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A labor of love

Nurse midwife Betty Kay Taylor recalls “catching” her first baby in “a little bitty” hospital in rural Utah where snow, rain and gloom of night often kept a physician from arriving in the delivery room in time for a birth.

This week, nearly 40 years and countless births later, Taylor is retiring. Her last shift at Providence Medical Group’s OB/GYN Health Center is Friday.

After decades of late-night and early-morning calls to the delivery room, she says she is looking forward to “sleeping in late and having an extra cup of coffee.”

Taylor has coached thousands of mothers through labor and counseled several hundred mothers-to-be as one of the few midwives who is also a registered diagnostic medical sonographer. And with expertise in performing high-tech, high-risk pregnancy ultrasounds, she’s comforted and consoled several dozen more.

Lanita Witt, a retired OB/GYN doctor and former colleague, says that Taylor “has made uncountable contributions to women in her more than 30 years” in the Rogue Valley.

Witt praises both Taylor’s bedside manner and her “infinitely curious mind.” Her thirst for knowledge, she says, led her to the cutting edge of obstetrics.

As a young college student, Taylor didn’t aspire to a career in nursing. She started out majoring in anthropology at the University of New Mexico, but changed to pre-med when “basically homeless and an orphan at 18 years old, I figured I should look to something that would ensure I always had a job.”

A cousin suggested nursing.

“At first, I was not planning on going into obstetrics,” she says. “I thought the best job in medicine would be in surgery.”

Taylor received her nursing degree in 1974, and went on to do graduate work in maternal and child health at the University of Utah, where she earned a Master’s of Science in Nursing.

It was while she was doing her rotation in the labor and delivery rooms as a nursing student and later working in the neonatal intensive care units as a graduate student that she found her calling. She completed the University of Utah’s certified nurse-midwifery program in 1977, and later that year moved with her husband to the Rogue Valley.

In just her first seven years as an OB nurse, she assisted at 1,000 births — a milestone the Mail Tribune reported July 31, 1984. She’s lost count of the births over the last 32 years, but estimates that the number is “several thousand.”

“I was pregnant with my first child,” she says of the summer of 1984. “After the birth of my son that October, I quit counting.”

And then, after the birth of a second son, she says, she didn’t work as hard.

But that’s an understatement.

Witt and Taylor worked many late nights together for 14 years at Providence.

“Up in the middle of the night at 2 and 3 a.m.,” Witt says she enjoyed the teamwork and camaraderie, and appreciated Taylor’s deft hands in times of crisis.

“She was a great assist on cesarean sections,” she says. “She would have made a good surgeon.”

As advances were made in maternal fetal medicine, Taylor made advances in her career and became a certified sonographer. The relatively low-tech practice of midwifery soon became high-tech. While still hands-on with expectant mothers, she had new tools to better educate women through all three trimesters of their pregnancy.

Taylor moved to Asante’s Rogue Regional Medical Center in 2000 (then Rogue Valley Medical Center), where she says she did some OB care and performed ultrasounds.

She says she was fortunate to work with Dr. Bryan Sohl, an obstetrician specializing in perinatology, which focuses on managing health concerns of both mother and baby prior to, during and shortly after pregnancy. As only the second such physician in Southern Oregon at the time, Sohl saw patients from as far away as Klamath Falls.

Taylor recalls lugging around “clunky,” “cumbersome” ultrasound equipment that captured grainy, gray-scale images at best.

She says she has continually gone back to school to keep up with new technology that now allows the sonographer to record three-dimensional, high-resolution images.

After returning to Providence in 2013, she attended fewer births and became adept at pre-natal testing and genetic counseling so she could consult on lower-risk pregnancies and make referrals when tests revealed serious pre-existing health concerns, pregnancy-related complications or babies at risk due to chromosomal or congenital abnormalities.

“It’s a fascinating time with all the new tests,” says Taylor. “It’s almost science fiction-like how fast things have changed.”

She says it’s been important to keep up so she could “‘spend the time with patients and help them make educated choices” about their health and the health of their babies.

“Her knowledge combined with her life experiences have made her an artist,” says Witt. “She kept learning, and has always been in pursuit of knowledge to further develop her expertise.

“She’s set the bar pretty high.”

In addition to her clinical gifts, Witt says, Taylor’s bedside manner afforded her the chance to “be intimately involved with women with special-needs pregnancies and relieve the anxiety they had over the welfare of their pregnancy and child.”

AnneTerese O’Gwin says the Rogue Valley is “losing a good one” with Taylor’s retirement.

Six months' pregnant, she says Taylor has “a comforting presence” that calmed her new-mom-to-be jitters.

“I had thousands of questions, some I hadn’t even asked yet, but she answered them all, giving bits and pieces that were easy to ingest.”

Taylor says she “felt like a buffer when there was bad news to report” and a safe haven for “scared” parents “who were often more worried than they needed to be.”

A good midwife is “always teaching, educating women about their bodies, and doing it in a manner that allows them to ask questions they are afraid to ask, or may never ask.”

Taylor says she’s had a rewarding, satisfying career.

“It’s hard to give it up,” she says.

“If I had to do it again, I would do it similarly,” she adds. “Maybe make a few changes. Maybe I would have been more of a typical midwife and kept doing births.”

A celebration of Betty Kay Taylor’s career and contributions is set for Sunday, Nov. 13. Families are invited to the reception from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Carpenter Room at the Medford library, 205 S. Central Ave., Medford.

— Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at tammyasnicar@q.com.

Kendall and Fily Bencomo of Medford watch as nurse midwife Betty Kay Taylor shows them pictures of their baby girl during an ultrasound at Providence Medford Medical Center. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta