Alison F Engel, CNM-MSN
- Midwife, Certified
Alison Engel, CNM, started when she was 5 years old. “I grew up in a family of women who were nurturers,” Engel says. “My mom was a cook and a caregiver, and my grandmother was a labor and delivery nurse. So it’s no surprise that I’ve been putting bandages and fake poultices on my friend’s booboos since kindergarten. “It was in my nature to be in health care,” Engel says. Engel joined Pen Bay Women’s Health earlier this year as one of five certified nurse midwives providing a full range of care for women of all ages, including birth control, annual checkups, pap tests, breast exams, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, preconception care, abnormal bleeding evaluation and menopausal care. “Alison is an experienced, thoughtful and compassionate caregiver, and we are fortunate to have her on our care team,” said Jennifer McKenna, MD, director of women’s health for PBMC and WCGH. To schedule an appointment with Engel, please call 301-8900. Pen Bay Women’s Health is located on the campus of Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport: learn more here. To learn more about how Engel’s family shaped her choice to become a midwife, read on.
Why did you become a midwife?
I was born with the assistance of a midwife, as was my middle sister, and we grew up hearing our birth stories from my mom. This definitely influenced my decision to become a midwife. When I was 15 years old, my oldest sister had a baby with the assistance of a midwife. I was present for the birth, and it left a big impression on me. I really admired the way the midwife was so calm and quiet but also very involved and present. She wasn’t not there. She wasn’t not doing her job. She just wasn’t intervening and getting in the way of the process. She was there to support my sister in having her baby. There was a time I thought about medical school, but I decided that the principles of midwifery were more in line with who I am and the holistic care I want to provide. So I went to nursing school. After working for a couple of years as a nurse, I went to midwifery school. I was ultimately guided by the experience with my sister and her midwife to choose this career path.
Do you see midwifery in terms of pregnancy only, or does midwifery address a larger range of women’s health issues?
Popular culture associates midwives with pregnancy and birth, but historically midwives provided health care for the whole family. That piece of our profession got lost over the years, and we were put into the niche of providing just obstetric care. But we provide a full range of health care to women, from birth through menopause and beyond.
Some of my favorite people to work with are young teens. I find great satisfaction helping them get a good start in their lives by teaching them how to respect their bodies and treat them well. Menopause is another transitional time in life, with unique and amazing opportunities to learn about and have confidence in our bodies.
When a patient comes to see you for the first time, what can they expect?
First and foremost, they can expect to come into a safe space for their care. By safe, I mean two things. While we have always offered a clean space for patient care, we have taken extra precautions due to COVID-19. Women coming to my office should be confident that they are coming to a place that puts their safety first. I also mean safe in the sense that our care is non-judgmental and comes from a place of compassion and empathy. Women can expect an open conversation. I’ll start by asking them what’s on their mind and what I can do to help. I encourage women to participate in the decision-making process about their health. We, as midwives, work hard to make women feel comfortable talking about their health in ways that otherwise might be uncomfortable. Listening to women is the center of what we do.
Does listening come to you naturally or is it a skill you had to develop as a midwife?
A little bit of both. I’m not the world’s chattiest person, so I enjoy listening to people and hearing their stories. I feel privileged to be let into a patient’s life, to hear a person’s experiences. As a midwife, there are certain kinds of listening that you do where you pick up on little nuances of what somebody is saying. Those nuances can give me insight into their health and tell me how I can help them.
You grew up in New Hampshire?
I grew up there until I was 14. My mom was from the Newburyport area on the North Shore of Massachusetts. It is a beautiful seaside town. We moved back there when I was 14. I went to college in Boston and met my husband there. I went to graduate school in New Haven, Connecticut, and then practiced and worked in Massachusetts for the first six years that I was a midwife.
Why practice midwifery in Maine?
The town I grew up in was very small and probably had a lot more cows than people. And so I never felt quite at home in cities and suburban spaces. I wanted to settle and raise a family in a more rural setting. And my parents and my sister live in Freeport now, so I wanted to be closer to them. My dad’s family for generations has been coming to Maine in the summer. Maine was definitely a place that feels like home and offers more of the lifestyle that I want for my kids.
Outside of the women’s health offices, what are your passions?
I am a total midwife cliché. I love to knit and garden and do yoga and bake, all those crunchy things that you would imagine a midwife likes to do. I’m a total nester. I’m a homebody, but also we really enjoy the outdoors. We have a dog and two kids, and our favorite thing to do on the weekends is throw the baby in the backpack and hike with the dog and the 7-year-old. My husband is a musician so we sing and make music together as a family.
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The midwives at Pen Bay Medical Center are accepting new patients. To make an appointment with a midwife at Pen Bay Women’s Health, call at 301-8900. The center is located at 3 Glen Cove Dr., Suite 1, Rockport. To make an appointment with a midwife at WCGH, call Waldo County Medical Partners Women’s Health at 505-4332. The practice is located at 16 Fahy St., Belfast.