VICENZA, Italy — Lt. Col. Brenda Houston hasn’t moved into a house in Vicenza yet, but she’s already delivered three babies at Caserme Ederle.
Houston, is the first certified midwife to join the staff at the base’s birthing center.
"It’s been wonderful," said Lt. Col. Shelley Rice, deputy commander for nursing. "It’s a nice blend. It makes the team more diverse, more versatile."
Houston has served in the Army’s nursing corps for 21 years — the last 13 as a certified midwife. She joins two obstetricians — one civilian and one military — on the staff.
She said she’s been trained to deliver babies under normal circumstances. If complications arise, she calls in a doctor to take over. In rare cases, the expectant mother could be transferred off the base to the San Bortolo hospital downtown or transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
Houston says that the vast majority of births occur without major complications, though, and believes she’s delivered more than 1,000 babies in her career as a midwife.
She said she’s one of only a few dozen certified midwives in the Army.
"Generally, we are stationed at places that do a lot of baby business," Houston said.
Army midwives are a rarity in Europe. There are three active-duty midwives currently based at Landstuhl. Vicenza’s Air Force neighbor, Aviano, also has a midwife, Lt. Col. Kathryn Robinson.
Rice said when Vicenza added its birthing center on base in 2005 it created "basically, a perfect situation for a midwife." The center in Vicenza delivers between six and 20 babies a month, but is expecting a surge this summer to coincide with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team’s return from its Afghanistan deployment last year.
Rice said Houston’s addition frees up the two doctors to spend more time on pre-natal care. Houston does that as well and also performs "well woman" exams at the base’s clinic.
She said she’s happy to talk to patients about her profession and clear up any misconceptions they might have. Army midwives do not deliver babies at home, for instance, and they do not only provide "natural childbirth" without medication.