From 2009 – 2011, Our Bodies Ourselves honored the work of women’s health advocates worldwide by asking readers to nominate their favorite women’s health hero. View all nominees by year: 2009, 2010, 2011
Entrant: Bree Wellwood
Nominee: Abby Howe-Heyman, CNM, RN, Professor, Phillips Beth Israel School of Nursing
As a woman who has been an active participant in my own health care for a number of years, I know that the mainstream health system doesn’t always trust or respect me. Maybe I’m exaggerating about how bad my cramps are? Or underestimating the number of partners I’ve had? What is refreshing and inspiring about Professor Abby Howe-Heyman, CNM, RN, is her insistence that women be treated as experts in their own health.
Abby is a graduate of Smith College, Columbia University School of Nursing, and SUNY Downstate Health Science Center in Brooklyn’s Midwifery Education Program, and has been a midwife since 2000. She was a nurse at Elizabeth Seton Childbearing Center, a midwife at Bronx Lebanon Hospital, and then helped start Clementine, a Midwifery Practice in Brooklyn.
Currently, Abby is a professor at Phillips Beth Israel School of Nursing (PBISN), where she teaches the OB and Women’s Health components of the Care of Childbearing and Childrearing class. Abby’s passion for women’s health and midwifery has inspired a number of students to consider Midwifery, or at least use a midwife for their own pregnancies.
PBISN is an associates degree program, and while most of the students have plans to continue on for advanced practice training, the main focus is on patient care at the RN level. It is here that Abby’s real contribution is evident. Whether we were discussing comprehensive birth control options, prenatal nutrition, or breastfeeding counseling, the underlying message was always to listen to our patients, to hear what they need and where they are coming from. There are so many opportunities for women to feel like a failure in the childbirth process (insufficient cervix?), but Abby taught us to accept each patient and support her however we can.
There are many lessons we will take from nursing school, and from Abby’s class in particular (like putting cabbage leaves on engorged breasts), but the simple act of respecting our patients will be the most lasting one.