The Making of a Male Midwife

Look to the front lines of healthcare, and you will easily find an army of doctors, nurses, and medical professionals marching tirelessly into battle for their patients. Healthcare providers care for a vast array of ailments and specialties, from the hours-old infant to a seasoned centenarian. When it comes to a particular forte - women’s health - we are fortunate to have many wonderful options right here in our community.

One Billings resident is new to the Montana healthcare scene, although he is no stranger to quality care of expectant moms and families. Jacob Mearse, Doctor of Nursing Practice and Certified Nurse Midwife, joined the staff of the Midwifery and Women's Center at SCL Health in August of this past year. This father of seven children (yes, you read that right!) has devoted his life's work to helping mothers and children live happy and healthy lives. The birth of his first child, a son named Wesley, was assisted by a nurse midwife at Hawaii's Tripler Army Medical Center. Mearse, a Navy member stationed there, was impacted by not only the nurse midwife's knowledge and skill, but also by her compassion and sensitivity towards his growing family. As the Mearse family continued to expand, Jacob became convinced that he wanted to be able to provide the same compassionate, competent care he and his wife had experienced to other families.

Mearse is no stranger to setting a goal for himself and doing whatever it takes to make that dream a reality. He grew up in Bend, Oregon, and joined the Navy right out of high school. He served as a Hospital Corpsman and then as a registered nurse and spent several years working as a psychiatric nurse practitioner, after earning his doctorate from the University of Washington. It was during this time that he completed a post-doctoral fellowship in perinatal mental health, with a concentration in perinatal mood disorders and substance abuse treatment. A postgraduate certificate in Nurse-Midwifery from Frontier Nursing University soon followed. Finally, in 2017 after 25 years of military service, Mearse and his wife began looking for a place to settle down and raise their sizeable family. They quickly answered the call of wide-open Montana skies and a chance to serve a thriving community with their move to Billings.

Certified nurse-midwife (CNM) care is different from standard obstetrical care in several ways, although both groups feature highly trained and qualified professionals. While OB-GYNs are the most commonly chosen route to baby delivery in the United States, midwifery is growing in popularity. A 1997 study published in the American Journal of Public Health compared two groups of women with low-risk pregnancies. The researchers found that CNMs used 12.2 percent fewer interventions (such as epidural anesthesia and instruments to assist with delivery) than physicians. The same study found that the women who saw midwives rather than OB-GYNs had 4.8 percent fewer C-sections. Yet, more importantly, research has also shown that a healthy mom/healthy baby outcome is equally as good between OB-GYN and midwife births.

Meares recognizes that the personal touch a certified nurse-midwife can provide is one of the things that drew him to his profession. He says, “When moms choose midwife-led care, they're choosing someone who will, first and foremost, really listen to them. Our office visits are longer on purpose because we really want to get to know our clients. We want to be there through your whole labor, not just at the end. We want to support your birth plan, be it a traditional American birth, with an epidural and continuous monitoring, or an unmedicated birth, on the floor, pushing on your hands and knees. The whole patient-provider dynamic is very different. We want the laboring mom to be in charge of things, to give her the power over her own birth experience.”

Giving back to not only women in the Billings community, but also families in need, is important to Mearse as he begins to establish his practice here in Montana. As a DNP as well as a CNM, he provides a scope of services that extend well beyond delivering healthy babies. The Midwifery and Women’s Health center at SCL Health also provides gynecology, women’s primary care, in-office procedures like IUD and Nexplanon placement, and colposcopy. Mearse offers additional services such as psychiatry and substance abuse treatment. He says that what he loves most about his job is being able to give the best possible care to people who really haven’t had access to it before. “The single mom on Medicaid. The terrified young mom struggling with addiction. Homeless women, those living in shelters, treatment programs, etc. To see disadvantaged women receiving care that's as good as, if not better than, those with all the advantages in the world - that's what gets me up in the morning.” 

Jacob Mearse is happy to have found a place to practice his life’s passion and a home base for his family and work. His family has lived "just about everywhere" during his Navy career, and he and his wife April have welcomed babies into their family in Hawaii, Wisconsin, Washington, and Nevada. They have learned to be both flexible and resilient, qualities that have served them well as their family has grown. April homeschools all seven of the children, 4 boys and 3 girls who range in age from 14 to 2. Jacob told her that when he finally retired from the Navy, they would buy a house and not move again! For the families who have benefitted from Meares’s expertise thus far, and for the many families who will rely on his help to strengthen their own broods, it’s a promise that the entire Billings community intends to help him keep!

about the author...Brooke Wagner is a Southern girl at heart, but a Montana girl by choice. She lives in Billings with her husband, three children, one dog who thinks she is human, and one very therapeutic horse.

Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s November 2018 issue.

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