When Dr. Natalie Rochester talks to her patients who have newborns in the NICU, she does it with genuine empathy.

Her oldest daughter – Caroline, now 12 – landed in the NICU when she was born six weeks early. She was born when Rochester was nearing the end of her residency. “That experience gave me a different perspective,” she said. “I know how it feels to see your newborn hooked up to wires and how it feels to leave the hospital without your baby. Even with medical knowledge, I felt kind of hopeless. It was an emotional roller coaster.

“My mom used to tell me: God makes things happen for a reason. And I think that, through that experience of having a NICU baby, I can empathize with moms in a similar situation. It was highly educational, and it allows me to speak from a place of love and personal knowledge.”

Caroline was born at 34 weeks and weighed just 4 pounds, 15 ounces when she went home. “Hearing my story usually allows patients to breathe or cry, get out those feelings and have a safe space to say: OK, you're not just my medical professional. You actually understand how this feels.”

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Rochester and her family moved to Kernersville in late September for her role as a leader of the new birth center at Novant Health Kernersville Medical Center. The new is scheduled to open in early 2024 and it will be the first time the medical center has offered maternity services.

Dr. Rochester and her husband, Daniel.

Rochester’s the right person for the job. She has experience starting a new hospital maternity program from scratch. After she finished her residency in Virginia, she and her husband, Daniel, both North Carolina natives – moved to Greeley, Colorado, where she practiced for 10 years. About three years before they returned to North Carolina (Asheville, specifically), her University of Colorado-affiliated health care system opened a brand-new hospital.

“I had the privilege and honor of being the medical director of the women and children's unit,” she said. “I was there before the hospital even opened and helped train the nursing staff. We did drills to make sure we had all our processes lined up."

In Kernersville, she’ll continue doing what she loves. And that’s a combination of gynecological surgeries (she’s trained on robotic-assisted surgery) and deliveries. In her most recent role, she spent about 40% of her time in surgery and 60% on deliveries. She appreciates the variety: “I love being in clinic one day providing primary care, doing surgery the next and delivering a baby the next.” ​

She does complicated hysterectomies with the assistance of a robot and more straightforward hysterectomies laparoscopically. She’s excited to build her team and to begin offering those services in Kernersville. Novant Health Kernersville Medical Center is known for its high patient safety and satisfaction ratings. The anticipated maternity services are expected to carry on that tradition and have been designed with the comfort of the patient and their families in mind.

In addition to the expanding physician team, Kernersville will also include midwives. Rochester is excited to offer patients the option of having a midwife involved in their deliveries. “Midwifery care is amazing,” she said. “I have longstanding experience working with midwives, and I think a good, knowledgeable midwife is an incredible asset,” she said. “I had a midwife deliver my second baby. In fact, I had a midwife and an epidural, which most people seem to think is incongruous.”

An early calling to medicine

Her parents always figured she’d go into medicine. “I remember my first doctor’s kit I got at Christmas,” she said. “I tortured everyone by making them pretend to be sick.”

Her first delivery experience happened when she was just 10. It was on her grandfather’s dairy farm in Bladenboro, North Carolina, where she spent many summers. One of his cows was pregnant with twin calves.

“I watched him pull those calves out,” she said. “And the second one was malpositioned. I was in awe – of both my grandfather and the birth. He was a tall man with large hands, and he worked the farm until the last year of his life. I loved seeing this man who was so big and lanky bring forth life. He’s my hero and the coolest human I know.

“I witnessed the miracle of new life. It was terrifying and amazing. I saw this new cow mom lick and love on her calves. Every time I witness a birth, it’s still a miracle to me.” ​

Connecting instantly

Rochester loves connecting with and caring for an expectant mom before, and for the duration of, her pregnancy. But, like all OB-GYNs, she doesn’t always have that luxury.

“There are instances where you have to develop a quick rapport with patients,” she said. “You might be on call and delivering a mom you’ve never met. You’ve got to walk in, sit down, connect on a personal level, summarize what you know, ask what their goals are and discuss how you can help meet those goals while keeping everyone safe. It’s easier if you have nine months or longer to build a relationship, but sometimes you have just a few minutes.”

And that can be enough.

In Colorado, Rochester ended up taking care of a whole family of women after delivering a baby for one of them. She was on call, and a patient’s baby was in distress. The soon-to-be-mom’s mother and grandmother were in the delivery room with her. Within a month of that emergency C-section, both had become patients of Rochester’s. She eventually delivered her patient’s sister’s baby.

While she recognizes that each delivery is unique, Rochester is happy to share her own birthing experiences if patients ask.


After Caroline’s birth, Rochester experienced postpartum depression. “Coming home without her was anxiety-provoking,” she said. “I had all the fears: What if she’s not getting enough milk? What if she stops breathing? It took a village, including my husband and health care provider, to say: These thoughts you’re having are normal, but they’re heightened because of the NICU experience. Living through that helps me open the door to have a conversation with patients about postpartum anxiety, depression and self-care and how important it is for new moms to prioritize taking care of themselves.

Back home again

Rochester’s new job puts her and her husband even closer to family than they were in Asheville. Her in-laws live in the Winston-Salem area; her family is in eastern North Carolina. This is a year of big changes for the family. Her husband, who has a background in business management and finance, is a stay-at-home dad. And he recently became their daughters’ elementary school teacher.

“We decided to home-school this year because of our midyear move,” she said. “We will have moved twice in two years, and that’s a lot of upheaval. This was one way to reduce the amount of change Caroline and Carleigh (8) go through.”

Given all the changes the whole family is undergoing, Rochester is eager to get settled in her office and begin caring for patients. It’s something she’s exceptionally good at.

She knows many women are nervous about seeing a doctor – and especially an OB-GYN. “A lot of women have fear – of doctors, of pelvic exams, of labor and delivery, of surgery,” she said. “I don’t practice the old-school way, as in telling patients what they should do. I want patients to understand their options and the pros and cons of each. I like to try to understand the root of the fear and minimize it, if I can.”