Mountain Midwife: Heather Wagner Jordan ’92

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by Meg Kimmel

It’s no surprise that Heather Wagner Jordan ’92 drives a Jeep Cherokee in the winter. The roads can get dicey in Linville, N.C., and a few minutes can make all the difference to a midwife en route to a laboring mother.

Back in her junior year at Davidson, Jordan was looking for a thesis topic when her adviser suggested she look into the area of maternal-and-child health. Jordan admits to a lifelong fascination with pregnancy and childbirth, and that, coupled with the academic nudge, led her to contact a “hippie midwife” who lived near the college. “Once I formed that connection, I had been bitten by the bug.”

Jordan’s thesis on midwifery was so strong that a member of her faculty committee used it as required reading in a seminar on childbirth, long after Jordan had graduated with honors and a Phi Beta Kappa key. The Sociology Department thought she would pursue a doctorate; her parents wondered why she didn’t apply to medical school. And while she wasn’t sure of her next academic step, her goal was clear: direct involvement with mothers and families in the very human business of birth and delivery.

Laws that regulate midwifery vary widely from state to state, so Jordan eventually decided to get a nursing degree, knowing that the “letters after my name” would give her more options. “Plus, there was so much to learn!” She worked as a labor-and-delivery nurse for about four years, before entering a two-year nurse-midwifery program at East Carolina University in 2000. She continued to work while going to school, but “having the CNM—a nurse-midwife certificate—allows me to do exactly what I want to do.”

Which is to catch babies—about 70 a year! “I get to take time with people, work with children, and witness birth. It is dramatic and miraculous every time.”

She works in a family and pediatric practice with another Davidson alumnus, Charlie Baker ’69, M.D. “With the first practice I joined, the contract was complicated and pages long,” Jordan recalls. “That doctor moved on, so I went to see Charlie. After we talked a bit, he pulled out a piece of paper, wrote down my salary and vacation time, and said, ‘Let’s sign and date it.’”

She is grateful to have Baker as a backup when she needs it, and the positive partnership goes both ways. Baker says that he’s delivered 2,000 babies in the past 30 years, “but I’ve watched some of Heather’s deliveries, and I learn something new each time.”

With her CNM, she could practice anywhere, “But we love mountain life,” she says. Her husband, Leslie Jordan ’91, delivers on the home front, taking care of their three boys and keeping life manageable. You never know when babies will decide to come.

Heather Jordan smiles warmly. “Two incomes would mean more money,” she says, “but I’m not sure we’d be any happier.”

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