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Expanded Midwife Center offers comfort zone to new moms

Ben Schmitt
| Monday, April 17, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
An exam room inside of the Midwife Center in the Strip District on Thursday, April 13, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
An exam room inside of the Midwife Center in the Strip District on Thursday, April 13, 2017.
A ribbon is cut during a ceremony for the opening of the Midwife Center in the Strip District on Thursday, April 13, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
A ribbon is cut during a ceremony for the opening of the Midwife Center in the Strip District on Thursday, April 13, 2017.
Alana Ashely holds newborn, Aliza, joined by finance Adam Wetmore, holding Adam Jr., 2, during a ceremony opening the renovated Midwife Center in the Strip District on Thursday, April 13, 2017. Aliza was the first baby born in the new birthing suite at the Midwife Center.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Alana Ashely holds newborn, Aliza, joined by finance Adam Wetmore, holding Adam Jr., 2, during a ceremony opening the renovated Midwife Center in the Strip District on Thursday, April 13, 2017. Aliza was the first baby born in the new birthing suite at the Midwife Center.
Executive Director Christine Haas speaks during a ceremony for the opening of the Midwife Center in the Strip District on Thursday, April 13, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Executive Director Christine Haas speaks during a ceremony for the opening of the Midwife Center in the Strip District on Thursday, April 13, 2017.
Alana Ashely holds newborn, Aliza, the first baby born in the renovated Midwife Center in the Strip District on Thursday, April 13, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Alana Ashely holds newborn, Aliza, the first baby born in the renovated Midwife Center in the Strip District on Thursday, April 13, 2017.
The Midwife Center in the Strip District on Thursday, April 13, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
The Midwife Center in the Strip District on Thursday, April 13, 2017.

After her son's traditional hospital birth, Alana Ashley wanted something different the second time around with her daughter.

“It wasn't the experience I wanted in the hospital,” she said. “I went in trying to have a natural birth and ended up with an epidural and anesthesia and I just didn't like it.”

Ashley, 22, of Brackenridge turned to The Midwife Center for Birth & Women's Health on Penn Avenue in the Strip District. The center caters to women interested in a natural birth, with medical intervention only when necessary.

On March 1, she gave birth to a girl, Aliza, in the Mountain Room Birth Suite with a queen-sized bed, massive bathroom and freestanding bath tub in the middle of the room. The rooms are equipped with birthing swings which give women a chance to find more comfortable positions while standing during labor.

“It was amazing,” she said. “I felt more in control of my labor and my birth. I felt very much empowered and I got to enjoy having all my family around. You're not limited to who you can have in the room. You can have whoever you want.”

Turns out, Aliza was the first baby born in the Midwife Center's expanded facility, showcased last week in a grand opening ceremony that drew a crowd of politicians and supporters.

More than doubling its size from 5,000 to 11,700 square feet, officials said it is now the largest birth center, under one roof, in the United States.

The demand is there.

In 2010, 244 babies were born at The Midwife Center. Executive Director Christine Haas said that number jumped to 403 last year and they expect 460 in 2017.

Nationwide, midwives assisted in more than 9 percent of births in 2014, triple the rate in 1989, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Birth center care is becoming more and more recognized as an option to have in all communities,” Haas said. “We offer more intimate settings, longer appointments and more personalized care.”

The center's seven nurse midwives are trained in ushering low-risk, healthy women through a natural childbirth without unnecessary interventions, Haas said.

“This is really a unique resource in southwestern Pennsylvania,” U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, said at Thursday's grand opening. “I'm happy to see that birth centers are playing a larger role in our health care delivery system both here in Pennsylvania and across the county. This recently completed expansion is great news for our community and it speaks volumes about the high quality of care that the centers provide.”

The campaign to expand the facility raised almost $3.8 million as the center acquired two vacant adjoining buildings.

The center accepts most forms of public and private health insurance, Haas said.

“Our goal is to make it accessible to as many people as possible,” she said.

About 1,500 women sought gynecological care last year at The Midwife Center, which also offers childbirth, prenatal and breastfeeding classes along with behavioral care.

Women normally stay at the center four to 12 hours after giving birth, and nurses make follow-up home visits, Haas said.

For Ashley, the center was a perfect option for her second birthing experience.

She got into the bathtub for pain relief during contractions and used supplied nitrous oxide right before she started pushing.

“I'm really excited to be the first person who gave birth in the new building,” she said. “It was a wonderful feeling.”

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or bschmitt@tribweb.com.

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