said. "I am that kind of person. I am going to fight for my kids. I am going to fight for my patients."
That also includes fighting against stereotypes and misconceptions about her profession. Midwives have to counter a perception that midwives are not medically trained professionals. "We provide a healthy, safe, low intervention, natural childbirth with the added ability to also provide medical intervention if necessary," Gibson said.
She and other Certified Midwives at SCL St. Mary's work under the purview of OB/GYN physicians. The midwives do the same screenings the doctors do. They prescribe medications. They oversee deliveries in the hospital. They assist at C-sections. And they recognize when to turn high-risk cases over to the physicians, Gibson said.
It is also the season of Mother's Day – a day that Gibson views with reverence. "At every birth, I say, 'and this is why we have Mother's Day'," she said. "Being a mother is incredibly intense. You have grown this human inside for most of a year. Mother's Day is huge"
When cyclist Terry Brown was struck by a car last month, he was flown to St. Mary's Hospital with crushed vertebrae in his back, 13 broken ribs, a concussion, a lacerated kidney, a badly shattered upper arm and a particularly nasty fracture in his lower leg. He was in shock from loss of blood.
As his wife Julie describes his then critical condition, he was "a human jigsaw puzzle" needing to be pieced back together.