Beth Rodriguez understands the challenges and giving birth; she did it for the first time when she was 18.

This Brooklyn New York native, born to immigrant parents who worked their whole lives to send their three children to college, was a single mother before she turned 20. She worked various jobs from data entry for an insurance company to working as a typesetter at a publishing company during the day and in the evenings, she worked various waitressing and barmaid jobs to stay afloat.

“I’d have to say that after more than 30 years in the Keys, my hometown is Big Pine Key. I’ve lived in my home for 28 years; my New York life seems so far away.”

In 1974, Beth and her husband Pete, a commercial fisherman for the past 35 years, decided to escape the daily and inevitable violence of Brooklyn life and raise their children in paradise. They first landed in St. Augustine, and while on a family vacation with her husband and kids, she first fell in love with the natural allure of the Keys during a stop on Little Duck Key.

“I remember seeing the most colorful saltwater tropicals in the ankle deep water and the clearest ocean I’d ever seen in my life.”

She remembers their drive across the narrow, old Seven Mile Bridge as “rather scary since we were driving a big ‘hippy’ van.”

A quick glimpse at her history reveals she’s been quite a nonconformist all her life.

During the Vietnam War, Beth was active in various groups that worked to bring GIs home. Even as high school student, she was involved in a feminist action group that protested a mandatory dress code that said all girls had to wear skirts.

“We were send home to change into skirts, but we defied that ruling and returned in pants – it was 20 degrees out that day! We finally won and the dress code was forever changed.”

Even in the late 70s, she worked as part of an Keys-wide underground midwifery collective in which she and her dearest friends coordinated some 300 “illegal” home births since the practice was previously frowned upon.

These days, however, she’s not the “cowgirl” she once was, and has happily settled into her position as a Certified Nurse Midwife and Advanced Nurse Practitioner with Dr. Sharon Ward in Key West. She’s worked with doctors and midwives throughout the Keys for nearly three decades.

During the course of her education, she completed a nurse-midwifery internship at St. Paul Ramsey Hospital in St. Paul, Minn. The entire obstetrician/gynecologist staff at this hospital were all female; even in the early 80s, she was shocked to see such a feminine phenomenon.

The prenatal care currently available at Lower Keys Medical Center, she explained, is the only place where expectant mothers can receive care from an all female staff with all female midwives, and that is something in which she is very proud to be involved.

“I’m grateful to work for a doctor whom I respect and think is brilliant. She considers the needs of women and embraces the same ideas I do.”

Both of her personal and career highlights involve home births of her immediate family members.

“ ‘Catching’ my own two grandsons were the most gratifying and blissful events my life. To witness my daughter-in-law’s strength and commitment to birth her babies at home and to be able to receive the boys into my hands was the fulfillment of all my career aspirations. It is a piece of the “quilt” of our family.”

This event, she recalled, reminded her that women still have the innate power to birth their babies without medical technologies.

With the help of her partner midwives, her husband and her oldest son Carlos, Beth also gave birth to her third and youngest child, Samantha Dehlia, at home.

“Her birth was so empowering that I knew there would never be a challenge that I could not face; I had birthed my own baby with my own body. Because of that, I am able to assist women in having a birth just like mine, to believe in themselves, and at times, to accept that they must surrender their dreams for the welfare of their babies. I believe that from the moment we become pregnant, we are the caretakers for the child within, hopefully always putting them first, with our needs in the background.”

Beth and Peter have three children. Carlos is a social worker and proud father. John is currently attending naturopathic physician school, and Samantha, while also performing duties as a labor and delivery nurse, will soon earn a Master’s Degree in Public Health from the University of California, San Francisco.

“I have a very large extended family, and for that I am thankful every day of my life.”

Beth Rodriguez, and the apple of her eye, her two-year-old grandson, Aaron.

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