The birth community in Orange County has been abuzz with excitement about a new combination OBGYN & midwife practice in our area! Allison Molinski, MS, CNM has teamed up with Dr. Kenneth James to provide midwifery options for prenatal, postpartum, and well-woman care at Laguna Beach OBGYN. Together they serve patients birthing at Saddleback Memorial Hospital in Laguna Hills and Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo.
We first met Allison at a Doulas Association of Southern California meeting and were touched by hearing her speak so passionately about her love for supporting growing families through midwifery care. She graciously agreed to answer a few questions we could share with you - please enjoy getting to know her!
Tell us a little about yourself. What did you learn about birth growing up?
I’m an Orange County native - I spent my early childhood in Huntington Beach and my high school years in San Clemente. Birth was not something I had much awareness of until my adult years. I was born via Cesarean section at Mission Hospital due to breech position (my sense of direction has never been strong!) and my mother had a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) with my younger brother. My only childhood exposure to birth was my mom’s stories describing what an empowering birth experience the VBAC was.
How did you come into midwifery?
I grew up primarily in Orange County but also lived abroad for a number of years in South Africa, Venezuela, and Canada due to my dad’s job as an engineer. I feel so fortunate to have had those childhood experiences as they have had a strong influence on my life path ever since. I attended UC Berkeley for my undergraduate degree, and during my years at Berkeley I cultivated a passion for women’s rights activism and earned a degree in International Development. After graduating I moved to Jakarta, Indonesia to volunteer at a public health clinic for women and children. These experiences shaped my vision of becoming a midwife, as I began to see midwifery as a way I could combine all of my interests – health, feminism, and international development – and be in a position where I could positively impact my community. I left Jakarta and moved to New York City to earn a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Nurse Midwifery from Columbia University.
My first job as a midwife was at Beach Cities Midwifery here in Orange County. I feel so blessed to have had strong mentorship from Beach Cities founder BJ Snell, and my time at Beach Cities enabled me to develop a strong foundation in midwifery in an out-of-hospital setting. (I also have tremendous gratitude to BJ as she also introduced me to my now-husband Geoff!)
I began working part time at Kaiser Orange County about 2 years ago, and recently left Beach Cities to join Dr. Kenneth James, a well-loved OBGYN in Orange County. I am thrilled at the opportunity to serve a broader demographic, and offer midwifery care in-hospital at Saddleback Memorial.
What do you feel are your strengths as a midwife?
My ability to connect with women. I strive to connect on a personal level to the women and families that I work with. Midwifery is all about a relationship and sense of trust between a woman and her midwife, and building that relationship is of utmost importance to me. So many of us have questions about our bodies – and about contraception, sex, fertility, pregnancy, childbirth, mental wellness, etc. - and feel uncomfortable asking questions or having these conversations. I love that I am able to sit with women and create space for them to ask intimate questions. My goal is to offer information and resources and have a woman walk away feeling more empowered and confident about her body, her health, and her overall well-being.
Midwifery is all about a relationship and sense of trust between a woman and her midwife, and building that relationship is of utmost importance to me.
What's the biggest misconception people have about what you do?
Many people perceive a midwife to be an uneducated woman that attends home births in an unsafe fashion. That is simply not true!
A Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) like myself has both a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Nursing. Some even have Doctoral degrees. While some Nurse Midwives do work in the home birth or birth center setting, 95% of us work in hospitals. We can order lab work and ultrasounds, prescribe medication, and we often work side-by-side with doctors. Women who want an epidural or other pain relief can absolutely work with a midwife! Safety is our top priority, but an empowering pregnancy and birth experience is a close second. Something else that many people don’t realize is that Nurse Midwives offer well-woman care. You can see us for your gynecologic needs from teen years through menopause.
Tell us about your new(ish) arrangement with Dr. James - exciting news for Orange County families looking for midwifery care!
Dr. James already has a reputation for being the most holistic OBGYN in southern Orange County, so it was no surprise that when he thought about expanding his practice he decided to invite a midwife to join him. I feel so blessed that he asked me! I have been working full-time with Dr. James since September 2016 at his private practice, Laguna Beach OBGYN. I work in our office in Laguna Beach and attend births at Saddleback Memorial Hospital. Dr. James and I work collaboratively, and our patients have access to both of us. This collaborative doctor/midwife practice is unique, and our patients have benefited tremendously from having access to the presence and perspectives of both an OBGYN and a midwife.
While I do miss out-of-hospital births, I am thrilled to be offering midwifery care in the hospital setting now. I feel that it is the best of both worlds – women get the intimate and personalized care of a midwife, plus access to emergency resources and pain medication as needed. For women who want an unmedicated “natural” birth, we can create a very intimate and comfortable space to labor and birth in the context of the hospital birthing suite: we dim the lights, utilize music and aromatherapy, encourage position changes (including use of tub and shower), do intermittent monitoring of mom and baby, etc. I have had some really beautiful births at Saddleback!
What is your favorite part of your job? What's the most challenging part of your job?
Attending birth allows me to bear witness to one of the most intimate and vulnerable experiences of a woman’s life, and there is nothing more rewarding for me than those moments. It is such a privilege to attend women in childbirth – to watch a woman show her strength and courage over the course of labor, and watch a couple meet their newborn for the first time! I have strong relationships with so many of the women I serve. Of course, like any job, being a midwife is difficult at times…. 2am phone calls are always tough! But truthfully, the most challenging aspect of the job is that caring for women often entails significant grief and sorrow. I frequently see women experience tremendous pain and suffering with infertility issues, miscarriages, and other unexpected challenges.
It's so important to have sensitive medical care in those situations. Could you share a bit more about how you support women going through these kinds of challenges?
An empathetic approach and a hug go a long away. I try to give women as much information and resources as possible (i.e. support groups and treatment options). I encourage self care during difficult times. I try to make follow-up phone calls a week or so after the visit to make sure the patient is coping okay, and to answer any follow up questions she may have.
What other types of services do you provide besides midwifery?
As a Nurse Midwife, I also offer well-woman care. I frequently do annual well-woman checkups, pap smears, and breast exams. Want to talk about birth control options? Interested in preconception counseling? Need STD testing? Concerned about unusual vaginal discharge or irregular menstrual bleeding? Stuck tampon? Come on in! I’m in the office Monday-Thursday. Women can schedule appointments in advance, or if it’s more urgent, can usually be seen same-day.
What's the best piece of advice you have for pregnant women?
Trust your body! As midwife Ina May Gaskin famously said, “Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.” I love this quote!! Such powerful words, and a good reminder for all of us.
Allison's contact information
Laguna Beach OBGYN
31852 Pacific Coast Hwy Ste 200
Laguna Beach, CA 92651